Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry

Lifetime Achievement

The ASSJ is delighted to announce that Mandell L. Berman is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to the social scientific study of Jewry.

Mandell “Bill” Berman has advanced the social scientific study of Jewry by supporting scholars and scholarship at every stage of knowledge production, collection, dissemination, and application. His love of the Jewish people and his commitment to Jewish continuity are evident in all that he does. The field and all of those who work in it owe Bill Berman an immense debt of gratitude and honor.

Born in 1917 in Detroit, Bill Berman was one of four children. His mother was from Toledo, OH, and his father emigrated from Poland. Bill graduated from Detroit Central High School with distinction and Shaarey Zedek High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard College (Magna Cum Laude) in 1940 and his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1942. He served four years as a naval officer in World War II. In 1950, Bill married Madge, née Madeleine Brodie. The Bermans have four children (including two in-laws), Ann and her husband Dan, Jon and his wife Amy, and three grandchildren, Laurence, Sarah, and Max.

Prior to becoming a major donor to Jewish causes, Berman helped build America through his involvement in the housing construction industry. He was a partner in Bert L. Smokler & Company from 1946 through 1975, a real estate development and building enterprise, and held the position of President of both that company and Dreyfus Development Corporation from 1969-1972.

In addition to being the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Michigan State Housing Finance Authority, Bill was President of South Eastern Michigan Builders Association and on the Board of New Detroit in the early 1970s. He also served on the Boards of the Dreyfus Corporation (a Mellon Bank Subsidiary), the Guardian Industries (NYSE), the Lennar Corporation (NYSE), and was past Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Euroad, the largest private trucking company in Poland.

Given his industrious business career, it should be no surprise that his philanthropic interests are equally prolific and far reaching. Berman has uniquely shaped the landscape of Jewish social research, in particular with respect to data collection, storage, and distribution. While serving as the president of the Council of Jewish Federations (now the Jewish Federations of North America), Berman co-funded the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) and subsequently the 2000-2001 NJPS. In 1986, he founded the Mandell L. Berman Institute North American Jewish Data Bank (NAJDB) currently housed at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. The NAJDB, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2011, is the archive for both NJPS and approximately 200 local Jewish community studies, and other documents related to Jewish demography.

A philanthropist who believes in structure and substance, Berman has funded capital projects and a wide range of fellowships. He supported the Mandell L. Berman Center at University of Michigan Hillel and since 1997 Berman Fellowships have enabled committed individuals to receive training for careers as campus Jewish professionals. Berman has also been a stalwart supporter of the next generation of social scientists, both quantitative and qualitative. At Brandeis University, for more than five years, he has funded a Fellowship Program enabling doctoral candidates in sociology and social policy to develop quantitative skills.

Jewish special education has benefited from Berman's generosity through fellowships at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York where, starting in 1996, Berman was a member of the original Board of Overseers of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. The annual Berman merit fellowships began in 2006 and past recipients have gone on to teach special education at Jewish day schools. Thanks to his concern for the youngest members of the Jewish world and the international community, in 1999 Berman established the Fund for Research on Children with Disabilities at the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute in Israel.

Berman's support also helped restart the Jewish Communal Leadership Program at the University of Michigan's School of Social Work last year, enabling students to travel to national conferences where they encounter the people, organizations, and issues driving American Jewish life, preparing them for the challenging discussions ahead.

“How do you make policy for a community if you don't know what's happening?" the New York Jewish Week quoted Berman saying in 2009. “I'm particularly interested in the mining of data.” Toward that end, he made a five-year donation to launch and support, along with the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner. The BJPA online library houses more than 4,000 policy-relevant publications from Jewish journals, organizations, and scholars. Given his keen comprehension of the need to disseminate research findings through multiple means, Berman also granted the necessary funds to help the ASSJ transition its self-published journal, Contemporary Jewry, from an annual publication to one produced triennially through a major academic publishing house.

In addition to all of his philanthropic ventures extending from Detroit to Jerusalem, Berman is co-founder of the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), where he is currently Honorary Chairman, serves on the Board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the United Israel Appeal. He served on the Board of the Jewish Agency and the Board of World Zionist Education Authority. Berman was the First Chairman of the Skillman Foundation, Past President and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish Welfare Federation, Past President of United Hebrew Schools, and past Board Member of the United Way.

Bill Berman is a mensch on a mission. Ad me'ah v'esrim, may he live until 120!

By Keren McGinity

Keren McGinity is Associate Research Scientist, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University. She is also a member of the ASSJ Board.