NEW YORK, Nov. 17 — In the late 1970s a Brooklyn rabbi who had recently established a small publishing firm was asked by a friend if he would be willing to meet a prominent Manhattan businessman who was interested in learning Torah. Rabbi Nosson Scherman agreed to the request, and a few days later Laurence Tisch called to arrange the study sessions. For a dozen years Rabbi Scherman, founding editor of Mesorah Publications, and Mr. Tisch, chief executive officer of the Loews Corp., met in Mr. Tisch’s office for an hour of textual discussion. “We learned some Gemara [Talmud] and some Chumash [Bible],” said the rabbi, general editor of the ArtScroll series of books, which has grown into one of the largest Orthodox book publishers in the country. Rabbi Scherman called Mr. Tisch “a remarkable person.” “I was impressed by his openness. That we had such different religious convictions” — the rabbi is a member of the haredi community, Mr. Tisch is affiliated with the Reform movement — “didn’t make any difference to him,” the rabbi said in an interview Monday. Mr. Tisch died Saturday in New York University Medical Center after a 15-month battle with cancer. He was 80. He was remembered this week as a self-made billionaire and philanthropist, a family man and communal leader in the Jewish community, and an avid tennis and bridge player. His funeral Monday morning at Central Synagogue in Manhattan drew a capacity crowd of mourners that filled the main sanctuary and a meeting room on a lower hall where the service was broadcast. “Pops’ legacy is his family,” said Alexander Hiat Tisch, a grandson of Mr. Tisch who told of his grandfather finding time in his schedule for his the talent shows and other public activities of his young relatives. “Pops made it clear that his priority was his family.” Mr. Tisch, who with his brother Preston Robert built up the Loews Corp. into a conglomerate of hotels and movie theaters, oil tankers and watch manufacturers, served as chief executive officer of CBS Inc., saving the corporation from a hostile takeover but earning criticism for making drastic cost-cutting measures. He was president of the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York, a forerunner of the current UJA-Federation of New York, and was an active supporter of several other Jewish and Israeli causes, including The Jerusalem Foundation, the Israel Museum, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Tisch also served as national president of the American Technion Society 1972-1973, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Haifa university. “I think the challenge of being Jewish in America is keeping it in balance,” Mr. Tisch said in a 1994 interview. “In other words, don’t allow freedom of movement and freedom of opportunity to take away your Jewish heritage.” “Larry felt a deep concern for his people,” former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said at the funeral. At the beginning of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Mr. Tisch spearheaded a joint emergency campaign with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. That effort led to the eventual merger of the two organizations and helped raise $100 million that year for Israel. “Larry was especially cherished for his wisdom, generosity and compassionate concern,” said Larry Zicklin, UJA-Federation president. John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the philanthropy, called Mr. Tisch “a unique Jewish communal leader.” “He brought incredible intelligence to issues ranging from the complex challenges that affect the State of Israel and the growth of anti-Semitism, to the significant administrative issues that faced communal agencies,” he said. Mr. Tisch, who dealt “with presidents and prime ministers and other heads of state, interacted with respect with every person he encountered,” Ruskay said. “Anyone who came to his office, even if Mr. Tisch did not agree with him, was never insulted,” Rabbi Scherman said, adding, “many people of lesser stature can be insulting.” “Larry was a true New Yorker — he took yellow cabs, he rode the subway, he walked the streets,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another funeral speaker. Mr. Tisch, a Brooklyn native, attended New York University, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Harvard Law School. He served in World War II in the Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. In 1946 he and his brother invested a $125,000 gift from their parents — his father Al owned a garment factory and two summer camps — in a New Jersey resort hotel that became the cornerstone of their financial empire. Two decades later they bought Lorillard, the fifth-largest cigarette company in the U.S. “My father lived a storied life, he achieved true happiness,” Andrew Tisch, a son of Mr. Tisch and a former campaign chair of the UJA-Federation annual fund-raising drive, said at the funeral, referring, as did other speakers, to his parents’ 55-year marriage. Wilma “Billie” Tisch also has served as Jewish communal leader; she was the first woman elected president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. “He never viewed life as a competitive sport,” Andrew Tisch said. “Tennis yes, life no.” Mr. Tisch was a supporter of several institutions in the general community, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and NYU, which he served as board of trustees chairman for 20 years. “He loved the institutions that he felt made the world better,” Andrew Tisch said. Rabbi Scherman said he was “a little curious, a little nervous” before his initial meeting with Mr. Tisch. First, Rabbi Scherman said, Mr. Tisch asked some questions about the rabbi’s background: “He was sizing me up. He was interviewing me.” The rabbi and the magnate hit it off. Their “couple of lessons” lasted until Mr. Tisch went to CBS and ran out of free time. Mr. Tisch offered to pay Rabbi Scherman for the lessons. “I told him I don’t take money for this,” Rabbi Scherman answered — but Mr. Tisch was welcome to contribute to some of the rabbi’s favorite causes. “He was very forthcoming,” Rabbi Scherman said. “Twice a year he would send me checks to do with as I felt they were needed.” “He was a mensch. He lived very simply,” said Rabbi Scherman, who occasionally visited the Tisches at their home. “He didn’t live like a millionaire.” Along with his wife, son Andrew and brother Preston Robert, Mr. Tisch is survived by sons James, Daniel and Thomas, and 15 grandchildren.
Tisch, former CBS and UJA chief, remembered