A Pioneer Who Brought People Together


Morton Kornreich was remembered this week as a Jewish communal leader whose vision and talent enabled him to serve as the first chairman of the newly merged UJA-Federation of New York and to later help refocus The Jewish Week, of which he was a founding board member.

Mr. Kornreich, who died last Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla., of pulmonary fibrosis, had homes in Florida and White Plains. He was 82.

Stephen Solender, a former executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York, said the philanthropic agency has “functioned so magnificently over the last 20 years” in part because of Mr. Kornreich’s efforts. The United Jewish Appeal’s New York branch merged with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in 1986. “He was chairman in its infancy and he took it to maturity,” Solender said. “He was a pioneer and an architect of the structure. He had a personality that was warm and friendly and he helped to bring together the people from UJA and Federation.”

Melding the two organizations without ruffling egos was a task not everybody was confident would succeed. But Solender said it took leaders like Mr. Kornreich who “had the vision and saw the big picture and understood how bringing them together could improve the quality of service in the largest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel. Both here and at the national level, people were inspired by his personal philanthropy and his commitment to the cause.”

After serving as chairman of the merged organization, Mr. Kornreich was tapped to become national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal from 1988 until 1990.

“When [national] UJA called me and said they were considering Mort as their next chairman and asked me what I thought, I could only give him the greatest recommendation,” recalled Ernest Michel, who served with Solender as an executive vice president. “And he filled the job with the same attitude, intensity and dedication that he gave when he was the chairman in New York.”

Mr. Kornreich later served as a vice president of the American Jewish Committee and chaired its Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations. He served also as president of Congregation Emanu-El in Harrison.

Robert Arnow, another founder of The Jewish Week, said he and Mr. Kornreich worked “together as communal leaders involved in the Jewish community here and abroad. He was personable and intelligent” and dedicated to “the causes we felt dearly about.”

One of Mr. Kornreich’s sons, Thomas, recalled what a thrill it was to see his father honored last June with the Community Service Award of the American Jewish Committee for his years of leadership in the Jewish community.

“When he got up there on the podium, everybody in the room was beaming,” he said. “He was just a great guy.” A graduate of the High School of Music and Art in the city, Mr. Kornreich “couldn’t read music but he played the piano beautifully by ear,” his son said. He was also a visual artist — mostly painting portraits — and won an award in high school for one of his sculptures. Mr. Kornreich, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, was a 1949 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He and his twin brother, Matthew, became partners at the Manhattan insurance brokerage their father, Saul, founded in 1917. Thomas said he and his brother, James, are also in the business. They have a sister, Nancy Rieger.

An avid reader who could speak four languages, Mr. Kornreich also had a penchant for politics and developed personal friendships with several Democratic leaders, among them the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

“With all his talents, leadership skills and worldliness he was a real down-to-earth guy,” Thomas said. “He read The Economist and Commentary, and he also loved Mad magazine. He was just a sweet guy. He wasn’t a big shot. He didn’t take himself that seriously.”

Eugene Grant, another founder of The Jewish Week, summed up Mr. Kornreich as the “perfect example of a tzadik, a righteous person. Even when he was at the top leadership level of the UJA or the American Jewish Committee, he was understated and modest. He was a cut above average and a superb human being.”

Besides his three children, Mr. Kornreich is survived by his brother, a sister, Norma Weinstein, and eight grandchildren. His wife of 50 years, the former JoAnn Colnes, died in 2001.