Community remembers air tragedy victims for their closeness, good deeds


PHILADELPHIA (Jewish Exponent) — Although their deaths have put their names in headlines and news reports around the world, no one quite knew Daniel, Douglas and Steven Altman the way the Philadelphia Jewish community did.

Daniel Altman, 49, and his son Douglas, 15, of Dresher, were killed when a private plane — piloted by Daniel’s brother Steven, 60, of nearby Ambler — collided with a sightseeing helicopter 1,100 feet above the Hudson River in New York while en route to Ocean City, N.J.

In addition to the Altmans, five Italian tourists and the helicopter pilot died in Saturday’s crash.

The family were longtime members at Temple Sinai, a Conservative synagogue in Dresher, and those who knew the family praised their commitment to Jewish life and learning, their generosity and their history of philanthropic giving.

The synagogue in the suburban Philadelphia community of 5,600 had long been the family’s spiritual home, and Douglas would have been a member of the confirmation class for the upcoming academic year.

At the request of the family, leaders of the congregation made no public comment, but one person who knew the family particularly well was Faith Rubin, Temple Sinai’s longtime religious school director and now coordinator of enhanced education.

In her role as religious school director, she shepherded many members of the Altman family through their Jewish educations, from Douglas all the way up to David and Louise Altman, the teenager’s grandparents and the parents of Steven and Daniel.

Rubin said she had long held weekly study sessions with the elder Altmans, who had three children in addition to Steven and Daniel.

She recalled “the delight of listening to them talk about their grandchildren, the great pride they had in them. It was very special to them that they continued Jewish education beyond bar mitzvah.”

Douglas and his older brother, Max, were both quite popular among their peers, Rubin said.

“What made the clan memorable to people,” she said, was “the fact that they reached out to people. They cared about the people they met and spoke with, always asking about family and remembering family.”

Fred Poritsky, for five years the executive director of Temple Sinai, recalled the family as always being active within the synagogue — not just giving financially but serving on committees and being actively involved with the congregational community.

Steven Altman was a board member with the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, where he served on the board of overseers, according to board chairman Richard Scheerr.

“He was a successful businessman, and a businessman with a good heart, and those are combinations that we look for,” Scheerr said.

Steven Altman also helped raise money for the Green Tree Community Health Foundation, a local nonprofit, and served as a pilot with Angel Flight, a group that provides free air transportation for medical or charitable needs.

“To help people less fortunate than you that you don’t even know is like the highest form of tzedakah,” Poritsky said.

The two brothers ran the Altman Management Company, a Fort Washington-based real estate group founded more than 50 years ago by their father.

Many of their colleagues in the real estate world spoke highly of the brothers, including Gary Erlbaum, a real estate developer involved with numerous Jewish causes.

Erlbaum said he’s known the Altman family for more than 40 years, first developing a business relationship with David and his brother Irving, and later with David’s sons.

He remembered the brothers as being “very pro-Israel,” and said that Steven Altman often donated to elected officials whom he deemed supportive of the Jewish state, regardless of their party affiliation.

“He was an independent thinker,” Erlbaum said. “Most of our conversations in recent years have been really on domestic policies and his business. He was ever expanding his business.”

Robert Rosenthal, a Gwynedd Valley resident also in the real estate business, had grown up with Daniel Altman, attending Springfield High School with him. Daniel, a big sports fan, had been one of the few Jewish players on the high school’s football team.

Both Erlbaum and Rosenthal said that in the oftentimes cutthroat world of real estate, the Altmans had a reputation for civility in business dealings.

The Altmans also were actively involved in State of Israel Bonds and the Anti-Defamation League, which recently named Steven Altman a board member. They also supported the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and were donors at the leadership level.

Len Zimmerman, executive director of State of Israel Bonds, said the family was set to be honored in November for its long history of supporting the group.

Zimmerman recalled having lunch with the family last month to discuss the honors.

“They were joking around and excited about the wedding coming up,” he said, referring to the nuptials of Steven Altman’s daughter Abby, who was married July 25. She reportedly learned of the tragedy while on her honeymoon.

Zimmerman, also a Temple Sinai member, knew Daniel Altman from living in the same neighborhood.

“You could tell they were a close family,” he said. “You could just tell that there was so much warmth and love for each other.”


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