Jack Mandel was influential Jewish philanthropist

Jack N. Mandel, an international leader in Jewish philanthropy, died May 12 at age 99. He was chairman of the Jack and Lilyan Mandel Foundation and of Parkwood Corporation’s finance committee at the time of his death.

In 1940, Mandel and his younger brothers Joseph and Morton purchased their uncle’s automotive parts store, where Mandel had worked after high school. The Mandel brothers ran Premier Automotive Supply in a small storefront. In the 1950s, they formed a new division, Premier Fastener Co., and in 1960, the company changed its name to Premier Industrial Corp.. As a publicly traded company, Premier set earnings records for many years and was one of the largest distributors of auto parts and electronic components in the United States. Premier merged with Farnell Electronics PLC in 1996, and the Mandel brothers established the Parkwood Corp. and Parkwood Trust Co.

Mandel and his brothers formed The Mandel Foundation in 1953 to support education, nonprofit leadership, and other causes, and institutions in Cleveland and Israel bear their names or those of their family members. The Mandels’ business and philanthropy were collaborative efforts, but each brother brought qualities to the trio’s work. Jack Mandel “was the true elder of the family” said brother Morton. “He was always there for us. He was the wisest person I have ever known.”

In 2007, Jack, Joseph, Morton and Barbara Mandel and The Mandel Foundation committed $22.5 million to establish The Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University, one of the largest gifts in the university’s history. The family foundation had previously established the Mandel Center for Jewish Education and various graduate fellowships at the school. Jehuda Reinharz, president of The Mandel Foundation and past president of Brandeis University, said, “Jack Mandel was a very wise, kind and generous man. He treated everyone with respect and (had) a wry sense of humor and was beloved by everyone who came into contact with him.”

A longtime resident of Hollywood, Fla., Mandel supported Chabad of South Broward, the Broward Chai Center, and other Jewish institutions in the area. “Jack would often call me from Cleveland, requesting that I say a Mi Sheberach (prayer for the sick) for a friend,” Jew and gentile alike, said Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus, Chabad of South Broward’s director. Mandel would also “ask me to say kaddish for someone who nobody was saying kaddish for.” Active in many organizations, Mandel was board president at Montefiore in the 1960s, and later donated funds to create the Mandel Rehabilitation Pavilion. In 1986, he received an award for many years of service from The National Conference of Christians and Jews, which he supported in Cleveland and Broward County. He served on the national board of directors of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and on the board of the Negev Foundation.

After visiting the Negev desert, Mandel became very knowledgeable about the Negev and brackish water farming, and he provided funds for Israelis’ agricultural efforts in that region. An honorary trustee of the Hebrew University and a trustee of the Tel Aviv Foundation, Mandel coordinated a donation from The Mandel Foundation for a state-of-the-art emergency medical center in Efrat, Israel. “I will not die unhappy,” he told the CJN last year (“The Mandels on their legacy,” Aug. 11, 2010).. “Because as a result of my having been here, some people are better off.”

In 1984, Mandel and his wife dedicated the Ellen Bonnie Mandel Cultural Complex, which provided educational and social programs, in Tel Aviv’s Neve Sharett neighborhood. The project was named in memory of their daughter and was sponsored by the three Mandel brothers.

Born in Kolbusowa, Poland, Mandel came to the U.S. when he was 9 years old. A graduate of Cleveland Glenville High School, he attended a half-day program and spent the rest of the day working at jobs that included selling the old Cleveland News, ushering at the Palace Theatre, spot welding at Cleveland Metal products, and die casting at Superior Casting Co. He briefly attended a yeshiva in New York.

At his memorial service, Samuel Miller, co-chairman of the board and treasurer of Forest City Enterprises Inc. and a close friend, referred to Mr. Mandel as one of the “lamed vavniks,” the 36 righteous people Jewish mysticism hold exist in this world at any one time, and said, “His soul print and his heart print are forever emblazoned on everyone who ever met him.”

Mandel was predeceased by his wife Lilyan and daughter Bonnie. He is survived by his son Sheldon and brothers Joseph and Morton. Contributions may be made to the Jack and Lilyan Mandel Memorial Funds at The Temple-Tifereth Israel and at The Jewish Federation of Cleveland.