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ARTICLE When a Tree Falls in Michigan

When a tree falls in Michigan, does it impact on the eco-system? In the case of Mandell “Bill” Berman, leader, philanthropist and mentor—a towering tree in our lively eco-system of Jewish education, the answer is yes. Our landscape has been diminished.

Many of us know of Bill’s many accomplishments and contributions: his vision for JESNA, The Berman Database and The Berman Policy Archive.


Illustration by Ariel Burger

Many of us know that Bill was a visionary and a risk taker. He never walked away from the investments he made, and he invested not just his money but his soul, too.

Personally, Bill’s investment in me made all the difference in my career. Early in my professional life, when Jewish Experiences for Families was my focus, Bill became my partner. He said to me, “Don’t bring me the successes. Those are for sure. Bring me the challenges and the failures, and together, we’ll make them right.”

That was Bill in a nutshell, encapsulated in the idea that “together, we’ll make it right.” He was a lover of Jews and the Jewish people, of Israel, of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Detroit, a lover of applying data to make clear decisions, a dreamer of a brighter future, a philanthropist and community organizer who believed that professionals were his partners and assets to the community.

This prescient Talmudic tale describes Bill’s essence best:

One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” Honi then further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found [already grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children.”

I was fortunate to know Bill for as long as I did (36 years–double chai). He was my mentor, teacher and very dear friend. I will miss our conversations, our shared dreams and our phone calls, just to check in.

I hope my work will continue to make him proud.

Harlene Appelman,
Executive Director
The Covenant Foundation


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