Gerald Cantor is being remembered as a man who loved Israel and the Jewish people, and a leader dedicated to serving the Jewish community.
Cantor, of Westfield, died Oct. 16 of complications sustained from a fall while playing tennis; he was 84.
“Over the years, Gerry was not just a leader; he also took on the role as a mentor and teacher to the next generation,” wrote Stanley Stone, the executive vice president of the former Jewish Federation of Central NJ, in an e-mail to NJJN. “He always strove to include tomorrow’s leaders in any process that he was part of.”
Cantor served two terms (1994-96, 2008-10) as president of the Central federation before its merger with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ six years ago to form Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
“Gerry Cantor was a true leader and mensch,” said Stone, who is now executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ. He wrote from Israel, where he was on a federation mission.
Quoting Hillel in “Ethics of the Fathers,” Stone said Cantor personified the ideal of the phrase “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?” Cantor embodied this “succinct summary of Judaism’s philosophy of personal responsibility combined with social responsibility,” Stone said, and he was “deeply committed to the well-being of the Jewish people.
“The center of that responsibility was ensuring a strong State of Israel,” Stone said.
The Jewish community Cantor served, said Stone, “is certainly a little less bright with his untimely passing. His memory and the values he stood for will continue to inspire me and the countless others that he touched.”
Cantor was also a former president of Rutgers Hillel and a member of its board for more than 15 years. Andrew Getraer said that shortly after he became the organization’s executive director in 2001, Cantor became his mentor.
“He was my lay chair when we went through one of the most challenging, exciting, and interesting times of the Jewish community in New Jersey,” said Getraer, a period “when we had to respond to virulent anti-Israel propaganda and events on campus.” He cited the rally capping the 2003 “Israel Inspires” campaign, which drew the largest crowd of any pro-Israel event in New Jersey’s history.
“I learned a tremendous amount about the organized Jewish community from him,” said Getraer. During that time, Cantor “was involved with the Reform movement, his temple, and everything Jewish. He knew how to be a leader of the Jewish community, and when we launched our capital endowment campaign a few years later, it was Gerry’s leadership and friendship and his commitment that were integral to events that later ended with the establishment of the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House” on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus in 2017.
Robert Kuchner, treasurer of the Hillel board, called Cantor a “mentor, role model, and loyal friend, who never said ‘no’ and always was the first one to step up for the community.”
“We held many synergistic roles in the community,” wrote Kuchner, who was also in Israel on the federation mission. When Cantor was Rutgers Hillel president and there was anti-Israel activity on campus, he asked Kuchner to join the board. “I had no relationship to Rutgers,” he said, “but you could never say ‘no’ to him because he was so sincere in his commitment to the Jewish community.”
He also said Cantor “kvelled” over the work of the students and that of his wife, Dorothy, who “was the love of his life … He was so proud of his whole family.”
Kuchner said that Cantor “was always available and gave great advice. Personally, I will miss his warmth and friendship, and so will the community.
“He was devoted to us all, and there will be a hole in all our hearts that will take some time to heal.”
Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, who conducted the funeral service on Oct. 18, called Cantor “a true ‘ohav Yisrael’ … a lover of the Jewish people, a lover of the State of Israel.”
“Gerry devoted himself to the needs of the community,” said Sagal, who estimated the service drew about 400 people to the synagogue where Cantor had been a member since the 1960s. “He provided leadership to so many organizations, and even more than that, he was always the kind of Jewish leader ready to step up when needed.”
Besides being a regular Shabbat worshiper, “he attended shiva minyans and had a leadership role in our synagogue,” said Sagal, which included chanting the haftarah every Yom Kippur.
“But his greatest achievement was his family. Together with Dorothy, he created an incredibly lovely and loving family.”
Cantor also belonged to and attended services at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan and the Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati. A stockbroker, he was also active on the audit committee of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
He played the piano and the ukulele and loved to travel, to do the “Times” crossword puzzle, the Mets and the Jets, and the theater, both as an audience member and as a community theater actor.
Besides Dorothy, his wife of 61 years, Cantor is survived by his children, Joshua and Laura (David); his grandchildren, Brad (Danielle), Scott (Natalie), Andrew (Jenna), Alex (Melissa), and Molly (Ethan); his brothers, William (Paula) and Howard (Pam); and many nieces and nephews and their children.
Contributions in his memory may be made to Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ or JDRF Southwest Ohio Chapter in Cincinnati.