Miriam K. “Mitzi” Kalish Reisen, 90, of West Orange, a community leader who helped build Jewish institutions in the greater MetroWest area along with her husband, Clarence, died Dec. 23. Raised in Roselle Park, she lived in South Orange for most of her life.
Mrs. Reisen attended Northwestern University and graduated from Barnard College as an English major.
She married businessman and community leader Clarence Reisen in 1944, and together they led charitable work at the Chancellor Avenue YM-YWHA in Newark (now JCC MetroWest’s Cooperman JCC in West Orange) and the philanthropic organization that became Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Among their leadership efforts was raising money for Israel during the 1960s and 1970s and hosting former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan at their home. They also led missions to Israel and Europe.
The Reisens also helped in the resettlement of Soviet Jews, chaired campaigns to build the JCC, and served as two of the initial chairs of the process to combine the Jewish federations of Essex and Morris-Sussex to form what would eventually become the Greater MetroWest federation. The building on the Aidekman campus in Whippany that houses the federation, the Clarence Reisen Jewish Community Building, is named in memory of Clarence, who died in 1984 at age 62.
Mitzi Reisen was a Lion of Judah and a member of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s Lester Society. She served on several organizational boards, including at the federation and the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey. In 1999, she was honored by JHS for her lifetime of generous deeds, commitment to Jewish continuity, and devotion to the community.
She was a leader in MetroWest’s Women’s Division (now Women’s Philanthropy), where she served as a vice president, and was an active fund-raiser for UJA.
“She was known to always ‘speak her mind,’ and brought spirit to all of her participation in her community involvement,” said Greater MetroWest Women’s Philanthropy president Maxine Murnick. “She was always supportive of Clarence, and as a couple, they were major figures in our community. Mitzi’s name will always be present in our federation.”
“Always an active participant in our Jewish community, Mitzi was one who never refused to help in any way,” said Cynthia Plishtin, a former Women’s Philanthropy president. “She was ever charming, witty, and so wise. We always got the plain truth from her. She was a true ‘weathervane’ of MetroWest, pointing in the direction of our future even before some of us felt the wind’s direction. She will always be remembered as a cherished member of our federation family.”
“Mitzi was both elegant and effervescent,” said federation executive vice president/CEO Max L. Kleinman. “But she was also a doer, actively involved in fund-raising for UJA, the development of the Aidekman campus, and many other causes. She was also a hostess par excellence.
“She was very constructive in her suggestions and a barometer for emerging issues, so she was very helpful to me personally and professionally,” Kleinman added. “With her passing and Clarence’s untimely death, we have lost a special couple who provided leadership and sparkle for our community. May Mitzi’s great record of mitzvot and wonderful family be her legacy.”
Also active in the American Jewish Committee and National Council of Jewish Women, Reisen was a life member of Hadassah.
Reisen also served as president of the Newstead School PTA, and she and her husband were founding members of the Playhouse Nursery School in West Orange. She had recited Yiddish poetry as a child on the radio and was a supporter with Clarence of YIVO Institute of Jewish Research.
The Reisens also led charitable efforts in Newark, chairing major philanthropic events for Symphony Hall, Friendly Fuld Neighborhood House, and the Newark Museum, including evenings with Sammy Davis Jr. and opera singer Marian Anderson.
A member of Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, Reisen enjoyed playing golf, tennis, and bridge.
She is survived by three daughters, Judith Skillman, Diane Schubert and her husband Hermann, and Amy Freundlich and her husband Larry; her son, Henry and his wife Ana Espinal; 10 grandchildren, Ted Skillman (Belisa Balaban), Liz Rigg (Nick), Annie Kaplan (Sebastian), Michael Freundlich (Lindsey Powell), Laura Schubert (Dan Litchfield), Clarence William Reisen, Carl Schubert, Charlie Freundlich, Fred Reisen, and Emily Schubert; and three great-grandchildren, Sage Skillman and Zoe and Juliette Kaplan.
Services were held Dec. 26 with arrangements by Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel, Livingston. Memorial contributions may be made to Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, 901 Route 10, Whippany, NJ 07981 or American Jewish Committee, 225 Millburn Ave., Millburn, NJ 07041.