Lester Z. Lieberman, the visionary behind the creation of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and its chairman for the last 17 years, died Monday, Nov. 4, at 83.
“This is a tremendous loss for the community. Lester was a man of incredible vision and tenacity,” said Healthcare Foundation executive director Marsha Atkind. “He was the driving force behind the establishing of the foundation and played a role in many philanthropies across the community.”
“Lester was tough, usually right, action-oriented, driven, and incredibly caring for the ill and needy,” said Gary O. Aidekman, immediate past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “Through sheer determination he made health care more compassionate for New Jersey and beyond. The community needs and will miss his dynamic mix of iron will and humanity.”
Lieberman was chair of the board of Newark Beth Israel Hospital in 1996 when he orchestrated the sale of the facility to Saint Barnabas Healthcare System. The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey was created with the assets derived from the sale.
The foundation has awarded over $100 million in grants since its inception, focusing its efforts on improving access to quality health care for the vulnerable populations in greater Newark and the Jewish community of Greater MetroWest.
As a tribute to Lieberman’s commitment, the Lester Z. Lieberman Humanism in Healthcare Awards are given annually to employees, students, and faculty in health care who demonstrate extraordinary compassion and kindness in their treatment of patients and families.
Lieberman served on the board of Beth Israel for 27 years, including nine as chair. He became devoted to Newark Beth Israel Hospital in 1964 after his youngest daughter, Jane, was treated there and survived a severe case of spinal meningitis.
Born and raised in Newark, Lieberman graduated from Weequahic High School and received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology). He worked several jobs to make his way through college, including stints as a janitor and shoe salesman. In 1960, he founded Atmos Engineering, designing air conditioning and heating systems for commercial properties. He subsequently sold Atmos to Clarkson Industries, a multinational engineering firm owned by the British conglomerate BTR, Inc. Lieberman became a director of BTR and president and CEO of Clarkson Industries, based in New York City and responsible for engineering work in 65 countries.
Lieberman was also a founder of Dowel Realty, a commercial real estate company in Morristown.
A past board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, he also served on the boards of Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest.
“Lester was a great visionary and wise leader in our community…,” said Lori Klinghoffer, president of the Greater MetroWest federation. “As chair of the Healthcare Foundation he guided the organization’s fulfillment of so many humanitarian causes, many of which directly enhanced services to our Jewish community.
“Lester was an extraordinarily strong and wise man instilled with the values of hesed (loving-kindness) and tzedaka (justice), and his legacy will continue to be an inspiration. He was among the great icons here in Greater MetroWest and beyond.”
Max Kleinman, executive vice president/CEO of the Greater MetroWest federation, said Lieberman “was one of the most fascinating individuals I ever met. He and his beloved boyhood friend, Herb Iris, regaled me with stories about growing up in Newark during tough times.”
Lieberman was among the community leaders instrumental in designing the master plan for the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, which includes the federation’s headquarters and the Lester Senior Housing Community.
“Like Herb, with his engineering background, he developed a successful business and was our maven on all building matters” at Aidekman, said Kleinman. “He and his wife, Judy, were stalwart supporters of our community and Israel and were appropriately honored at our UJA Benefit Concert in 2007. I will miss him dearly.”
A trustee emeritus of Clarkson University, Lieberman was a past member of the board of the Cives Corporation, the Lazard Funds, Inc., and the Northside Power Transmission Co. He was a past member of the NJ State Investment Council and the board of United Jersey Bank. He received honorable doctorates from Clarkson University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ. Lieberman served on the councils of advisers at New Jersey Medical School, NJ Performing Arts Center, and UMDNJ’s Public Health Research Institute.
In 2006, Lieberman looked back with pride on the Healthcare Foundation’s $3.25 million grant to UMDNJ to establish a Center for Humanism, which trains doctors in compassionate care.
“We care a lot about humanism in medicine,” Lieberman said at the time. “We teach doctors to be humanistic to their patients….”
Lieberman is survived by his wife, Judith, and his daughters, Jane Lieberman Rubin and her husband Michael D’Amato and Susan Lieberman Smotrich and her husband Gary Smotrich, as well as his four grandchildren, Tye, Zachary, Daniel, and Jonathan.
Funeral services were held at Congregation Beth El in South Orange on Nov. 6.