Sam Halpern, 93, of Hillside, a Holocaust survivor who went on to become a real estate executive and builder of Jewish institutions in New Jersey, died Oct. 31, 2013.
Halpern was a member of a founding generation of survivors who rebuilt their lives in New Jersey while founding real estate fortunes and leaving a vast legacy of philanthropic giving.
“Sam Halpern was a true builder,” said Stanley Stone, former executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central NJ. “In addition to his accomplished real estate career, Sam, along with his beloved wife, Gladys, played a major role in rebuilding Jewish life after the Holocaust.
“He was a passionate Zionist who in addition to love of Eretz Yisrael championed the renewal of Torah throughout the world,” said Stone, now executive director of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the merged Central NJ and MetroWest federations.
In Darkness and Hope, Halpern’s 1996 memoir of his experiences in the Holocaust, he described the “Galitzianer” shtetl life that no longer exists, the horrors of forced labor, the creation of the ghetto of Chorostkow, Poland, and the anti-Jewish bans and laws instituted by the Nazis. In a forced-labor camp, he overcame near starvation as well as typhus. After escaping, he and his brother were hidden by old family friends until their liberation.
Sam Halpern was born in 1920 in Choroskow. He and his brother Arie, who died in 2006, escaped from the Kamionka forced labor camp in 1943. Sam was 24 when he was liberated; he immigrated to the United States in 1949 and moved to New Jersey in 1957.
The brothers and one cousin were the only members of their family who survived the war. In the next four years, Sam and Arie gathered savings of $20,000, earned in business undertakings in Poland and later Germany. At first the brothers opened four supermarkets; later they founded Atlantic Realty Development Corporation in Woodbridge, turning it into one of the, if not the, largest real estate development companies in New Jersey.
As a philanthropist and community leader, Sam Halpern was a past vice chair of the American and International Societies for Yad Vashem and a benefactor with Gladys of the renewal of Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem.
Halpern was a major supporter of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and was a vice president of the American Gathering and Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. He received the Remembrance Award at the Fifth Annual International Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Award Dinner. He and his wife were major donors to United Jewish Appeal at the “Achim” giving level, and he was a board member and past campaign chair of the Central NJ federation.
A member of the National Campaign Cabinet and Prime Minister’s Club for Israel Bonds, Halpern was general chair of the Israel Bonds campaign in the Elizabeth area. He was a board member of the Jewish National Fund and the Zionist Organization of America, and served on the board of overseers of Touro College. He and Arie established the Halpern Family Scholarship Fund at Yeshiva University.
“In Israel, we helped others to make a living,” Sam Halpern once said of the hotels and offices the brothers’ company built there. “Every Israeli leader knows us.”
Locally, he was an honorary president and board member of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth and a member of both the JEC synagogue and Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston. He was a supporter of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, and with his wife supported many yeshivas, hospitals, and homes for the aged.
“I admired so many things about him,” said Toby Goldberger, past campaign chair at Jewish Federation of Central NJ. “He never lost faith in Judaism or the Jewish people after what he had been through, and he had an undying love for the State of Israel.
“Sam was always concerned about the needs of the poor and needy, and he loved and believed in Jewish Family Service of Central NJ — in fact, JFS in Elizabeth is called the Halpern building,” said Goldberger. “He remained religious and raised his four children to be the same, each supporting the Jewish community in his own way. He’s left some heritage. I’m going to miss him so much.”
“I simply fell in love with Sam Halpern the first time I met him,” said Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, UJA of Greater MetroWest NJ campaign chair. “His love for Israel, for the Jewish people, and for his family were all evident within just a few minutes of conversation. As we shared our stories of how important Israel was to both of us, he said to me, ‘I was working for Israel before there was an Israel!’ And I replied, ‘Sam, that’s why there is an Israel.’” Halpern, she added, “set an example of devotion to Judaism and to Israel and to family that will be an inspiration to me always.”
“Sam was one of my mentors, and I loved him,” said Central NJ federation past president Gerald Cantor of Westfield. “Twenty-five years ago, we were in Israel. Sam took me into the Knesset. He said, ‘Let’s go see my friend, Dov Shilansky, speaker of the Knesset.’ Pretty heady stuff for me. Dov was a survivor as well. When we went into his office, not only did Dov and he embrace, they started to sing. Sam was a singer. They sang old hasidic nigunim, some early Israeli songs, and some songs from liturgy — the liturgy part I knew. These were two comrades to whom the State of Israel meant so much.”
“Sam and Gladys were role models,” said Stone. “His leadership, dedication, and sincerity regarding community and love of klal Yisrael have been passed to his wonderful children and grandchildren. His guidance and passion will be missed. It is the end of a unique era.”
After a 2007 ceremony at which JFS of Central New Jersey dedicated the Halpern Building, Sam was asked when he first began giving charitable donations.
“There was no beginning,” he said. “We weren’t rich, but from childhood, we always gave tzedaka.” As if there were no other way to consider the matter, he added, “Tzedaka is tzedaka.”
He is survived by his wife, also a Holocaust survivor; four sons, David (Sharon), Fred (Cheryl), and Murray (Batsheva), all of Livingston, and Jack of New York; his grandchildren, Jeremy and Abbi Halpern, Mindy and Alan Schall, Yonina and Eric Gomberg, Maeira and Michel Werthenschlag, Alex and Aviya Halpern, Rachel Halpern, and Sean, Nathaniel, and Gabriel Halpern; and 14 great-grandchildren.
Services were held Nov. 1 at the Jewish Educational Center, Elizabeth, with burial in Jerusalem at Har HaMenuchot cemetery. Shiva will be observed through Sunday, Nov. 10, at 2 Lafayette Dr. in Livingston.