Mandell “Bill” Berman

Interviewed by Susie Citrin

December 12, 2003

Bloomfield Hills, MI

Mandell “Bill” Berman
Video 00:53:14


In this interview, Mandell “Bill” Berman speaks about his education.  He mentions attending United Hebrew Schools, Central High School, Arizona, Michigan, and Harvard.  He briefly mentions his experience as a Jewish student at Harvard Business School.  From here, Berman speaks about becoming a naval officer after D-Day, and then after returning, starting the Junior Division of the Jewish Federation, being instrumental in the building of Shaarey Zedek, and raising money and supplies for displaced persons for the Joint Distribution Committee.

Berman speaks at length of his involvement with the design and development of Shaarey Zedek building.  He speaks of his interests in Jewish Education; he was the president of Hebrew Schools, chair of the Association of American Jewish Education, chair of the Jewish Education of the National Council of Jewish Federations.  He mentions a significant moment in his career was helping Russians exit the Soviet Union while he was president of the Council of Jewish Federations, as well as organizing the Jewish Education Service of North America through the AAJE, and the Jewish Experiences for Families at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

Berman is asked about the Jewish population study and he explains his experiences working on that as well as some of the items that were learned because of it.

At the end of the interview, Berman talks about learning Hebrew, his numerous trips to Israel, his wife, children and grandchildren, and his experience of being on the Board of New Detroit as part of the Building Association.

History of Narrator

Mandell “Bill” Berman was born in Detroit in 1917, one of four children of Julius and Esther Anna Berman. He attended Central High School, graduating in 1936, and then earned two degrees from Harvard: a BA degree magna cum laude and an MBA from Harvard business School.  After graduation, he served four years as a naval officer in World War II.

Berman was a partner with Bert L. Smokler & Company from 1946 through 1975, where he established himself as an acclaimed builder. Throughout those hard working years he found time to care for the future of the Jewish Community. Through his many local and national leadership positions, Mr. Berman made a major impact on Jewish education. He was a past president of the Agency for Jewish Education (formerly United Hebrew Schools) as well as the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), and helped turn the Jewish Experience for Families program into a national model. In addition, he was a past president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the Council of Jewish Federations. In 1990, he helped fund the landmark National Jewish Population Survey and founded the Mandell L. Berman Institute North American Jewish DataBank which stores the population study, along with approximately 200 local Jewish community studies.

Mr. Berman was also honorary chairman of the University of Michigan’s Hillel Foundation capital fund-raising drive for the new facility which bears his name. Along with his wife Madeleine, he founded the Berman Center for Performing Arts at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, Michigan. His many awards and honors include Federation’s Fred M. Butzel Award for Distinguished Communal Service, the Israeli Peace Medal, and an honorary Doctorate of Law from Wayne State University at age 94.

Berman died December 21, 2016 at the age of 99.


Important Subjects

  • Congregation Shaarey Zedek
  • Council of Jewish Federations
  • Jewish Education
  • Jewish Population Study
  • New Detroit

Important Names

  • Abe Kasle
  • Albert Kahn
  • Conrad Giles
  • Harlene Appleman
  • Harriet Cooper Halpern
  • Hy Safran
  • Leonard Sidlow
  • Louis Berry
  • Max Fisher
  • Mike Zeltzer
  • Norman Naimark
  • Paul Zuckerman
  • Percival Goodman
  • Phil Slomovitz
  • Rabbi Morris Adler
  • Samuel Rubiner
  • Saul King

Credit as: Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives. Mandell Berman Oral History Interview, December 12, 2003.