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Bennett Yanowitz led a law firm and Jewish groups: obituary
Published: Thursday, June 02, 2011
Pepper Pike -- The quiet, persuasive Bennett Yanowitz led an influential law firm and several national Jewish groups.
Still active at 88, Yanowitz fell two weeks ago in a parking lot on the way to chat about business and friendship over lunch. He died from complications Tuesday at MetroHealth Medical Center.
"He had the intellect and wisdom and energy and good common sense to be extremely effective in leadership and bring people along with him," said Robert Reitman, who served with Yanowitz at the Mount Sinai Health Care Foundation and other groups.
"He was a very good listener and evaluator," said developer Mitchell Schneider of First Interstate, where Yanowitz was a partner and counsel. After voters twice rejected First Interstate's plans for Avon Commons, Yanowitz rallied the group to try a third time and prevail.
He co-founded Kahn Kleinman Yanowitz and Arnson in 1962 and managed it for many years. He also led the Mount Sinai Foundation, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Educational Service of North America and what became the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. He was the first president of Akiva High School in Beachwood.
Yanowitz was the youngest of six children raised in Glenville. He became one of the era's many success stories from Glenville High. He was later inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
During World War II, he captained a black battalion in Italy and came to believe that disadvantaged groups should work together for equality. He later served in the Philippines but never saw combat.
Yanowitz majored in economics at the University of Michigan, graduated from Western Reserve University School of Law with highest honors and led the law review there.
He practiced with two partners and on his own until 1962, then joined Kahn Kleinman and added his name to the firm. Over the years, the firm was based at the Leader Building, Bond Court, Tower at Erieview and elsewhere.
Living in Shaker Heights, then Pepper Pike, Yanowitz usually caught the earliest rapid from Green Rd. at 5:36 a.m. or an even earlier one from Van Aken Circle.
After 40 years, he agreed in 2002 to drop his name from Kahn Kleinman. Smiling, he told The Plain Dealer, "I still have the corner office."
Kleinman specialized in development and estates. He represented Chelm Properties, Zaremba, OfficeMax and other leading businesses.
He served many companies as counsel, trustee and investor. He helped to turn National City Bank's historic headquarters into the Holiday Inn Express on Euclid Ave. downtown.
"People really looked to him not only for legal advice but input into their business matters. He was quite astute," said longtime partner Larry Sherman.
Yanowitz championed business and government alike. In a speech to the firm in 1997, he said, "We like to complain about big government. However, it is a totally different America with respect to individual rights than it was two generations ago as a result of governmental action."
Yanowitz visited Israel, the Soviet Union and Ethiopia and tried to bridge ethnic gaps. He rallied political and financial support for the controversial emigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. He watched President Carter sign a Mideast peace accord and supported President Clinton on another.
"For the first time in history," he said in a 1994 statement as president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, "Palestinians will be gaining control over their own affairs and destiny, a most important and historic step in a long process intended to improve the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people."
The same year, he issued a statement denouncing an Israeli gunman for slaughtering worshippers at a mosque: "We affirm the value of human life--all human life.... We reject dehumanization of Arabs, violent fanaticism, terrorism in all its forms."
Yanowitz's awards include Centerite of the Year from Park Synagogue, the Eisenman Award from the federation and a Jurisprudence Award from the local American ORT, an educational group. He and his wife, the former Donna Karon, endowed the Federation's Bennett and Donna Yanowitz Leadership Award for people under age 40.
On his 85th birthday, Yanowitz turned in his law license. "It's the only way I can slow myself down," he said.
Until falling, though, he kept administering trusts and advising businesses.
Survivors: wife, the former Donna Karon; children, Alan of Beachwood, Joel of Mill Valley, Calif. and Jerry of Maraga, Calif.; and seven grandchildren.
Funeral: 11 a.m. today at Park Synagogue, 3300 Mayfield Rd., Cleveland Heights.
Contributions: Jewish Educational Service of North America, 318 W. 39th St., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10018, or Hebrew Cultural Gardens, c/o Jewish Federation of Cleveland, 25701 Science Park Dr., Beachwood, OH 44122.