Invaluable Asset

Itamar Rabinovich
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Itamar Rabinovich

On November 15, Larry (Lawrence) Tisch died in New York of gastrointestinal cancer. He was a pillar of New York and of the city's Jewish life: an extremely successful businessman, the patriarch of a large, active family, a philanthropist who endowed New York, America and Israel with important institutions.

Larry Tisch's life and career were emblematic of Jewish success in America. They demonstrated how one could be successful in America and remain fiercely Jewish and committed to Israel. His own personal success was magnified by the family - his wife, Billie, his brother, Bob, the four sons, the two nephews and the niece - all gifted, engaged and active. Individual exploits and the family saga became closely intertwined.

When I read The New York Times obituary, I felt that it missed the point. The elements were all there, but the essence of the man and his role and impact were not captured. The emphasis was on Larry Tisch's impressive business career, and particularly on his tenure as chairman of the board of CBS. This is understandable, but from the vantage point of, say, the president of New York University or of Israel's ambassador to Washington, a different tale would be told.

From NYU's perspective, Larry Tisch was the lay leader, who, as head of its board, played a key role in transforming it from a middling urban university into a dazzling global institution.

For Israel's diplomats in America, he was an invaluable asset, affording wise advice and unusual access. Furthermore, for many years Israeli leaders, whether accomplished or aspiring, felt that a visit to New York was not complete without a meeting with Larry Tisch. They wanted his help and advice, they sought access to his network, they asked for a wise commentary on the state of America's economy and politics. But there was one other unstated dimension - they wanted his blessing and endorsement. Leadership in Israel also entails acceptance by the American Jewish community, and Larry Tisch's informal blessing was indispensable.

His leadership and preeminence were informal. He and his family members had held every conceivable position in the Jewish hierarchy, but his influence lingered long after terms in office were completed.

The breakfast club

One manifestation of that influence was the breakfast club. If you wanted to meet the Jewish opinion makers in New York, you went to one of the breakfasts hosted by Larry Tisch in the back of the dining room at the Regency, the famed New York hotel owned by the family. There you would meet Henry Kissinger, Mort Zuckerman, Ken Bialkin, and Norman Podhoretz, among others. There you would argue for or against Oslo, or, more recently, the road map and the fence.

But beyond the wealth, the influence and the informal network lay the man - wise and smart, unpretentious in style and manner and forceful.

The forcefulness was mostly apparent when he fought his illness during the last a few months. He died courageously, and he will be sorely missed.