Friday, September 5, 2014

HIS LOSS IS TOO PROFOUND TO DESCRIBE - Moshe Menora, z"l

My early morning routine is fairly consistent.  As I am shaving in the morning I listen to the news on the radio.  This keeps me up to date on everything that's happening around the world.  I don't pay close attention to what they are saying on the radio unless I hear something interesting.


That's the way it was on July 14, 2010.  But all of a sudden I heard something that caught my attention:


"A private plane has crashed in Mackinac Island, Michigan, killing a 72 year old man from Skokie, Illinois and 3 of his grandchildren, leaving another one in serious condition."

"How sad," I thought, but I didn't think it was anyone I knew...until I heard the radio again:



"Mr. Moshe Menora, of Skokie, Illinois, was killed while flying in a private plane. Mr. Menora was flying with his grandchildren, who were visiting from Israel for the summer, when the plane crashed briefly after take-off shortly after 5 p.m. in St. Ignace, Michigan, near the I-75.

Mr. Menora and three grandchildren did not survive.


One other grandchild, a 13-year-old who was ejected from the aircraft, is in critical condition."


Oh no!  Not only did I know Moshe Menora, he was a friend and a colleague of mine.  I stood in stunned silence and then went for the internet to get more details.  Unfortunately the internet did not have much beyond what was on the radio.  I also checked http://www.vosizneias.com/, a website that specializes in news of the Orthodox Jewish community but there was not much there either.

Before we relate the circumstances of the tragic death of Moshe Menora, z''l and three of his grandchildren, let's look at his life, and how I came to call him a friend.

Moshe Menora was born on April 27, 1937 in Haifa, Israel to Rabbi Shloma Yosef Menora and Rachel (maiden name unknown).  After his childhood in Haifa and Tel Aviv, he came to the United States, settling first in New York.  It was here in 1958 that he met the love of his life, Sema Chaimovitz (1939-2014), one of the twin daughters of noted Chicago Rabbi Louis Chaimovitz of blessed memory, and his wife Lillian.  Sema had been living in New York while attending Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women, and Moshe was running a kosher meat market there at the time they met.

Moshe Menora and Sema Chaimovitz were married February 25, 1960 in Chicago where they decided to make their home.   Their first home in Chicago was at 5300 W. Quincy:


5300 W. Quincy, Chicago

After settling in Chicago Moshe Menora started his long and successful career as a real estate developer.

Moshe and Sema Menora were blessed with three children: Miriam (b. 1961), Sholom (b. 1963), and Kelly (b. 1965?).

I first met Moshe Menora in about 1980 but I had heard of his reputation before that.   At that time I was working in the Investment Department of Washington National Insurance Company (WNIC) in Evanston, Illinois.  I was responsible, among other things, for problem real estate in the Company's portfolio - mostly properties the Company acquired after foreclosing on the mortgages they had held.  It seems that Moshe Menora, in the opinion of the executives of  WNIC, was a miracle worker when it came to problem real estate.

WNIC had foreclosed and taken title to a 55 unit apartment building at 5220 N. Kenmore in Chicago:


5220 N. Kenmore, Chicago

Menora approached WNIC with an offer, but an offer where Menora would make a down payment, and WNIC would loan him the money to completely renovate the building.  Menora already had a track record of turning around problem properties.  He had purchased the SRO known as the Royal Beach Hotel at 5523 N. Kenmore in Chicago.


5523 N. Kenmore, Chicago

Within a short time Menora had renovated the hotel from top to bottom and filled it with tenants.  He performed the same miracle with the building he purchased from WNIC.  Once it was renovated and fully leased, he refinanced at a significantly higher value with a new lender and paid off WNIC.  It was a win-win scenario all around.

I came to meet and work with Moshe Menora over an apartment building at 5727 N. Winthrop in Chicago  (Winthrop is the next street west of Kenmore in Chicago).


5727 N. Winthrop, Chicago

This is a 4-story, 55 unit apartment building.  To get around having to install an elevator they call it a "3-story with English basement" building.  Back in the condo conversion craze of the 70s-80s investors bought this building to do a condo conversion.  They obtained their financing through Washington National.  Well, the bottom fell out of the condo market before these guys had a chance to do their conversion, so they walked away and WNIC foreclosed.  Now it was my problem.  When the investors first bought the building, they kicked out all the tenants.  A vacant building can deteriorate very rapidly.  To protect their investment they hired a service that provided German Shepherd guard dogs who roamed through the building at will.  By the time that WNIC finally acquired title and I was able to get into the building, I was horrified.  There were piles of trash and dog excrement everywhere.  To even be able to go through the building I had to wear my oldest clothes and heavy rubber boots to be able to walk through the muck.  And in the summertime, you can imagine the smell. 

After my first walkthrough I came to the conclusion that the building was not salvageable.  I started talking to wrecking companies figuring that the building would have to be razed.  Then one of my associates said, "Why don't you give Moshe Menora a call?  He's done great work with these types of buildings in that very neighborhood."  And so that's how I got to meet Moshe Menora for the first time.

He was impressive by being unimpressive.  He had on dress pants, an open shirt, and the ever-present cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth.  I warned him what he would be seeing, but I think even he was shocked.  But, he liked a challenge.  He said the building was structurally sound; all it needed was a little "sweat equity."  So, he bought the building from WNIC for $38,000 (I still remember that after all these years), and then the insurance company loaned him $200,000 on top of that for renovations.

How he handled renovations was one of the secrets of his success.  He told us that he imported craftsmen from Europe and Israel and put them to work in his buildings.  I remember meeting one man who did nothing but restore stoves and refrigerators.  He took them apart, replaced any missing or broken parts, put them back together and then cleaned them from top to bottom.  By the time this craftsman was done, the appliance looked like new - and was better quality than what was currently being sold.  Menora told me that every appliance, mechanical piece, hardware, or window/door that he salvaged he did not have to buy - meaning that he did not have to spend any money for what could be restored/reused. 

I will never forget the day Moshe Menora invited us down to see the finished product.  He was so proud - and rightly so.  He gave us a "grand tour" from the roof to the basement, and what a transformation!  He was able to turn that building around from being ready for the wrecking ball to being ready for new tenants.  The building was, in a word, beautiful.  Moshe Menora the miracle worker had done it again.  Within a short time the building was fully leased and generating a substantial cash flow each month.

Over time, through working with Moshe Menora, I began to see some of the other side of the man.  One year at Christmas time, the receptionist in our office called and said we had a delivery to pick up.  We went downstairs and found fruit baskets - and what fruit baskets they were!  Each one was addressed to a member of the Mortgage and Real Estate Division that had dealings with Menora, and each card was signed "Moshe Menora and Sharon Leahy".  Moshe Menora and his fruit baskets soon became the talk of the office.  Every year Sharon called to make sure she had everyone's name, and every name spelled correctly.  They checked and double checked to make sure they didn't forget anyone - and they never did.

During this period as I got to know Moshe Menora, and ultimately his family, they were living at 6052 N. Sacramento in the West Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago:

6052 N. Sacramento, Chicago

One day early in 1986 a heavy envelope arrived at my home.  Inside was a beautiful engraved invitation in Hebrew and English inviting me to the wedding of Moshe and Sema Menora's daughter Kelly to Mr. Zevy Klein of New York:









Attending that wedding I got to see yet another side of Moshe Menora.  Not only did I get to meet his family, I had my first exposure to Menora as an Orthodox Jew.  The wedding was impressive from start to finish, and no one was smiling wider than the proud father of the bride.  And through it all, Menora's faithful assistant Sharon Leahy was explaining everything for all the non-Jews (and many of the Jews) who were in attendance.  It was an experience that I will never forget.  It was magnificent! 



During this period, Menora's company, called "Tri-United Management, Inc." was located at 4055 Main Street in Skokie:


4055 Main Street, Skokie

Time passed, and unfortunately my path did not cross Moshe Menora's path as often as it had.  The insurance company was sold, and all the employees were let go, so I did not have occasion to do business with Moshe any more.  I did hear through the grapevine from time to time that he and his family were thriving - I was not surprised.

I will never forget the last time I saw Moshe Menora in this world.  It was at the wedding of the daughter of a mutual friend.  I was working my way through the crowds of guests when I spotted a familiar face in a black suit and black hat - Moshe Menora!  I quickly moved over toward him and he greeted me with a big bear hug.  "How are you doing?" I asked, "You look great."  "I gave up smoking" he said with pride in his voice.  And he had a reason to be proud.  He had been a heavy smoker.  I never saw him without the familiar cigarette hanging from his mouth unless we were in an area where smoking was prohibited.  I told him what I was up to and we both agreed to look into the possibility of doing some more business together.  We parted with another handshake and a hug and went away with the same warm feeling I had whenever I saw him.

I did hear that in about 2000, he and Sema bought a house in Skokie - and what a house.  It is at 4100 Grove Street in Skokie:

4100 Grove Street, Skokie

That brings us to the terrible day July 13, 2010 when Menora's private plane crashed after takeoff in Michigan.  Killed in the crash were Moshe Menora, Kelly and Zev Klein's daughter Sara (17), and Sholom and Sima (Fogel) Menora's daughters Rivka (17) and Rochel (15).  Thirteen year old Nathaniel Joseph (Yossi) Menora survived the crash but was seriously injured.

I don't want to relate anything more about the accident.  If anyone wants to learn more, the internet has an abundance of information.

There were two funerals for Moshe and the girls.  The first one, for friends and family in the US was held July 14th at 7 p.m. at Congregation Or Torah in Skokie.  I attended the funeral at Or Torah along with over one thousand other mourners.  I knew that I would have to arrive early to get a seat and I was not mistaken.  By the time the service started, every seat was taken and people were three-deep in the aisles.

There were several eulogies given by noted rabbis recalling their interactions with Moshe and his family.  Again and again stories were told about his tremendous generosity but each one recalled Moshe's one caveat:  "If you tell anyone where this money came from, you'll never get another dime from me."  That was the essence of Moshe Menora. Thoughtful, caring and unbelievably generous, he did not want any earthly recognition of any kind.  There are no buildings, sanctuaries, or monuments dedicated to Moshe Menora - he would not permit it.

But it was not just about money, charitable or not.  It was disclosed that Moshe Menora was the behind-the-scenes initiator of the Daf Yomi shiur at Or Torah, a chaburah of 15 men that had finished Shas twice.

Eulogies were delivered by, among others, Rabbi Yosef Posner of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie, Rabbi Baruch Hertz of Congregation Bnei Ruven, and Rabbi Zvi Engel of Congregation Or Torah. Here are some photos from the first funeral, in Skokie:








 
I will never forget following those four hearses down Dempster Street.  The Village of Skokie had closed Dempster Street from Or Torah west to Crawford to allow us the opportunity to walk in procession behind the hearses. The procession was stopped at Crawford as the hearses sped on to O'Hare airport for their last flight back to Eretz Yisroel.

The funeral for Rikki and Racheli Menora was held first.  Here are some photos:










Sholom Menora, father of the two girls





After the girls' burial at Eretz HaChaim Cemetery in Beit Shemesh, came the funeral for Moshe and Sarah Klein at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Yerushalayim:

 
















 

Moshe Menorah and Sarah Klein are buried in Area (Gush) 35, Section (Khalka) 2, Row (Shura) 27:





























פ"נ 
Here is buried
(פה נקבר)
(of blessed memory) 
ר' משה מנורה
MOSHE MENORA 
בן הרב שלמה ויוסף ז"ל
Son of Rabbi Shloma Yosef and Rachel (of blessed memory) 
שיקגו סקוקי אילינוי
Chicago Skokie IL
מסור היה למשפחתו
He was devoted to his family
    אוהב ואהוב לצאצאיו
Loved and beloved by his descendants
שוועת עניים וכושלים שמע
He heard the cries of the poor and those falling
   חכם לבב ואמיץ כח
Brave of heart and courageous
החזיק ותמך במוסדות תורה ויהדות
Held and supported institutes of Torah and Judaism
    בקהילתו ובעולם
Within his community and in the world
הצניע לכת במעשיו
Was modest in his deeds
    וזכה להערכת ידידיו ומכריו
And earned the respect of his friends and acquaintances
נולד בשנת תרצ"ז
Born in 1937
  עלה בסערה השמימה
Ascended to heaven in a storm
ביום המר ב' מנחם אב תשע
On the bitter day 2 Av 2010



אשה יראת ה' היא תתהלל
A God-fearing woman will be praised (Prov. 31)
פ"נ – פה נקברה
הנערה שרה קליין ע"ה
The girl SARAH KLEIN, the peace be on her, is buried here
בת יבלחט"א (יבדל לחיים טובים אמן)
Daughter of Ephraim Zeev-may he be excluded for a long life Amen
ר' אפרים זאב שליט"א (שיבדל לימים טובים אמן)
רבות בנות עשו חיל ואת עלית על כלנה
Many daughters were virtuous but you were above them all (Prov 31)
שפכה כמים לבה נוכח פני ה'
He poured her heart like water before God (based on Eicha)


Profound thanks go to Dr. Wilfred and Chana Stein for the dramatic photographs and especially for their perseverance in finding the graves - and to their son, Rabbi Moshe Hoshen for translating the epitaphs. 

Sema Chaimovitz Menora was niftar 18 April 2014 in Yerushalayim. She is buried between her husband and granddaughter:



No article about Moshe Menora would be complete without mentioning his right-hand-woman Sharon Leahy.  She worked for him for over 35 years, and was as devastated, if not more so, than the rest of us, by his tragic death.  Here's what she told Forbes Magazine about working for Menora:

SHARON LEAHY, WORKS FOR:
MOSHE MENORA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE TRI-UNITED COS.

You must be able to think like a chief executive. It’s a meeting of the minds. He calls me the boss. I call myself a tiger lady. I’m as close to the seat of power as I choose to be, which means if I wanted to run a company on my own I could. I’m in charge of all the banking and have my name on his line of credit, which can exceed two commas. I even fired my own husband, who used to work here. Many people say this is a dead-end profession, but it’s all in the mind of the beholder.


Already fighting terminal cancer at the time of Menora's death, she held on as long as she could to help ease the transition.   Sharon lost her fight on April 30, 2011 - not even one year after the death of her beloved boss.  Sharon is buried in Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge, Illinois:



What can I say about Moshe Menora that has not already been said?  I was privileged to call him a colleague and a friend.

May he rest in peace.

3 comments:

  1. What a touching tribute. Beautifully written (as always).

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  2. This is a beautiful way to remember your friend. Thank you for sharing what must have been difficult to write.

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  3. Thank you for enabling us to encounter your precious friend. What a loss. There are simply no words. May the inspiration your readers take from Reb Moshe's life generate an emulation of his generous ways, and an aliyah to his neshama. May his memory be for a blessing. Wishing you a sweet, happy, healthy New Year 5775, to be written & sealed for the good.

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