Richard Berenson Stone, major Jewish leader and defender of Israel, dies in NY
RICHARD BERENSON STONE, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations representing more than 50 of the most influential American Jewish non-profits and a former longtime president of the National Coalition for Soviet Jewry (then the NCSY and now the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry or NCSEY), died on Sunday, May 29, in New York. He was 79.
A New Orleans native, Stone graduated first in his Isidore Newman High School class of 1960, attending Harvard University, where he entered as a sophomore and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in 1963. A member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society, he matriculated to the Harvard School of Law, where he was selected as a member of the Harvard Law Review, an honor bestowed on the top 25 of his freshmen class of 525. His graduation from the Harvard School of Law followed in 1967. He became a member of the Louisiana State Bar later that year and began a legal career first in private practice at the firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.
While living in Washington, he was appointed a Deputy Solicitor General in the coveted Office of the Solicitor General of the United States. Stone was one of a few attorneys who represented the United States at the Supreme Court level and prepared briefs and made arguments before the Supreme Court, managing all tax cases for the Court from 1972 to 1973.
He later moved to New York City and had been a member of the the faculty of the Columbia School of Law since 1974, where he held the Wilbur Friedman Chair in Tax Law, beginning in 1991. He was a noted expert in corporate tax law and real estate law.
Even as a youth, Stone demonstrated a strong connection to the Jewish religion and he found an attraction to an observant life. He delayed his entrance into Harvard University for a year in order to study at Merkaz Harav Kook (Talmudic Academy) in Israel. He studied for 12 hours a day and stated on more than one occasion that the learning there was often more rigorous than what he received at Harvard. He returned to Israel often in his lifetime to study Talmudic law with learned authorities there. “He had a monumental passion for Jewish learning and study,” his brother Harvey acknowledged.
Stone first distinguished himself as a major player in the Jewish world when he became chairman of the NCSY during the period of protests for Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel and the United States, which occurred during the Cold War and later when the Soviet Union broke apart. He has also chaired the policy arms of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the New York Jewish Community Relations Council.
A business leader, he was a co-founder of Lev Pharmaceuticals, SIGA Technologies and Powermat, a wireless recharging device company, and the chairman of the board of Espro Acoustiguide, the second largest provider of hardware and other materials for acoustical museum guides. Recently, he had been investing heavily in Israeli startups and tech firms, bestowing grants to them in return for a minor stake in their businesses.
A longtime resident of New York, he served as Mayor Rudolf Giuliani’s representative on the Board of the City Universities of New York (CUNY).
Stone had been at the forefront of Jewish leaders and thinkers for decades and was a featured speaker in 2013 along with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in 2013 for the kickoff of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans’ centennial celebration. He also received the Isidore Newman Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2014.
As chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he led the 38th Israel Leadership Mission at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel in 2012, bringing together more than 100 American Jewish leaders to Israel. An outspoken advocate of the State of Israel and a personal friend of longtime Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other world leaders, Stone actively fought against the delegitimization of Israel and sought to strengthen tied and promote unity within the American Jewish community towards Israel.
Stone had said it was essential to convey an image of strength to the world for both the American Jewish community and Israel.
Although he did not write many scholarly papers or books, he was among the most popular of professors at the Columbia School of Law. Yet, he also found downtime to enjoy the simple passion of fishing. He enjoyed fishing in the backwaters of Louisiana as well as along the shores of Long Island Sound.
Stone is survived by his siblings, brother Harvey Stone (Danna) of New York City and sister Carol Wright Stone (Patrick McNamara) of New Orleans and four children Rebecca Stone (Seth Berkowitz), Ilana Stone (Ben Snider), Aliza Stone Howard (Ben), and Mikey Stone; and six grandchildren.
A funeral was held at West Side Institutional Synagogue on 120 W 76th St. in New York City on Tuesday, May 31. Burial will be in Israel.