October 3, 2002
Philanthropist and Attorney, Dies at 90
Harvey Silbert, philanthropist and attorney, died Sept. 28. He was 90.
For more than six decades, as a businessman, founding partner and attorney of counsel to numerous law firms, Silbert had been a professional and philanthropic engine in Los Angeles.
In a eulogy, Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood described Silbert as "prodigious in stature and dignity, magnanimous in his capacity to love, overwhelming in his generosity to individuals and to every good cause, to his people and to the State of Israel, indeed, to all humankind."
Silbert's life began on June 10, 1912, in Boyle Heights, where he became a bar mitzvah at the Breed Street Shul. During the Depression, he graduated from Southwestern University Law School. Despite the threat of anti-Semitism, Silbert launched a legal career with a $50-a-month salary and a streetcar pass to the courthouse.
His first celebrity client, silent movie star Constance Bennett, broke him into entertainment law. When a Columbia executive asked him, in the 1940s, to join the board of what would become Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Silbert's career as a philanthropist was born.
A recipient of numerous awards and honorary doctorates, Silbert served as the director of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and of Bet Tzedek Legal Services. He was a member of the board of trustees of UCLA, the founder of the Silbert International Scholars Program of UCLA's Medical School and facilitator of the Fund for Interactive Biomedical Research in Washington, D.C. He was on the board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University, sat on the board of directors of Southwestern University School of Law and was a member of the Western region board of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. He also supported the Anti-Defamation League and Milken Family Foundation.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem was a special part of Silbert's philanthropic life. He assumed a series of key leadership roles within The American Friends of The Hebrew University (AFHU), including chairman of the board of the Western states region from the mid-1980s to the present. He was also a chairman of AFHU's board of directors and served as deputy chairman of the Hebrew University International Board of Governors. A tireless proponent of the institution, Silbert often brought delegations of supporters to Israel. He and his wife of 67 years, Lillian, became benefactors of Hebrew University in 1990. The Silberts' generosity led to the establishment of vital facilities on the Mount Scopus campus, including The Harvey L. Silbert Center for Israeli Studies. He also initiated funding for the Lillian and Harvey L. Silbert Humanities Building, a rich cultural reservoir of educational resources; the Silbert Family Wing at Hebrew University's Louis Boyar Building housing the Rothberg International School; and the Lillian Silbert Garden on the Mount Scopus campus.
He mixed easily with Israeli prime ministers, U.S. heads of state and Hollywood notables. He knew Gregory Peck well, and his friendship with Frank Sinatra, whom Silbert deemed "one of the nicest, kindest men I've ever met," led to the legendary crooner subsidizing a Hebrew University edifice. He also persuaded Barbra Streisand to fund a building on the Mount Scopus campus.
"I'd like to see more [Jewish] people involved [in supporting Jewish and Israeli causes]," Silbert once told The Journal. "There are some very important people in this industry, the heads of major studios, whom you still can't budge."
"He was embarrassed by how good and generous he was. He was Harvey," said Patricia Glaser, partner at Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil and Shapiro, where Silbert had an office for the last four years.
"Harvey was a model for me and for many others in the Jewish community," said Peter Weil, president of the L.A chapter of AFHU, Western Region. "Just a walk through its campus on Mount Scopus ... quickly shows his impact. Buildings, classrooms, faculty offices, even gardens, all bear the Silbert name."
Silbert is survived by his wife, Lillian; son, Kenneth; daughter, Lynne; grandchildren, Jill, Gina, David and Greg; great-grandchildren, Lucie, Sam and Eliana; and sister, Sylvia Stern. -- Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer