When Irv Berliner was a child, his parents made a point to help out anyone who needed it. Citing their Holocaust survival, Berliner said his parents were no-holds-barred when it came to assisting those in need – especially Jews.
“My parents talked, for many years, that in some ways the years after the Holocaust were the best (years) to be Jews because there were no divisions,” Berliner, a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, recalled. “Everyone lived through the same thing in Europe. So, whoever came to their house, they took care of them. They were the opposite of people who view Judaism through a denominational lens. They had a strong view that you need to help people who need help. It doesn’t matter who those people are.”
Berliner noted that thinking was ingrained in him from a young age, inspiring his work at Yeshiva Derech HaTorah, Green Road Synagogue, Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and Montefiore. His past volunteer ventures include time spent on Cleveland Sight Center, Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School, Gross Schechter Day School and YABI boards.
“(My parents) were the genesis for me,” he said. “I don’t have my parents’ people skills and I can’t help people in the same way they did. But professionally, I learned a lot about finances, managing money and what you do with all that. That is where I can help so I gravitated to it. I’m sure I had a choice, but it doesn’t feel like there was one. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Out of all his volunteer endeavors, Berliner’s work at Yeshiva Derech HaTorah is most rewarding. Explaining how the school’s predecessor, Mosdos Ohr HaTorah, had significant problems and Yeshiva Derech HaTorah pulled the institution out of it, the school is on the path of growing success.
“When (Yeshiva Derech HaTorah) was formed, the level of disarray at the school was almost incomprehensible,” he explained. “There were no financial records. There were 500 kids – and now less than three years later, we’re at over 700 students. We’ve also had two successful audits starting from nowhere.”
In order for community work to succeed, Berliner said it has to be nondenominational.
“The community is denominational but your requirement to help is nondenominational,” he stated. “Being on all the day school boards that I was on, you see a cross-section of the community. It makes me more impassioned to get people from all groups to work together. There are great people in all parts of the community. You’re not going to meet all of them at your synagogue.”
But Berliner’s key to community involvement is passion.
“You start with the heart,” he said. “If you’re not motivated by what the mission is, it might be successful but it’s not going to be as successful as it can be. There are so many opportunities, especially in the Jewish community, to find something that moves you. If you have the passion for it, it’s going to be a great experience.”
– Becky Raspe