Michael J. Weisz, business and community leader, died the morning of Nov. 6 at his home in Berwick, following a seven-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 62.
Weisz, who was born Sept. 28, 1957, was a retired attorney who practiced real estate and personal injury law for more than 30 years. He was the founder of Smith Tandy Group and Haddon Communities, both in Columbus.
Born in Chicago and raised in Cleveland Weisz attended the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, Yeshiva University and Capital Law School. He married Chanita Stavsky in 1979, and they raised four children.
Rabbi Eli Dessler, financial director of the Hebrew Academy, has known Weisz for 58 years. He and Weisz were classmates at Hebrew Academy.
Dessler said he had just landed at the airport from a trip to New York when he heard his friend had passed. He spoke to the Columbus Jewish News while driving to attend the funeral.
“Michael was extremely friendly, very warm and a good student. His Judaism was very important to him,” he said. “He was able to speak to anybody. He was an impeccable businessman with a sterling reputation, and he lived by those guidelines.”
Dessler said he and Weisz had kept in touch through emails during Weisz’s battle with cancer.
“He had the utmost faith in God, that God was going to help him and persevere,” he said. “And he prayed, and we prayed.”
Weisz was past president and chairman of the board of Beth Jacob Congregation; a founder and first president of Columbus Torah Academy High School; a founder, first president and co-chairman of the board of Columbus Community Kollel; past president of Columbus Torah Academy Day School; member of Ohio State Bar Association; member of Columbus Bar Association; past board member of Jewish Federation of Columbus; past president of Columbus Vaad Hoeir; a founder and first president of Columbus Eruv Society; honoree as Top 10 Alumni at 50th anniversary of Hebrew Academy; and past board member of Union of the Orthodox Congregation of America.
Rabbi Avroham Drandoff told the Columbus Jewish News that he met Weisz and his wife when he moved to the area as part of the Columbus Community Kollel. Four years ago, Drandoff became head of school at Columbus Torah Academy, an institution that holds a special place in the hearts of the Weisz family. Weisz’s father-in-law, the late Rabbi David Stavsky, was a founder of the school, and Weisz, his wife and their children are alumni. One of his grandchildren is a current student.
“Michael has been incredibly supportive, always available for any questions that I have, offering me advice and a lot of guidance,” Drandoff said. “Every time I saw him, he asked me how I was doing, and that always gave me encouragement. It's really sad for me.”
Drandoff said he admired Weisz’s leadership style, as well as his ability to stick to – and articulate – his convictions.
“When Mike spoke, people listened. There was absolute respect,” he said.
The Columbus Jewish News honored Weisz this past summer in its inaugural class of 18 Difference Makers. In an article in the Sept. 19, 2019, issue, Weisz discussed his involvement in Columbus’ Jewish community.
“There is a special line contained in the ‘Ethics of the Fathers’ which states: ‘It is not your duty to complete the work ... but neither are you free to desist from it,’” he said. “If we don’t get involved in our Jewish community, who will?”
In the article, Weisz talked about the two men who most impacted his life: his father, the late George Weisz, who was an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor, and his father-in-law, Stavsky, former rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation from 1957 to 2004, who also served as Weisz’s adviser, teacher, role model and neighbor.
“These two individuals in my life, who I have most looked up to and tried to emulate, both enriched my life with their knowledge and, upon their passing, my families’ lives were left bereft of two noble princes amongst men,” Weisz stated.
Mark Lovinger, a clinical and forensic psychologist from Beachwood, a Cleveland suburb, has known Weisz since he was 10, when his family came to Ohio from Slovakia.
They were classmates at Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva University, and in college, he said they often coordinated their class schedules so they could have “breakfast meetings” together.
Over the years, their families have celebrated weddings, bar mitzvahs, happy occasions and sad ones, as well.
“(Michael) was one of the first people to pay me a Shiva call when my mother died, and that’s when he was already diagnosed (with cancer),” he said.
On his way to the funeral, Lovinger described Weisz as “beloved by everyone.” During the week before he passed, Weisz’s friends traveled to Columbus to spend time with him.
“This is a group that has been so tight, and the most important person in that group is gone,” Lovinger said.
He described Weisz as “a pillar of the community” and said Weisz and his wife “worked endlessly to build up Jewish life in Columbus.”
“We’re going to miss him terribly,” Lovinger said.
Weisz is survived by his wife, Chanita; son, Rabbi Naphtali “Tuli” (Abby) Weisz; daughters, Leah (Uriel) Sturm, Ariella (Jonathan) Eltes and Mina (Steven) Stieglitz; his mother Josephine “Peppi” Weisz, and sister Linda (Jeff) Bookman. He has 15 grandchildren.
There was a memorial service Nov. 6 at Beth Jacob Congregation in Columbus. Weisz will be buried in Israel at the Eretz HaChaim Cemetery in Beit Shemesh at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 8. The family will return to sit Shiva in Columbus on the afternoon of Nov. 10.
Publisher’s note: Rabbi Eli Dessler is a member of the Columbus Jewish Publication Company Board of Directors.