Martin Stein was always willing to lend a hand to those in need, and his legacy will be felt in New Jersey for generations.
The Plainfield native and former East Brunswick resident died on Sept. 21 in Boca Raton, Fla., where he had resided for about 30 years. Stein is survived by his wife, Edith.
“It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Martin Stein,” said Susan Antman, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey. “Marty was a warm and wonderful man who set high standards for philanthropy. He will be missed by all those whose lives he touched.”
For decades the Steins maintained their support of the former Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, and later, after merging with the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, its current “Heart” iteration.
The couple helped establish the Stein Hospice of New Jersey and the Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living residence at the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset. Approximately 10 years ago they donated $150,000 to what was then the Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County, now the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, for senior services.
In addition to their charitable giving in New Jersey, they have also been prominent donors to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach in Florida and other charities in the Boca Raton area.
“He was a very kind and generous man who never forgot where he came from, and that guided him in life and philanthropy,” said former Middlesex federation executive director Gerrie Bamira of Oakhurst. “He cared about the young. He cared about the old. And he cared about the less fortunate. Edith and Martin Stein were partners in all they did, especially in their generosity to the Jewish community.”
Lindy Freedman of Ocean Township, whose husband, Herbert, was a friend of Stein for more than 70 years, compared Stein to a talent scout.
“If he met a talented young person, even a waiter or waitress in a restaurant, he would ask them about their ambitions and career goals and then he’d try and help them,” she said. “His mind was always on others rather than himself.”
Freedman’s husband, who died about two weeks before Stein, began his friendship with Martin when the two were teenagers in Plainfield, where Herbert’s family had moved from Brooklyn. The two bonded over similar backgrounds: Both of their fathers were small merchants — Lindy said Stein’s parents owned a deli — and both knew the value of hard work as each was expected to help in their respective parents’ stores. Stein went on to a career in real estate at the Berg Agency, a predecessor of Citigroup, eventually becoming its executive vice president, while Herbert managed Freedman’s Bakery in Belmar.
“Marty had a wonderful sense of humor and would make so many jokes about diving for pickles in a pickle barrel in his parents’ store,” said Lindy. “He always remembered the people and places he knew from 50 years ago. He worked in his parents’ store and eventually had a very successful real estate career that enabled him to be so philanthropic. He was really an astute businessman.”
Lindy attended many black-tie dinners honoring the Steins. These honors came as no surprise to her; Martin “only wanted to know what he could do for you,” she said.
Ivan Greenstein of East Brunswick is the long-time treasurer of the Wilf campus board. Though he declined to give specifics, he acknowledged that the Steins gave a “seven figure” donation to the campus in two parts, one for the assisted living facility, the other for the hospice.
Greenstein said he came to know Martin because both suffered heart attacks at young ages.
“I had a heart attack at age 42 and Marty had one just before me,” said Greenstein, who was instructed to walk as part of his recovery. During his jaunts he often bumped into Stein, who would also walk as part of his rehab. One day Greenstein asked Stein who he was, just as Stein asked the same question of his counterpart. As it turned out, they lived around the corner from each other and had much in common, including being active in the Jewish community.
“He was a charitable kind of guy. He gave to Jewish charities, children’s charities,” said Greenstein. “He was a really nice guy, a real sweetie pie.”
Despite his generosity, Greenstein said, Stein never sought recognition.
“He was very quiet about what he did and when we had the naming ceremonies [for the assisted living facility] he was there and happy to be there, but was sort of embarrassed,” said Greenstein. “He was very low key.”
Stein was a graduate of Rutgers University and Pace Institute. He served on the board of the Boca Raton Museum of Art and received its Jean Spence Award. He was also on the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and funded the construction of the Embrace Kids Foundation’s Martin and Edith Stein Building of Hope in New Brunswick for families with children who are suffering from serious illnesses.
The funeral was held Sept. 24 at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton. Internment took place in the Temple Beth El Mausoleum.