Philadelphia lawyer Theodore “Ted” Mann, who led numerous Jewish organizations both worldwide and locally for years and was an early critic of Israel’s West Bank occupation, died Dec. 12 from COVID-19, JTA reported. He was 92.
Burt Siegel, a retired director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia — an organization Mann headed in the 1970s — said his mentor was a modest man who understood the meaning of Jewish ethics.
“He did not think of himself as an important man,” Siegel said. “He thought of himself as someone doing important work.”
“He was comfortable with people and comfortable with ideas,” said Larry Rubin, another former JCRC leader, who first met Mann as a Washington, D.C., representative of the American Jewish Congress.
Mann gained particular notoriety in 1987, when the group, with Mann as president, adopted an unprecedented statement warning that Israel’s failure to divest itself of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would eventually force it to choose between being a Jewish state and a democracy.
Siegel said Mann, who lost numerous relatives to the Holocaust, thought it was worth giving up land to save Jewish lives.
“He really did care about every Jew,” Siegel said, adding that Mann pushed for others to be involved with the Jewish community. “Nobody wanted to say ‘no’ to Ted Mann.”
The Washington Post, among other publications, published obituaries of Mann, who was almost better known outside of Philadelphia than within it. The Post quoted Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, talking about Mann’s influence: “When others were challenging the right of American Jews holding dovish views on Israel-Palestinian issues to speak out publicly in criticism of Israeli policy,” Saperstein said, “Ted helped lead the argument asserting not only the moral right but moral obligation of critics to speak out.”
As chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Mann flew with then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Egypt to celebrate the signing of a peace treaty with the country, later falling asleep during a belly dance show.
Mann also chaired the Israel Policy Forum, launched Project Nishma to support the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, was a trustee at the New Israel Fund, was involved with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and was the founding chairman of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger in 1985. In 2012, he published a memoir entitled “If I Am Only for Myself.”
“He was at the forefront of social justice in the country generally, and certainly in the Jewish community,” Abby J. Leibman, Mazon’s president and CEO, told the Post. “You felt that from the moment you were in his presence. There was a force of both passion and compassion that emanated from him in everything he said or expressed.”
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1928, Mann came to the U.S. as a baby. He served in the U.S. Army and later earned a law degree from Temple University. He argued several religious freedom cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mann was one of the founding partners of Mann, Ungar, Spector & Labovitz, which focused on complex commercial litigation, though he also collaborated on friend of the court briefs regarding First Amendment cases, former partner Marc J. Zucker wrote in an email.
Those cases included the early portions of Abington School District v. Schempp, a 1963 case where the court ruled 8-1 that it was unconstitutional for a school to sponsor Bible readings.
“It was an honor to practice law with Ted, trying cases together and formulating strategy. He was a brilliant litigator, a forceful advocate and a true mentor to me,” Zucker wrote. “He had an intuitive understanding of human nature, a keen business acumen and was a terrific storyteller — all great assets as a commercial litigator.”
“He was a fabulous lawyer,” fellow law partner Barry Ungar said, adding that in 31 years of their partnership, they never had a major disagreement. “I learned my craft from him.”
Ungar said Mann demonstrated unwavering integrity. When Mann was asked to serve a two-year term to lead the Conference of Presidents, he made sure to clear it first with Ungar, his sole partner then, because he was worried about the potential revenue loss from having to split his time.
Mann also was witness to numerous historical events, which he related in Jewish Exponent articles.
Mann recounted in a 2013 article how he was present during Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., in August 1963, but didn’t hear a word. He was near the stage by the Lincoln Memorial listening to Rabbi Joachim Prinz who spoke right before King. But Mann fainted from the heat.
“Somehow, the people that ran the enormous event got a stretcher into this phenomenal crowd,” he said. “I was really pissed off. King’s speech turned out to be everything. It was a great occasion.”
The following year, upon the death of Ariel Sharon, Mann detailed his 1979 interaction with the former Israeli prime minister. At the time, Sharon was Israel’s agriculture minister, while Mann chaired the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations — and opposed Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon wanted him to change his viewpoint.
“He never took no for an answer,” Mann said of Sharon. “He flew us around in his helicopter to the various settlements he wanted us to see
One of Mann’s daughters, Julie, said that her father was modest about his accomplishments and allowed his children to pursue their own interests. Mann was inquisitive in conversation, and loved to laugh.
“As somebody said in the shiva, he led several different lives,” Julie Mann said. “And he really gave his full self to all of them.
Mann is survived by daughters Julie Mann (Ernie Cohen) of Wyncote and Rachel Mann of Philadelphia, son Marcus Mann of Philadelphia, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Additional reporting by Ben Harris for JTA.