Portrait of a Legacy
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
August 1, 2019
Visit Bar Ilan University on its sprawling campus in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv and you’ll find the name Stollman on the University’s administration building, a student dorm and the laboratories of the cancer research building.
Walk into the Max M. Fisher Federation Building and you’ll see the names Phillip Stollman with Max & Frieda Stollman listed prominently on the Founders wall along side the portrait of Max M. Fisher displayed in the lobby.
Who were the Stollmans among Federation’s Founders?
Community builders and leaders in every regard, Phillip and Max Stollman were brothers and partners in the Biltmore Development Company, well known for the development of Somerset Park in Troy, working in partnership with close friends and business associates, Max Fisher and Sam Frankel. A champion of Jewish education and a partner in the Stollman family’s community involvement in every aspect of Jewish community life, Frieda Stollman was married to Max. In 1980, Frieda shared the Fred M. Butzel Award – Federation’s highest honor for community service – with her brother-in-law, Phillip. Receiving the award at the Annual Meeting of the Board that year, this is what she said in her opening remarks:
“I share this great honor not only with my brother-in-law Phil, but with my dear husband Max who has been a constant partner in all our communal efforts and endeavors. Whatever good we have been able to achieve in Detroit, in Israel and elsewhere, we have done together. Max and Phil have always been partners- indeed, few brothers could be closer, nor could brothers share more common goals than they.”
Like so many of their generation, Phillip and Max grew to prosperity in Detroit from humble beginnings. They were Polish immigrants, the youngest two of six boys, raised in a close-knit family, guided by the traditions of Orthodox Judaism.
We learn more about Phillip’s legacy today through the eyes of the family’s next generations – great grandson, Matt Ran (a rising NEXTGen Detroit leader), son, Gerald (Jerry) Stollman and grandson, Gary Ran.
“I was lucky enough to know my great-grandfather and to be raised in a community that continues to feel his influence in Detroit, in Israel and on the world stage,” says Matt Ran. “I was in the 6th grade when he passed away and many of my memories of him are while he was living at Fleischman Residence. My brothers and I would go to visit him with my dad almost every Sunday.”
“My father was driven by a religious conviction that you have an obligation to take care of those in need,” recalls Dr. Gerald Stollman, photographer and retired Oakland Community College Professor. “That help included a Jewish education and a respect for what it stood for – that for the Jewish people to survive, knowledge of our history and heritage was critical.”
Recollecting the family backstory, Gerald continued: “I want to add that dad was eternally grateful to America, his adopted country. The little shtetl he grew up in was often overrun by marauding Cossacks. He rarely spoke of his life there, because his memories were so bitter. One day, after returning to his village from Hebrew School, he discovered his village had been pillaged, the women raped, the Shul ransacked, some of the men beaten and killed. His brother, Max, had been hung up by his prayer shawl, and left to die. Fortunately, his mom had been hiding in the kitchen cupboard, came out after the Cossacks had left, and cut him down to save his life. I believe uncle Max was just 16 years old at the time. Not surprisingly, he never spoke of that traumatic incident.
“While America in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s had its own issues with anti-Semitism, when compared to Poland, it was paradise. A Jew could start his own business, practice his own religion, go to shul without fear. My grandfather Louis Stollman, a very pious Jew started the family business called Stollman Building, which prospered until the Great Depression. In bankruptcy, Dad and two of his brothers in the business moved from Detroit to Jackson, Michigan to work in a junkyard owned by a cousin. With the beginning of the war in 1941, they returned to Detroit and started up the building business again, this time under the name, Biltmore Building Company.”
A quiet and deeply religious man of gentle demeanor, Phillip Stollman was never big on public recognition. But the record of his individual and collaborative achievement stands as a testament to a family legacy of activism and philanthropy that still hold today.
- The Stollmans were among the small group of Detroiters who were founding patrons of Bar Ilan University, Israel’s first American-chartered university and the second largest research university in the country today. Phillip served as Chairman of the Global Board of Bar-Ilan and, together with Frieda and Max, received an honorary doctorate from the university.
- The Stollmans were the founders of Akiva Day School and also among the early supporters of Hillel Day School.
- In 1958, the Stollmans built Congregation Mishkan Israel, in Oak Park, where their oldest brother, Isaac Stollman, served as rabbi. In 1964, a merger made the congregation the new Lubavitch Center. Inspired by the Lubavitch movement, Phillip became its major supporter in Detroit and a Yiddish-speaking confidant of Rabbi Berel Shemtov, the Lubavitch Foundation’s regional director.
- The Stollmans were also the founders, builders and benefactors of Young Israel in Oak Park.
- After the State of Israel was in created 1948, Phillip became one of Detroit’s most ardent ambassadors for Israel Bonds. No matter what community role Phillip Stollman was called upon to fill – on the Executive Board of the Detroit Federation, as Allied Jewish Campaign Chair or board member of Sinai Hospital – he served with humility, grace and total dedication.
“My grandfather was a committed Jew and Zionist,” says Gary Ran, Chairman and CEO of Telemus. “He was a religious man as well, but recognized that we lived in a modern world. Although lacking a formal education himself, he always stressed the importance of education, especially a Jewish one. At his urging, my siblings and I went to Hillel Day School to get the kind of Jewish education he so strongly believed in.”
“Phillip Stollman was a pioneer and a visionary in the field of Jewish education,” recalled Bob Aronson, Federation’s Senior Development Officer. “Long before others advocated for Jewish day school education and Jewish inspired higher education, he turned to the Detroit Federation, advocating for funding to support the schools in the Orthodox community. That was a first – and set a precedent for Federations across the nation.”
In the tribute to Phillip Stollman published in The Detroit Jewish News (May 22, 1998), Editor Robert Sklar wrote: “Stollman was revered throughout the Diaspora and Israel by the time he died, in Oakland County’s Huron Valley Hospital at 92 – 77 years after he and his mother passed through Ellis Island in New York harbor to join the rest of their family in Detroit. He is buried at HarMenuchot in Jerusalem.”
May the name and memory of Phillip Stollman always be a blessing.