Baltimore, MD - I was in Eretz Yisrael learning in yeshiva when I learned through a tape my parents sent me that M. Leo Storch was extremely ill. I was absolutely devastated.
For me, Mr. Storch was a mentor I looked up to throughout my teenage years. He was the type of person I wanted to be when I grew older. M. Leo Storch was a charming, brilliant Baltimore attorney, an accomplished businessman, and a successful real estate developer who made a huge impact on the Baltimore Orthodox Jewish community. His life was truly a kiddush Hashem.
Even today, 50 years after his untimely death, he continues to be a role model of middos and character that business persons and balabatim would do well to emulate. And it is his vision and actions of the 1950s and 1960s that continue to influence the Baltimore community, and even the national and worldwide Orthodox community. Leo served his country as a soldier in the Second World War.
Mrs. Chana Bamberger remembers Mr. Storch and Mr. Joe Yudin from when they were stationed in Cambridge, England, as members of the American arm forces. Joe and Leo would become lifelong friends, as would their spouses. Mrs. Bamberger lived in Cambridge with her mother and siblings. The family had left Munich to escape the Nazis, but her father, Ernst Ehrentreu, like many other Jewish men, was interned in Australia during the war. His wife, Jenny Ehrentreu, applied to run a kosher restaurant and boarding house in Cambridge in order to make a living for herself and her six children. Leo and Joe visited Mrs. Ehrentreu's place regularly in search of a kosher meat meal. Years later, when Leo got engaged to Hannah Hirmes, he said to Mrs. Bamberger's sister, "Your mother would approve of whom I have chosen."
Mrs. Bamberger has no doubt that the war and terrible devastation Leo experienced in the Second World War played a major role in his vision, desire, and determination to build the Bais Yaakov of Baltimore. "Leo felt strongly that he needed to do something major that would rebuild klal Yisrael after the tragedy and destruction of European Yiddishkeit," she says. Upon his return from the war, Leo entered business, where he instantly laid the ground work for his eventual success.
His reputation was known to all as one of total honesty. Everyone trusted him. His word was a word. His firm handshake and charming personality meant it was a lasting deal, never to be broken! His radiant smile, sincerity, and warmth made each person comfortable. When he entered a room, he was a magnet to all seeking his counsel and sound advice. He had an unusually beautiful penmanship with a distinct artistic quality of writing. Along with his integrity, Leo had business sense. One of his mantras was, "You never sell land, for eventually you will need it." He saw land as a limited resource that would gain in value some time in the future. That philosophy worked out for both the family and Bais Yaakov, as the land he purchased, with Hashem's help, did exactly what he believed it would do, investment wise.
M. Leo Storch was religiously uncompromising, yet respected by all segments of the community. For their 18 years together, he and his wife, ylc't, Hannah created a kiddush Hashem in every business and community transaction. In a time when shmiras Shabbos was a huge challenge, Leo made Friday a shorter day. The real estate world knew that no transaction ever occurred on late Friday afternoon or Shabbos. Leo was a leader in the Baltimore Orthodox Council and active in the wider Jewish community, bridging all Jews together in unity. But probably his greatest achievement was his vision in leading Bais Yaakov School for Girls into what it has become today, one of the finest Orthodox girls school in the world. Bais Yaakov has had wonderful leadership, with presidents Nathan Adler, a"h, Henry P. Cohn, a"h, Leo Storch, a"h, and, ybl"c, Rabbi Ari Neuberger, and Leo's son-in-law, Shlomo Spetner. Each president contributed so much, but it was Leo who orchestrated the purchase of the 48-acre Greenspring Avenue campus next to Cylburn Park. And it was that building that laid the foundation for the spectacular growth that led to the Park Heights and Smith Avenue campuses we have today.
Leo's leadership in establishing the Baltimore Vaad Hakashrus set new standards for kashrus. The Star-K has impacted not only Baltimore; it has become, over the years, a leading, global kashrus agency. As a young child, I vividly remember the night Henry P. Cohn and Leo Storch visited my parents to raise funds to pay the teachers of Bais Yaakov on time. And who could forget the excitement the time the Storches hosted Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, when he visited our community? How many parlor meetings took place in his spacious formal living room? And how many special events took place in the large dining room at 3415 Bancroft Road? How many key community meetings took place in Leo's private study? How many meshulachim did he greet - always warmly - and take care of, walking through the hallway to his office? And how many checks did he make out to them over that same desk?
M. Leo Storch passed away in 1972, but his family has continued his work and chesed. They provide philanthropy as well as unbelievable acts of chesed to so many causes in our Baltimore community: Jews for Judaism, WIT, the Vaad Hakashrus, Project Ezra, NWCP, Maalot, and the Community Kollel are just a few organizations to which the family, led now by Leo's wife, Mrs. Hannah (Hirmes) Storch, has given leadership and major financial support. All charitable causes and institutions in the Baltimore Jewish community have benefited from the generosity of this special family.
They have helped hundreds, even thousands, of needy persons with all types of chesed endeavors. Each year, before the winter, Mrs. Storch checks with Ahavas Yisrael trustees to ensure that there is ample warm clothing and other basic needs for our community. The family's often hidden chesed projects have made the lives of so many a better life to live. Hashem rewarded Leo's chesed with success and with a mishpacha that continues his work. I think Rabbi Reuven Savitz said it best, in an article published upon the death of Leo. I include it below to give you, the reader, a sense of who M. Leo Storch really was.
SIDEBAR In Tribute to a Jewish Nobleman by Rabbi Reuven Savitz
Stunned disbelief - Leo Storch is critically ill - spread throughout our community and to Jewish communities throughout the world. An hour-by-hour vigil, fervent recitation of tehilim, special prayers in Torah institutions in America and Israel; these were the responses. And when the Almighty, in His inscrutable wisdom, returned to Himself the soul of Moshe Leib - M. Leo Storch - profound mourning spread through the Torah world.
The grief set in motion far and wide by Leo's passing is one of the unique manifestations of the life Leo had - the life which touched so many other lives. Leo was a public figure, a leader of institutions and men for much of his life. He was an officer and then president of Bais Yaakov, the guiding spirit in the Vaad Hakashrus, an active participant in countless philanthropic endeavors, a host to world leaders of Torah Jewry who visited Baltimore, and an attorney and businessman of significance. And yet there was much more to Leo Storch than the public figure.
The grief evoked by the quiet passing was not evoked by the public Leo Storch. It was evoked by the quiet qualities of Leo's personality, the qualities which touched countless lives with gentleness, grace, and concern, which only a genius of the spirit could possess - the Leo Storch whose passion for Judaism, coupled with compassion for people, aided thousands of individuals in Israel, who turned to him over the years, knowing that Leo Storch, Munsey Building, Baltimore, was an address from which there was always a generous response from Leo Storch's limitless heart. It was the Leo Storch who could conceive grand concepts benefiting hundreds and thousands, who could move mountains to reach elusive goals, yet who grasped even the most grandiose idea in terms of the individual to be served; the Leo Storch who agonized over each child at Bais Yaakov who might for one reason or another leave the school and Torah education; the Leo Storch who was proud to humble himself in pleading with parents to continue the Torah education of their children. It was the Leo Storch who could, in the course of his business, sell a home to a couple and, upon becoming aware later of financial distress, help assure their ability to maintain the home, while also aiding them in providing educational opportunity for their children; the Leo Storch, whose construction projects were always directed towards providing quality to his customers, rather than meeting government and zoning minimums; the man who built roads in his developments at substantially greater costs to himself than necessary, because he considered the minimum legal standards inadequate.
It was the Leo Storch who passionately fought for greater levels of Jewish Torah life, and whose considerations were not whether a particular effort was good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant for Leo Storch, but whether it was good for "Yiddishkeit"; the Leo Storch who, when asked to receive Torah leaders in his home for the express purpose of soliciting his contributions to their institutions, insisted on visiting them immediately so as to avoid imposing on them the burden of journeying to his home; the Leo Storch who worked in the middle of the night to serve refreshments to one of the Torah leaders who stayed at his home and whose habit was to study during the quiet hours of the night.
It was the Leo Storch who would take valuable time, day and night, to solicit even small gifts to tzedaka, because he believed that tzedaka, particularly for Torah education, was among the greatest mitzvos he could aid people in achieving, even if in many cases the donor hardly appreciated the profundity of the mitzvah; the Leo Storch whose crystal clear mind and passionate heart saw Torah leaders as the guiding lights of his life and abided by their decisions, even though his extraordinary mind might not always fully grasp their reasoning. It was the Leo Storch whose public self confidence was matched by a private humility, in which he conceived of himself as having achieved but the barest minimum of Jewish life and Torah practice; the Leo Storch who, upon aiding an individual or an institution, made the recipient of his kindness feel that he was extending to Leo an incalculable service in visiting him and soliciting his help; the Leo Storch who, despite extraordinary business and communal burdens, devoted himself to his wife and children, to his brother and sister-in-law and their children, to his mother-in-law, and to others of the family, and who in his super efficient way, gave them his undivided attention, even though a score of other people and causes were clamoring for his time.
Leo Storch touched people's lives quietly and kindly, with love and feeling. The lives he touched were the greater for his attention, for his vibrant yiras Shamayim, his awe of the Almighty - which he exemplified through his justness, integrity, and charity. Leo Storch's life was a lesson in noble deeds. Leo Storch was a "gaon" of righteousness, of compassion, and of passionate commitment to Judaism. He was a "gaon" - a giant of Jewish spirit. Leo's untimely passing has evoked grief far and wide, because Jewry and mankind have lost a beloved brother, a mentor of nobility, a living example of the quality of Jewish life, a man who loved his people - each and every one of them - and who was loved in return by them. To have known Leo Storch is to be a greater person. We are all diminished by his passing.
Rabbi Reuven Savitz was an Executive Administrator at Bais Yaakov
This article first appeared in the Where What When