Religion

Civic leader Mark Bernstein dies at age 85

Mark Bernstein of the Foundation of the Charlotte Jewish Community presents Gov. Jim Martin with a book, “The Jews of Charlotte” by Morris Speizman, at a dedication ceremony for Shalom Park in September 1986.
Mark Bernstein of the Foundation of the Charlotte Jewish Community presents Gov. Jim Martin with a book, “The Jews of Charlotte” by Morris Speizman, at a dedication ceremony for Shalom Park in September 1986. The Charlotte Observer

Mark Bernstein, a Charlotte attorney who was a major patron of the arts and a leader in the city’s Jewish community, died on Monday. He was 85.

A longtime member of the Parker Poe law firm, Bernstein served over the years on a host of community boards that focused on the arts, religion, social services and the law.

Among other highlights, he helped grow the Charlotte Symphony into a major orchestra; led the city study group that paved the way for the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center; and facilitated the creation of Shalom Park, a 54-acre campus for the Jewish community that opened in 1986 and has become a national model.

Sara Schreibman, who worked with Bernstein at Parker Poe and is now director of development at Temple Beth El, said he was “absolutely one of the original creators” of Shalom Park.

She said Bernstein chaired the early meetings and wrote the joint venture agreement signed by the park’s five occupants, including Temple Beth El, Temple Israel and the Jewish Federation. After the campus opened, Bernstein told the Observer he fielded calls from Jewish communities in 20 other cities that were interested in possibly copying what Charlotte’s had done.

“He was wonderful,” Schreibman said Monday. “He was just caring and quiet. Yet he had a way of convening people and talking them through a process.”

Born in York, Pa., Bernstein moved to North Carolina with his family in 1948. By the 1960s, the Yale Law School graduate was increasingly active in serving the community, along with his wife Louise. (She died in 2013.)

His long civic resume included stints as president of the Charlotte Symphony, president of Temple Beth El, president of the Mecklenburg County Bar and chair of a group appointed by then-Mayor Eddie Knox to explore the feasibility of building a performing arts center for Charlotte.

In 2004, Bernstein co-chaired the Arts & Science Council’s Cultural Facilities Master Plan, which has resulted, so far, in what is now the new Levine Center for the Arts and the renovations and new exhibition platform at Discovery Place.

“Mark was a force in this local arts community, a champion over the decades,” said Robert Bush, president of the Arts & Science Council. “He was a friend and adviser to many of us in the cultural community. His legacy will live on, but he will be missed greatly.”

In his various roles, Bernstein won wide respect from other Charlotte leaders.

Two years ago, when the Mecklenburg County Bar gave Bernstein its Ayscue Professionalism Award, Foundation for the Carolinas President Michael Marsicano was among those lauding him.

“During a time when character, integrity and ethics appear in short supply, Mark is a beacon for all three,” Marsicano wrote. “He loves the law and is deeply committed to social justice. He is intellectually honest and profoundly fair. And I do not know a kinder, more gentle man – except for on the tennis court.”

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Funeral service

The funeral service for Mark Bernstein will be 10 a.m. Wednesday at Temple Beth El, 5101 Providence Rd. The temple will also host a Shiva memorial service at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Survivors include his children, Adam Bernstein, Andrew Bernstein, Cary Bernstein, Jon Bernstein, Philip Bernstein and Evan Finamore.

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