Attorney, family man, humanitarian, loyal to Weequahic High School, Temple Sha’arey Shalom – and the New York Mets

Hal Braff learned early in life that being Jewish meant more than just religious observance. “Going to service was not sufficient,” he said. “Make the world a better place, that is your responsibility.” That statement became the mantra reflecting his remarkable life. On Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, Harold I. Braff peacefully passed away following a long illness.

In a lifetime spanning 84 years, Hal’s personal and professional accomplishments were bountiful. A leader, visionary and humanitarian, he was passionate about his family, career, and volunteer endeavors. And he cared for people who lacked the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives resulting from inequality and intolerance.

Phil Yourish, the founding director of the Weequahic High School Alumni Association and a close friend, described Hal as “a kind, generous, thoughtful and dynamic individual, always available to help those in need. He was a ‘doer,’ not afraid to take on challenging situations, and always addressed difficult issues creatively with enthusiasm and optimism. As a mentor, adviser and friend, he impacted the lives of others in so many wonderful and meaningful ways.”

Hal was born in Newark, N.J., and raised in the Weequahic section, attending Weequahic High School, which he described as “one of the best times in my life.” His love for his high school inspired him later in life to provide opportunity to the current students at his alma mater.

Longtime Weequahic classmate and friend Dr. Noah Chivian said Hal Braff “was erudite, articulate, and totally committed to the many missions of repairing the world he adopted,”

Hal graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1956, was an active alumnus, and continued to be an ardent Badger football fan. Returning home, he received a law degree from Rutgers University in 1959.

He practiced law for 59 years, first at Braff, Harris and Sukoneck, and then as counsel to Margulies Wind, where he was a well-respected mediator. Bob Margulies explained that “Hal lived his daily life helping all comers. He was selfless. He was the ultimate professional and the consummate mensch, a man for all seasons. He unconditionally gave of himself, his talents and love to all whom he touched.”

In 1997, Hal and his friend and colleague Sheldon Bross established the Weequahic High School Alumni Association. He served as co-president for 18 years; the organization grew to be one of the largest and most successful high school alumni groups in New Jersey. Sheldon declared that “the Alumni Association has raised more than one-half million dollars for scholarships and student activities.”He added that “the word love was a part of Hal’s everyday vocabulary. He was one of kind! Everybody loved Hal. You’re not going to find another person like him”

Hal was an adjunct professor of negotiations at Rutgers Law School, the University of San Diego Law School, and for the MBA students at Peking University in Beijing.

Hal was president of Temple Sha’arey Shalom and developed a lifelong friendship with Rabbi Seymour Dresner. In the early 1960s, Hal served as counsel for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

For over 20 years, Hal and his wife, Elaine, were master teachers for PAIRS, a marriage education course. Hal had varied interests, including community theater, opera, religion, justice, politics – and the New York Mets.

Hal was literally a Johnny Appleseed in the American Inns of Court movement, an organization dedicated to teaching ethics, civility, and professionalism to young lawyers. He established a network of 23 Inns in New Jersey, as well as Inns across the country. In 1994, as a national officer, Hal received their highest award, which was presented to him in the United States Supreme Court. Hal was a member of the IOLTA Fund Board of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, serving as president.

Among the numerous awards Hal received were the Daniel J. O’Hern Professionalism Award conferred by the New Jersey State Bar in 2013 and Richard K. Jeydel Award for Excellence in ADR in 2015 from the Justice Marie L. Garibaldi American Inns of Court. He was also recognized on New York Magazine’s list of top lawyers.

He was involved with many other organizations, including the boards of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties.

Hal is survived by his beloved wife of 30 years, Elaine; his children, Adam (Michelle), Joshua (Jill), Zach, Jennifer Gelman, and Jessica Kirson (Danielle Sweeney-Kirson); 10 grandchildren, Jagger, Henry and Ella, Lila and Blaze Braff; Bryce, Jade, and Tyler Gelman; Isabella Sweeney-Kirson and Zoe Cali-Manko; and Hal’s sister, Susan Sayers (Gary). He was predeceased by daughter Shoshana.

Funeral service will be conducted on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 11:30 a.m., at Bernheim Apter Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel, 68 Old Short Hills Rd., Livingston, N.J. 07039.

Donations can be made to the Weequahic High School Alumni Association, P.O. Box 494, Newark, N.J. 07101.