Jay I. Kislak stands aboard the Intrepid in New York last year at his 95th birthday celebration. — Courtesy: The Kislak Co. Inc.
By Joshua Burd
When Jay Kislak was in the office for a sales meeting, no one at The Kislak Co. would ever mention using the phone as an alternative to meeting a client or prospect in person.
And when it came time to get a contract signed, doing so by mail was virtually out of the question.
“That’s the old Kislak style and it’s still the best way to do business, in our opinion,” said Robert Holland, president of The Kislak Co. Inc. in Woodbridge, adding: “He was a tough boss — and he pushed and he demanded — but it made people better salespeople.”
There is little doubt as to why Kislak’s name is synonymous with the brokerage business in New Jersey real estate. Even so, it is just one piece of a legacy that friends and colleagues are highlighting as they remember the longtime patriarch of The Kislak Organization.
Kislak, an iconic figure in real estate and philanthropy, whose giving helped further education and culture in New Jersey and elsewhere, died Wednesday at his home in Miami. He was 96.
The brokerage firm on Thursday announced Kislak’s passing, noting his unmistakable role in commercial real estate. But the company also recalled him as a philanthropist, aviator, collector, history enthusiast and patron of education and ideas — pursuits that are seemingly as integral to his life as his decades in business.
“Jay spent his life exploring unusual places, ideas and ventures, forging relationships and assembling extraordinary treasures, which he generously shared,” the Kislak Co. wrote in an obituary released this week. “His achievements encompassed many fields of endeavor — business, collecting, flying and philanthropy, to name just a few.”
Kislak, the son of Julius I. Kislak and Sophia Segal Kislak, was born June 6, 1922, in Hoboken. He earned his first real estate license while still in high school at Newark Academy, going on to earn a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and then serving as a naval aviator in World War II.
Upon returning home to New Jersey in 1945, he entered the family business that dates back to 1906 and is closely tied to many of the state’s influential real estate brokers or executives. In the early 1950s, Kislak moved his family to Miami and established what would become one of the country’s largest privately held mortgage banks, originating and servicing loans nationwide for more than 40 years.
Kislak served as chairman of The Kislak Organization until his death.
“Everyone has a great Jay Kislak story,” said Jason Pucci, chief operating officer of The Kislak Co. Inc. “Many of our clients are second- or third-generation, so they’ve known Jay and the family for decades, both in New Jersey and in Florida.”
Pucci added: “Jay was an extraordinary man in every sense of the word.”
“He had such a lengthy, successful career,” he said. “He would always push us in the best sense, he would always challenge everyone to do better.”
Kislak and his first wife, Beverly Braverman, had three children — Jonathan, Phil and Paula — and remained friends until her death in 2015. The firm said that, through a shared passion for art, Kislak met Jean Ellis Hart before the two were married in Miami in 1985, sharing adventures that took them from the North Pole to the South Pole and included every continent.
His legacy as a philanthropist is also well-known and has had a major impact on the region. In 2006, Kislak and his family made a transformative gift to Monmouth University that allowed the school to establish The Kislak Real Estate Institute and become the first university in New Jersey to offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the business of real estate.
Today, the program has support from and deep ties to the industry in New Jersey.
“We now have hundreds of students and graduates of the program who have benefitted from the generosity of Jay Kislak,” said Peter Reinhart, the director of The Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth. “`We were honored to have Jay return to campus in June 2011 to receive our Leadership Excellence Award at our annual Real Estate dinner.”
The Kislak Family Foundation also established centers at the University of Pennsylvania and supports programs at the Florida State University Real Estate Center, the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine and other institutions.
Equally prominent and perhaps even more extraordinary is Kislak’s legacy as a collector. Over decades, he amassed a trove of rare books, maps, manuscripts, paintings, prints and artifacts, joining his wife Jean to establish the nonprofit Jay I. Kislak Foundation for the conservation and study of materials related to the cultures and history of the early Americas.
In 2004, he donated more than 4,000 items from the collection to the Library of Congress, according to his obituary. The gift, now on permanent display, features what the firm says was one of Kislak’s greatest acquisitions — the 1516 Carta Marina Navigatoria, the first printed navigational map of the world by the celebrated German mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller.
Through a landmark gift in 2017, Kislak and his family established two permanent South Florida homes for his internationally significant collection, leading to Kislak Centers at the University of Miami and Miami Dade College Freedom Tower.
“Jay never lost his genuine sense of curiosity, constantly asking questions, interested in learning more and embarking on new explorations,” the company wrote. “Into the final decade of his life, Jay’s energy, memory and physical bearing were remarkable.”
Kislak was predeceased by his parents and sisters, Sima and Naomi, and his first wife, Beverly. In addition to Jean Kislak, his wife of 33 years, he is survived by his children, Jonathan (Tina) Kislak, Philip (Silvia Figueroa) Kislak and Dr. Paula (Dr. Peter Mangravite) Kislak, along with stepdaughter Jennifer (Noel) Rettig; grandchildren, Rebecca, Jason, Tamara, Libby and Jane; and great-grandchildren, Ezra, Simon, Kayla, Julia, Stokes and Aura. He is also survived by his brother, David, and many nieces and nephews.
His family will host a celebration of his life at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at Temple Beth Am, which is located at 5950 North Kendall Drive in Pinecrest, Florida.