Jay I. Kislak

Oct 05, 2018
Jay I. Kislak

Miami — Innovative businessman, philanthropist, aviator, collector, history enthusiast and patron of education and ideas Jay I. Kislak, 96, died peacefully at his Miami home Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The son of Julius I. Kislak and Sophia Segal Kislak, Jay was born June 6, 1922, in Hoboken, N.J.

Jay spent his life exploring unusual places, ideas and ventures, forging relationships and assembling extraordinary treasures, which he generously shared. His achievements encompassed many fields of endeavor – business, collecting, flying and philanthropy, to name just a few.

Entrepreneurial and driven, Jay got his first real estate license while still a high school student at Newark Academy. He earned a degree in economics from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating early to serve as a naval aviator in World War II. Upon returning home to New Jersey in 1945, Jay entered the family real estate business full-time and made it his life’s work.

Jay and his first wife, Beverly Braverman, had three children – Jonathan, Philip and Paula – and remained friends until her death in 2015. In the early 1950s, Jay moved his family to Miami, establishing what would become one of the country’s largest privately held mortgage banks, originating and servicing loans nationwide for more than 40 years. Until his death, Jay served as chairman of the Kislak Organization, which today focuses on real estate investment and brokerage.

Through a shared passion for art, Jay met Jean Ellis Hart and they married in Miami in 1985. They shared adventures that took them from the North Pole to the South Pole, and included every continent.

While building a successful business enterprise, Jay also created a cultural and historic legacy – unique collections of rare books, maps, manuscripts, paintings, prints and artifacts. With Jean, he established 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 Jay donated more than 4,000 items from the collection to the Library of Congress. This extraordinary gift to the American people is now on permanent display and features one of Jay’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, Jay and his family established two permanent South Florida homes for his internationally significant collection – Kislak Centers at the University of Miami and Miami Dade College Freedom Tower.

The Kislak Family Foundation also established Kislak Centers at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Monmouth University (N.J.), and supports programs at Florida State University Real Estate Center, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, and other institutions.

Over the years Jay held leadership roles in a long list of local, state and national organizations, including the U.S. Department of State Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the St. Augustine 450th anniversary federal commission, the boards of trustees of the National Park Foundation and Eisenhower Fellowships program, the Florida Council of 100, Florida Historical Society, Historical Association of Southern Florida, Mortgage Bankers Association of America, University of Miami, Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places Trust, Mount Sinai Medical Center, St. Francis Foundation, St. Leo University, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Services, and United Way, among others.

His Majesty the King of Spain Juan Carlos I granted Jay the prestigious Encomienda of the Order of Merit Civil, and he was named a Miami Living Legend by Miami Today newspaper, a national Unsung Hero by Curtiss Mansion, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals on National Philanthropy Day 2017.

Jay never lost his genuine sense of curiosity, constantly asking questions, interested in learning more, and embarking on new explorations. Into the final decade of his life, Jay’s energy, memory and physical bearing were remarkable.

He 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, Jay is survived by his children, Jonathan (Tina) Kislak, Philip (Silvia Figueroa) Kislak, and Dr. Paula (Dr. Peter Mangravite) Kislak; 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.

Jay’s family was among the 25 founding families of Temple Beth Am, now one of the largest temples in Florida, and he also was a member of Temple Israel of Greater Miami, and Synagogue Adas Yoshurun in Rockland. A celebration of life was held Sunday, Oct. 7, at Temple Beth Am, in Pinecrest, Fla.

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