Peter Wang: Leading With Vision, Bridge Building And Humanity
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Peter Wang: Leading With Vision, Bridge Building And Humanity

A tribute to recipient of The Jewish Week's ‘Leadership Award.’

Commitment to community: Jewish Week board chair and former president Peter Wang has also served in lay leadership roles at Westchester Reform Temple and UJA-Federation of New York.
Commitment to community: Jewish Week board chair and former president Peter Wang has also served in lay leadership roles at Westchester Reform Temple and UJA-Federation of New York.

Peter Wang’s style of leadership is based in the thoughtful way he leads his life: He values forming meaningful connections with people, getting involved in communal organizations and creating an environment that encourages openness and collaboration. When he speaks about “people,” he extends his circle from family and friends to clients and co-workers.

He tells young lawyers at Foley & Lardner, where he is a litigation lawyer and managing partner of the New York office, that the most important thing is to build strong connections — and to have fun, to enjoy the work you’re doing and to make sure to take the time to enjoy life.

Another thing he tells young people at the firm: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Wang has a ready smile and a good sense of humor. He radiates warmth and wisdom, and is dedicated to Jewish life in New York and in the wider world.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

At The Jewish Week Media Group, he has served as president and now chairman of the board. Wang expresses enormous confidence in publisher Gary Rosenblatt, associate publisher Rich Waloff, managing editor Robert Goldblum and their editorial decisions, and only occasionally offers advice, when asked, on legal issues. His board work focuses on issues of governance and operations related to the newspaper and The Jewish Week Media Group.

He’s proud that The Jewish Week, under Rosenblatt’s leadership, has achieved greater depth of coverage and seriousness. “As I talk to people in the community,” he says, “I find that The Jewish Week is universally recognized as the ‘newspaper of record’ for the Jewish community of New York.”

Wang first got involved in the newspaper about 20 years ago, at the encouragement of his friend Stuart Himmelfarb, who now serves as president of the board. He and Himmelfarb got to know each other as participants in the Wexner Heritage Program. In fact, they became fast friends on a bus in Israel when they started sharing punchlines, no jokes needed. Wang was already involved as a leader in his synagogue, Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, and UJA-Federation of New York, where he served on the board.

While the law is his passion, he has long been interested in journalism. Growing up in Yonkers, he served as editor of The Scroll at Lincoln High School, and later at Yale, was an editor of the Yale Record, the college humor magazine. One of the things that drew him to the field of law was his interest in writing as well as speaking.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Wang served as a law clerk to Judge Milton Pollack of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, and had a lifelong friendship with the judge. He names both Judge Pollack and Arthur Friedman, an attorney he worked for after his clerkship, as important mentors. Wang worked for Friedman, and then side-by-side with him for 30 years in their firm, Friedman, Wang & Bleiberg, P.C., before the firm joined Foley in July 2004. Wang is now one of the firm’s senior trial lawyers; Super Lawyers magazine described him as “one of the nation’s top litigators in a variety of fields.” In 2002, he was inducted into the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, an organization limited to the 500 leading trial advocates in the world.

The design of his law offices, on the 35th floor of a Midtown building, reflects Wang’s approach: There are lots of glass partitions rather than walls, fostering the kind of openness, inclusion and exchange he favors. On a clear day, you can see a panorama of Manhattan and well into Queens.

His unusual last name has a good story behind it. As he tells it, his grandfather came from a part of Austria/Russia in what was known as the Vank River Valley. “When he came here, the story goes — probably apocryphal — that when he opened his umbrella factory, the sign maker misunderstood the pronunciation of his name and painted ‘Wang’ rather than ‘Vank’ or ‘Wank,’ and so it stayed.”

He credits his late parents, Martin and Adele Wang, with instilling deeply in him and his brother the importance of being involved in the Jewish community. His father was an accountant and his mother a homemaker, both very committed to synagogue life at the Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers.  He says, “They were great role models, wonderful people … and much quieter than I am.”

“My connection to the Jewish community gives my life meaning.”

Wang also names his wife Dale as having had a large influence, inspiring him to get more involved. Dale has held several top leadership positions in the women’s division of UJA-Federation, particularly in Westchester, where she has chaired the division. They raised their two sons, Jeff and Greg, in Scarsdale, and he is proud that his sons and their wives, Amy and Liza, continue the family tradition of communal involvement. Jeff is a board member at Larchmont Temple and Liza is a board member at JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown. His brother Gil served as president of Community Synagogue of Rye, and his wife Susie founded Gilda’s Club in Westchester — further demonstration of the family commitment to service in the Jewish community and beyond.

“My connection to the Jewish community gives my life meaning,” Wang says. He and Dale have led UJA-Federation missions to Israel, and he also served on the regional board of the Anti-Defamation League and supported the establishment of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.

At Westchester Reform Temple, he has enjoyed close friendships with all the rabbis who have served there while they have been members — Rabbi Jack Stern, Rabbi Richard Jacobs and Rabbi Jonathan Blake, who is there now. One of his roles at Westchester Reform is the jokester: He often serves as master of ceremonies at events, and has been called on for his talent to “roast” others. (He recognizes that there may be some payback at The Jewish Week Gala Dinner, when Rabbi Jacobs introduces him and presents him with The Jewish Week Leadership Award.)

While Wang describes himself as a “’60s liberal,” he’s pleased that The Jewish Week doesn’t have a political bent, and that his fellow board members are on the right and the left, Orthodox and Reform. “The Jewish Week is a forum that allows for safe expression, for honest, open discussion, which is so needed,” he says. “That’s one of the great strengths of the paper. Whenever my liberal friends tell me that The Jewish Week is too far to the right, and other friends say it’s too far to the left — that’s when I know we are doing a good job.” 

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