From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to the Embassy of Israel to the American University sports arena bearing the family name, the legacy of Howard Bender can be found in buildings of note across the Washington area.
Bender, of Bethesda, died Sept. 28 at the age of 84 at Suburban Hospital. The cause of death was a heart attack, after he was diagnosed with cancer.
In addition to helping construct many prominent places in the nation’s capital, Bender gave his time and money to build the local Jewish community. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Jewish Social Services Agency and the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes were among the institutions that benefited from his philanthropy and service, along with Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, where he and his wife, Sondra, were longtime members.
“Howard Bender was a pillar of our community,” said Steven A. Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “He, along with his wife, Sondra, and their family, were philanthropic leaders whose commitment and vision for the future immeasurably strengthened the fabric of the Greater Washington Jewish community.”
“Howard played a pivotal role in encouraging the Greater Washington community to participate and to become engaged philanthropically with Jewish Foundation for Group Homes as pertains to philanthropic support of homes and other major programs,” said Vivian Bass, executive director of Jewish Foundation for Group Homes.
Michael Feinstein, CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington called Howard and Sondra Bender “a special team. I remember that Howard was moved to tears when he saw how children in our special needs inclusion camp were benefiting from the program. Their response was to create an endowment to help make sure the program was funded on an ongoing basis. The children in our early childhood program [now called the Sondra and Howard Bender Early Childhood Center] and special needs camp have, and will continue to benefit from their legacy of chesed.”
Bender served as president and chairman of ADL. David Friedman, ADL’s Washington region director, said Bender “was part of this generation that considered it their duty, their responsibility to engage in philanthropy and to support the Jewish community and he never questioned that.”
Bender was also president and chairman of Israel Bonds.
Rabbi William D. Rudolph, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, delivered the eulogy at Bender’s memorial service on Oct. 1. He remembered Bender as “a unique person who accomplished so much in his life, but was as humble and simple and fun as anyone I have ever known.”
Bender visited the rabbi’s home every Thursday to learn more about Judaism, Rudolph recalled. They studied Pirkei Avot and the weekly Torah portion, and they also talked about life and the issues of the day.
Howard Bender was born on Nov. 10, 1930, in Patterson, N.J., to Jack and Dorothy Bender. He was the middle child of the couple’s three children.
His family moved to the Washington area in the 1930s due to the declining New York textile business.
His father started a painting business; clients included the White House. That company turned into Blake Construction, which was co-founded by his father and Paul Blake in 1947. The third-generation business is now known as Blake Real Estate and is run by Bender’s son, David, one of his four children.
Bender graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, excelling at football and baseball while there. He attended the University of Maryland for two years, and he was a center on the university’s football team. He left when the family business beckoned.
In 1951, he married Sondra Dosik; the couple honeymooned in Miami Beach, Fla., and settled in Washington. She died in 2012 at 78; the couple had been married 60 years.
As chairman of the board of Blake Construction, Bender led the building of the Israeli Embassy, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the FBI Building, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Walter Reed Hospital, San Diego Army Navy Hospital, the Jack & Dorothy Bender Library at American University and The Bender Arena at American University.
He and his wife owned and operated Glade Valley Farm in Frederick.
“He was transparent and incapable of malice, deceit or envy,” said David Silver, who married Bender’s daughter Julie.
Patricia Silver, a board member of Jewish Social Service Agency and sister-in-law of Julie Silver, called Bender “unassuming and down-to-earth.”
Bender’s grandson Jason Belinkie recalled his love of family. Bender enjoyed family gatherings and led annual family trips to Florida and the Caribbean. Belinkie said Bender was an enthusiastic participant in the family fantasy football league, even if he never quite mastered the technology involved.
“Once, when I couldn’t be there to play, I talked him through it on the phone for two hours. The family connection was important to him,” Belinkie said.
“Howard died on the first days of Sukkot, the feast of booths, during which we construct sukkot, man-made shelters that represent God’s presence above and, when we fill them with people, warm community below,” Rudolph said in his eulogy. “How perfectly fitting that is. Howard made buildings. He and Sondra were community builders — through the family they created, and through their philanthropy that helped keep roofs over the heads and walls on the sides for countless organizations and charities here and around the world.”
In addition to his son David, survivors include his younger brother, Morty (an older brother, Stanley, died); daughters Barbara Bender, Julie Silver and Eileen Greenberg, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Interment took place at King David Memorial Gardens in Falls Church. There was no official shiva because of the Sukkot holiday. However, the family welcomed visitors to his home.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the JCC of Greater Washington’s Sondra and Howard Bender Early Childhood Center, Jewish Social Services Agency or Jewish Foundation for Group Homes.
Senior Writer David Holzel contributed to this article.