Bertram Wallace Korn Jr., 64, of Elkins Park, a journalist and longtime activist on issues related to Jewish life, died Sunday, July 5, of COVID-19.
Known by some as “Benyamin” and others as “Buddy,” Mr. Korn led an active life. Married twice, he had four children and numerous jobs in newspapers and radio, and with Jewish organizations. He was executive editor of the Jewish Exponent from 1994 to 1997, and created, among other organizations, the Philadelphia chapter of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.
He was the son of Bertram Korn Sr., a historian and rabbi who served as the head of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, wrote critically acclaimed books on Jewish history, and during World War II was the first Jewish chaplain promoted to rear admiral in the Chaplain Corps.
Mr. Korn doted on his family. Sons Emanuel, Avichai, and Eliyahu, and daughter Nechama, were the centers of his life. His wife, Nava, still recalls the passionate but respectful wide-ranging discussions of politics and life around the family dinner table.
“I was amazed at the depth of the conversations,” she said. “He had this way of making you comfortable. He took time to get to know you.”
Emanuel Korn said the dinner table talks were just snapshots of his father’s engagement with his family and others. There were also talks in the car, on walks, at museums, anywhere the family was together.
“It was constant,” Emanuel said. “He loved to talk. He loved sports talk radio, and he didn’t even follow sports.”
Born in Abington to Bertram Sr. and wife Rita in 1955, Mr. Korn went to William Penn Charter School and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. He leaned left politically as a young man and visited India, where he got a master’s degree in international relations and studied Buddhism.
His father died in 1979, and Mr. Korn shifted his life’s focus — Emanuel Korn called it a spiritual awakening. He moved to the right, advocated for Israel, edited books and articles about Jewish issues, and joined organizations that addressed Jewish life across the social spectrum.
He founded the Philadelphia Religious Zionists and Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, and was active in the Zionist Organization of America.
“He had a great sense of humor and sarcasm, and a warm personality,” said Steve Feldman, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Zionist Organization of America.
Feldman was a reporter for the Exponent when Mr. Korn was the editor, and the place was a hotbed for hard news and investigative pieces. “He was a writer’s editor,” Feldman said.
Mr. Korn also hosted radio shows and worked in Florida for a time as executive editor of the Miami Jewish Tribune. He married Miriam Nissan in 1988. They divorced in 1997, and he married Nava Johnson in 2007 after meeting her on a dating website.
At home, Mr. Korn was lighthearted. He liked art and took his children to museums and Big 5 basketball games at the Palestra. He told lots of bad jokes, loved winter more than summer, and got more upset when his kids acted up in school than when they got a bad grade. He jammed to jazz.
“He was the quintessential Philadelphian,” Emanuel Korn said.
“He was so thoughtful,” his wife said. “He just wanted to love and be loved.”
In addition to his wife, former wife, and children, Mr. Korn is survived by a grandson, a sister, and other relatives.
Services were on Tuesday, July 7.