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Three Men with a Wildes Streak: The family business of Leon, Michael, and Mark Wildes

Barbara Bensoussan

The talents and accomplishments of celebrated immigration attorney Leon Wildes and his two sons, Michael and Mark, aren’t limited to the legal profession. The Wildes streak for helping Jews in need has benefitted a diverse group that includes celebrities, Iranian escapees, Englewood teens, and the spiritually parched young singles of Manhattan. In a fascinating conversation, the Wildes family opens a window to their true family business: helping other Jews.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

515 Madison Avenue is one of those distinguished, older high rises on Manhattan’s East Side, where uniformed guards sign in everyone visiting its well-heeled occupants. The lobby impresses with its gleaming marble floors and walls, baroque coffered ceilings painted in gilt and autumnal colors, and a long bank of ornately sculpted brass elevators. A hushed ride in the walnut-paneled cars leads to the sixth floor, home to Wildes & Weinberg, specialists in immigration law.

Some people are blessed with the good fortune to get in on the ground floor of a growth business, and Mr. Leon Wildes, Esq., is one of them. When he decided, as a newly minted lawyer in the late 1950s, to specialize in immigration law, he had no idea that the potential clientele would one day burgeon into the millions, and that immigration would turn into one of the nation’s hottest political issues. Wildes & Weinberg, founded in 1960, has grown into one of the country’s premier immigration firms. Its successes have enabled Leon Wildes to use his time, talents, and resources to help the Jewish community in significant ways. Today, he works with his two accomplished sons, who assist in carrying out their father’s legacy of law and service to the community.

It’s a huge office. As the secretary takes coats and leads us in, we pass scores of cubicles and office doors, housing a staff of close to fifty. Arriving in Michael Wildes’s spacious office, we’re greeted by the family troika: Leon Wildes, white haired and professorial-looking in rimless glasses and a lawyerly gray suit; older son Michael Wildes, in his mid-forties, a media-genic former mayor of Englewood, NJ; and Mark Wildes, the fair-haired, lanky younger son who also went to law school, then found his calling as a dedicated kiruv rabbi.

Each man has distinguished himself in his own way. But behind the Madison Avenue opulence of the office, and the framed diplomas hanging on the walls, lie three men who are in many ways simple, ehrliche Yidden who desire nothing more than to do right by their community. And according to Mr. Wildes, senior, they are merely continuing to live according to the ways originally modeled to him by his father, Mr. Harry Wildes, z”l.


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