Stanley Chera, 78, coronavirus patient who made pandemic real for Trump

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Stanley Chera, the friend of Donald Trump whose coronavirus infection was an inflection point in making the virus tangible for the president, has died.

News reports said that Chera died April 11. He was 78.

In a White House briefing last month, Trump described how he had come to appreciate the dangers of the virus.

“When you send a friend to the hospital, and you call up to find out how is he doing — it happened to me, where he goes to the hospital, he says goodbye,” Trump said. “He’s sort of a tough guy. A little older, a little heavier than he’d like to be, frankly. And you call up the next day: ‘How’s he doing?’ And he’s in a coma? This is not the flu.”

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Vanity Fair revealed that the person Trump was describing was Chera, a longtime leader in New York’s tight-knit Syrian Jewish community. Reports said Trump at one point had advised Chera and his wife Frieda to leave their New York City home for Deal, New Jersey, to avoid the virus. Deal has a large Syrian Jewish community.

Chera nonetheless contracted the virus and was moved to New York-Presbyterian Hospital. His wife also contracted the virus and has recovered.

A longtime friend of the president and a fellow New York real estate mogul, Chera was an early and generous backer of Trump’s presidential campaign, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“All the disbelievers in the last few months, we had our ups and downs,” The Real Deal, a real estate news outlet, quoted Chera as saying at a fundraiser during the summer of 2016. “And today, I’m happy to say today, his polls are ahead, and we’re just going to go forward.”

At a campaign rally in Michigan last year, Trump poked fun at Chera’s guardedness. Unlike Trump, Chera rarely gave interviews to the media.

“A friend of mine — he’s very shy, but he’s very rich,” Trump said. “He shouldn’t be shy. He’s one of the biggest builders and real estate people in the world, one of the biggest owners of property. I shouldn’t introduce him because you guys won’t like him, because he’s a big owner of property. But you own property, he just owns more of it than you do. And he’s a great guy and he’s been with me from the beginning — Stanley Chera. Stanley!”

Chera got into real estate when he bought the building housing the retail outlet his father had founded in Brooklyn in the 1940s, realizing that it was cheaper than renting. He acquired more buildings, becoming a major presence in New York real estate. He was an investor in the troubled acquisition in 2008 of 666 Fifth Avenue by Trump’s soon-to-be son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“When you buy a building on Fifth Avenue, the first or second phone call you’re probably going to get is from Stanley,” The Real Deal quoted Kushner as saying at a 2014 event for the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, at which Chera was the main honoree.

Chera appeared to be a mainstay of fund-raisers for the medical center, appearing at a 2018 fund-raiser as well.

Chera was a co-founder of the Sephardic Community Center in Brooklyn.

Chera’s three sons remain involved in Crown Acquisitions, the real estate outfit Chera founded. In addition to his Jewish philanthropy, CNN reported, Chera funded soup kitchens and assistance for children with special needs.

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