Realty’s Fealty for Jewish Los Angeles
Jewish philanthropy in Los Angeles can be summed up in three words: "Location, location, location."
"Real estate gives far more with respect to Jewish causes," said Mark Karlan, chairman of the Real Estate and Construction (REC) Division of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which will honor real estate philanthropist Charles Boxenbaum at its annual Tribute Dinner on May 29.
Karlan and other successful Jews in the business believe that realty’s fealty to Jewish causes lies in factors unique to the nature of the business, which is driven by a generation profoundly connected to Jewish values and impacted by the Holocaust and the creation of Israel.
If The Federation is an accurate reflection of philanthropic patterns in Jewish Los Angeles, it may be telling that the REC is, by far, the nonprofit’s most successful professional division, according to Federation staffers. In 2001, the REC raised $4.8 million toward the general campaign, increasing its gift in 2002 to $5 million, plus an additional $2.5 million toward the Jews in Crisis $20 million campaign. In both years, REC provided just over 12 percent of the total Federation campaign.
Most prominent real estate philanthropists in Jewish Los Angeles belong to the 65-year-old United Jewish Fund (UJF) division, which includes developers, investors, contractors, lawyers and property managers among its 800 donors. In addition to Boxenbaum, significant Federation supporters include Holocaust survivors Jona Goldrich, of Goldrich & Kest, and Max Webb; Stanley Black of Black Equities; Arden Realty CEO Richard Ziman; and Bram Goldsmith, who, in the late 1990s, provided the lead gift toward The Federation’s $20 million retrofitting of its 6505 Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer, who owns the New Mart building in downtown Los Angeles’ fashion district, has been a prominent contributor to and participant in Federation causes, as have past REC gala honorees Herb Gelfand, Larry Weinberg, George Smith and the late Stanley Hirsh.
Ziman sees the connection between real estate and Jewish philanthropy as an extension of an affinity with Jewish history and values that was very profound for the generation before his.
"They grew up in an environment surrounded by the aftermath of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel," he said.
For Jews of the Holocaust generation, whether they experienced the Shoah firsthand — such as Goldrich — or not (e.g., Black and Hirsh), they felt it. They were moved by the Holocaust and the drive to create Israel.
For this generation, it’s a dyed-in-the-wool connection to Jewish history and values. While Black’s father, Jack, was not in the real estate field, the elder Black, who led the UJF’s Textile Division, transmitted a deep sense of tzedakah and other Jewish values before he passed away when Stanley was 21.
"My father was incredible," Boxenbaum said. "When the state [Israel] was being founded, arms for Israel went to the bank and withdrew $5,000, which was a fortune. He couldn’t afford it."
Los Angeles’ Jewish real estate machers have established Jewish institutions beyond the confines of their profession. Hirsh, who owned such properties as the Cooper Building before he died in March, helped found The Jewish Journal. Black founded ORT Los Angeles, and Goldrich made the $3 million Los Angeles Holocaust Monument in Pan Pacific Park happen. Goldrich and Black were also founders of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.
From 1966 until his retirement last year, Boxenbaum was the chair/CEO of National Partnership Investments, a syndicator asset manager in the apartment housing field that manages 60,000 units. On March 30, he and wife, Kharlene, attended the inauguration of the $4 million Boxenbaum Family Aish Outreach Center, the main headquarters for Aish HaTorah Los Angeles. The project, to which Boxenbaum contributed $1 million in seed money, is the latest in a lifelong commitment to Jewish causes that began in 1948, when he moved to Israel’s Western Galilee to become a founding member of Kibbutz Gesher Haziv.
In 1953, upon returning from Korean War duty, Boxenbaum served as chairman of the junior division of the United Jewish Appeal. He later chaired the REC (1978-1979) and served as general chair of the UJF campaign in 1990, the first year of the Operation Exodus fundraising effort. His leadership helped raise $75 million, with $25 million reserved for Operation Exodus — the best campaign year in The Federation’s history. Boxenbaum achieved this even as he lost one of his sons to kidney disease in 1988.
But is the era of philanthropy drawing to a close?
"Stan Hirsh and Irwin Goldenberg were two giants in this community. Who is going to replace them?" Boxenbaum asked. "Younger Jews are giving to a lot of other causes — Save the Whales, private schools. As the big givers die off, you have more and more competition from more secularized organizations — City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center — reduced donor base, greater competition from [more Jewish organizations]."
"It’s an inevitable dilution…. A lot of it is generational," Boxenbaum said.
The Federation is intent on keeping that next generation: Last year the REC created its own Young Leadership Division, chaired by Brian Weisberg.
"It’s a great place for the young guys to network," said Ryan Yatman, who joined REC seven years ago when he was 23. Yatman, now 30, looks up to active REC members a generation ahead of him, such as Mark Weinstein, past chair of the REC division.
The young generations who are carrying the torch in the community say they owe a lot to the example set by the Goldriches and the Goldsmiths, the Blacks and the Boxenbaums.
"A lot of the older guys want to mentor and they make themselves freely available," Yatman said.
For the time being, a significant dip in real estate’s contribution to Jewish philanthropy remains to be seen.
"It’s as good as it’s every been," Ziman said, "and it’ll suffer as we lose the [Holocaust] generation. But hopefully, it will pick back up."
The Jewish Federation’s Real Estate & Construction Division will honor Charles Boxenbaum at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on May 29. For more information, call (323) 761-8316.