Is beauty a Jewish value?

When we talk about Jewish values, we usually refer to things like justice, compassion, generosity, humility, honesty, faith, wisdom and so on. We rarely talk about beauty.

Beauty is vain and superficial, we’re so often told.

And yet, the word “beautiful” is prominent on this week’s cover of the Jewish Journal, which features an unusually beautiful sukkah, created by designer Jonathan Fong.

Normally, our instinct would be to focus on a deeper meaning of the holiday — the sukkah as a metaphor for humility; as a wake-up call to help the homeless; as a physical, palpable link to our ancestors; as a paradox of frailty and strength; or as an eternal symbol of Jewish endurance.

Those angles are all more profound and meaningful than the notion of beauty. So, why would we feature aesthetics on our cover this year?

One answer is that maybe we simply need a break from all the heaviness. Yes, we can overdose even on things like depth and meaning. Let’s face it, especially at this time of year, we’ve all been marinating in one deep sermon after another. Serious, heavy issues are weighing on us — whether about Israel, society’s ills or the need to transform our lives.

So, it’s quite possible that a light, beautiful sukkah might be just the right antidote to holiday heaviness — an ideal opportunity to lighten up and let all this depth sink in.

Or not.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but in Judaism, meaning lurks everywhere — even in something as superficial as beauty.

“Beauty enhances the mitzvot by appealing to the senses,” according to “Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year” (Central Conference of American Rabbis). “Beautiful sounds and agreeable fragrances, tastes, textures, colors, and artistry contribute to human enjoyment of religious acts, and beauty itself takes on a religious dimension.”

In other words, by adding beauty to what we see, hear, taste and feel, we enhance our spiritual experience of the mitzvah, which brings us closer to the mitzvah itself.

Beauty is also defined, in the Jewish tradition, by the virtues of endurance and permanence.

As Rabbi Joshua Shmidman explains in the magazine Jewish Action: “The Torah requires: ‘And you shall take unto yourselves on the first day (of Sukkot) a fruit of a beautiful tree — pri etz hadar.’ The Talmud (Sukkot 35a) wishes to define what constitutes a beautiful tree by analyzing the Hebrew word for beautiful, hadar.

“The sages conclude that it is the etrog tree, because the word ‘hadar’ is interpreted to be a fruit which ‘dwells continuously all year on the tree’ (ha-dar, literally, ‘that which dwells’). Thus, they understand the word ‘dar’ to mean the opposite of temporary or intermittent residence; rather, it implies permanence, a continuous process through time (similar to the French ‘duree’ or the English ‘endure’).

“The etrog tree fulfills this requirement of constant dwelling, for most other fruits are seasonal, but the etrog grows, blossoms and produces fruit throughout all the seasons: in the heat and the cold, in the wind and in storm — it stubbornly persists! It endures! And in the Jewish view, that is why it is beautiful.”

In addition to its permanence, beauty is also an expression of love. 

As my friend Rabbi Benjamin Blech said to me over lunch last week, adding beauty to a mitzvah — such as making a sukkah beautiful — is an expression of love because it’s a sign that “we are doing the mitzvah not just because we have to, but because we want to.” We glorify God’s presence by going beyond the minimum requirements, by pouring out our love for Him just as we would for those we deeply love.

As the rabbi spoke so beautifully about love, I reflected on another aspect to beauty that is often overlooked — and that is, the beauty of the words we speak.

I don’t care how beautiful we make our sukkahs or holiday tables, if some well-intentioned guest decides to ambush the conversation with a rant against Obama, or Israeli settlers, or the tragic mess in Syria, or any number of incendiary topics best left for another time — all that aesthetic beauty we’ve spent so much time creating will be immediately colored ugly.

If beautiful sounds contribute to the human enjoyment of religious acts, I can’t think of a more beautiful sound than that of pleasant conversation that stimulates the mind and warms our hearts.

In short, by making our sukkahs beautiful and adding meaningful and beautiful conversation, we can honor the enduring value of Jewish beauty, enhance our spiritual experience and deepen our love for the Almighty.

How’s that for superficial?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Webb’s progressive center gift inspired by family’s future

There are some stories Max Webb will never recount.

“With my own eyes, I saw the most barbaric and unbelievable things,” said Webb, who survived 18 concentration camps during the Shoah.

The walls of this nearly 90-year-old homebuilder’s Beverly Hills office are lined with scores of citations and certificates of honor, as well as pictures of presidents, mayors and celebrities. Every surface seems to be covered with framed photos of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Webb surrounds himself with reminders of a life dedicated to family and tzedakah, or charity. And while both inspire him, it’s a promise he made in another time and another place that drives his philanthropic visions.
Since finding success in the Southland real estate market more than 50 years ago, Webb continues to honor a deal he made with God. While witnessing the Holocaust, he swore if he lived he would devote his life to the survival and recovery of the Jewish people.

“As soon as I began making money, I began giving it away,” he said with a shrug.

In December, the Webb Family Foundation announced it had purchased a $3 million plot of land to establish a center that will house two socially conscious Jewish organizations: IKAR and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). The project is one of the latest in a series of philanthropic ventures for Webb, whose foundation funds projects in the United States and Israel.

“My entire family is involved in this. My life is a gift and a miracle. As long as I’m alive, I’ll do whatever is possible to help humanity…. And I’m not finished yet,” Webb said as he leafs through a pile of preliminary drawings for the three-story building, tentatively named The Max and Sala Webb Center for Progressive Judaism.

For IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous, the donation is an expression of Webb’s interest in ensuring the flourishing of Jewish life.

“His primary concern is not whether a group is conventional or innovative or progressive or traditional. What Max is really committed to is vibrant Jewish life in whatever form it takes, be it a yeshiva in Borough Park or a cutting-edge spiritual community in Los Angeles. He came out of the Holocaust not with despair, but with a real commitment to building the future with incredible openness and devotion,” she said.

But behind this Polish immigrant’s effusive joy are memories that still evoke almost unspeakable horrors.

Webb’s earliest experience with Nazi barbarities came when the Germans first occupied his native city of Lodz.

“I saw military trucks lined up outside a hospital,” he said. “The soldiers went into the hospital. They went into every room. They took the newborn children by their little legs and threw them out the windows. I could hear the screams of the mothers. I couldn’t cry; my tears were frozen.”

During his years in the camps, Webb met and befriended Nathan Shapell. After liberation, Shapell introduced Webb to his sister, Sala, whom he married. In 1951, after arriving in Los Angeles, Webb and Nathan Shapell and Shapell’s brother, David, began a construction business, which would provide the start-up funds for the Max Webb Family Foundation in 1962.
Webb’s wife, Sala, died in 1990. In 1993, Webb married Anna Hitter, who like all members of the Webb family is an active participant in the foundation.

The citations on Webb’s office walls are just part of the philanthropic tale. A thick binder, bursting with letters, photographs and newspaper clippings, provides still more information on a long life dedicated to resurrecting the Jewish community. Leafing through the record of his giving — schools, hospitals, synagogues, universities — his delight is palpable.

Given that the Max and Sala Webb Center for Progressive Judaism was inspired by his granddaughter, Justine, and her husband,Greg Podell, who serves as director of the Webb Family Foundation, the project has particular resonance for Webb, a man committed to the future of Jewish generations.

“When Greg and Justine moved to Los Angeles, I was hoping to get them involved with my synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel on Beverly Boulevard,” he said. “Everyone there is old. I thought they might bring in young people, but that didn’t work out.”

Instead, Greg and Justine came across IKAR, where Brous was developing a new spiritual community rooted in social justice and action. Then the couple met Daniel Sokatch, PJA’s executive director. (Both groups have offices at the Westside Jewish Community Center.)

“These organizations were attracting lots of people, and I thought that as generous and significant as Max’s giving has been, he could really address the concerns of my generation by donating to them,” Podell said.
“One day Justine and Greg came to my office,” Webb explained. “‘Poppa,’ Justine said, ‘we’d like the foundation to help build a place for our children and for all children.'”

The couple introduced Webb to Brous and Sokatch.

“I think that seeing his grandchildren so excited about active Jewish life, fired his commitment to us,” Sokatch said.

Plans were soon under way to purchase land on Pico Boulevard for a building that will house both IKAR and the PJA, and serve as a center for a wide range of religious and social activities.

“It’s not just that Max is giving money. He’s created an ethos of giving in his family. Greg and Justine have internalized Max’s core commitments. Ultimately that’s his greatest gift,” Brous said.

Podell marvels that Webb is “so easily able to adapt to changing times and situations.”

He added that Webb saw how the couple was inspired by Brous and Sokatch and understood that by supporting them, he could guarantee that his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would continue to be involved in a vibrant and compelling Jewish community.

“We’re doing this not because we want a beautiful building, but because we want to provide a home for these leaders who are inspiring our family,” Podell said.

Why Aren’t Jews Giving to Jews?

Eli Broad, considered by many to be the most influential, public-spirited and generous Jewish citizen of Los Angeles, estimates that he and his wife gave away $350 million last year, of which $2 million went to specifically Jewish causes.

Broad’s contributions put him and his family’s four foundations in the top ranks of America’s biggest donors, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the bible of foundations and fundraisers.

Yet it’s Broad’s proportion of giving between specific Jewish and general community causes that is of particular interest because it reinforces the conclusions of a major new study, which tracked the donations of America’s biggest Jewish and non-Jewish givers over a six-year period.

The study found that between 1995 and 2000, of the $5.3 billion given by Jewish mega-donors ($10 million or above in one year), only $318 million, or a mere 6 percent, went to specifically Jewish causes, including support groups for Israeli universities. The $5.3 billion came from 188 gifts, of which 18 — 9.6 percent — went to Jewish organizations.

So the $64 million question is: Why are the wealthiest Jews, in the aggregate, not giving more to Jewish causes? And there is another question, not as easily answered as it might seem: Is giving to specifically Jewish organizations, more — well — Jewish, than contributing to the uplift of society in general?

"While Jews are remarkably generous givers to the general society … Jewish organizations received a minute proportion of Jewish mega-dollars," said Dr. Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco. Tobin conducted the study, "Mega-Gifts in American Philanthropy," with co-authors Drs. Jeffrey R. Solomon and Alexander C. Karp.

The generosity of American Jews in general, and of the wealthiest ones in particular, is undisputed. While Jews make up 2.5 percent of the U.S. population at best, the Tobin study found nearly a quarter (24.5 percent) of all American mega-donors were Jewish.

The No. 1 American mega-giver in 2002 was Jewish publisher and diplomat Walter H. Annenberg, who died last October. He bequeathed an art collection worth $1.38 billion, with the lion’s share going to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mega-donations of $10 million and above are obviously of major importance to the recipients for their sheer monetary heft, but their value extends even further. Checks of that size raise the bar for all subsequent gifts, validate the organizations or causes on the receiving end, create new institutions and initiatives and often point to new paths in philanthropy.

The reasons why the most affluent Jews are not giving in the same ways as in the old days, when they shouldered the charitable burden for the shtetl or its American equivalent, are complex and based more on educated hunches than scientific studies.

One fairly obvious cause is the unstoppable integration of Jews into the general American society. As Jews become active in the broader society, and socialize with their non-Jewish peers, their charitable interests broaden to more universal causes.

Donna Bojarsky, an adviser to major media and Hollywood personalities, notes that a few decades back, non-Jewish fundraisers for major cultural institutions simply didn’t hit up rich Jews. In Los Angeles, this basically social barrier was breached by the legendary Dorothy (Buffy) Chandler in the 1960s, when she wedded Hollywood Jewish money to downtown non-Jewish wealth to fund construction of the Music Center.

In addition, many of the largest givers prefer to start their own projects, rather than write checks to existing institutions. Examples are Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History foundations.

Some analysts fault Jewish organizations for garnering such a small slice of the big-money pie.

"Many Jewish institutions are not able to absorb very large gifts," observed Karp, co-author of the "Mega-Gifts" study.

Fellow co-author Solomon asked, "Are we even asking [for the multimillion dollar donations]?"

Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, says that the biggest donors see their contributions as (social and cultural) investments, not as gifts, and demand solid business plans from the soliciting institutions.

Furthermore, many Jewish groups continue to use old and tried (or tired) methods, such as card-calling, "an aggressive manner of fundraising, whereby a professional fundraiser calls out the name and pledge of donors in public forums and pressures them to make or match the gift," according to the Tobin study. ("Calling cards" and "matching gifts" are among the Jewish contributions to American fundraising techniques.)

By common agreement among the experts, the traditional fundraising pitches may still work among older Jews, but are almost guaranteed to turn off the younger generation. This observation leads to the largest generational divide, the perception of what actually defines "Jewish" giving.

"What’s changing in the Jewish world today," Charendoff said, "is that to younger philanthropists, their giving to any worthy cause springs from their Jewish upbringing and tradition. But to their parents, Jewish philanthropy meant giving to organizations with ‘Jewish’ or ‘Israel’ in the name."

Both the "particularistic" and the "universalistic" approaches to Jewish giving have their advocates. Two of the most articulate spokesmen on opposite sides are Dr. Jack Wertheimer, provost and professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, affiliated with the Conservative movement, and Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of CLAL-the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

Wertheimer fears that if Jewish charitable giving keeps flowing predominantly to universal causes, the infrastructure and richness of Jewish community life in America is headed on a downhill slope. He assigns the blame to a number of factors, but aims his sharpest criticism at the current "ideology of tikkun olam [repairing the world] that all you need to be a good Jew is to be a good person. That perception is destructive of Jewish life, cohesiveness and giving."

Such an interpretation of tikkun olam, Wertheimer added, is "a mid-20th century invention … and part of the universalizing concept developed by the Reform movement."

At one time, Jewish giving was fueled by crises, to aid persecuted Jews or fight rampant anti-Semitism. As these issues fade, so is giving to Jewish institutions, representing a real threat to their ultimate survival.

Also contributing to the decline are demographic shifts among American Jews.

"Young Jews intermarry, they live in neighborhoods where there are few other Jews and more of their friends are non-Jews," Wertheimer observed. "Where once high-status universities, medical institutions and museums would not have asked Jews to join their boards, now they are falling all over themselves to invite us."

A more general factor is the shift in giving patterns in American society as a whole. The Depression and World War II generations tended to give to umbrella organizations — in the Jewish case, to federations or United Jewish Appeal — while the baby boomers lean toward more targeted causes, such as research for a specific type of cancer.

Even among the most substantial donors to Jewish causes, far larger sums go to general universities and museums, Wertheimer noted. While he hopes that the younger generation might reconnect to its heritage, he fears that if the present trend continues, the key structures of Jewish life in America will deteriorate.

Wertheimer, who has led a number of research projects on Jewish philanthropy, rejects the charge that Jewish institutions are partially responsible for their plight.

"That’s a form of blaming the victim," he said. "If there is any evidence that Jewish organizations are backward, you have to show it to me."

CLAL’s Kula couldn’t disagree more.

"The idea that Jewish charity means giving to things run by Jews for Jews is a narrow and parochial definition," he said. "If Jewish education and institutions prefer such a narrow way of looking at the universe, they deserve to get only 6 percent of the big donations."

Kula says he resents the implication that there is a split between being Jewish and being human.

"Can you compare the value of a Jewish day school to curing cancer?" he asked. "Is a trip to Israel as worthy as working against illiteracy, poverty and hunger in your community? Perhaps giving to Stanford University is more important than contributing to a Jewish organization."

What riles Kula most is what he describes as "last-gasp efforts" by Jewish fundraisers to scare elderly Jews into giving money to their favorite organizations now, by arguing that if they bequeath their wealth to their descendants, these will not continue to give to Jewish causes.

"Let’s not lie and let’s not be mean," Kula said. "For Jews to become better Jews, let’s not frame our mission in the most narrow way. Let’s speak to our people’s hopes rather than their fears."

Whatever the philosophical arguments, to fundraisers, the practical question is how to up the proportion and amount of money flowing to Jewish institutions and causes.

The answer will become only more urgent over the next two decades as an estimated $3 trillion to $10 trillion pass from the older generation of American Jews to their heirs.

Fundraisers face an even tougher selling job in convincing the new generation of heirs, born well after the Holocaust and the creation of the Jewish State, to continue their support of Israel.

"You can’t do it if Israel is just an abstract concept," Charendoff insisted. "Parents must take their kids to Israel, develop personal relationships with Israelis and, through these, discover a sense of Jewish peoplehood."

Even if such advice is taken to heart, fundraising won’t be easy, if it ever was. Jewish institutions will have to deal with donors who prefer specialized "boutique funding" to catch-all "department store funding," who consider themselves business partners of their designated charities, and who want to be actively involved in the causes their money supports, Charendoff said.

"Those organizations which can inspire the Jewish community will benefit," he noted. "Those which stick with business-as-usual will have a rude awakening."

On the list of the 60 largest U.S. charitable contributions of 2002, compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, are the names and foundations of four Southern Californians, three from Los Angeles and one from San Diego.

The names are those of Angelenos Eli Broad and his wife Edythe, David Geffen and Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw. The San Diego philanthropist is Irwin Jacobs, founder and CEO of Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications company, and his wife, Joan.

Tracking down the actual amounts given by such major donors in a given year is a tedious and time-consuming job, ripe with opportunities for inaccuracies and misinterpretations.

With this caveat in mind, the starting point for most searches is IRS Form 990, which all tax-exempt foundations are required to file annually, listing both income and distribution of grants. Since most of the 990 forms are apparently submitted in the late summer or fall of the following year, no reports for 2002 were available.

On an ongoing basis, Spielberg turns over most of his donations to his Righteous Persons Foundation, which, in turn, distributes more than 90 percent of its grants to Jewish projects, according to Rachel Levin, associate director.

The foundation has received all of Spielberg’s profits from his 1993 international film hit, "Schindler’s List," which has amounted to approximately $60 million to date.

In 2001, Spielberg gave $4.6 million to the foundation, whose grants for the year came to $21 million. The biggest chunk, $16.7 million, went to another Spielberg initiative, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has videotaped the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

More modest, six-figure Righteous Persons grants went to Brandeis University, Jerusalem’s Martyrs Memorial Yad Vashem, the Israel Experience and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Spielberg’s other personal charitable interests are children’s health, medical research and arts and entertainment, with Jewish causes "ranking first among equals," said Andy Spahn. As part of his DreamWorks SKG corporate affairs portfolio, Spahn administers the charitable giving of the film studio’s three founders, Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

According to the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans in 2002, Spielberg’s wealth stood at $2.2 billion. His partner, Geffen, outranks Spielberg on the Forbes list with a worth of $3.8 billion.

Geffen made news last year with a multiyear $200 million pledge to the UCLA School of Medicine, plus $5 million to the Geffen Playhouse. A more typical year may be 2001, when, according to the report filed by his foundation, Geffen made close to $2 million in charitable contributions.

The grants reflected Geffen’s primary interests in AIDS research and care, the arts, civil liberties and, following Sept. 11, substantial support to the families of firefighters and police officers killed in the World Trade Center terrorist attack.

Smaller donations, totaling $110,000, went to approximately 15 Jewish institutions, ranging from $800 for the gay-oriented Congregation Kol Ami to $25,000 for Aviva Family and Children’s Services.

Broad, who has made two fortunes, one in home building, the other in financial services, is credited by Forbes with a $4.8 billion nest egg, making him the second wealthiest resident of Los Angeles, behind media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Broad channels his donations through four personal and family foundations, specializing in public education improvement, the arts and medical research. This month, the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation pledged $100 million for a genetics research institute in Cambridge, Mass., and another $60 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Although last year he gave only approximately $2 million to specifically Jewish causes out of a total $350 million budget for charitable giving, Broad told The Journal that philanthropists should balance concern for society in general with support for Jewish and Israeli organizations.

"If I had only a little to give away, my emphasis would be on Jewish and Israeli causes," he said. "Once you get beyond several hundred thousand dollars, you become a better and more respected citizen if you also give to the Music Center and universities. If I would donate only a million dollars, I would split it between Jewish and general community projects."

The 2001 report for the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation lists a $131,000 contribution to The Jewish Federation, $5,300 to University Synagogue, $5,000 each to Bet Tzedek and the University of Judaism and lesser sums to half a dozen other Jewish institutions.

In San Diego, the city’s foremost philanthropists are Jacobs and his wife, Joan. Jacobs, a former engineering professor, founded Qualcomm, a telecommunications firm, whose stock became a Wall Street favorite during the high-tech boom. The stock has since dropped, and the couple’s worth is listed by Forbes as a relatively "modest" $725 million.

Last year, the couple made news by pledging $120 million over 10 years to the struggling San Diego Symphony, the largest single donation ever made to a U.S. orchestra.

The Jacobses also support numerous Jewish organizations, but instead of setting up their own foundation, they have established a charitable fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego.

The Jewish Community Foundation serves in an advisory and administrative capacity and doubles as a major supporter of the 80,000-strong Jewish community. "Just recently, we have helped build a Jewish community center and a Reform temple," said Marjory Kaplan, foundation executive director.

In Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation has been active since 1954. With current assets of $378 million, it ranks as the 10th largest foundation in Los Angeles.

Though also guided by its clients’ preferences, the foundation gave $35 million to Jewish causes last year, including more than $9 million to The Jewish Federation and its agencies, out of a total $45 million in distributions.

Marvin I. Schotland, foundation president and CEO, is more optimistic than most of his professional colleagues that younger Jewish donors will support their community in the future. "I believe that there is a yearning among younger Jews to understand their Jewishness, which didn’t exist three decades ago," he said.

When The Journal began its research on local Jewish philanthropists, it picked out the names of Broad, Geffen and Spielberg, because last year they made the list of America’s 60 largest charitable contributors. However, there are many other individuals who made similarly generous gifts but did so in earlier years or chose to spread out their large donations over a period of time.

The current Forbes 400 list of richest Americans contains the names of approximately 20 Los Angeles Jews, including such familiar ones as Alan I. Casden, Michael Eisner, Guilford Glazer, Katzenberg, brothers Michael and Lowell Milken, Haim Saban and Gary Winnick.

Universities have always been the main magnet for hefty endowments, and locally, UCLA and USC have benefited in recent years from multiple Jewish gifts of $100 million on down.

On the UCLA campus, the buildings housing the engineering school, business school facilities, medical school, eye research center, world arts and cultures departments and the neuroscience and genetics research center, among others, bear the names of Jewish philanthropists.

Local Jewish educational institutions have had a harder time attracting mega-gifts. However, the pioneer Allen and Ruth Ziegler Foundation funded the University of Judaism rabbinical school bearing their names through a $22 million gift in 1995. In addition, the Milken brothers are recognized for their support of Jewish education, including the Milken Community High School.

The activities of two other Los Angeles Jewish entrepreneurs have been prominent on the business news pages in recent times, namely billionaire TV mogul Saban and ex-billionaire Winnick.

Saban, who grew up in a Tel Aviv slum, has been a very open-handed supporter of the Democratic Party and its candidates in this country and of liberal-centrist politicians, such as Ehud Barak, in Israel.

This month Saban and his wife, Cheryl, announced that they are committing $100 million to local and Israeli causes. Included are $40 million to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles; $12 million to benefit Israeli children, disabled combat veterans and victims of terror, and $3 million to the Los Angeles Jewish Community Foundation, said Shai Waxman Abramson, the Saban Family Foundation’s new program director.

The story of another self-made man, Winnick, is also interesting. In 1997, Winnick founded Global Crossing, which built the world’s largest fiber optics cable communications network on the ocean floor. Only two years later, he was crowned Los Angeles’ richest man, with a net worth pegged at $6.2 billion.

In 2000, Winnick topped a string of donations to mainly Jewish causes with a $40 million pledge to the Simon Wiesenthal Center toward construction of a Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which was to bear Winnick’s name.

Early last year, Global Crossing, staggering under a $12 billion debt, filed for bankruptcy, wiping out most of Winnick’s paper fortune. However, according to Forbes, he was still worth $550 million at the end of last year. Inquiries by The Journal indicated that the charitable commitments made by the Gary and Karen Winnick Foundation are being met.

The ultimate question facing the Jewish community may lie in how its elders can inspire their children and grandchildren to support Jewish life in the future.

"Children never listen to what they are told, but they absorb what they see," said Charendoff, of The Jewish Funders Network. "The parents need to be actively involved in the community and explain their reasons for doing so. What parents can’t do is dictate to their children from the grave. If the elders want their charity to flow in the traditional ways they value, they would do better to give the money away in their lifetimes."

The Greatest Good

The most exciting weeknight in our house is Thursday; our family eats a hasty dinner and I rush off, two or three children in tow, to Tomchei Shabbos. Every week, my children join me in packing and delivering “Shabbat packages” brought to those members of our community who need a little help just to “make Shabbat” — grape juice, challah, chicken, eggs, etc. Tomchei Shabbos delivers to more than 200 families every week, through the volunteer work of more than 50 people, young and old.

Every Thursday evening, as we are leaving the warehouse with our freshly packed boxes, each one of my children goes up to say thank you to Steve Berger, the tireless coordinator of Tomchei Shabbos. At each home where we stop to deliver, when the recipient comes out to greet us (as they always do) my children again say thank you — to the recipient of our Shabbat package.

They understand this powerful lesson: The greatest kindness you can do for someone is to make him/her feel worthwhile and to give him/her an avenue to make a difference. When these little children gather milk, challot, produce, etc. together to help pack a box, they feel at their best, because they understand that they are making a difference in someone else’s Shabbat, in someone else’s life. To invite someone to contribute — in an area where he or she is capable — is the greatest kindness you can bestow.

It seems that this is the gist of Moses’ oddly worded invitation to his father-in-law:

And Moses said to Hovav…. “We are journeying to the place about which Hashem said, I will give it you; come with us, and we will do you good; for Hashem has spoken good concerning Israel.”

And he said to him, “I will not go; but I will depart to my own land, and to my kindred.”

And he said, “Leave us not, I pray you; for you know how we are to camp in the wilderness, and you may be to us instead of eyes. And it shall be, if you go with us, it shall be, that whatever goodness Hashem shall do to us, the same will we do to you” (Numbers 10:29-32).

This conversation between Moses and his Midianite father-in-law took place at the foot of Sinai, just as the Israelites were about to depart on their triumphant march into Eretz Yisrael. Moses, in a statement of utter generosity, offers Hovav a place among the people, that he may benefit from the great goodness with which God blessed His people.

Rav Yosef Soloveitchik, z”l, once commented on this invitation:

“It was not an invitation that a son-in-law extended to his father-in-law. It was not an invitation extended by an individual to another human being to share the good things in life. It was more than that. It was an invitation extended by Moses, as a representative of Israel to all converts of all generations…. There is enough chesed [lovingkindness], goodness and happiness in the Torah to be transmitted to others and to be shared by others.”

What is this great goodness? What was the beneficence that Moses was offering to Hovav? Indeed, what is the generosity extended by the Torah to all of mankind?

Oddly enough, Moses does not offer Hovav land or a position of honor among the people; he asks him to “be our eyes in the desert” — to help lead the people through the wilderness, which he knows so well. What sort of beneficence is this on Moses’ part?

This is the same lesson as that all of the wonderful Tomchei packers and drivers know: There is no greater goodness than asking someone to contribute to the betterment of society and to the welfare of his fellow man.

In an age where deeds are vendible and kind acts are considered commodities, we would do well to listen to Moses’ invitation:

“And it shall be, if you go with us, it shall be, that whatever goodness Hashem shall do to us, the same will we do to you.”

For those who wish to contribute their time and/or energy to Tomchei Shabbos, call (323) 931-0224.

Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom is the associate director of Project Next Step.

School Provides anAntidote to Grief

Even 56 years later, Irving Gelman recalls precisely the day of his U.S. arrival and exactly the contents of his pockets: April 19, 1947, and $5.60.

The date marked a miraculous fresh start for a man whose generosity would later ignite dramatic changes within Orange County’s Jewish community.

For years the scenes preceding that day summoned nightmares too painful and horrible to talk about: Gelman and his wife, Rochelle, a pair of love-struck, unmarried teenagers in 1941, managed to escape mass executions that claimed their extended families and half of Ukraine’s Jewish population of 1.5 million people.

Their hiding place was a dirt hole inside a peasant farmer’s barn shared with Gelman’s parents and sister. Bone chilling in winter and asphyxiating in summer, their 14 months in a solitary hell was perpetually dark and oxygen-deprived but never discovered. Twice a day, the trapdoor would open, and the farm couple would dispense boiled potatoes and black bread, which enabled them to survive.

The 1941 German invasion of the former Soviet Union is seen by many Holocaust scholars as the first implementation of “the final solution.”

“This is the first place where Jews are being killed for being Jews,” said Peter Blake, senior historian of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

To ensure that those who died from his hometown of Hosht are not forgotten, last summer the Gelmans, Irving, 79, and Rochelle, 78, returned to western Ukraine. They dedicated a privately funded Holocaust monument cut from local stone that is the only visible sign of where 18,000 people were slaughtered.

While memorials have been erected elsewhere in Ukraine, Gelman grieved that nothing marked the Hosht killing ground, now dappled by forest. He bought the land. A fence will be erected soon and a groundskeeper hired to maintain the site as a graveyard.

“I felt a moral obligation,” said Gelman, who recited “Kaddish,” the prayer for the dead. About 45 descendants of other Hosht survivors, now living in Israel, joined them. So did Nina, the 55-year-old daughter of the farmers who hid the Gelmans, but is still fearful about revealing her surname. The Gelmans have sent her money monthly for several years.

“In my conscience, I gave my respect to my townspeople,” Gelman said.

Following their grown children to California, the Gelmans liquidated a successful sportswear business 18 years ago and relocated from New Jersey to Irvine. For a second time, the couple was pushed to a psychological precipice, this time by the death of their 38-year-old daughter, Naomi Gelman Weiss, who died from a brain tumor and breast cancer in 1989.

“It finished us off,” Gelman said. “I figured I had had enough, if that’s how I was being treated by God.”

Serendipitously, Gelman answered a plea from a struggling Jewish day school in Anaheim. It would prove a satisfying antidote for a grieving father.

The subject was already dear to Gelman, because he had provided support and financial aid to two other Jewish schools in New Jersey. For his help, though, Gelman demanded the school move to a central location, change its name and disaffiliate with any single Jewish movement.

“They had no choice,” he said.

In 1997, 37 students started at the school he named Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, then housed at what is currently the Jewish Federation campus in Costa Mesa. Even as school enrollment was soaring, Gelman was scrambling to bankroll a more suitable campus.

He turned to the local Jewish Federation, which agreed to mail a solicitation for the school to the 14,000 on its mailing list. He netted $1,431.

He turned to East Coast friends and raised $3 million in three months. Gelman and an anonymous donor cobbled together $18 million for the initial building, now an elementary school, helped by a 10-acre contribution of land from Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli.

In the fall of 1997, Tarbut opened at its present Irvine location with 326 students. A separate high school opened last fall. The combined enrollment now exceeds 500.

The school is the nucleus of what is envisioned as the community’s Jewish campus. Fundraising is continuing for the final piece, a large community building to house Jewish agencies. Named as a memorial to his daughter, Tarbut, which means culture, is a link to its founder’s past. As youth, both the Gelmans attended Tarbut schools that flourished throughout Europe.

Students take to Gelman, who lives three miles from the campus and is a frequent visitor. Short and round, he still speaks with a European accent. Students call him “poppa.”

“Tarbut was my baby,” said Gelman, who stuck to his vision for a school, despite opposing arguments over funding an athletic facility from former Federation executives. “You need to build a community; that won’t come from a gym,” he said.

Like a proud parent, Gelman can tick off Tarbut’s attributes, such as offering seven levels of Hebrew. But the school has yet to crack the code on retaining elementary students, a problem facing many Jewish high schools. Some claim the school does too little to promote community service by students; others gripe over its admission policy.

Even so, Gelman realizes the school’s longevity is tied to the financial support of the local Jewish community. And he is troubled by what he sees as the area’s skewed priorities: self-indulgence ahead of charity. The area’s economic affluence and insularity shows up in the community’s status-conscious materialism, Gelman said. “The level of giving here is disgraceful,” he said.

But he is optimistic that the school will be supported by the community.

“This school’s made a change for the entire Orange County,” Gelman said. “It’s creating a center of Jewish culture; it’s the nucleus of a Jewish neighborhood.”

Supporting Israel

In a display of creativity and generosity, several Jewish groups in Orange County in

recent weeks set out to demonstrate their unswerving support for Israel.

Calling a suggestion by Israel’s minister of tourism to visit hospitals a “wet blanket,” Fullerton travel agency owner Pnina Schichor instead lined up an awareness-raising tour of the sort she, herself, would like.

“Injured people don’t want gawking strangers,” she concludes after returning in May from a planning trip, during which she sensed the isolation of Israeli citizens. “I want them to know we’re standing with them,” says Shichor, who organized a trip for members of MERIT, Middle Eastern Reporting in Truth, a media-watch group she and her husband, David, co-founded last August.

Billed the MERIT Interfaith Solidarity Tour, it includes Haim Asa, rabbi emeritus of Fullerton’s Temple Beth Tikvah, and Pastor Garry Ansdell of Bellflower’s Calvary Chapel, along with 20 others scheduled to depart July 18 on the $1,795, eight-day trip. The itinerary includes working as volunteers at a military facility, visiting a Jewish-Arab cultural center, seeing Galilee’s water conservation and wetlands restoration projects, touring a Druse village and holding a rally outside a foreign embassy.

The high point of the trip, for Schichor at least, will be a hoped-for reunion with Jaber Abirukin, education director of Isifyia, a Druse village. The Druse, expected to join the Israeli military, are an ancient Muslim sect that broke away from Islam.

During the 1987 intifada, Abirukin spoke to students on California campuses roiled by unrest over the conflict. He was escorted by Schichor’s son, Nadar, a member of the American Zionist Youth Federation.

“He could see from both sides,” recalls Schichor, who remembers Abirukin’s spellbinding affect on an audience. “Israelis were sitting with their mouths open,” she says.

Abirukin’s sobering conclusion was remarkably prescient. “The shocking thing I got out of it,” Schichor recalls, “was if you’re looking for peace immediately, you’ll have to be steadfast; if you’re going to be impatient, you’re going to lose.”

“We’re learning it now,” Schichor says. “There’s no quick fix.”

Just a few weeks earlier, another contingent of nine residents went to Israel and were privileged to spend an hour asking questions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as attending other top-level political and military briefings organized by the American Jewish Committee.

“I find it personally embarrassing having a pilot thank me for coming to Israel on a tourist trip,” says Irvine’s E. Scott Menter, a member of the 100-person delegation. Even so, he saw the group’s impact in empty shops. “I had one guy turn the lights on for me. No one had been there all day,” says Menter, who took home more tchotchkes than he wanted.

Forty other local residents in May pledged $150,000 to Israel road construction. The effort is part of a $10 million commitment by Israel’s Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (JNF) to construct secondary “security” roads and repair others destroyed by tanks.

The 2.5 miles funded by the JNF’s Orange-Long Beach region parallels the Har Adir-Sasa Road, says Gail W. Weiss, the group’s regional director. In March, six Israelis were killed and seven wounded on the main road when passing cars were fired on from Lebanon. “We’re 75 percent of the way to reaching our goal,” she says.

Since May, members of Irvine’s University Synagogue have contributed $25,000 toward purchasing a $60,000 ambulance for American Red Magen David, the Santa Monica-based support group for Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross.

The vehicle will bear the congregation’s name. “An ambulance saves lives,” says Henry Wyle of Irvine, chair of the project. “It’s a symbol of values Jews place on life.”

The computer lab in Anaheim’s Temple Beth Emet religious school typically hums with students studying Torah on CDs. Recently, students took time out to write 30 e-mail letters to Israeli soldiers, says Margalit Moskowitz, Beth Emet’s education director. (

While none of the students received replies, Moskowitz says the process alone is valuable. “The most important thing was the children felt connected, that they are contributing something to Israel. It’s so hard to have a connection, to create a link.

She says, “I think the letter helped achieve it.”