To Give and Now Receive
He was a boy from the Bronx, born below the Third Avenue El. She was a girl from Brooklyn, born near the famed “Tree Grown in Brooklyn.” Both had immigrant, working-class parents who initially opposed their marriage.
Almost 55 years, three children, 10 grandchildren and, in June, one great-grandchild later, Ozzie and Dorothy Goren are progenitors of a philanthropic dynasty that will be honored May 23 at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ annual Fammy Awards dinner.
It isn’t an honor that either of them sought, Dorothy said during a recent breakfast interview at the Hillcrest Country Club.
“I had to convince Ozzie to do it,” she said. “My feeling is it’s not for us; it’s for what Jewish Family Service does. To me, [JFS is] what Judaism is all about. I owe it to them.”
It’s also a way of showing off her children and grandchildren, she conceded.
Both Gorens have been involved in Jewish leadership roles for many years. Ozzie has chaired the United Jewish Fund campaign and served as Jewish Federation president, and currently chairs the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum and the Martyrs Memorial. Dorothy was the first woman to chair the UJF campaign and has held myriad other Federation posts, including Western region president and Women’s Division campaign chair. But her most heartfelt leadership role has been at JFS, where she is a past president, board member and serves on all key committees.
“Their involvement and dedication to the community is really a model for everybody,” said Lisa Brooks, director of development and marketing at JFS. “They’re not just leaders in name. They give money; they give time; they’re always there when you need them…. They give to everything they believe in. Fortunately for us, they believe in a lot.”
For both Gorens, their parents provided models of charitable giving. Ozzie tells a story of his early years in the furniture business in Los Angeles, when he was making about $50 a week and already had a wife and child to support. A rabbi walked in and asked for a donation for a yeshiva in Jerusalem. The young entrepreneur gave the rebbe $18.
“I thought he was going to drop dead on the spot because he usually got a quarter or a half a dollar,” Ozzie said.
When word got around, other needy rabbis started to come into the store. One day, when Ozzie was on the phone with his father, a rabbi came into the shop and asked for a donation. Ozzie became upset. “Dad, there’s a rabbi who’s just come in here. There was one here in the morning, and now they’re coming twice a day.”
“I don’t care how many times they come,” his father said, in his Yiddish-shaded English. “If a man comes to you with his hand outstretched, you put something in it.”
“My father said to me over and over, ‘There’s only one thing that you can leave behind — and that’s your good name,'” Ozzie said.
Ozzie’s father came to the United States at age 19 after fleeing the Communists or Cossacks (Ozzie isn’t quite sure) in a small town in the Ukraine. He started out as a blacksmith, then became a peddler. In 1925, he went bankrupt, but within two years had paid all his creditors back.
“That was the kind of man he was, a man of stature and ethics and morals,” Ozzie said. “My father worked his butt off. And of the six of us, five of us went to the university.”
Dorothy’s father emigrated from Lithuania, arriving at 18 after fleeing the draft in his country. He left behind his whole family, and, with the exception of two sisters who went to Argentina, they all perished in the Holocaust. In Brooklyn, he owned a hand laundry on Fifth Avenue. When his crooked partner ran off with all the money, the family moved to Massapequa, Long Island, where her dad ran several gas stations.
“We always had a lovely house and enough food, but we weren’t wealthy,” she said. “That’s why, every morning, I wake up in my house in Pacific Palisades and…when I walk out of my bedroom, I think, ‘I can’t believe little Dorothy from Brooklyn is living in this house.'”
Unlike Ozzie, who lived in a Jewish neighborhood, Dorothy’s family was one of three Jewish households in Massapequa. Even though they didn’t belong to a synagogue, her mother, who was born in Poland, was conscious of being Jewish and did volunteer work in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
Ozzie’s success in business has allowed the Gorens to become generous philanthropists, as well as lay leaders. Beginning with a half interest in a furniture business, Ozzie moved on to real estate and shopping centers, and now heads Portland Investment Co., running his business from a comfortable sixth-floor corner office in a Westwood office building.
For the Gorens, their children and grandchildren are their most important contribution to the world and the Jewish community.
Several of them are carrying on Ozzie and Dorothy’s legacy. Daughter Carol, a free-lance photographer and mother of three, is a volunteer at JFS in Denver. Her husband is president of the board of a local Jewish day school, and the entire family volunteers at the Colorado Humane Society, visits the elderly in nursing homes and volunteers on Christmas at Children’s Hospital.
The Gorens’ oldest son, Jerry, who is about to become a grandfather, volunteered at a reading program in West Oakland and San Quentin during his UC Berkeley days in the 1960s. He and his partner, Julia Coley, started a law and public school magnate at Dorsey High School and now teach in Los Angeles.
The youngest son, Bruce, met his wife, Susie, on a Federation Young Leadership mission to Israel. The couple has four children, most attending Jewish day school. Bruce, a successful businessman, is a past board member of JFS of Santa Monica. Susie is president of Stephen S. Wise Nursery School and Day School, an active member of the Jewish Federation and is completing the Wexner Heritage Program.
Ozzie says that he has found God and immortality in the eyes of his children and grandchildren, and hopes to pass on a legacy of Jewish compassion and memory not only to them but also to future generations through the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum. The museum reopened in an expanded and more visible incarnation last month. Its sole mission, Ozzie said, is to commemorate the Holocaust and educate people of all creeds and colors about it.
At a Holocaust commemoration on April 18, Ozzie told a crowd of survivors that he was one of them, even though he was never in a concentration camp or a refugee during World War II. Still, it was only by chance that he wasn’t buried in Babi Yar, as his father’s brother, sister, father and mother had been.
“I’m a survivor. We’re all survivors. We’re a nation of immigrants who all survived,” he said. “The wonder of it all is you have families, and you have immortality. I have the pleasure of my immortality sitting right there: Zach, Sheera, Jake and Nikki, they are my immortality, my grandchildren.”
The Jewish Family Service Fammy Awards dinner will take place Sunday, May 23, at the Ritz Carlton-Marina del Rey. Tickets are $250, and proceeds will go to support JFS services. Journal ads paying tribute to honorees are also available at a range of prices. For dinner reservations or to place an ad, contact Janice Pitler at (323) 761-8800, ext. 210.