February 20, 2020

Erika Glazer: From blankets for the homeless to multimillion-dollar gifts

In 2013, Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Koreatown campus was renamed the Erika J. Glazer Family Campus, after the Los Angeles philanthropist pledged $30 million to help pay for the historic site’s renovation and expansion. Recently, Glazer spoke about why she gives, the challenges facing the Jewish community today and what being a partial owner of the 2014-15 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors means to her. 

“There’s a lot that needs to be done, and a lot that needs to be done in our city,” Glazer, 57, said in a phone interview, before recalling the turning point in her life when giving back became a central focus. 

“I think it was in 1984, and it was really cold. Thanksgiving was coming up. I wanted to hand out blankets to the homeless downtown, because it was cold, and I just wanted to make someone warmer that night,” she said. 

She has since gone on to do much more than providing blankets to the needy: In part because of a gift from Glazer, the Hammer Museum in Westwood, where she serves on the board of directors, has offered free admission to all since 2014.

“For months, I would hand my credit card to pay for a meal, and people would go, ‘Are you the one who made Hammer free?’ ” she said. “It had such legs on it.” 

The daughter of businessman, philanthropist and pro-Israel activist Guilford Glazer, who died in 2014, Erika Glazer also supports the Israel Defense Forces, with a focus on “hydra-therapy for wounded soldiers,” she said.

“I’ve become the swimming pool queen of Israel,” she said in a 2013 interview coinciding with American Friends of Tel Aviv University honoring her father.

She was born in Tennessee and moved with her family to Los Angeles to get away from Southern racism. She grew up in Los Angeles, in a home where she was taught to put coins in a Jewish National Fund tzedakah box to fund the planting of trees in Israel. 

She also grew up attending services at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. 

The iconic Reform synagogue’s Rabbi Edgar Magnin officiated at her bat mitzvah. She recalled with fondness services led by Magnin, during which “he’d skip, like, 20 pages randomly, which was always a good part,” she said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Glazer also supports education at the synagogue, which last month dedicated the Erika J. Glazer Early Childhood Center on the campus. She said Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, the synagogue’s senior rabbi, had to convince her to let her name be featured on the building. “Well, I started off the giving, and I gave big, and I was kind of unsure of putting my name on it, [but the] rabbi asked me to — said I was deserving — and it’s a great thing. It’s worked out OK,” Glazer said. “I’m happy, very honored.”

Glazer has a son and daughter, both in their 20s, and she said she is interested in helping to sustain Jewish life and where it is headed, and her own children’s tendencies keep her informed about the attitudes of young Jews today.

“I think [Judaism] needs to remain relevant for younger people. My kids are dedicated to being Jewish in a cultural way. My daughter has a lot of Shabbat dinners at her house, where they discuss spiritual things, but it needs to remain relevant to young people, 18- to 35-year-olds,” Glazer said. “I’m not sure how to do that, but we need to keep the culture, and the assimilation can be a problem.” 

Professionally, Glazer works in real estate development, a field she learned about by working for her father in the construction business. She said she likes the “constant learning process [of construction], and I like working with a team. I’m a good team builder.” 

Meanwhile, she has found unexpected pleasure in serving as a part owner of the Golden State Warriors. She bought a stake in the team because, among other reasons, she thought her son would enjoy going to games, but it turns out she likes it more than he does, she said. She described 2014-15 Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry as “sweet, so nice, so kind.” She also participated in the team parade after the Warriors won the championship last year.  

In some ways, the NBA has taught her important life lessons, Glazer said.

“Two things I’ve learned: It’s impossible to fall asleep with a big, huge smile on your face; and, if you ever have a chance to be in a parade, do it — it’s hilarious and fun,” she said. “That’s what basketball has taught me.”