November 16, 2018

Remembering Chuck Boxenbaum

On Sept. 21, a great cedar fell. Charles Howard Boxenbaum was one of the quiet leaders not just of Los Angeles Jewry but of humanity. His charity and generosity of spirit knew no bounds. He would buy meals for down-and-out people sitting across from him at a lunch counter, and try to answer every solicitation sent his way.

Chuck was raised during the Great Depression in New York in a proud Zionist family. His father, Ziskind, after hearing a fiery appeal from David Ben-Gurion, took out a loan to help buy armaments for the fledging Jewish state when he barely had enough money for his family. In that tradition, Chuck, upon completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago in  two years, went to Israel to live on a kibbutz in 1949. Chuck loved the nonmaterial, agricultural life and being part of the creation of the State of Israel. That was interrupted when he was drafted into the Korean War for two years. Upon his return, he decided a career in his father’s drapery and bedspread business couldn’t compete with the adventure and excitement of the real estate boom in Los Angeles. Chuck flourished, syndicating apartment buildings. He was an expert in reading financials and in explaining complex deals. People did business with Chuck because of his integrity and transparency. On many occasions, Chuck left money on the table and walked away from transactions because they lacked legitimacy. He was a mentor to many, giving freely of what he knew.

Chuck was proficient in simplifying the most multifaceted issues in all matters. He never fudged. When he didn’t know something, he would tell you. He also was a great listener. 

And gutsy. In his late 50s, he took up Torah study with Aish Los Angeles and skiing around the world. In his 80s, he was still going off of the cornice at his beloved Mammoth. But after he couldn’t ski anymore, he moved on, like he did in all things in life, with no regrets, eyeing the next challenge. 

Chuck was a realist. At Aish L.A., we had a board meeting focused on our fledging building campaign. Chuck turned to the attendees and said, “Boys, if this room doesn’t put up a million now, this campaign is over.” Within seven minutes, a million dollars was raised and the Boxenbaums named the project the Boxenbaum Aish L.A. Jewish Educational Outreach Center. His fundraising at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was legendary. 

Chuck never promised, he accomplished. He never complained, he endured. He never gave up, he withstood. He loved natural beauty, the Jewish people, the downtrodden, a good laugh, fine wine, forthright people and a new opportunity. He was proud of sons Scott and Peter (of blessed memory), who predeceased him, and he cherished Kharlene, whom he married on his birthday so the two most important days of his life would forever be one. With appreciation and in gratitude, Chuck, we are better for knowing you and miss you deeply.

Rabbi Aryeh Markman is executive director of Aish Los Angeles.