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Eli Broad, 87, Embodied the American Dream

Among the institutions “he made happen” through his persistence, influence and wealth were the Museum of Contemporary Art and Disney Hall.
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May 2, 2021
Eli Broad attends The Broad Museum Black Tie Inaugural Dinner at The Broad on September 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)

Eli Broad, who embodied the American dream by rising from the son of a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant housepainter and seamstress mother to multi-billionaire died Friday (April 30) at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center at the age of 87.

Arguably one of the most influential private citizens of Los Angeles, his front page obituary in the Los Angeles Times was headlined “Billionaire reshaped L.A.’s civic landscape” through his landmark initiatives in the arts, culture and education.

Joining in the eulogies, Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, told the Jewish Journal that “Eli Broad’s Judaism and his family’s story mean a great deal to me and to our Jewish community. He lived his Jewish values in his professional and philanthropic life through his deep commitment to our beloved city and to education, arts and culture.

“His commitment to the Jewish Federation was steadfast and constant. Every time I left a conversation with him he always ended by saying ‘You can always count on me.’”

Born in the Bronx and raised in Detroit, at age 30 Broad and his wife Edyth moved to Los Angeles. As he frequently explained, he made the move because “you can come to Los Angeles without the right background family-wise, politically, religiously and be accepted if you’re willing to work hard, have good ideas and make things happen.”

Among the institutions “he made happen” through his persistence, influence and wealth were the Museum of Contemporary Art and Disney Hall, as well as major support for theaters, educational institutions and medical research.

Back in 2003, in a Jewish Journal article (by this reporter) analyzing the giving by wealthy Jews to general, as contrasted to specific Jewish causes, Broad observed: “If I had only a little to give away, my emphasis would be on Jewish and Israeli causes.

“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.”

Last year, Broad’s fortune was estimated at $6.9 billion, fueled by his dual careers in housing construction and insurance. The current balance of the Broad Foundation stands at $2.4 billion, after having dispensed hundreds of millions of dollars since it was founded in 1999.

Among the recipients of Broad’s largesse he was known for micromanaging his projects and withdrawing pledged funds if he felt that the charity was not meeting the goals he set.

In a 2010 profile of Broad in the Los Angeles Times, Lynda Resnick, a fellow art museum board member was quoted as saying “When Eli gives, it is like negotiating a business deal. It is not altruistic. It is not blind charity. And there is a difference between being generous and being charitable. But it doesn’t matter in the end because the good was still done.”

Broad is survived by his wife and sons Jeffrey and Gary.

(JTA , the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, contributed to this report)

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