December 11, 2018

Generations of generosity

Between November 1930 and Aug. 28, 1931, Mark Schulman wrote hundreds of letters to his sweetheart, Esther Wiesman, in San Francisco; by his count, he wrote 90 letters in one five-week period.

Between declarations of love and admonishments for her infrequent replies, he wrote of his dreams: How he would become a citizen, how they would spend many happy years together, and how he would become a success in business.

“All in all,” he wrote to her on one occasion, “my aim is on a million, and I honestly feel I am going to have it.”

A million turned out to be a conservative estimate. After marrying Wiesman on that August day in 1931, Mark Schulman would go on to start and sell a chain of 15 supermarkets in Nevada and Los Angeles, help build the iconic Riviera Palm Springs hotel and serve as a bank director.

The fortune that he amassed has continued to furnish large donations to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes in the years since his death in 2002, as the Schulman family enters its fourth generation of philanthropists.

Late on a recent afternoon, Richard Schulman, 80, Mark and Esther’s son, swung open the heavy wooden door of his Wilshire Boulevard condominium, revealing a blaze of white — white floors, white walls, white furniture, all decorated to the nines with modern art. The sun was setting on a sweeping, 15th-story view of West Los Angeles. Richard’s sister, Roberta Holland, who goes by Bobbi, sat on a white sofa across from his wife, Marcia Schulman, and next to their daughter, Teri Hertz.

Bobbi and Richard, who goes by Dick, trade off the directorship of the Mark and Esther Schulman Foundation. During the interview at his home, Dick was circumspect about the amount of money the foundation doles out each year: Some years it gives a lot, some years not at all. 

In 2014, records show, the foundation donated more than $300,000, including a $250,000 donation to Camp Hess Kramer, which is associated with Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where Hertz is a member.

But long before Bobbi and Dick took the helm of the foundation, Schulman had already been a well-known name in Los Angeles Jewish philanthropy. Mark first became seriously involved in charity by joining the Sportsmen’s Club in the 1940s, a fundraising group for the City of Hope in Duarte, then a Jewish tuberculosis hospital that treated many indigent patients who couldn’t afford to pay.

It wasn’t long before the Schulman name began appearing on buildings, including two at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, another at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services and in the lobby of the Zimmer Children’s Museum. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the couple underwrote a maternity ward and a chair in organ transplants. In general, their giving focused on the elderly and the young, the newest and oldest Jewish generations.

Both came from immigrant families (Mark was an immigrant, having been born in Minsk in what is now Belarus) and belonged to social circles where giving back to their adopted country was a priority.

“All of those people, those immigrants and first-generation American Jews that became very comfortable or wealthy, they were all philanthropic,” Marcia said of Mark and Esther. “Their whole group of friends, they did incredible things.”

Soon, Bobbi and Dick got involved, beginning at Vista Del Mar, where Dick served on the young men’s leadership board and Bobbi would take children on excursions. Both have since served on a long list of philanthropic boards. Dick is on the advisory board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (JCFLA) and the board of governors of the Jewish Home, and sat on the board of the Beit T’Shuvah addiction treatment center. Bobbi sits on the board of the Jewish Federation of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, and the Jewish Federation of North America’s National Women’s Philanthropy, among others.

Their activism arises from their parents’ lessons, learned early on, that they were to give of their time as well as their money.

“Dick and I heard it at the dinner table every night,” Bobbi said. “We were naturally raised to understand that that’s just part of your DNA, it’s something that you do. It’s something that you have to do.”

Mark and Esther made sure to impart the same lesson to the next generation. As they grew into their old age, the couple would impress upon their grandchildren the importance of giving over dinner each Monday night at their home.

In the early 2000s, after Mark’s death in 2002, the decision was made to bring the grandchildren into board discussions at the family’s foundation to help guide its giving. The fund is held with JCFLA and overseen by a board made up of Dick, Bobbi and Marcia along with JCFLA officials and appointees. While the grandchildren haven’t yet made the board, they’ve nonetheless played a part in influencing the foundation’s philanthropy. 

For their part, Dick and Bobbi have tried to ensure their grandchildren inherit the same philanthropic spirit they did. One year, for Chanukah, in lieu of gifts, Bobbi sent a certain sum to each of her grandchildren with the instructions to donate it and inform her where they’d given it. To her surprise, each one donated the money to animal rights charities — proof, to her, that they had developed their own philanthropic sensibilities, independent of hers.

And indeed, the fourth generation — Mark and Esther’s 15 great-grandchildren — have shown some initiative of their own when it comes to charity and giving. “Periodically, I get letters from them from college: ‘Grandma, I’m supporting this, would you support it?’ ” Bobbi said.

But sitting next to her aunt on the couch, Hertz said the family’s ethos goes beyond financial giving.

Cori Hertz, Teri’s daughter, has volunteered on half a dozen separate occasions at an orphanage in Romania. Once, upon realizing that there was a shortage of toothbrushes, she persuaded Hasbro to donate some 200 musical toothbrushes that emit a jingle when they’re used.

Camp Hess Kramer has the youngest generation to thank, too. In 2011, Teri, who is 56, invited two of her parents’ grandchildren, Taylor Tabb and Julia Dick, then 15 and 12, respectively, to speak to the foundation board about their involvement in the camp and to ask the foundation to endow a scholarship for campers who couldn’t afford their dues. 

“Bringing them in gave them an opportunity to talk about a cause that was meaningful for them,” Teri said.

“Guess what?” said Marcia, sitting across from her daughter. “They didn’t get turned down.”