February 24, 2020

Men who made a mark that will endure

As part of a fundraising event for Tel Aviv University, Rabbi David Wolpe interviewed four leading Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, recording their stories and thoughts on video. Rabbi Wolpe and the four men — Gil Glazer, Max Webb, Jona Goldrich and Parviz Nazarian — will present the film at a dinner honoring the men on June 20 at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

A generation comes and another goes: True enough, but not all generations are alike. Experiences shape some in ways that are unrepeatable. Gil Glazer, Jona Goldrich, Max Webb and Parviz Nazarian are part of a unique generation. And within their generation, these four men are truly remarkable. The blast furnace of history that forged their souls has, thank God, become a historical memory. But we who regard them with love and awe can only be grateful that each used the experiences of his life to elevate our own lives as well.

Gil Glazer served in the American Army in World War II. Parviz Nazarian left Iran and was wounded while serving in the Israeli army in 1948. Jona Goldrich fled Poland and the Nazis with his younger brother in a dramatic trek through Europe. And Max Webb survived 18 camps, including Auschwitz, to come to the United States.

Each of these men, in their own way, had qualities that enabled them to spin gold from the dross of personal trials. Each became deeply involved with the State and fate of Israel. They are the intimates of prime ministers, major forces in the industrial and financial success of the state. And here in Los Angeles, their chosen home, each has taught generations by both advice and example, what it is to use self-created wealth to reach out to those in need. Yes, every generation has its challenge and its glory, but where do we find men like these who were given almost nothing and managed to do everything?

The privilege of interviewing these four men was a glimpse into their times and their world. Certain common themes shone through their lives. Each was desperately concerned with the physical and moral health of the Jewish people. They support Israel not only because they love the land and its people but also because in the personal memory of each man, in different ways, is the burning awareness of what was lost.  Jonah and Max saw with their own eyes the destruction of European Jewry. Gil fought in the war that ended it. Parviz saw the decimation of his ancient community and its relocation throughout the world. They represent together the historical experience of Jews in the 20th century: It is the tale of the phoenix. And these men are the agents of resurrection.

All were profoundly concerned with family. Together with their wives, who were partners in their success and generosity, all of them took care to ensure that their families knew and understood the challenges Jews faced in this world. Each was an agent of education for their children and grandchildren as well as the Jewish community. They were men of the world who began their goodness and greatness by being men of the home.

These are also four deeply learned men. They love education, learning. Not all had the privilege in their lives of a deep formal education, but their experience is wide ranging and deep, and they create that opportunity for others. The reason Gil, Jona, Max and Parviz are so intimately involved with Tel Aviv University is that it teaches thousands of young women and men each year, preparing them for life in a modern economy and a challenging, ever-changing world. Tel Aviv University is a symbol of what the State of Israel has accomplished: a nation where young Jews can achieve commensurate with their efforts and abilities.

So we listen to Jona Goldrich, who was entrusted with his brother and was supposed to meet his parents, who never came. As a result, he works throughout his life to ensure that people remember what happened. He will make sure that we never forget.

We listen to Max Webb, who saw babies murdered by the Nazis. As a result, he promised himself and the memory of his parents that he would forever help the Jewish people flourish as he had seen them suffer. For, although he saw horrors, Max considers his survival a miracle from God.

We listen to Gil Glazer, who learned giving at his parents’ knee, and returning from the war gave up Harvard Business School to give local workers jobs. He became such a success that he spent his life advising governments in the United States and Israel, supporting innumerable causes and promoting Jewish life. 

We listen to Parviz Nazarian, whose father died when he was a small child and who came to Israel with nothing, sleeping on the roof of an Arab man’s home. His remarkable rise in business led him to be a central pillar of support both for Israel and for the Iranian community in the United States.

What makes these men great? They treasure the past but are not limited by it. They each recognized that innovation was a chance to re-create what they treasured from their upbringing in a new world. Each has a boundless optimism even now about the possibilities of change: In place of obstacles, they recognized opportunities. They are charismatic and winning personalities: All four created alliances with others and generated loyalty through their example. These men are driven, not for profit alone but for what vast resources can do in this world. 

Gil, Jona, Parviz and Max are giants in philanthropy, in business, in wisdom and in spirit. What a privilege that they chose our community to make their trailblazing way through life. This generation of theirs has left a mark that will endure throughout the age.

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at facebook/RabbiWolpe.