The Potmakin Influence

Cadillac DeVille.

Who hasn’t heard of Potamkin Dealers? The name is almost synonymous with selling cars at a discount rate. But how much do you know about how he took a failing Cadillac dealership to the world’s largest Cadillac dealer in the world? And even more importantly, how Alzheimer’s disease effected his life, and his generous support of research into the treatment and eventual cure of this debilitating and frightening disease?

Victor Potamkin was born in Philadelphia in 1911. His father sold chicken and fish, and wanted to see his son, Victor go on to bigger and better things, so he began studying at the famed Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the world economic crisis of the Great Depression forced Victor to leave school and join his father selling chicken. Victor’s business acumen emerged quickly when he realized he could attract more customers by selling chickens by the piece. Using the slogan “Be Smart, Buy a Part,” he turned his one store into 17 by the time he reached his early twenties.

Potamkin entered the car business in 1947 when he and a partner opened a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. Sales were tepid until Potamkin discovered that the Jews were staying away in droves due to Henry Ford’s reputation as being a rampant anti-Semite. In a brilliant move, Potamkin convinced then Israel President Chaim Weizman to accept a Lincoln as a gift during a visit to New York City. A well-publicized publicity photo of Israel’s President accepting a Ford-built car from Potamkin caused sales to explode. His Philadelphia dealership became the largest Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the US.

In 1972 General Motors convinced him to take over the failing Cadillac dealership in Manhattan, where excessive rent took a giant bite out of profits. Potamkin’s solution, which was counter to the Cadillac brand’s self-image being a product which appealed to people not concerned with price, was to offer his Cadillac’s at deeply discounted prices. People flocked from far and near to purchase his cars, and his volume expanded from 2,000 cars/month to 6,000, as he attracted the newly rich who still believed in the value of a dollar.

Potamkin was not just the paradigmatic brilliant salesman, but also a loving husband and father. His wife of 52 years, Luba, became ill with Alzheimer’s in the late 1970s, and eventually died of it in 1994. The family created the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s Research in 1987, which awards $100,000 each year to the person who has done the most to find a better treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s. They also sponsored many fund raisers and donated large sums in the fight against Alzheimer’s.


The Generosity of Bram Goldsmith

stageAn incredibly successful LA-based banker, in his community, Bram Goldsmith was widely known for his generosity and major charitable donations.  He was respected both as a businessman and a philanthropist until the time of his death at 93 years old.

Unsurprisingly, his death was mourned by many in the various communities to which he provided aid.  For example, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts released a statement alluding to how he had shaped their community as founding chairman, leading “with determination to create a home for arts and culture in the heart of Beverly Hills.”  His legacy lives on at the Bram Goldsmith Theater.

That theater was the result of Goldsmith’s leadership.  Renovating the old Beverly Hills Post Office, Goldsmith was behind the creation of a cultural and performing arts center in the area.  As such the building that was not in use became a 515-seat theater and thus named for him. This was important to him, as he understood the need for a community such as Beverly Hills to have a cultural center.  About this, his son Bruce pointed out that Bram realized “that for Beverly Hills to become a real city, a great small city, what was required was much more than shopping and dining – any real city requires a cultural center and town hall. He understood that the public must have a common space connecting them to the greater world of performing arts, music, dance, children’s theater and education, to act as a gathering place for lectures, political debates, literary readings, and to provide a public forum capable of uniting, exciting, and elevating the community…and because of Bram’s belief in the importance of The Wallis, it will remain here to be enjoyed for generations to come.”


Other philanthropic roles he held during his lifetime included: Chair of the Los Angeles United Jewish Fund Campaign, President of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, National Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and LA Chairman, National Board member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, President of the Hilcrest Country Club, member of the board of Trustees at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, LA Philharmonic Board of Trustees, Chairman of the Board of United Way’s Region IV, and founding Chairman of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts..

A Woman of Valor in San Francisco

View of San Francisco from Twin Peaks. Photo by Basil D Soufi

The Jewish community in the San Francisco Bay area are the beneficiaries of the generosity of native Rhoda Haas Goldman, a true woman of valor.

Rhoda was born in San Francisco, California in 1924. Her parents were Walter A. Haas and Elise Stern. Walter was the son of the founder of the Hellman-Haas Grocery which later became Smart & Final, and was a president of Levi Strauss & Company. As the daughter of Walter Haas Rhoda was an heiress to the Levi Strauss fortune.

She attended the University of California at Berkeley in the 40s, and in 1946 married Richard Goldman. Together the couple launched the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund in 1951, which over its history has donated more than $680 million to many and varied organizations. Rhoda was especially interested in lending her support to organizations focused on environmental issues as well as organizations supporting the arts in San Francisco. Rhoda and her husband are also co-founders of the Goldman Environment Prize, which they began in 1990.

In addition to giving material support through donations, Rhoda also gave of her time. She was the president of the San Francisco Symphony, the chairwoman of San Francisco’s Memorial to the Six Million Victims of the Holocaust, as well as the director of the Mount Zion Health System. She was also the president of the Mount Zion Hospital and Medical Center and served as the president of Congregation Emanu-El, which is San Francisco’s largest reform synagogue.

Rhoda Goldman passed away in 1996 of a heart attack at age 71. She had been married to her husband for 49 years, and left 3 living children and 11 grandchildren.

The Generosity of the Rabinowitz Fund

donateThanks to the generosity of Louis Mayer Rabinowitz – an American Jewish philanthropist who lived from 1887 to 1957 – the Rabinowitz Fund for Judaica Research (at Yale University) was established two years before his passing.  The focus was for Semitic languages and literature but this was just one part of the generosity with which he was involved. In addition, the Louis M. Rabinowitz Foundation – for which he was responsible in 1953 – sponsored a five-year archaeological exploration in Israel in conjunction with the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati.

Rabinowitz was known throughout his life as being at the forefront of giving to community affairs, both in money and time.  He was the Vice President in 1921 at the Hebrew National Orphan Home, as well as the American Jewish Historical Society, Brooklyn’s Jewish Hospital and the NY chapter of the America-Israel Society.  He also held a key role at the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City in 1935, as Director.

Since Rabinowitz loved books and paintings, his will committed the large collection he assembled during his lifetime to the New York Public Library, Library of Congress, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yale University.

Other philanthropic acts Rabinowitz engaged in included his directorship at Yale University’s Association of Fine Arts, honorary trustee of the educational institute’s Library Associates and director of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In this latter role he created the Louis M. Rabinowitz Institute for Research in Rabbinics.

Dr. Raymond Sackler: A Man with a Mission

Sackler Medical School in Tel Aviv University. Photo courtesy of .אבישי טייכר

Raymond Sackler is not only a psychiatrist and expert in the psycho-biology of schizophrenia and manic depressive psychosis, but he is also the founder of several pharmaceutical companies, his most well-known being Purdue Pharma, LLP.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1920, Sackler was not admitted to medical school in the United States when he first applied. Not one to give up easily, he traveled to Glasgow and attended the Anderson College of Medicine in Scotland. During WWII, he volunteered for the British Home Guard and also worked as a plane spotter. During the war he was able to return to the USA to finish his medical studies. He received his degree from the Middlesex University School of Medicine in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1944, the same year he married Beverly Feldman.

Sackler became a board-certified psychiatrist and then became a Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Sackler founded the Creedmoor Institute for Psychobiological Studies in New York City with his brothers Arthur and Mortimor. The brothers received two awards from the Medical Society of the State of New York for the research they conducted in the psycho-biology of schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis.

Mortimor and Raymond went on to launch Purdue Pharma, a company that is worth about $13 billion. Their most famous drug developed from the company is an opiate called Oxycontin.

Perhaps even greater than the work Sackler did in the realms of medicine and pharmaceuticals is his contribution to research and education through his numerous philanthropic organizations. Through the work of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundations, major work has been advanced in biomedical, biological, physical and engineering sciences. The foundation supports numerous schools, institutes, centers, departments, endowed chairs, professorships, fellowships, and research awards in the biomedical and physical sciences; lectureships at academic institutions around the world, and more.

In addition to all the above, Sackler is one of the founders of the American Program of the Sackler School of Medicine New York State four-year program at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.

Raymond Sackler was truly a unique man, whose passing only a few weeks ago on July 17, 2017, is a sad occasion for all who have benefited from his achievements.

Donations of Davidson

baseballBill Davidson (1922-2009) – as well as being a successful US businessman (chair, CEO and president of Guardian Industries) was an extremely very generous philanthropist.  A co-founder of the Pistons/Palace Foundation (which, itself gave over $20 million), his gifts to the William Davidson Institute at Michigan University has exceeded $55 million.

The Pistons/Palace Foundation also joined with the City of Detroit’s Parks and Recreation Department to create the Partnership to Adopt and Renovate Parks for Kids (PARK) Program.  With this program parks, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, playground equipment and running trucks were renovated.

With all of these donations (and more), Davidson was honored by the Council of Michigan Foundations in 1997 for his “lifelong philanthropic efforts locally, nationally and internationally.” The New York Times (in the same year) named  him one of the most generous donors in America.

Irving Moskowitz: Strengthening Israel, Revitalizing Jerusalem

Dr. Irving Moskowitz speaking at Beit Orot on the Mount of Olives.

Born in New York City in 1928, Irving Moskowitz was the ninth of thirteen children to parents who came to the US from Poland. His extended family suffered the loss of 120 members during the Holocaust. The family left New York when Irving was still a child, heading west to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he went to medical school and after earning his MD, moved to Los Angeles.

Moskowitz built a successful medical practice in Southern California, but soon found a talent for real estate, becoming wealthy in the business.

In 1967 Ben Gurion, the famed retired Prime Minister of Israel, wrote to Moskowitz, and others, to help Israel settle the newly liberated areas, saying in the letter that: “”We need more Jews in the liberated territories.”

Moskowitz became the local president of the California branch of a nationwide group called the Zionist Organization of America. In his capacity as president of the local ZOA he committed to helping Israel strengthen its sovereignty over Jerusalem, which had been united during the Six Day War of 1967. He encouraged and supported Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

He launched the Moskowitz Foundation in 1968, dedicated to improving and enriching the lives of people based on the idea that, “’He who has saved one life, it is as if he has saved the world.”
In 1980 Moskowitz moved to Miami Beach, where he continued to support his many causes on behalf of Israel. He was a key supporter of the Ir David Foundation and Ateret Cohanim, two organizations that help Jews move to neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

In 2008 he and his wife Cherna created the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, “as an expression of support for people who put Zionism into action in today’s Israeli society, acting for the benefit of the common good in order to ensure the strength and resilience of the national Jewish homeland.”

At the age of 88, Irving Moskowitz passed away, and was buried in his beloved Jerusalem, in June, 2016.