Benny’s Beneficiaries: Benny Alagem’s Worthy Causes

hospital-wardHaving been described as a “major donor” in his lifetime, Benny Alagem is no stranger to generosity.  The City of Tel Aviv – recognizing his kindness and contributions over the years – in 1995 appointed him an Honorary Ambassador and he also sits on the Israeli-American Council’s Board of Directors as an honorary member. He is also a member of the Advisory Board for the American Friends of The Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel.

Some examples of this generosity include:  picking up the tab for the 2012 Council Leadership Gala; in 2004 held a fundraiser for the March of the Living (which raised $1m) and co-chaired a fundraiser for the Friends of the IDF which raised $5.2m for the IDF.

In recognition for his work, in 2016 Alagem was given the Philanthropic Leadership Award from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Board of Governors.


Benjamin Buttonwieser, a Banker, a Philanthropist and a Mensch

Born the first year of the 20th century to Jewish parents, Benjamin Buttonwieser was an active leader in the Jewish and general communities of New York City, where he was an enthusiastic resident.

Benjamin was the son of Joseph L. Buttonwieser, an important real estate investor in New York City. He grew up in his family’s Lenox Avenue home in Harlem, and began his studies at Columbia University at the tender age of 15. He was not allowed to later pursue a PhD because Columbia said he was not old enough, so he joined Kuhn Loeb, a real estate firm, where he became a runner.

He never went back to Columbia, but earned an honorary doctorate from there at the age of 76. At the age of 67, while he co-chaired a $200 million fund-raising campaign for Columbia, the Association of the Alumni of Columbia College gave him its most prestigious award: The Alexander Hamilton Medal.

Buttonwieler served as the president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York from 1938 until 1940. That organization later became the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York. Joseph, Benjamin’s father held the same position in the 1920s, and his son, Lawrence was also the president of the same organization in the 70s.

Benjamin also was a member of the executive committee of the American Jewish Committee.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma: The Philanthropists Respond

When disaster strikes, philanthropists leap into action. This was very much the case with Hurricane Irma as US Jewish philanthropists joined forces to assist in these disasters and help prepare for similar future ones.

Here, we speak to representatives from The AVI CHAI foundation, The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), NECHAMA: Jewish Response to Disaster, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on what they have been doing to assist.

Mort Zuckerman: American Jewish Leader, Journalist, Philanthropist

The New York Daily News recognized 11 employees of MTA New York City Transit at the first annual Hometown Heroes Awards breakfast on January 29, 2013 at 583 Park Ave. The honorees were singled out for their actions above and beyond the call of duty.
Daily News Chairman and Publisher Mortimer Zuckerman. Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

Mortimer Zuckerman was born in 1937 in Montreal Canada to Jewish parents. He attended McGill University, starting when he was only 16 years old. He earned a BA in 1957 and received a Bachelor’s in Civil Law by 1961. Later that year he entered the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, getting an MBA. By 1962 he had a Master of Laws from Harvard University.

Zuckerman taught at Yale for a few years and then joined Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, a real estate company. He soon became senior vice president and chief financial officer.

He purchased the popular literary magazine, The Atlantic, in 1980, and held the job of chairman from that year until 1999, when he sold the journal to David G. Bradley for $12 million. He also sold a tech magazine called Fast Company for $365 million. He was the owner of New York Daily News until early September 2017, when Zuckerman sold the Daily News to Tronc, a publisher that also owns The LA Times and The Chicago Tribune. Zuckerman still owns The US News & World Report.

Zuckerman has also been active in politics, frequently writing commentaries published in the Daily News and US News. He is a longtime supporter of the Democratic party. However, he was critical of many of President Obama’s policies, including the healthcare reform bill known as the Affordable Care Act, the plan to boost infrastructure, and of the downgrade of US treasury debt by Standard & Poor’s in 2011.

In December 2012 Zuckerman promised to endow the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute of Columbia University for $200 million. He was also the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In May 2008 President George W. Bush invited Zuckerman to sit on the Honorary Delegation on his historic visit to Jerusalem in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

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.