Alan Slifka: A Life Worth Living

Alan B. Slifka was born in 1929 along with his twin sister Barbara. His father, Joseph, and mother Sylvia, owned textile and real estate businesses.

Slifka was home-schooled with his sister until fourth grade when he began studies at the Ethical Culture Society’s Fieldston School. He later attended Yale and graduated in 1951. He received his MBA from Harvard in 1953. He joined the financial services company L.R. Rothschild & Company where he worked for 32 years, eventually becoming a partner.

In 1981 he launched his own company which bore his name until he changed the company name to Halcyon Asset Management, managing over $10 billion at the time of Slivka’s passing in 2011.
Slivka wanted to give a gift to New York City, where he was born, grew up, and continued to work. According to Paul Binder, the founder and artistic director of the Big Apple Circus, said in 1984 that,

“Our first supporter, Alan Slifka, said he’d been wanting to give New York a gift, like a statue or something. Instead, he decided to give New York the Big Apple Circus.”

He was also a supporter of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School, giving them over $20 million. In 2003 Slivka gave $5 million to Brandeis University to create a program to promote coexistence among cultures and societies in conflict.

Perhaps his biggest impact, however, is helping to find solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict with his creation of the Abraham Fund Initiatives. The organization was begun with a donation of $500,000 from Slivka, and since its creation has distributed over $10 million in grants for educational programs which work against stereotypes and promote cooperation in health care, social services and women’s rights.

“We can be viewed as a coexistence mutual fund,” Mr. Slifka once said.


Dangoor’s Donations

moneySir Naim Dangoor was an Iraqi-British businessman who gave incredibly generously to a variety of worthwhile causes during his lifetime.  When he arrived in Britain in the 1960s from Iraq as a refugee, he came with next to nothing.  As such he felt the need to “thank the wonderful country,” that gave him refuge and thus gave many  millions to educational, health and religious-related charities.

One of these extremely large notable donations (and there were many) took place in 2014 with the largest amount of money the Royal Society of Medicine had ever received as a charitable donation.  This was used by the society to “support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who would like to pursue a career in medicine” and was a perfect way for Dangoor to combine two of his passionate causes – education and health.

Another notably large donation he made was to London’s biomedical research centre’s Francis Crick Institute.  When in 1980, Dangoor established the Exilarch’s Foundation – it paved the way for an address to be created to locate a whole slew of donations to worthy causes, including – but not limited to – the Dangoor Scholarships (assisting 1,000 university students with no family history of further education); the Eliahou Dangoor Scholarships (supporting 4,000 students from poor backgrounds studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics), Cancer Research UK, Bar Ilan Univeristy and the University of Nanjing in China, etc.

The path that connects Midland Road to Ossulton Street, running beside the Francis Crick Institute, is called Dangoor Walk, in his memory.


James Tisch: Always Ready to Help

Born in Atlantic City to co-chairman of the Loews Corporation Laurence Tisch and Wilma “Billie” Stein, James Tisch became the CEO of Loews in 1999. In addition to his position on the board of Loews, Tisch is also the chairman of WNET, a New York City’s public educational television station; a member in the Council on Foreign Relations; and seats on the directorate of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, General Electric, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the New York Public Library.

James is married to Merryl, who only recently stepped down from her position as Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents after 20 years-  together they support several major organizations. They gave $40 million to create the Tisch Cancer Institute at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. They gave $15 million to WNET, Channel Thirteen, and $20 million to the New York Public Library.

Reigniting Recognition of Rosenwald

Although he’s been dead for more than 80 years, a few years ago, on some level, generous, charitable activist Julius Rosenwald (August 12, 1862 – January 6, 1932) came back to life.  Thanks to the efforts of Aviva Kempner, a filmmaker from Washington D.C. the feature length Rosenwald documentary was produced in 2015.

Giving testament to the man’s incredible work, as well as being The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South, Rosenald’s generosity was boundless.  Kempner points out that with the $62 million he gave to various causes throughout his life, “in today’s dollars [that] is closer to $1 billion,” attributing the title “the greatest philanthropist you’ve never heard of,” to him.

Rosenwald gave seed money for 5,000+ schools for black kids in the early 1900s when education for this demographic was not a priority.  The reason Kempner made this documentary at this time was that she believed the story was “too important to go unnoticed. It is a great Jewish legacy that I am excited to make better known. At a time when financial hardships abound and civil rights issues unfortunately still exist, it is imperative that Julius Rosenwald’s story be told now.”

Sam Zell: Benefiting the Jewish Community from Chicago to Israel

Sam Zell started out on his business career early. While he was attending the University of Michigan he became adroit at managing apartment buildings in exchange for room-and-board, at first. After graduating with a BA Zell and his school friend, Robert Lurie, had a contract with a large apartment developer in Ann Arbor. At the time of Zell’s graduation from law school at the University of Michigan, he and his partner were managing more than 4,000 apartments, and owned 100-200 of their own. After he graduated he sold his share of the management company, and moved to Chicago, where he had grown up.

Zell took a job at a law firm, but quit after only one week, deciding that he was unsuited for the profession. But he was week at the law firm was not in vain. One of the senior partners was so impressed with Zell that he gave him seed money to buy an apartment building in Toledo, Ohio. He also invested in buildings in Reno, Nevada. Within a year his old partner Bob Lurie joined the business, and together grew the small company into a giant enterprise. The company they created, Equity Group Investments, spawned three of the biggest public real estate companies in history: Equity Residential, the largest apartment owner in the US; Equity Office Properties Trust, the largest office owner in the US; and Equity Lifestyle, an owner/operator of manufactured home and resort communities.

In addition to his real estate empire, Zell invested in other industries, including Schwinn Bicycle company, Revco, Broadway Stores, and many others.

Business never got in the way of Zell’s desire to give back to the community. Zell and his wife Helen focus their generous giving on education and the arts. They are the sponsors of the Zell/Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies of the University of Michigan; the Kellogg School Zell Center for Risk Research at Northwestern University and the Zell’s Scholar Program; and the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Zell/Lurie Real Estate Center. The couple also supports the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chicago Symphony.

Sam and Helen have not held back their generosity from Jewish causes, either. The couple made a $3.1 million donation to the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel; and the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress. Back in the US he is a giver to the American Jewish Committee and the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago which is named after Sam’s father. He also gave money to the Chicagoland Jewish High School, which is now called the Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, after his mother.

Joseph Gruss: Founder and Supporter of Jewish Education Around the World

Joseph Saul Gross was born in the Ukraine in 1903. He was one of seven children born to a father who was a banker/Talmud scholar and a mother whose family was involved in the export grain business.

Gruss married Caroline Zelaznik in 1934. Together they traveled to the United States to start a travel agency when World War II erupted in 1939, and they were not able to return to Europe where they had left their children. Unfortunately their oldest child, along with many relatives, died during the war.

In 1942 Gruss launched a Wall Street firm focused on mergers and arbitrage mainly in the oil and gas sectors, called Gruss & Company. Consequently, he became involved in oil and gas exploration in various locations around the United States, including Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and West Virginia.

Gruss became very active as a philanthropist beginning in the 1970s, especially supporting Jewish education and educators. He paid for the Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, a project of Yeshivah University. He also funded the Caroline Zelaznik Gruss and Joseph S. Gruss Visiting Professorship in Talmudic Civil Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also supported the Fund for Jewish Education in association with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and the United Jewish Appeal of New York.

In 1989 Gruss helped with the expansion of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in White Plains, the area’s largest Jewish day school. In 1991 the Gruss Life Monument Fund was created to continue his philanthropy even after he passes away. There is also a Brooklyn school that is named after him: The Joseph S. Gruss Yeshivah High School.

Ruth Sacks Caplin: You Are Never Too Old!

At the University of Virginia Ruth Sacks Caplin will always be an inspiration. Married for over 41 years to her beloved husband Mortimer, Ruth never stopped giving of herself to others.
She was born in 1920 to Jewish immigrants in New York City. Her parents were both lawyers, and both from Eastern Europe. She received a BA in art education from Skidmore College in 1941, and met Mortimer, whom she married in 1942.

Through the years the couple spent together raising their family, first in Charlottesville, Virginia, and later in Washington, DC Ruth dedicated herself to the welfare of others. During the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement Ruth never stopped teaching the arts, including dance and music. She was also a counselor and therapist, offering her help to those in need.

After one of her five children died from cancer at the young age of 29, Ruth came across a novel she found comforted her for her loss, “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.” Ruth, although inexperienced writing plays, was inspired by the book enough to begin writing a screenplay based on it. After the screenplay was completed, it took an additional several decades before it was adopted for film.

Her son, a film producer, Lee Caplin, purchased the film rights and produced the movie, which starred Joan Plowright and Ruport Friend. The film was released in 2005, to critical acclaim, when Ruth was 85 years old.

Later Ruth and Mortimer donated $4 million to the University of Virginia for the construction of a new theater. In 2013 the 300-seat theater was opened, dedicated and named in Ruth’s honor in great appreciation for her art advocacy through the years. She was 93 at the time of the dedication of the theater. Ruth also helped to create the University of Virginia’s President’s Council for the Arts.