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.

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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.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Ever since she was a little girl – 7- or 8-years old according to her memory – Glorya Kaufman wanted to “give and to care.”  At that time she dreamed of having an orphanage.  But life took in her a different direction and today she is well-known for her generosity to music, dance and theater.

Some of the contributions she has made over the years include:

  1. 1994: At the Los Angeles Public Library, toward the establishment of the Donald Bruce Kaufman branch there.
  2. 1999: At UCLA, she gave $19 million, creating the Glorya Kaufman Hall.
  3. 2009: At the Los Angeles Music Center, she gave $20 million for the development of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance series.
  4. 2011: At the University of Southern California, several millions for the construction of the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center.

Other donations made over the years include contributions to: the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and New York’s Julliard School.  And this does not even cover all of her generous donations.

Honoring Those That Risked Their Lives to Save Jews: Zahava Burack

Israel-Yad_Vashem_Garden_of_righteousBorn in Poland in 1936, Zahava Radza was only seven years old when the Nazis forced her and her parents and two sisters into hiding. Jozef and Stephania Macugowski was a Polish Catholic couple who risked life and limb to protect and hide the Radza’s, who were hidden in a tiny crawl space under the floor of their home. Measuring only 7 feet long, 5 feet wide and 20 inches deep, the four people were forced to endure for 2.5 years in this uninhabitable space. Later more refugees found shelter with the Macugowkis, until a total of nine people were crammed together for lack of any alternative other than death.
Unbelievably, the Germans took over the Macugowski house to use as a headquarters, but somehow Jozef was able to convince the Germans to allow them to take care of the house, secretly bringing food to the refugees.

When the Soviet Army liberated the town the refugees emerged. Their vocal chords and leg muscles had atrophied to the extent that they had to re-learn to talk in a normal voice, and to walk without wobbling. The sunlight, which they hadn’t seen in 2.5 years, stung their eyes. When the Radzas left, the Macugowskis made them promise to never reveal that they had saved their lives.

Zahava left Europe and lived in Israel for 12 years, serving in the Israel Defense Forces, until she moved to the United States. In 1958 she began working for the Israeli Consulate in New York, and soon married Robert H. Burack. Zahava began to search for the couple who had saved her and her family.

She became a political activist in New York, working for the Democratic party in Westchester County. In 1981 she ran for a seat in the Westchester County government, but lost by 2,500 votes to the incumbent, John L. Messina.

Finally, in 1986, Zahava succeeded to make contact with Jozef and Stephania. A recognition ceremony was arranged in coordination with the David Yellin College in Israel, and the Macugowskis were flown to New York to be honored for their sacrifice and loyalty. The State of Israel recognized them as Righteous Among the Nations for their devotion to helping the Radzas.

Zahava died of cancer in September, 2001, after a life of devotion to helping other people, and recognizing the good in them.

Giving in the Arts and Humanities

Sylvan Goldman – the inventor of the grocery cart – was an incredibly generous man.  Together with his wife, during his life Goldman developed a reputation for his giving, charitable, philanthropic nature.

Much of this was encountered in the art industry, in particular in institutions in Oklahoma.  Some of these examples include: his generosity to the National Conference of Christians and Jews at the Southwest Center for Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma.

For his generosity he was honored in a variety of ways.  These include:

  1. 1950: Pawnee Indian Tribe – Honorary Chief
  2. 1965: Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award
  3. 1971: University of Oklahoma – Distinguished Service Citation
  4. 1971: Oklahoma Hall of Fame – Inducted
  5. 1974: Oklahoma City University – Law Degree

Also, thanks to his $1.5 million generosity, the Oklahoma Blood Institute was able to relocate to the Sylvan N. Goldman Center in 1983.

Haim Saban: A Man with a Mission

Haim_Saban
Haim Saban

Born in Egypt and raised in Israel, Haim Saban made his mark in the United States.

He began his career in the music industry back in 1966, playing bass and managing a rock band called the Lions of Judah. He moved to France in 1975, working as a music producer. He wrote the theme song for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie under the pseudonym Kussa Mahchi.

His next stop was the United States where he founded Saban Entertainment in 1980. In the 90s Saban and his company became famous for the success of Power Rangers, Masked Rider, VR Troopers and Big Bad Beetleborgs, which were all westernized versions of Japanese hit movies and TV shows.

When it comes to politics and philanthropy, Saban says he is singularly focused on Israel. He helps politicians who he believes will help Israel, and he donates generously to many projects in Israel. In 2007 Saban gave $14 million to finish the children’s hospital at Soroka Medical Center. Saban and his wife Cheryl run the Saban Family Foundation, which in turn has supported the Friends of Israel Defense Forces, the Sephardic Educational Center, and the Jewish Community Foundation in Los Angeles. He also established the Saban Center for Middle East Studies and the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution.

The list goes on. From humble beginnings to extraordinary success, Haim Saban is the man.