Nathan Straus: Businessman and Philanthropist Extraordinaire

Nathan Straus on March 7, 1922. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, Nathan Strauss moved as a young child with his family to the southern US state of Georgia in 1954. Unfortunately, during the Civil War the family lost everything and moved to New York City. There Nathan’s father Lazarus started a business selling glassware and crockery.

After selling their wares to the relatively unknown department store R.H. Macy & Company, Nathan, and his two brothers Oscar and Isidor became partners in Macy’s in 1888 and then co-owners in 1896. In 1893 Nathan and Isadore bought Joseph Wechsler’s share of Abraham and Wechsler, a Brooklyn dry goods store which became Abraham & Straus.

Near the end of the 1880s Nathan became an active philanthropist and worked as a public servant. He was the Parks Commissioner in New York City from 1889 until 1893. He was the Commissioner of the Department of Health and the president of the Board of Health in 1898.

In 1892 Straus and his wife Lina supported the Nathan Straus Pasteurized Milk Laboratory. The goal was to provide pasteurized milk to children to help prevent tuberculosis and reduce infant mortality.

In 1893, during the economic panic, Straus’ milk stations were also used to sell coal at the extremely low price of 5 cents for 25 pounds. Those who could not even afford the 5 cents were given coal for free.

Straus created housing for 64,000 people charging 5 cents for a bed and breakfast. He also funded 50,000 meals for 1 cent each. He also gave away for no cost at all, thousands of turkeys anonymously. In response to seeing two employees at Abraham & Straus starving themselves to feed their families, Straus created what might be the first company subsidized cafeteria.

In 1904 Nathan and Lina visited Palestine. They were so moved by what they saw there that they became lifetime Zionists after their visit and helped the nascent settlement materially and morally. Among the many ways he helped the early Zionists by building soup kitchens, supporting workrooms to employ unemployed workers, created health stations which helped people with malaria and trachoma. He gave $250,000 to establish the Jerusalem Health Center and helped the Hebrew University.

The city of Netanya in Israel is named for him, as well as a main thoroughfare in Jerusalem which is called Straus Street.

This amazingly generous man said ten years before his death in 1931:

“I often think of the old saying, ‘The world is my country, to do good is my religion.’ … This has often been an inspiration to me. I might say, ‘Humanity is my kin, to save babies is my religion.’ It is a religion I hope will have thousands of followers.”

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A Woman of Valor Who Can Find?

The Judaica and Oriental reading room at the National Library of Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Henriette Marie Meyer was an extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times. Born in 1875 in San Francisco, California, her father was a well-known banker and philanthropist, Charles Meyer. Henriette was the first wife of the wealthy businessman Sir Mortimer Davis with whom she moved to Montreal. Her first child was born in 1901 and was named after her husband, Mortimer. She also adopted her own nephew a few years later.

In 1924 Henriette divorced her husband and with her generous settlement was able to continue to pursue her philanthropic interests. From Montreal she moved to France where she founded a resort for children with disabilities. The “spa” was called “Colonie de Vacance.” She was recognized by the French government for her kindness and generosity and received her adopted country’s Legion of Honor award. Later in life she helped refugees who were escaping from the Nazi regime.

When World War II began she was able to flee back to Montreal. From there she donated a Spitfire fighter plane to the British army and housed pilots for the RAF. For her assistance she received the Order of the British Empire recognition.

When the war ended Henriette started the “Lady Davis Fund.” With this money she was able to help bring Holocaust survivors to Canada to begin their lives again. Before she died in 1963 Henriette helped to build a number of schools in the newly established country of Israel.

The main building of the Israel National Library bears her name as the “Lady Davis Building.” The Technion in Haifa has the “Lady Davis Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering Center. Lady Davis was truly a Jewish Woman of Valor.

Supporting the Citizens of Ukraine

ukraineAs well as being a highly successful businessman and oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov is well known for his extreme generosity toward those in need. He works hard for the welfare of Ukrainian citizens and as such, has developed, funded and advanced the work of a variety of charitable foundations for the cause.

Some examples of his work include:  the creation in 2005 of the Foundation for Development of Ukraine.  This seeks to completely “eliminate the roots of [Ukraine’s] social problems.” This organization has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its programs.

In 2008 he was ranked #2 in a list of top 10 businessmen who donated to charitable endeavors in 2008.  2009 was when he was ranked #1 businessman-philanthropist in Ukraine by national weekly Kontratky.  The following year his total charitable contributions amounted to UAH 155,65 million, making him No. 1 philanthropist in Ukraine.

Morton Mandel: From Rags to Riches and Beyond

Morton L. Mandel was born only 15 months after his family moved to the United States from Galicia, in 1921. He started working at an early age, selling hot dogs and drinks at the Cleveland Municipal Stadium soon after his Bar Mitzvah. After he graduated from high school Mandel started a chemistry program at Adelbert College but stopped during his second year. He joined his brothers to work at the automotive parts store they had bought from their uncle Jacob Mandel. In 1940 the brothers opened Premier Automotive Supply Company.

In 1943 Mandel was drafted and was sent to school by the army to become an engineer, attending Pomona College in Claremont, California, and then UC Berkeley. During his military career Mandel experienced racism and tried to fight against it. He was in charge of bringing a group of wounded soldiers from an army hospital in Memphis, to another hospital further south. During the trip the group stopped for lunch at a restaurant that refused to serve the wounded black American soldiers that were in the group, despite the fact that the restaurant was serving German prisoners of war. Mandel boycotted the restaurant and bought everyone sandwiches from a street vendor instead.

After his service he went back to Cleveland and grew his business with his brothers Joe and Jack. The company stressed customer service, and became famous for such sayings as, “Killing Yourself for Your Customer,” and “A Focus on Our People.” They eventually bought an electronic supply division, and in 1960 the company re-branded to Premier Industrial Corporation, launching an IPO. The brothers retained 70% of the company, and by 1964 they were listed on the NYSE.

By 1996 Premier had 16 divisions worldwide and was worth $3 billion. It merged with Farnell Electronics, a British company, forming one of the biggest industrial and electronic components suppliers in the world, Premier Farnell PLC.

In 1947 Mandel and his brothers started their philanthropic endeavors. In 1953 the trio founded the Mandel Foundation, supporting many causes. In 1990 they started to support causes in Israel. By the mid-2010s the family had donated more than $1 billion, about one third spent in Israel.

Aaron Bank’s Military Achievements

It’s one thing to complete one’s army service but Aaron Bank (who passed away in 2004 at the age of 101) took his hard work and dedication to the US military to a whole new level.  Described as “the Father of Special Forces,” Bank played an integral part in the creation of America’s unconventional warfare units.

It was in 1952 that the Army approved 2300 spaces for men in Special Forces Unit.  But this was only instituted because of the case made by Bank with other top level staff members at Fort Bragg, NC.  As such the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was launched.

Initially Bank’s memo suggesting these soldiers wear a colored beret (purple, wine red or green) as a mark of distinction was rejected.

However, in 1962 – after Bank had been retired from the army for four years already – Special forces were authorized by President John F. Kennedy to wear green berets. The color was selected, because of Kennedy’s Irish origins.

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.