Skip to comments.The Three Philanthropists
Posted on 03/10/2011 1:03:25 PM PST by Ari Bussel
Building Institutions by Ari Bussel
I was at dinner with several major philanthropists. There was enormous power in that room, with two couples sitting next to each other each worth in excess of half a billion dollars, and another at the next table worth both other couples combined. I want to highlight three of those who attended.
It was a fundraising event for a local charity, and at the correct time one of those in attendance stood and said: What I value most is building institutions. This is what remains. He then added to whatever he already gave two times Chai, $36,000, in honor of the organizations founder.
A second person stood who looked much older and frailer than the first, yet was alert and listening attentively to the proceedings. With his wife sitting next to him he declared, I am giving away my wifes money. We are giving $100,000 in honor of the work of the organizations founder.
It was now time for the other two couples to act. One has been known to support the organizations founder and his work for decades. They did not raise hands nor did they offer an additional contribution. The couple sitting next to them, whom they met for the first time, talked about how profound the impact of the organizations founders work is and added $50,000 to the mix.
When in such company, when amounts of money in the tens of thousands of dollars are cast about so easily, these all seem to be very small contributions indeed. Nothing but gestures of good will, much like an everyday person like me or you would spend on a suitable greeting card and writing a message from our hearts.
Here, it was almost posturing, unless someone listened to the undercurrents.
The first two who make their congratulatory donations looked older than usual. To the undiscerning eye, they looked the same as they did ten years ago, but time has taken a toll on them. The first, who talked about building institutions, realized that the sand in the hourglass is dripping faster with every passing minute.
He spoke of his life-long practice. Of the many philanthropists in and around Beverly Hills, Bel Air and the Greater Los Angeles Area, he has put seed money into almost all Israel-related organizations. His handprints are everywhere and he takes particular pride in the successful ones.
His approach is long term, and he will be remembered not by having his name engraved on buildings and auditoriums, rather by having made a difference. His legacy may not carry his name, but it surely will be engraved in my memory as the person who supported all these Israel start-ups whose main purpose and goal was to protect the Jewish homeland and ensure her survival and continued existence.
The second couple has numerous edifices named for them. In fact, a major university in Israel has such buildings and a business school. My heart twitched with pain as I talked with the wife about the university, and another person intervened reminding her, the business school is named after you, also.
When we get close to the end of our days, and our body and mind are no longer what they once were when young, as systems start to fail and we are unable to advance as quickly, we look back and we look forward have we done enough? Was the time not wasted? Will we still achieve everything we set our minds and hearts to do?
This couple has done great things. At this very moment, there are thousands of students studying toward their MBAs or other advanced degrees in a school named after them. But does even a single person know who they are, what they stand for and what drives them? Does anyone of those affected by their generosity know their vision for the State of Israel, or the world, or just how to conduct oneself in business?
While they do not travel outside of Beverly Hills city limits any more, how easily an interview with them could be conducted, overlooking the olive trees they planted many years ago, to capture their essence while still possible.
I remember my days at school, the classes I took at the Graduate School of Business in one of the top universities in the USA. My thoughts drifted back to the lady standing in front of me, mentioning heads of state as close personal friends, historical events as just part of her everyday life, their involvement in events we read about in the newspapers.
If only students at that school were afforded a chance to listen and see an hour-long interview with her and her husband as part of a required welcome to the school. Every student of every class for as long as the school exists. That would offer a meaningful and lasting legacy, not to mention show a true, albeit unexpected, gratitude.
It is the type of gratitude that goes beyond the norm, that actually touches people.
I know that I would want to be part of such an orientation to a school to which I was admitted for graduate work. If the school is any good, those in attendance would be the best of the best and the brightest society has to offer. What can be more meaningful than being forced to attend a welcoming lecture by those who are no longer here physically, yet present in the very being of the school, its spirit and its core values?
It is not the couple that offhandedly gave the $50,000 about whom I want to talk, rather those sitting next to them. The total various contributions of both couples are enormous, immeasurable in fact. Yet, it is not the total dollar value of their donations or the specific channels via which they give their money that left a lasting impression on me.
It was the Second War in Lebanon, and Israel was in pretty bad shape. Whether it was arrogance or the belief that she is undefeatable, Israel chose all the wrong moves and was shown how inferior her military had become. It was a Hezbollah leader, from down under in a bunker, who to this very day is still laughing at Israel.
In a particular broadcast to Israel and the world, he warned he is about to sink one of Israels vessels across the shores of Lebanon. Not five minutes have passed before the vessel suffered direct hits. The navy vessel had the necessary protective systems, yet no one bothered to activate them.
For the Armored Crop involved in fighting, the situation was worse. The systems were not available due to budgetary considerations, and so even Merkava Tank Mark IV melted like butter when advanced Russian explosives were used. May the families of the dead find solace in the knowledge that the IDF today is different than in 2006.
Hamas mimicked everything Hezbollah did. The one kidnapped soldiers; the other threatened and executed, following suit immediately after the first.
It was a war in which a million citizens had to flee their homes to safety.
It was a war which was not even called a war until long after it ended, as the then-Israeli Prime Minister declared Israel was winning after the first day or two, but had achieved none of its stated objectives.
Israel today is in a worse position than in 2006, with one exception. The war was a wakeup call, a very loud slap in the face of Israels elite and leadership that made everyone acutely aware of how deteriorated the military had become. Since then, a new Chief of Staff has used his term to whip the military back into shape.
The problem, of course, is that the enemy did not rest during those years either. Israels position today is as bad, if not worse, than before, despite the shaping up the IDF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs underwent.
It was the philanthropist who, as things started heating up, called the leaders of all the local Israeli organizations to her home and said: Here is the first $50,000. Now let us think how can we support Israel.
The gesture was particularly meaningful for several reasons: There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in the Greater Los Angeles area (their number varies between two to four hundred thousand). Israelis usually are very well versed in what is happening, but are rarely mobilized enough to do something tangible (like attending demonstrations, giving money, fighting back on social media, etc.). And the philanthropist included the President of the Jewish Federation in each meeting to build bridges between the Jewish and Israeli communities, something never before done.
Like the contributions over dinner, the $50,000 was just a token: See my example and follow me. The Federations across the United States moved between ten to twenty million dollars every single week to Israel, and the President of the Jewish Federation of Greater LA went three times to adjust the earmarks to fit specific needs as they dynamically changed.
Although much effort went into the Israeli organizations war-effort, the result was humbling. Even after the Jewish Federation doubled the total amount raised, the Israeli initiative still paled in comparison to what the Federations did.
Israelis expect American Jewry to give money, and American Jews indeed open their hearts and their wallets and support Israel. It is expected of them; it is their duty. We then go our own ways and live our lives. There may be a name on a building, at a university, a hospital wing, an ambulance or a fire engine. There may be a park or a water reservoir bearing the same or other names. But are these real legacies?
It is the building of institutions and imparting our experiences, visions and legends that make the difference. In fact, the most meaningful way to remember a person is not to treat them like a name on a wall or atop a building.
Spend the time to get to know the person, even long after he or she is gone. What was important for them? Start on a journey, an odyssey, you may actually discover yourself, your own roots, the reason for your being where you are and for heading in the direction you are going.
Israelis have grown accustomed to American (and other) Jews giving money to such an extent they do not expect it from themselves. Worse yet, Israelis forgot whom we are, what defines us and why are we where we are. Why is Israel important to us? What do we do to supportrather than constantly criticizeher?
We take too many things for granted. People, these philanthropists, fade away with time. We all do. Israel, though, must not. She has existed for thousands of years and it is our responsibility to ensure she continues to exist and remain strong and healthy.
All indications are to the contrary, so it is time to stop and learn an important lesson observing those at the very top: When they are gone, what is their legacy? Will it last beyond just a name on the wall? The responsibility is ours, not theirs, for we must never take giving for granted, and we must never expect it as an entitlement.
As the sand in the hourglass of time drips seemingly faster than before, let us cherish the moment and try to shape up and change. There is an enormous task at hand, protecting and preserving, safeguarding and cultivating this oneand onlyJewish Homeland.
The series Postcards from AmericaPostcards from Israel by Ari Bussel and Norma Zager is a compilation of articles capturing the essence of life in America and Israel during the first two decades of the 21st Century.
The writers invite readers to view and experience an Israel and her politics through their eyes, Israel visitors rarely discover.
This pointand oftencounter-point presentation is sprinkled with humor and sadness and attempts to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The series began in 2008, appears both in print in the USA and on numerous websites and is followed regularly by readership from around the world.
© Postcards from America Postcards from Israel, March, 2011 Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
First Published March 5, 2011
You are right, someone should do an interview with these people and make it available to Israeli and American college students.
So, when are you going to do the interview, have you set up a date? Or were you planning on “hoping” that someone would act on your words?
SpellCheck is not our friend.
If youd like to be on or off, please FR mail me.