Tag Archives: Charity

Jew of the Week: Harold Grinspoon

The Philanthropist Behind PJ Library

Harold Grinspoon (Credit: Robert Charles Photography)

Harold Grinspoon (b. 1929) was born and raised in Newton, Massachusetts to a family of Jewish-Russian immigrants. He had a difficult childhood, struggling with dyslexia and rampant anti-Semitism, poverty, and losing his father at 19. While a student at Marlboro College, he had his first business idea: Putting together some meagre savings, he bought an old laundry machine and put it in the college dorm, charging 25 cents per load. Meanwhile, he worked on an ice cream truck and soon left school to manage a whole fleet of them. After serving in the Navy, Grinspoon bought his first property in 1959. He renovated it and rented out one of the units, and from there steadily built his real estate development business. He founded Aspen Square Management, now one of America’s top-50 private developers, with 15,000 apartments across 16 states. When diagnosed with cancer at age 59, Grinspoon realized he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life. He was particularly troubled by Jewish assimilation and intermarriage. Together with his wife, he founded the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to fund a variety of Jewish causes, and has since donated over $200 million. At one Passover seder, Grinspoon saw how excited his grandkids were to read Jewish books, and came up with the idea of sending a free Jewish book once a month to every Jewish home. Thus, in 2005 he launched PJ Library. Today, PJ Library operates around the world, delivering nearly 1 million free books each month to kids in some 30 countries. PJ Library also delivers popular Arabic-language books to Arab Israeli children. (It’s the largest Arabic book program in the world!) Meanwhile, PJ Library runs weekend and after-school programs, along with over 3000 events a year. The Harold Grinspoon Foundation funds other Jewish programs, too, including Jewish camps and day schools. In 2015, Grinspoon signed The Giving Pledge to donate more than half of his wealth. Grinspoon and his PJ Library have won a number of prestigious awards, including one from the Library of Congress. Grinspoon has been called “the most important Jewish philanthropist you’ve never heard of”. He is also an avid artist and sculptor, and is still very active at 92 years old. Sign up to PJ Library here!

Words of the Week

We are indignant when we are fooled by others but live comfortably with our unconscious desire for self-deceit.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jew of the Week: Helena Rubenstein

First Self-Made Female Millionaire

Chaya Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965) was born in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, the oldest of eight daughters in a very religious family. Her cousin was Martin Buber. At age 16, she was arranged to be married but refused to go along with it, instead running away to Switzerland, and then Australia. Although she spoke no English, the local ladies fell in love with her fashion sense and makeup. After agreeing to sell off most of what was in her luggage, she realized she could start a business. With help from an aunt, Rubinstein found her way to the region of Coleraine, famous for its millions of sheep, which produce lanolin, the key ingredient in her creams. Rubinstein worked as a waitress by day, and experimented with her creams by night. With some help from a wealthy admirer, Rubinstein launched her business. It didn’t take long for her to open up her own shop in the heart of Melbourne. Within five years, she opened two more locations: in Sydney and London, England. At the time, women were barred from getting bank loans, so Rubinstein saved up all the money herself and paid in cash. In 1912, she moved to Paris with her first husband, and there opened a new salon. During World War I, the family fled to New York, and Rubinstein opened up shop there as well. Business boomed, and Rubinstein expanded to another twelve cities. She soon became the most famous businesswoman in the world—and the richest. She has been credited as the world’s first self-made female millionaire. After her first marriage fell apart, Rubinstein tied the knot with a Georgian prince, and took on the title “Helena Princess Gourielli”. Rubinstein was a huge philanthropist, and her charity distributed around $130 million to causes around the world. She had a great life-long rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, of whom she said: “With her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world.” Rubinstein faced a tremendous amount of adversity, as well as anti-Semitism. (In 1941, she was rejected from living in a Park Avenue apartment because she was Jewish, so she bought the whole building!) Nonetheless, she persevered through it all and became a pioneer in the cosmetics industry, in business, and in marketing, continuing to work into her 90s. Among her innovations were waterproof mascara and what may be the first sunscreen. Today, her company is owned by L’Oréal, which presents the Helena Rubinstein Women in Science Awards yearly in her honour.

Words of the Week

We have been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?
Golda Meir, to King Abdullah of Jordan in a May 10, 1948 meeting, when he asked not to “hurry” to declare independence.

Helena Rubinstein cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of her Museum of Art in Tel-Aviv (1959)

 

Jew of the Week: Sheldon Adelson

In Memory of Israel’s Greatest Defender

Sheldon Gary Sholom Gedaliah Adelson (1933-2021) was born in Boston to a working-class, immigrant Jewish family of Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and English heritage. Even as a child he thought about how to get the family out of financial hardship, starting his first business at just 12 years of age by selling newspapers. Three years later, he started a new business operating a vending machine. His studies didn’t go well, and he dropped out of both college and a trade school before joining the military. After his army service, Adelson started a new business selling toiletries, followed by several more businesses before making his big break with a charter-bus tour company. In his 30s, he had already become a millionaire. A few years later, he was the co-creator of one of the first computer industry trade shows. The business grew exponentially and was sold to a Japanese company in 1995 for $862 million (of which $500 million went to Adelson). Meanwhile, Adelson had started investing in Las Vegas real estate. His first major venture there was purchasing the Sands Hotel and Casino for $110 million. A few years later, he dreamed of building a massive resort hotel and the result was The Venetian. Adelson also built a casino in Pennsylvania, in Singapore, and the Sands Macao, which was China’s first Vegas-like casino. The latter was one of Adelson’s most profitable investments, with some estimates suggesting it multiplied his wealth by fourteen times! In 2007, Adelson started a new conservative-leaning newspaper in Israel, called Israel Hayom. Distributed for free, it became the country’s number-one weekday paper. Originally a Democrat, Adelson grew disenchanted with the party and became a Republican. He always believed business and politics should not mix, and that wealthy people shouldn’t influence elections. However, when he discovered how strongly some wealthy people were influencing elections, he felt he had no choice but to do so as well. Over the years, Adelson donated hundreds of millions to support various Republican candidates. While he initially did not favour Trump, he ended up backing him due to Trump’s promises to help Israel. He gave around $65 million for Trump’s 2016 campaign, another $113 million to Republicans in 2018, followed by another $100 million in the last election. Trump’s erratic behaviour and obsession with election fraud led to a rift between the two, and they had not spoken following the election. A generous philanthropist, Adelson gave nearly $500 million for Birthright Israel (being its largest individual donor), $50 million to Yad Vashem, $25 million to build a medical school at Ariel University in Israel’s historic heartland, as well as nearly $20 million to fund Israel’s young space-exploration industry. His contributions played a key role in getting Benjamin Netanyahu into office in 1996. In the US, Adelson’s foundation funds medical research at 10 different universities. Aside from Las Vegas’ casinos, Adelson has built a state-of-the-art school, substance abuse centre, and research clinic in the city. His other major passion was fighting against the legalization of drugs, including cannabis. This was personal for him, having lost his son to a drug overdose. Adelson gave millions to ensure no other parent would experience such a tragedy. Sadly, Adelson succumbed to cancer earlier this week. Over the years, he gained a reputation as Israel’s greatest defender, and the biggest advocate of the Jewish people. Friend and fellow-billionaire Michael Steinhardt has said that “Whether he is in the Oval Office, the Prime Minister’s Office, a senator’s office, or a Congressman’s office, his first goal was to be an advocate for the Jewish people and the Jewish community, not for his own personal gain.”

Words of the Week

Those who never change their mind never change anything.
– Winston Churchill