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Irwin Goldenberg,

Community Leader and Jewish Federation Past President, Dies at 85

by Michael Aushenker

March 27, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Irwin Goldenberg, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles past president and an active community leader, died on March 20. He was 85.

Goldenberg was born in Chisholm, Minn. -- population 8,000, which included about 35 Jewish families. His father had moved there from Minneapolis. Known as "Irky" to his friends, Goldenberg lost his father when he was only 10 years old, but not before his father imparted Goldenberg and his four siblings with the importance of synagogue life and hachnasat orchim -- the Jewish tradition of welcoming guests into the home.

"Our doors were always open," Goldenberg told Jay Schuster, The Federation's senior assistant director of communications, in a 1997 interview. "We always had people ... They would just knock on the door and always get a welcome and a hot meal."

After receiving his education at the University of Minnesota, Goldenberg moved his entire family to Los Angeles, where he and his younger brother, Joe, established a wholesale plywood lumber business, which the two owned and ran for 37 years.

Goldenberg's long history of Jewish involvement in Los Angeles began in the mid-1940s, through his work as a counselor with Young Judea and the Zionist Youth Movement. After becoming president of Jewish Vocational Service, Goldenberg became active in the United Jewish Fund (UJF). 

He shot to the top of the UJF, where he became the head of the major gifts division and served twice as general chair of the entire campaign. He subsequently served a term as Federation president. On the national level, he sat on the boards of the Council of Jewish Federations, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Outside of the Federation fold, Goldenberg also presided over the American Israel Chamber of Commerce, and he was national chair of American Friends of Ben Gurion University. Beyond the Jewish community, he was president of the Southern California Plywood Association and also served for five years as a commissioner for the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission.

Goldenberg was very concerned about the future of giving within the Jewish community and educating the up-and-coming generations to the value and upkeep  of Jewish tradition. He believed that making an impact on Jewish youth began at home.

"Young people have to actually see the people being helped at our programs," Goldenberg said. "Telling them isn't enough."

"Our future will be secure If we can effectively instill the feelings my generation grew up with in the younger generation. Each of us 'old-timers' has a responsibility to see that happens."

"Irky was a giant in that generation of lay leaders," said Jewish Federation President John Fishel. "He was always available to help us in thinking through very important community issues."

Those issues included the decision to move back to the Federation's 6505 Wilshire Blvd. headquarters following the Northridge earthquake; The Federation's relationship with its parent organization, United Jewish Communities of North America (UJC); and Federation-supported UJC campaigns Operation Exodus and Operation Solomon.

"He really believed in what we do," Fishel said.

Goldenberg is survived by his wife, Shirley; children, Wendy, Robin Lee and Daniel; and grandchildren, Tamra, Toni, Noah and Daisy.

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