When Sanford Gage was asked to be general chair of the JewishFederation Council of Greater Los Angeles' United Jewish Fund, hewanted to know one thing: Could he make a difference?
"That was the burning question for me," he said during a recentinterview at a restaurant near his law offices in Beverly Hills. "IfI couldn't contribute something of value, why would I do it?"
Why, indeed. At 63, Gage doesn't need the glory or the title. Hehas served as president of both the Los Angeles and California TrialLawyers associations and has been honored as trial lawyer of the yearand named "trailblazer of the law" by Los Angeles Magazine. Awell-known expert on tort law (personal-injury cases), he has takenon large insurance companies, the National Football League's Raidersand Rams, and ABC, to name a few.
Gage, trim and athletic-looking in a black T-shirt, black pants,and a black-and-white check jacket, is a devoted fitness buff whohikes, skis and works out three times a week and plans to take upgolf. In addition, he is engaged to be married to Patricia Train.Between the two of them, they have 10 children (including Gage's fourgrown children and two stepchildren and Train's four) and eightgrandchildren.
So why take on the campaign?
Gage, in fact, believes that he can make a difference, and he isready to devote the next year to the task of raising $50 million forthe UJF -- a number that dovetails nicely with Israel's 50thanniversary. The $50 million would be an almost 20-percent increaseover the 1997 UJF goal of $42 million.
He has just returned from Israel, where he toured along with about400 others as part of the Federation's Golden Anniversary Mission.Gage believes that it is important to remind American Jews of theimportance of Israel despite the bitter divisions that have split thestate over pluralism and the peace process. "I know that therewouldn't have been an Israel without American Jews, but Israel hasdone a lot for us too," he said. "It changed the perception of what aJew is. It showed that Jews weren't cowards, that they werefighters."
Bar mitzvahed shortly before Israel became a state, he grew up inwhat he considered a Reform household in Beverlywood and wasconfirmed at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where he taught Sundayschool and where he still belongs. His father, Sol Goldberg, was aphysician, and, initially, Gage (who was advised to change his namewhen he decided to go into law) intended to follow in his father'sfootsteps. But he gravitated toward jurisprudence instead andreceived his law degree from UCLA. He remembers that, after his firstjob as deputy city attorney with the city of Los Angeles, heconsidered representing insurance companies. But he was told thatthey would be uncomfortable with a Jewish lawyer, since the latterusually were on the other side of the table, fighting the insurers.So Gage went into business to represent "the little guy," a callinghe sees as particularly Jewish. "Because of our history, Jews have acompassion and concern for the underdog, for those who might not bepart of the majority," he said.
Philanthropy, of course, is also extremely Jewish, he noted, andhis penchant for it may have come from his mother, Ruth. "Mother wasthe kind of person who would help anybody. She couldn't pass a personwith a tin cup without dropping in some money," he said.
For Gage, philanthropy also extends beyond the Jewish community.His other charitable activities include Rancho Los Amigos, City ofHope and the California Spinal Cord Injury Network.
He became involved with the Federation about five years ago,finding a niche as the chair of the Legal Services Division for threeyears. Gage took an active role in the group, expanding the Cabinet,encouraging more participation by women lawyers and planning eventsthat led to increased donations.
Bill Bernstein, campaign director and Federation associateexecutive vice president, called Gage "one of the most dedicated andcommitted lay leaders to come our way. We're very lucky to have himas a chair."
Gage succeeds Todd Morgan as general chair.