May 10, 2011
Funder Helps Holocaust Survivors Make Ends Meet
Todd Morgan has a slew of rich, high-profile clients with names like Sylvester Stallone and Barbra Streisand, and there are pictures in his corner office at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Century City to prove it.
Perhaps the most important people helped by the wealth manager, however, have little money and possess names that are unknown to him. They are the hundreds of local Holocaust survivors who have benefited from his Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund.
Established with a $2 million commitment 10 years ago at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, it provides emergency assistance to survivors who may need help paying for medicine, transportation, in-home care, funeral expenses and more. It is overseen and administered by Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), which is honoring Morgan on May 19 with its Spirit of Humanity Award.
“It was a godsend,’ ” Susie Forer-Dehrey, chief operating officer for JFS, said of the gift. “The reality was, there wasn’t enough money. [Today], there’s really not a situation that goes by that we’re not able to put something toward whatever emergency there is for a survivor in Los Angeles. Ultimately, that’s changed the whole landscape.”
There are thousands of Holocaust survivors in the Los Angeles area, and many live below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet even with available stipends. That’s where Morgan’s fund has made a difference.
It started by chance when Morgan, Federation chairman at the time, received a phone call from a rabbi who had lived through the Holocaust. The man had health problems and couldn’t afford his medication. Morgan sent the man money but also called JFS.
“The issue there was: How could this happen?” he said.
After JFS staff helped him understand the situation — there was money, just not enough — he worked with them to set up the fund to fill in the gaps.
“Once he got that, he totally became engaged in a different kind of way and wanted to help provide and help be part of the solution of how we’re going to get the services needed and the funding needed to the survivor population,” Forer-Dehrey said.
Morgan, 63, grew up in Minneapolis as the son of a jewelry store owner. He had no direct connection to the Holocaust but became interested in it as a young man.
“I always said to myself: I wish I was alive during that period, because I would have liked to have done something to try to help those people,” he said.
While working on Wall Street in the 1980s, he got involved with the fight to help free Soviet Jews, and he visited some in Israel. He was moved by their stories, just as he was by the Holocaust survivors here in Los Angeles — some of whose tales he’s heard in person as he’s continued his involvement, others through the anonymous quarterly reports he receives from JFS.
“The biggest thing they tell you is: I don’t have any brothers, sisters, no parents. I lost everybody, so who do I call when I need help?” Morgan said.
Even the smallest requests can take on huge significance. One woman requested additional in-home support so that she could have someone help her bathe more regularly.
Forer-Dehrey recalled, “I remember her saying to me, ‘Look, for four years I didn’t take a shower in Auschwitz.’ She said, ‘I think at this point in my life I should be able to shower on a more regular basis.’ … How are you going to argue with that? It’s Todd’s money that has enabled us to provide those things — the smallest, smallest things in life that bring comfort to the survivors.”
It’s a lot different from the world in which Morgan spends much of his time. As senior partner of Bel Air Investment Advisors, he helps manage and oversee $6 billion for 260 families.
But helping the quality of life for Holocaust survivors provides a satisfaction that has no price tag, said Morgan, who is a member at two congregations, Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Kehillat Israel.
“For self-satisfaction, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done outside of raising my kids,” he said. “I want to do good things while I’m alive. I want to enjoy watching good things happen.”
So far, more than 800 people have been helped by the funds. The father of two said he wants his children — as well others in the community — to learn from this example and continue this sort of giving, especially because it helps the living.
“I’d rather give my money to help those that are alive now, that have the pain of day-to-day,” he said. “I think it’s tough enough just getting old, let alone to have nothing.”
While he said he has continued to add funds on top of his original commitment, Morgan is giving a lot of thought to what comes next.
“I’m talking to a rabbi or two about my next projects,” he said. “I like projects.”
Morgan will be honored May 19 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Tribute also will be paid to the following JFS volunteers winning the Anita and Stanley Hirsh Award for their work with Café Europa, a support and friendship group for Holocaust survivors: Colette Ament, Susan Brandler, John Gordon, Sharon Krischer, Hillary Moers, Shana Passman, Norma Satzman and Barbara Winthrop. l