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Jewish Journal

A Knack for Giving

O.C.'s Jewish landscape is changing with the philanthropy of Broadcom's Henry Samueli.


by Karen Alexander

August 30, 2001 | 8:00 pm

The company Henry Samueli co-founded, Broadcom Corp., develops tiny communications chips that are helping to transform the way digital information is moved from place to place.

The contributions that Samueli and his wife Susan have made to Jewish causes in Orange County could transform Jewish life in their community for generations to come.

Raised in West Hollywood, the child of Holocaust survivors didn't expect his passion for engineering to make him wealthy. His parents, he says, would have preferred he become a doctor. But when Broadcom went public in 1998, Samueli and his business partner became billionaires almost overnight.

Since then, Henry and Susan, who live in Corona Del Mar, have given away well over $100 million through their family foundation. Their philanthropy has reached causes in education, health care, social services and the arts, including $30 million and $20 million contributions to the engineering schools at UCLA and UC Irvine respectively. But their gifts to the Jewish community have literally changed the landscape of Jewish life in Orange County in a few short years.

"Psychologically, it goes back to my parents," Samueli, 46, recently told The Journal from his office at Broadcom's gleaming headquarters in Irvine. "They were nearly eradicated" in the Holocaust, he said, and "this was a way to maybe make up for that by creating a permanence of Judaism in society."

The Samuelis' $9 million donations to Temple Beth El of South Orange County, where they are members, has enabled the Reform congregation to move from trailers to a new 65,000-square-foot synagogue on a hilltop in Aliso Viejo this summer.

They have also given $1 million to University Synagogue, a Reconstructionist congregation in Irvine which will move into its own building next spring, and made generous donations to Jewish day schools Tarbut v'Torah in Irvine and Morasha Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

And there's much more to come.

This spring, the Samuelis secretly provided $20 million to purchase land for a sprawling new Jewish Community Center in Irvine, adjacent to Tarbut v'Torah day school. In addition to an expansion of the school's middle and high school campus, the new facility will be a state-of-the-art JCC and a new home for the county's Jewish agencies.

Samueli, who says he is not particularly religious, bridges two generations of American Jews who could hardly have fathomed each other: his parents, the survivors who did not live to see his extraordinary success, and his three highly privileged daughters.

Already the Samuelis are one of Southern California's most generous philanthropic families. But Henry Samueli worries about raising his kids right amid such excess, and he frets that they take for granted the freedoms his parents taught him to treasure. "They've never known anything else," he said. "They live in a fantasy land."

Samueli's father Aron was a dentist in Poland. During the Holocaust he was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, where he faced the horrific task of extracting gold fillings from the teeth of murdered prisoners.

Samueli's mother Sala hid out with her siblings in Poland during the War. Her four brothers were murdered by fellow Poles just days after the fighting officially ended.

The couple met in Germany after the war and had a son, Leon, before coming to the United States. Henry was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1954, and the family soon moved to California. His parents opened a liquor store on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, where young Henry worked the cash register. He graduated from Fairfax High School when he was only 16, and earned a doctorate in engineering from UCLA a decade later.

Samueli met Susan at a temple dance in the San Fernando Valley, where his family moved while he was in college and where most of his relatives remain. She was raised in the Valley.

The couple maintains close ties to UCLA, where Henry was a professor for 10 years before devoting himself to Broadcom full time in 1995. The engineering school there now bears his name, as it does at UC Irvine. He recently gave $1 million towards a new Hillel center at UCLA as well.

Although they focus their philanthropy mainly on causes close to home, last year the couple provided $2.8 million to build a Reform synagogue in Israel. The Samueli Center for Progressive Judaism, as it is called, will dedicate its new building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra'anana this October.

Susan Samueli said she hopes their involvement will encourage more Jews in Orange County to take responsibility for the community that is blossoming around them. "This community is known for not being that generous," she said. "Orange County has so much potential that we should be doing what we can. I think it's exciting to watch the growth and to see the community become more vocal about being Jewish."

Henry Samueli says it was important for him to give back to the community right away. "I feel I have to do something to put a stake in the ground," he said of Jewish life in Orange County. "Doing it in trailers doesn't cut it."

"I have the opportunity to really have an impact," he said. "I want to see this in my lifetime."

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