During the Holocaust, Max Webb made two promises: one to his mother and one to God.
"I told my mother, I will be hanged, I will be shot, but I would not die from starvation," Webb recalled. To God, he vowed to someday help the Jewish people if God helped him survive the Shoah.
Webb kept both his promises: despite five long years of slave labor and a death march in 1945, Webb did not succumb to starvation; he was liberated from Waldenburg on May 8, 1945, the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust. In memory of his family and following through on the promise he made to God, Webb created The Max Webb Family Foundation in 1962.
Since then, dozens of Jewish institutions have been recipients of Webb's generosity, including Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), which supports Israeli social and educational causes. On Nov. 10 , Webb, 85, and his wife, Anna, 72, will serve as the honorary co-chairs of WIZO's annual gala fundraiser.
The wall space of Webb's downtown Beverly Hills office is dense with the numerous awards and certificates from several charitable organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Casa Loma College, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Institute, Sinai Temple and Shalhevet High School.
In Jewish Los Angeles, Webb is always in high demand. On this particular Friday, he was scheduled to attend a private reception for former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Beverly Hills home of Magbit founder Parviz Nazarian.
"Every Jewish cause is a good cause," said Webb, who has an affinity for supporting education efforts.
In 1974, Saul Kest, the late real estate developer, got Webb involved with the Brooklyn-based Yeshiva Gedolah Imrei Yosef D'spinka, a nonprofit Orthodox school, by introducing him to the school's founder, the late Rabbi Moshe Weiss. In 1999, Webb completed a second building for the school -- a 50,000-square-foot, five-story edifice that houses 27 apartments.
"If I start something, I work on it until I put it on the map," said Webb, who helped endow the $3 million Los Angeles Holocaust Monument at Pan Pacific Park and donated the first million toward the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
His projects are made possible by his thriving home-building business, which he started with his brothers-in-law shortly after moving to the United States from Germany in 1951, with his wife, Sala, whom he married after the war. After Sala died in 1990, Webb remarried in 1993 to Anna Hitter -- a friend he had known for 40 years through Congregation Beth Israel of Los Angeles and came from the jewelry wholesale business.
Max has two daughters, Rose and Chara, and Anna has a son, Steve, and a daughter, Sabrina. Together, the couple has promoted Jewish education.
"They both see Jewish education as the key to the survival of the Jewish people," said Ron Solomon, executive director of West Coast Friends of Bar-Ilan University.
Next year, the Webbs will celebrate their 10-year anniversary with the May 2003 opening of Bar-Ilan's Anne and Max Webb Psychology Building. Webb contributed $5.5 million of the building's $12 million price tag, with the difference matched by the Israeli government.
"Anna is an amazing inspiration for him," said Rosalie Lurie, the Western Region executive director of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, who has known Webb for 17 years. "They do everything together."
Webb started Tel Aviv University in the 1960s with $5 million in seed money. Several years ago, he financed a language building on the school's campus where 57 languages, including Yiddish, are taught.
The couple's work with WIZO is no exception. "I wish that we had more people like Anna and Max Webb," said Malka Fogel, co-vice president of WIZO USA (West). "They're very generous, very philanthropic people who contribute every year to WIZO and the community."
During the gala the Webbs are co-chairing, WIZO must raise $250,000 to maintain programming and provide security at two daycare centers in Yavneh and Ramat Shikma.
"Those centers are in the poorest areas in Israel," Fogel said. "In each day care center, we have 100 children" from Russian and Ethiopian new immigrant families.
At the end of the day, Webb does not take his existence for granted.
"God gave me a gift," Webb said. "When I get up in the morning, I thank God he gave me another day. I survived, and I'm not going to take the money with me. So this is my life."
Women's International Zionist Organization will hold its Los Angeles Annual Gala on Nov. 10 at the Four Seasons in West Hollywood. For more information, call (323) 655-6886 or visit www.wizo.org.