Jewish Journal

The questionable legacy of Eli & Edythe Broad

by Dean Rotbart

December 15, 2008 | 11:42 am

Philanthropist Eli Broad, a major patron of the arts

Date: December 15, 2008
To: Eli Broad, The Broad Foundations
From: Dean Rotbart, Jewish Journalist
Topic: Jewish Charities, Too, Need Your Support Now!

For those of you who didn’t get the memo, here it is…

Eli, you recently issued an open call for other civic and arts minded philanthropists to step to the plate to rescue the Museum of Contemporary Art from the financial abyss.

“This is not a one-philanthropist town,” you opined in the Los Angeles Times late last month, pledging to invest $30 million anew in MOCA, which you helped found in 1979, if others will open their wallets too.

A globally heralded supporter of the arts, public education, and medical research, you and your wife Edythe are also looking to build a Beverly Hills headquarters for the Broad Art Foundation. The new 25,000-square-foot facility would include a public museum and extra storage space for your totally awesome collection of contemporary art – one of the finest such private assemblages anywhere.

Given that my family and I delight in good art and can readily walk from our home to the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards – a likely location for the Broad Art Foundation – I personally couldn’t be more enthusiastic or grateful.

Far be it from me, a committed fiscal conservative, to try and tell you and Edythe where you should contribute, unless, of course, I care about what really matters in this life – and the next.

Perhaps, in our capitalistic system, we have no right to tell the über rich how they should allocate their estates. Perhaps. But I doubt that heaven shares our free-enterprise sensibilities.

As the force behind the Broad Foundations, with combined (pre-crash) assets of roughly $2.5 billion, the two of you have been grand patrons of the arts. Eli, you have received so many honors and titles, including being named Chevalier in the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the Republic of France in 1994, that one day someone will have to found a museum just to catalogue your collection of accolades.

But as much as I really would enjoy surveying the incomparable works by Warhol, Koons, Hirst, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and others resident in your massive private collection, I don’t know how I will ever be able to do so in good conscience.

Nor do I know how the two of you can contemplate building yet one more monument to your own generosity, or purchasing one more multi-million dollar work of oil on canvass, when the funds you spend could do so much good for your own people – the Jewish People.

It escapes me why so many Jewish billionaires delude themselves into believing that the money they earned by the grace of God, should not be bountifully reinvested back into his direct service?

Eli, we know your life story. You grew up in Detroit and began your professional life as a $75-a-week accountant. You are the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. The fact that you made a fortune twice; first as a homebuilder (Kaufman & Broad) and then again in insurance/retirement planning (SunAmerica) is exceptional among American business luminaries.

Los Angeles is your adopted home, having moved here in 1963 after a brief sojourn in Phoenix. I know you adore our City of Angels, as you told Vanity Fair magazine two years ago, because Los Angeles is a great meritocracy.

“Where can someone with my background – don’t have the right family background, the right religion, the right provenance or whatever you want to call it – I come here and I’m accepted. The city’s been good to me. And I want to give back.”

Eli and Edythe, you are not alone. Across the United States and throughout the world there are hundreds of other examples of enormously rich Jews who believe they are not of the “right” religion and thus wary to be seen by other wealthy folk and the public at large as ‘too Jewish’. These insecure Warbucks prefer to use their monies to fund decidedly secular causes.

Ticking off just a few examples, as detailed in this year’s Lifestyles Magazine “Global Philanthropy Register”: Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman of the Board of Estée Lauder Companies, at least $331 million to the Whitney museum; Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, $250 million to build an aquarium in Atlanta; David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, $21.3 million to purchase a copy of the Magna Carta to be housed at the National Archives; and Leonore Annenberg, wife of the late publishing magnate Walter Annenberg, to build a $15 million theater bearing the couple’s names at the Newseum in Washington D.C.

Probably the single largest beneficiary of donations from Jewish millionaires and billionaires are America’s universities, which reap billions of dollars annually from Jewish alumni and other Jewish donors despite the fact that their campuses are breeding grounds of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel sentiments and teachings.

One glaring example is Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who last year publicly agreed to contribute $5 million to Columbia University’s “Campaign for Athletics” just days after Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on campus to an auditorium of mostly cheering students and faculty. (I am not oblivious to the many Jewish causes that Kraft also supports.) Ahmadinejad spoke in September 2007 at Columbia’s Alfred J. Lerner Hall, named for its Jewish benefactor.

Meanwhile, most American Jewish day schools starve for a few financial crumbs from these so-called philanthropists.

To my mind, this Jewish guilt – or is it Jewish denial? – is repugnant.

Eli and Edythe, your lives are finite. No matter how many buildings and galleries you erect here to showcase your fine taste, none of it will go with you into the next life.

For the more than $8 million you spent last month alone at a Sotheby’s auction to lard your collection of contemporary art, you could help fund a dozen yeshivas for a year. These are boys and girls who won’t grow up believing they are of the wrong religion and heritage.

For what you will likely pay to purchase the land and construct the new Beverly Hills Broad museum, (like Southern California is starved for one more sibling to join LACMA, MOCA, the Getty, the Hammer and others) you could construct and house a full-born Jewish day school, such as Milken Community High School here and the Dell Jewish Community Campus in Austin, Texas. Heck, you likely would have enough spare change to provide 100s of full-tuition scholarships.

Then there is Israel.

What might your wealth do to fortify her with better education, health care, technology and even defensive military equipment?

It is your money. I will defend your legal right to make your choices. But never your values.

I ask you to reconsider your legacy. There are plenty of others to support the arts, and your contributions in that arena are vested. It is not even a year since the $56 million Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened at LACMA.

What the Jewish people need are role models who will prioritize Jewish causes to receive the preponderance of their charitable giving. That philanthropic space is severely underserved.

My instincts tell me that when the two of you do meet your maker, may you both live to be 120, He will greet you warmly for your generosity, especially on behalf of education and health charities. But if He does ask, “Why didn’t you do more specifically to help the Jewish people and repay My many blessings”, what will you respond?

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