BE’ER HAGOLAH INSTITUTES
Teaching People How
To Be Good Americans
By Nina Boxer
HEN two businessmen meet, they normally ask each other how much money they’ve made. But when Lev Leviev and Ronald Lauder meet, they ask each other how many schools they’ve opened.
The competition was evident at the Be’er Hagolah Institutes 25th anniversary dinner at the Plaza Hotel where the two business tycoons tried to top each other with their progress reports.
Both men are involved in building Jewish day schools.
Lauder, a former ambassador to Austria, and a scion of the Estee Lauder cosmetics family, has used his fortune to set up new Jewish schools all over eastern Europe.
“After I opened 15 schools and 10 kindergartens,” Lauder said, “I told Leviev how proud I was about the 10,000 children we have. He told me about his 70 schools and 50 kindergartens with 125,000 children in the former Soviet Union.”
Leviev, a native of Uzbekistan who now lives in Israel as reputedly the largest private diamond manufacturer in the world, took exception to Lauder’s statistics. “I have more than 100 schools, not 70,” Leviev declared.
As the Be’er Hagolah campus is based exclusively in Brooklyn, where it serves 850 Russian students, Leviev decided to establish a day school in Queens.
With the guidance of Be’er Hagolah’s dean Rabbi Avner German and executive director Pearl Kaufman, Leviev opened his first school for Russian kids in Queens two years ago. It now has 400 students.
At its dinner, Be’er Hagolah vice president Richard Hirsch and emcee Hillel Gross honored German, Leviev and wife Olga, and one of the institute’s founders, diamond merchant Alexander Hasenfeld and wife Zissy.
Of the 424 dinner guests almost half were German’s former students of the after-school Hebrew classes he used to have at Bnai Israel Synagogue in East New York. After the Jewish community dispersed from the neighborhood, German’s students grew up to become successful, including Lloyd Blankfeim who is today president and CEO of Goldman Sachs.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive chairman of the Presidents Conference, introduced a surprise guest at the dinner – Natan Sharansky, who came from Washington, D.C., where the Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio, responsible for Diaspora affairs, paid his respects at the Ronald Reagan memorial service.
In recounting the freedom of Jews from communist tyranny, Sharansky said it is now important to win the battle for the Jewish soul.
He illustrated with a story about Richard Perle who worked for the late Sen. Henry Jackson.
“Why are you in the office today?” the senator asked. “Isn’t it a Jewish holiday?”
“We don’t celebrate,” Perle answered.
“No, my dear boy,” the senator said. “If you want to be a good American you have to be a good Jew.”