What makes a philanthropist? How does someone accrue so much money that she or he can donate millions to people with less wherewithal?
And why give away that hard-earned cash? Why choose Jewish causes?
For every philanthropist, a particular set of circumstances contributed to the happy combination of wealth and generosity. Here's one case study.
Harold Grinspoon grew up poor in Auburndale, Mass. He said that non-Jews picked on him and called him names. The lesson he learned was "that if I ever made any real money, I would donate it to Jewish causes," he says.
"I started out as a carpenter and plumber — a schlepper," explains Grinspoon. "My father practiced law before he earned his law degree. You could do that in those days. But after graduating, he went back to carpentry.
"Eventually, I started working with him. I was a handyman and a painter — a horrible painter, and I wouldn't touch electricity. But I understand the trades.
"Then I bought my first two-family house as an investment."
Time passed. Grinspoon started to earn real wealth, largely in real estate, first locally, then nationally. And he began donating mega-bucks annually to Jewish causes, primarily those benefiting children.
"His entrepreneurial spirit and eye for undervalued assets has been his modus operandi," says his wife and active philanthropic partner, Diane Troderman.
Grinspoon founded and leads the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. In 2004, it launched the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, which concentrates on helping develop leadership of overnight camps.
The following year, he created the PJ Library, a program that donates Jewish children's books to more than 70,000 families in nearly 150 communities in the United States and Canada.
"The money I have made is as a trustee for my Jewish genes," Grinspoon says. "If you have the genes to be an entrepreneur and create wealth, you can learn to give it away.
"I don't own a plane. I have a boat, but it's only 17 feet long."
The Grinspoon Institute also supports 85 nonprofit Jewish camps. And it has donated some $10 million through challenge grants, which, in turn, has raised another $65 million. The money goes toward strategic planning, best practices and more.
On the website — www.gijp.org — you can click on a link to the "Stop Kvetching" board webinar.
Turning a Page
But it is his PJ Library that has been making news of late, and which brought Grinspoon to Philadelphia recently to address its distinctive value as an educational tool in the local Jewish community.
Each month, PJ Library ships Jewish books and music without charge to families with infants to children aged 8 years. Another 44,000 preschoolers receive books through the Israeli version, Sifriyat Pijama.
Grinspoon says he wants to engage Jewish families, as well as strengthen their Jewish identities and their relationships with the Jewish community.
"My wife and I want to do outreach to people who want to become interested and involved," says Grinspoon. "We want parents to spend quality time with their children.
"It's not about income level — the books are a gift."
In his mind, any family who participates in PJ Library is getting a message from the Jewish community: We care about you.
"It's especially important," he says, "because we have such a high intermarriage rate in this country."
'A Strong Future'
Grinspoon says he prefers the Israeli version of PJ Library. "Here, we mail books to homes," he says. "In Israel, mailboxes are too small. So we distribute books through preschools and kindergartens in partnership with the Ministry of Education."
Grinspoon stresses that he wants to inspire Jewish people "to give their philanthropy Jewishly so we can ensure a strong Jewish future."
Troderman says she believes that people who face their own mortality "understand that it is indeed a gift to be able to think about one's legacy."
As she explains: "Harold and I recognize that we are here on this earth for a heartbeat in the great scheme of things. There is something very basic in our core that makes us feel that our being here has somehow, somewhere, made a difference."
Funding for the local PJ Library and its work comes from the Grinspoon Foundation, the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education/Jewish Outreach Partnership, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and private donors.
To sign up for PJ Library in Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties, go to: www.jkidphilly.org and click on "PJ Library."
To learn more, email Amy Schwartz, director of the PJ Library of Greater Philadelphia, at: [email protected] org.