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In Awe of the Desert Blooming

November 10, 2005 By:
Zara Myers, JE Feature
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Ira Saligman
Among the most vivid memories Ira Saligman has of a visit to Israel when he was a teen "was seeing the incredible fruit and vegetables on a kibbutz that were grown hydroponically. Seeing how the Israelis were making the desert bloom has become a metaphor to me of their dedication, drive and know-how."

Trips to Israel were a part of his family's life in a household where "my parents set the example for helping others and passed it on to my sisters, Carolyn and Laury, my brother Peter and me," explained Saligman.

"My dad would tell us about our grandfather, a Russian immigrant whose life in this country had humble beginnings who was helped by other Jews."

With this as a family dictum, the late Robert Saligman - a successful businessman, first in the clothing industry and then in commercial real estate - and his wife Alice, established the Robert Saligman Charitable Foundation. The foundation's funding priorities are education and Jewish-related causes. Alice Saligman heads the foundation, and her children and other relatives sit on the board.

In addition to the family foundation, Robert Saligman was a community leader whose name can be seen on institutions throughout the community, and was a generous supporter of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Today Saligman said he gives to Federation because of what he saw growing up - his parents' desire to help.

"It also helps that Federation has done a great job of keeping up with the times and has become donor-centric."

That was the case for the family foundation making a major gift to the Robert Saligman Early Childhood Development Center in Sedot Negev, Israel, one of Federation's Partnership 2000 communities, a program of its Israel and Overseas Center. The early learning center, which was opened in 2004, gives assistance to children from ages 3 to 12 who are considered at risk due to delays in social development, or who cope with learning disabilities or emotional trauma.

"Here's something that had to be done - the sooner the better," said Saligman. "The impact is direct and practical. If you don't help children when they're young, the problems get bigger.

"It's another example of 'blooming in the desert,'" he said. "These children are Israel's future."

Locally, students at the Robert Saligman Middle School in Elkins Park, one of the schools of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School, are "blooming" as the result of the Saligman Foundation grant that opened the school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in 2001.

"The Saligman Middle School furthers Jewish education for students in the area and gives them a chance to continue their education in a day school, rather than going to public or other private schools," noted Saligman. "It offers the specific type of education and activities that this age group needs."

Fortunate to be in a position to further Jewish education, Saligman pointed out that "it's not only a matter of the funding our foundation provides.What really matters is the dedication of the administrators, staff, parents and children that make a school successful. Both the school and the center have taken a physical building and breathed life into it, and made it something special."

Looking to the future, what does Saligman hope to pass on to his own three young children?

"I'll tell them: 'When you're able, you help.' "

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