Some people are great teachers. Others are great doers. And a very rare few are a combination of both. On Wednesday morning, I, like so many of you, was saddened to learn of the passing of Harold Schnitzer (z"l). Harold was an incredible leader, community builder, and philanthropist – one of Portland’s greatest visionaries, mentors and citizens.
I only had the opportunity to meet Harold on three separate occasions, yet during each one I learned more about the man’s brilliance and commitment to Jewish life and our community. My first introduction was when I was interviewing for my position at Federation and I met Harold in his office. He asked me only two questions – what did I know about Jewish Portland and why was I interested in working here? I believe that my answers satisfied Harold. Yet, what followed, was my opportunity to hear from Harold why Jewish Portland is such a wonderful place to live and work – and what the future would look like here. He was so in tune with today’s Jewish community and “spot on” in his assessment. He did it in such an expressive fashion that I was hooked even more knowing that this was the right professional opportunity for me.
The other two occasions were true learning lessons. During these interactions I got a glimpse as to who Harold was from his personal stories about his upbringing, his family, his business career, and philanthropic interests. I learned how broad his thinking was on every topic imaginable, especially within the Jewish community. I truly appreciated that he rarely talked about the past and instead was focused on future generations and what their Jewish community would be like. He said to me, “The community keeps evolving. What more can we do to enhance Jewish education? What more can we do for our seniors? What more can we do to provide rich cultural Jewish experiences? Whatever it is, we have to do more." This was a testament to his vision and leadership, which inspired so many, including me.
When Harold would discuss his philanthropic interests, it always started with people. He shared that he wanted to improve the lives of everyone long into the future – whether via social services, medical care, the arts, culture, education, and so much more. I valued his broad perspective, his open mind, and willingness to share his years of wisdom. I am only sorry we did not have the opportunity for many more conversations.
I have read the myriad of articles written about Harold in The Oregonian and elsewhere. One can only be impressed by his business acumen and deep passion to help others. To learn of his family’s philanthropic efforts, $80 million over the past 30 years, is truly remarkable. Our Jewish community owes a great deal of gratitude to Harold, his wife and partner, Arlene, and son, Jordan, for all they have done for our community.
May Harold’s memory be a blessing and the entire Schnitzer Family comforted by the mourner’s of Zion.
Last night, I attended the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation dinner. This dinner showcased the work of several dozen very impressive high school teens who study and learn together about philanthropy and then have the opportunity to allocate resources to both Jewish and secular causes.
Eric Rosenfeld, President of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation which sponsors the program, shared his thoughts about Harold and commented how proud he would have been to see these teenagers learn what it means to be a philanthropist and to understand that giving away money is a very thoughtful process. This wonderful program, now in its eighth year, is truly creating new philanthropic thought leaders.
At the end of the evening, the seniors had the opportunity to share their plans for next year with the audience. The poise and presence of each as they announced their college choice/options (and two who will spend next year in Israel) gave me great pride and confidence that our Jewish future is in wonderful hands. We are building a next generation that understands to impact society, one must be actively involved with their human and financial resources.
I do believe that for many philanthropy is a learned behavior. We have all had the opportunity to watch and learn from one of our community's greatest benefactors. Fortunately, we still have many wonderful role models in our community to emulate. Let's take advantage!