PEOPLE PROTEST against US philanthropist Irving Moskowitz (left) as he visits a Jewish resident in Ras al-Amud, Jerusalem, in 1999.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – “Jerusalem is the heart of Jewish people, and it was the heart of Irving Moskowitz,” Jewish New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who knew the American Jewish philanthropist for some 25 years, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
“He believed in something and he practiced what he believed in by making real things happen,” he added.
Moskowitz died Thursday at the age of 88. He had stirred controversy during his lifetime by donating millions of dollars to Jewish development efforts in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, and even funding an anti-Obama super PAC in 2012.
The Moskowitz Foundation he founded in 1968 along with his wife, Cherna, was a key supporter of the Ir David Foundation (Elad) and Ateret Cohanim, two organizations involved in moving Jews to live in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.
In 2008, the Moskowitzes established the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, whose winners included Moshe Levinger, an early settler in Hebron after the 1967 Six Day War who later was jailed for violence against Arabs; Noam Arnon, another prominent settler in Hebron; and Yehudah Glick, an activist pushing for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount who recently became a Knesset member.
“Everyone talks a good game about love of Jerusalem and the unity of Jerusalem,” Hikind said. “It’s all words but this man, it was his life.”
Hikind told the Post he viewed Moskowitz as a leader.
“He used what God gave him legitimately, money, and he gave that money away to so many different causes including the cause of Jerusalem,” he explained. “The right for Jews to live in any part of the Old City.”
Hikind’s wife, Shani, joined her husband in remembering “a giant.”
Since 1991, she has served as executive vice president of the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, which Moskowitz supported.
Hikind told the Post that most of her interactions with Moskowitz and his wife, Cherna, over the past 25 years happened during her trips to their residence in Miami Beach, where she often fund-raised for the organization.
“They transformed the face of the Old City, particularly in the so-called Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City,” she said. “His legacy are the children playing in a united Jerusalem.”
Moskowitz and Ateret Cohanim have long been criticized for moving Jewish families into Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, but Shani Hikind described the organization’s work as a “labor of love.”
“I represent these amazing families with such bravery and such courage,” she told the Post. “They are the ones who are actually bringing peace. Those families willing to live with Arab neighbors. This is how people learn to live together in peace.”
“Jews have a right to live everywhere in the land of Israel, together with Arabs if the Arabs want to live there. But it’s our land and Jews have a right to live throughout the land,” she added.
Hikind added that criticizing Moskowitz’s work is “unfair.”
“If theoretically there will be peace one day, does that mean that Jews can’t live in particular areas of Jerusalem? It makes no sense,” he said.
“Irving Moskowitz is not interfering with the peace process. That’s ridiculous and simplistic,” Hikind added.
Moskowitz was born in New York in 1928, the ninth child of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he earned his medical degree, later moving to California, where he created a business building hospitals and operating bingo halls. He later moved to Miami Beach.
According to a 1997 profile in Time magazine, Moskowitz lost 120 relatives in the Holocaust.JTA contributed to this report.