Donald Saltz calls himself a "low-key, out of the limelight" kind of guy. At 72, the veteran freelance writer still crafts a newspaper quiz for several national dailies, drives a 1998 Buick he bought used and sticks to safe bets in his stock picks.
But the media spotlight seems likely to find Saltz, who just pledged $5 million to Adas Israel Congregation, the largest gift ever received by the nearly 140-year-old District synagogue.
"My wife and I both come from humble backgrounds, and I thought it would be nice to have her name on the building," said the Washington man, whose spouse of nearly 39 years, Mozelle, died in December.
The couple joined the Conservative District synagogue some three decades ago. Saltz recently contributed to dedicate the 1,600-household congregation's ritual director's office and underwrote an annual synagogue sisterhood dinner, both in memory of his late wife.
"We were never extravagant; we lived well, but we didn't waste," he said in an interview last week, explaining how he, with a career in newspapers, and his wife, a secretary for some 30 years with B'nai B'rith International, managed to save millions. "We didn't go to expensive restaurants, as a rule. Whatever came in, we mostly saved."
In recognition of his most recent pledge, which he is giving in $100,000 yearly installments during his life, and through a bequest, Adas Israel's building will bear the names of both Donald and Mozelle Saltz.
Saltz is lending a "very, very substantial boost" to the congregation's current endowment of roughly $10 million in donations and pledges, said Adas Israel president Russell Smith.
"The gift is going to be contributing to a whole range of activities," said Smith, noting that it came without strings, aside from the naming. "It's going to strengthen everything we do within the synagogue."
One financial development consultant for nonprofits said that although he's heard of synagogue contributions of $2 million to $2.5 million, including as a single transfer of funds, a pledge of this amount stands out.
"This is a wonderful thing and it should be a model that others would emulate," said David Mersky, managing director of Mersky, Jaffe and Associates, who also directs fund-raising management at Brandeis University's Hornstein Graduate Program in Jewish Communal Service.
"The Jewish community is late to planned giving," said Mersky, noting that in the past the community focused largely on immediate cash for rescue and resettlement.
Among Washington-area synagogues that have received outright gifts of at least $1 million in recent years are B'nai Tzedek Congregation in Potomac, Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn and Shaare Shalom Congregation in Leesburg, which received a $2 million donation.
Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg of Adas Israel lauds the Saltzes as exemplary human beings. "He and Mozelle were a beautiful couple and caring, sweet people, unpretentious, unassuming and very gracious," Wohlberg said.
As for Saltz himself, he hails from small towns on Maryland's Eastern Shore where he was born in Salisbury and grew up in Crisfield, just east of Janes Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
"It was hard to find a minyan in Crisfield," said Saltz, noting the tiny Jewish population there. His maternal grandfather was a rabbi in Salisbury and Frederick, among other places. A first cousin ran an area men's wear store, Thomas and Lewis Saltz, in the last century.
After moving to Washington in 1956, Donald Saltz got his start as a copyboy at The Washington Star. A detour from the news business as assistant finance director at the Republican National Committee followed.
He would go on to long stints as a business writer and columnist with the now-defunct Washington Daily News and the Star. While moonlighting for the Haskin Information Service in the 1950s and '60s, Saltz hatched the idea for what would provide a lifetime's work: daily quizzes for newspapers.
Since 1966, the writer has been devising six weekly 10-question quizzes, "Trivia/Knowledge," that he says appear in several national dailies, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. For more than seven years in the 1980s and '90s, he put his skills to work for Adas Israel, editing its newsletter, the Chronicle.
Saltz met his wife at the District's Jewish Community Center in 1966, and they married the next year.
Born in Bombay, India, Mozelle Saltz graduated from the Sir Jacob Sassoon Jewish High School there. In March 1977, she was among 118 people held hostage for three days at the B'nai B'rith International building by a Hanafi Muslim group, which threatened its prisoners with execution.
She helped her husband with his newspaper quizzes. At Adas, she played an active role in the sisterhood and was one of four members honored at Simchat Torah in 2004.
"Foreign travel, tea with cream and a much more open pocket are three of the highlights of our wonderful years together," Saltz wrote in a eulogy penned after her death last year, crediting his late wife for his passion for philanthropy.
He advises others, when given a raise in wages, to save most of it and put all they can in a 401(k) and IRA. Then, he counsels, give and give generously.
"Just pick out a cause you like," Saltz said. "Think about it, but don't delay."
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