Canadian philanthropist Jonathan Ross Goodman reflects on life

‘I have made a conscious decision to live in awe, not fear’

 JONATHAN GOODMAN: The best way to effect change for our people has always been in education.  (photo credit: Courtesy Jonathan Goodman)
JONATHAN GOODMAN: The best way to effect change for our people has always been in education.
(photo credit: Courtesy Jonathan Goodman)

Philanthropy, as per the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” What motivates a person to donate generously of their time and money? 

A new video series hosted by Ralph Benmergui, Canadian television and radio personality, created and produced by the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, explains the sense of purpose and drive possessed by those who help people in need. 

Jonathan Ross Goodman, a Montreal native, is cofounder & CEO of Knight Therapeutics Inc. and has dedicated his life to numerous causes, including cancer research, Jewish education and improving the welfare of Israelis of Ethiopian descent. He will be featured on an episode of The Philanthropists, which will be shown on The Jerusalem Post website on April 12.

Goodman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at age 21 and, after undergoing a year of chemotherapy and radiation, decided that he would not allow his illness to control his life. “I vowed that cancer was never going to change my life,” he says, “in the sense that whatever I could do without cancer, I would do with cancer.” 

Goodman returned to school and earned a law degree and an MBA before founding Paladin Labs, a specialty pharmaceutical company, which was sold in 2013 for $3.2 billion. 

 GOODMAN’S ATTITUDE toward tikkun olam was shaped by parents Morris and Rosalind. (credit: Courtesy Jonathan Goodman) GOODMAN’S ATTITUDE toward tikkun olam was shaped by parents Morris and Rosalind. (credit: Courtesy Jonathan Goodman)

For Goodman, creating and operating a successful business was not enough. “I was shaped by my parents’ attitude of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. My mother, of blessed memory, used to say that we are not put on this earth just to take up space. We are put on this earth to make a difference,” says Goodman, who recounts his mother’s dedication to community causes, calling her a “professional volunteer.”

Since overcoming his illness, Goodman has invested a great deal of time and resources in the fight against cancer. Paladin Labs fielded the largest cycling team in Quebec six years in a row for the Ride to Conquer Cancer and has raised millions for the fight against cancer.

Another passion of his is Jewish education. “I want Jewish grandchildren,” says Goodman, who was actively involved in the development of a new $50 million campus built over the Jewish Y for Herzliah High School, one of Montreal’s leading Jewish high schools.

Goodman says research has shown that receiving a Jewish high school education is one of the most important determinants as to whether someone will marry a Jewish person. “Montreal is one of the great Jewish communities of North America because we recognize that Jewish education is the only way to ensure Jewish continuity and produce Jewish grandchildren,” he says. 

Speaking of his hope for ensuring Jewish continuity, he adds, “A Jewish high school puts a lot of aces in the deck. You have to stack enough aces in the deck and hope your kids pull an ace.” 

A decade ago, Goodman embarked on another successful educational project in Montreal, spearheading an effort in which all of the Jewish schools in the city combined to host a gala evening to raise funds for all the institutions. This event has been held for 10 years and has raised more than $10m. for Jewish schools in Montreal, he says.

Beyond education, Goodman has served as the campaign chair for the Combined Jewish Appeal of Montreal. “Twenty percent of Montreal’s Jews live at or below the poverty line. We have to ensure that we are looking after the most vulnerable of our community.” 

Goodman’s most recent philanthropic passion is helping Ethiopian Jews living in Israel. Goodman wants to ensure that Ethiopian Jews are treated equally in Israel, and he says, “The best way to effect change for our people has always been in education. The best way to change the trajectory of Israelis of Ethiopian descent is to provide resources to support their attendance at the two best universities in Israel – Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.” 

 USING TIME efficiently, one can have great impact. (credit: Shawn Lee/Unsplash) USING TIME efficiently, one can have great impact. (credit: Shawn Lee/Unsplash)

Goodman concedes that his idea is not an overnight solution and will take time, but as he says, “We are not an overnight people.” He wants to raise $5m. for each school to arrange scholarships for Ethiopian students, and his family’s Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation will donate $900,000 to each school when the fundraising goals have been met. 

As one might surmise, the term tikkun olam is frequently on Goodman’s lips. One of his newest philanthropic endeavors, the JNF Climate Solution Prize, is something that he says will literally help repair the world. The Climate Solution Prize will award a prize for the best Israeli solution for climate change, and Goodman heads the program that seeks to raise $6m. for the award.

IN 2011, Goodman was involved in a near-fatal cycling accident that, as his serious illness had done years earlier, drove home the message of the importance of living each day. 

At the time, Paladin Labs had acquired a biotech company, and Goodman took his employees on a celebratory bicycle ride in the Laurentian Mountains in southern Quebec. Goodman fell off his bicycle – he still has no recollection of the accident – and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, septic shock, pulmonary embolism and two heart attacks. His family was told that he had a 10% chance of survival. 

Miraculously, he survived and quips, “Thankfully, they know more about Mars than they know about the human brain.” 

On a more serious note, he adds that the word “recovery” is not the right term for a traumatic brain injury. “I will never recover, and I will never be who I was. But I am smart enough and driven enough to make a difference in this world.”

Jonathan Ross Goodman says that anyone can be involved in philanthropic endeavors, regardless of their financial position in life, by donating their time and skills to help others. Despite the substantial financial assistance that he has provided Jewish organizations, Goodman is most proud of the fact that he has acted as a matchmaker for six couples who eventually married. 

“It doesn’t cost anything, and it is a form of tzedakah. I made a difference,” he says. “You just have to begin to help others. No one ever said on their deathbed that they should have worked harder. They all say that they should have spent more time with family and friends and given back to the community.”

As executive chair of Knight Therapeutics, which markets and licenses drugs from international drugmakers for Canada and Latin America, Goodman is still deeply involved in the world of pharmaceuticals and remains dedicated to helping others through his philanthropy. “Ironically, selling drugs pays for my tzedakah habit,” he jokes. 

At the age of 54, having experienced and overcome serious illness and injury, Jonathan Ross Goodman says, “I have made a conscious decision to live in awe, not fear. One never fully recovers from a traumatic brain injury. I have had so many rads of radiation and undergone chemotherapy that there are many reasons to look at the glass as being half-empty.” 

Goodman prefers to look at life differently and says, “I think about why the glass is half full, and how I can make a difference, and treat each day as a blessing. Every day is an opportunity to leave the world a better place.”

This article was written in cooperation with the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University.