Shlomo Rechnitz: Redefining Philanthropy

  (photo credit:  David Gelfand)
(photo credit: David Gelfand)

Philanthropy has traditionally been regarded as the exercise of financially contributing to different causes that have a positive impact on society. Whether that contribution is made toward remedying a certain social issue or building an institution, it’s the financial generosity that receives the commendation it deserves. It’s no secret that the Orthodox Jewish community is comprised of some of the most generous philanthropists in the entire world. It’s a fact that ought to serve as a source of pride for members of the community and the broader Jewish community writ large. But the community’s leading philanthropist has and continues to redefine the meaning of philanthropy on a scale and magnitude that could never have been imagined. 

Shlomo Rechnitz is the Orthodox Jewish community’s leading philanthropist and someone whose hands-on involvement in various noteworthy causes is legendary. The sheer scope of the various institutions, organizations and those in need that he and his wife Tamar choose to help is extraordinary. Among them are the families of fallen police officers; servicemen and women in our nation’s military; the formerly incarcerated; children with special needs; pediatric cancer patients, and so many more. There hardly exists a societal ill or problem that Rechnitz’s philanthropy doesn’t seek to remedy.

But it’s perhaps the thoughtfulness that Rechnitz invests into his giving that makes it all the more meaningful. The Fallen Officer Initiative of the Shlomo & Tamar Rechnitz Foundation, is a prime example of this. As a part of the initiative through the Eagle & Badge Foundation, the foundation provides checks in the amount of $10,000 to the families of police officers who have been shot while in the line of duty in Southern California. 

In line with supporting our nation’s bravest and finest, Rechnitz has also committed to providing for our nation’s military servicemen. He famously made headlines on a global scale when he bought four hundred servicemen a warm meal during a layover he and his family had on a trip to Israel. After observing that a group of 400 American soldiers were preparing to eat paper sack dinners, he immediately asked the commanding officer to afford him the opportunity to purchase hot meals for every single one of the servicemen. Within minutes, Rechnitz handed over his credit card and gave $50 to each and every serviceman and servicewoman so that they could dine out at a restaurant of their choosing. 

  (credit: Andrea Edelman) (credit: Andrea Edelman)

“You guys risk your lives to protect me and my family. If I get to go out and see a whole bunch of Army soldiers and Marines, it’s something that makes me proud. I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Rechnitz in video footage captured by one of the servicemen who were the beneficiaries of his generosity. 

But the aforementioned incident in Shannon, Ireland was in no way an isolated one for Rechnitz. In the Los Angeles community, it is well known that every Saturday night Rechnitz opens his home to the needy - not only to distribute money, but also to hear their stories and to offer the most effective solutions to the problems that might be plaguing them. When Hurricane Sandy struck, Rechnitz was immediately there to provide financial assistance to those Yeshivas and Jewish community institutions that were adversely affected. When a Los Angeles based cemetery was badly vandalized, Rechnitz immediately seized the opportunity to donate a quarter of a million dollars to have the cemetery restored. 

These stories are not the exception for Rechnitz. They are instead the rule. And unlike most in the philanthropic world, Rechnitz treats his philanthropy as a proactive activity. Instead of waiting to be solicited, he seeks out opportunities where he could be of value to help those in need. 

When a journalist witnessed a typical Saturday night outside the Rechnitz home, he remarked that it reminded him of a Polish village in the 18th century. A line extends outside the Rechnitz house and leads right to a dining room where Rechnitz is seated at a long table, waiting for people to come. Each and every person who is in need gets the opportunity to sit next to him for a few minutes and share the personal issues in their lives that they are facing. With a smile, he listens to each and every one of their stories, and provides a check to them. It’s well known in the LA community, that not a single person walks out of the home without a check in their hands. 

On an average Saturday night Rechnitz will see no less than a hundred people in this very same context. But beyond the sheer volume of people who he helps weekly, it’s the diverse nature of those standing in line that’s noteworthy. The crowd of people standing in line is consistently diverse as can be - Chassidic, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mothers, Fathers, or just anyone that might be down on their luck. Rechnitz’s objective is to help anyone in need - no matter their background. His entire existence is dedicated to just that - nondenominational giving. And there is nobody that does it on the scale which he does. Humbly and unassumingly - while never saying no. 

This article was written in cooperation with JN News Media