Ron Perelman Is a Mix of Tabloid Headlines and Chabad Charity

Trademark Family Feuds Fueled by Millions of Dollars

Celebrity and Charity: Ronald Perelman is as famous for tabloid headlines as he is for his charitable contributions. Here, he and Barbra Streisand visit the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
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Celebrity and Charity: Ronald Perelman is as famous for tabloid headlines as he is for his charitable contributions. Here, he and Barbra Streisand visit the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 09, 2013.
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“Why are you so religious?” Raymond Perelman asked his son in the interview, adding: “I mean, here’s a guy who’s got so much money he can’t spend it, why is he religious? He has these Orthodox kids he brings from all over the world when he wants a minyan on Saturday, he flies them in.”

His son explained: “I am placed in situations with opportunities in those situations that others are not. I don’t believe that that is happenstance. I believe that there is a God that has a plan for me.”

His path to Orthodoxy began with a meeting almost five decades ago in Philadelphia with Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, who was close to the late Lubavitcher rebbe and now chairs the executive committee of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the umbrella organization of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Perelman quickly embraced an observant lifestyle. He does not work or answer the phone on the Sabbath, and, according to friends, studies Torah every day. He prays at his own synagogue, built next to his Manhattan home on 63rd Street, and has an aide make sure that a needed minyan of 10 Jewish men is available for prayer each weekend.

“Rabbinical students in [Brooklyn’s] Crown Heights will get a call asking, ‘Do you want to do Shabbat with Ron Perelman?’ and they’re always happy to come,” a Chabad activist said. These invitations can take young students to join Perelman in prayer in the Hamptons on Long Island, in Miami or on his travels around the globe.

The businessman has shown his gratitude to Chabad by becoming one of the movement’s main benefactors. Officials in Chabad would not put a dollar sum on his contributions, but they noted he was among the top givers. When the rebbe’s wife, Chaya Mushka Schneerson, died in 1988, Shemtov followed the widowed rabbi’s wish to commemorate his wife by investing in Jewish women’s education. He turned to Perelman to fund the building of Beth Rivka girls school, in Brooklyn. When the rebbe saw the work being done on the site, he made a $470 donation, symbolizing the numeric value of the letters of his late wife’s Hebrew name. Perelman responded immediately with an extra $470,000.

“He is philanthropically an enabler,” said Shemtov’s son, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of American Friends of Lubavitch, in Washington. “He doesn’t like to give instead of others, but he is always there to help when others do their share and there is still a need, especially if he can help bring something important to fruition or over the finish line.”

Several years ago, Perelman gave a seven-figure gift to support new Chabad emissaries around the world, after learning that posts were vacant due to lack of funding. He met with the emissaries before they departed, and gave each one a mezuza to place on the new Chabad house they will open.

A Jewish organizational official who had pitched the Perelmans for support spoke about the deep commitment he felt among members of both generations to the Jewish community. Still, the official noted, “these are number people” who demanded to know exactly what their donations will be used for and to make sure they go to the right cause.

The Perelmans’ latest legal battles are unlikely to affect the family’s role in supporting Jewish causes. Ronald Perelman’s wealth has been stable, and high-profile family disputes have never yet affected his business or his philanthropic involvement. And his father also shows no signs of slowing down, expressing recently his interest in purchasing The Philadelphia Inquirer. According to his son, Raymond Perelman “works every day and still has his eye on pretty girls.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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