Few of us are privileged to have a career that allows us to live our ideals while transforming the world we live in. Harold Ostroff had two.
In his first career, as head of the United Housing Foundation, he was America’s most successful champion of affordable cooperative housing for working families. In his second, as general manager of the Forward Association, he rescued the nation’s best-loved Jewish newspaper from extinction and re-established it as the leading source of Jewish news and information for future generations of Americans.
Remarkably, for a man of his accomplishments, Ostroff never grew rich. A master builder, he could have made deals for himself and amassed a fortune. Instead, he lived modestly in the affordable housing that he worked to create. No less remarkably, he left the housing business at the height of his success, in 1976, because his movement needed him elsewhere. Taking the reins of the Forward, he became a master publisher and turned a dying journal into a thriving media organization. Yet he shunned the spotlight, choosing, as always, the path of modesty.
Taken together, Ostroff’s careers perfectly embodied the essential values of social justice and Jewish culture that stood at the heart of his beloved Jewish labor movement. For Ostroff, values were not merely topics for discussion, but practical goals to be achieved. His death leaves us all poorer, yet we are enriched by the life he lived and the things he built.