The Forward 50

Harold Grinspoon

Courtesy of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation

Community

Harold Grinspoon

The Forward 50

Philanthropist Harold Grinspoon is living proof of the Talmud’s dictum that one’s 80s are a time for renewed vigor. In May 2012, shortly before his 83rd birthday, he was in New Jersey to hand deliver his PJ Library’s three-millionth Jewish-themed children’s book. The program, founded in 2005 and funded jointly by Grinspoon and local communities, sends age-specific books and CDs for free each month to 100,000 Jewish kids ranging in age from 6 months to 8 years.

Like the larger Taglit-Birthright Israel, it’s meant to show Jews a caring side to their community. There’s little follow-up research — understandably, since the oldest “graduates” are barely 15 — but an internal survey and anecdotal information suggest it spurs families’ Jewish interest.

PJ Library is part of Grinspoon’s outside-the-box approach to Jewish education. He was a pioneer in expanding and upgrading Jewish summer camping. He’s a major backer of Jewish day schools, both at home in western Massachusetts and nationally as a co-founder of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

PJ Library keeps growing, distributing Hebrew-language children’s books in Israel in 2009 and to Israeli-American families in 2011. And in August 2012 Grinspoon launched Voices & Visions, which will produce and give away decorative posters, each featuring a classic Jewish ethical maxim illustrated by a noted contemporary Jewish artist. In addition to Jewish philanthropy, he supports youth programs in Cambodia and in Massachusetts. Values guide him professionally too; he built his nine-figure fortune developing and managing middle-income rental apartment communities nationwide. What drives him? Growing up outside Boston in the 1930s, Grinspoon told a Springfield newspaper, he suffered from anti-Semitism and dyslexia-based reading difficulties. Now he’s fighting back against both.


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