Harry Weinberg's Legacy


With the death yesterday of Harry Weinberg, Baltimore's only billionaire, this region is suddenly principal beneficiary of a foundation reputed to be the world's twelfth largest -- a foundation whose sole mission will be to help poor people. This is the fitting legacy of an American who made it the hard way and never forgot whence he came.

The impact on Maryland will be enormous. In size the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation will be in the $900 million to $1 billion range, eight times greater than the city's current leader, the Abell Foundation. With annual distributions of more than $45 million, it will be able to assist charities both Jewish and non-Jewish, in Baltimore and elsewhere, with emphasis on giving aid to Israel. Although Mr. Weinberg lived in Hawaii for the past dozen years, he always considered Baltimore a home town deserving of his largess.

Under Mr. Weinberg's last will, it is specified that 25 percent of yearly distributions will go to Jewish charities, 25 percent to non-Jewish charities and 50 percent to charities in general. Recipients are to be persons "whose financial resources are less than the finance resources of 50 percent of the individuals in the relevant community."

Unlike many great Baltimore philanthropists, Mr. Weinberg has specified that none of his estate is to benefit "any college or university. . .or any organization whose primary purpose relates to music, literature or art." This will be a disappointment to the Walters or the BSO but good news for United Way, the Salvation Army and Jewish charities. It puts the Weinberg Foundation on a course in which it can attack root causes of poverty.

Precisely what direction the foundation will take will be up to a five-person board that now has the responsibility of appointing an expert staff. Trustees will also determine the fate of a large number of properties in the Howard and Lexington sector owned by Mr. Weinberg. Baltimore's old downtown shopping district could be transformed.

This community will be a better place for Mr. Weinberg's generosity. Darrell D. Friedman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which is to receive $2 million a year from the foundation, said Mr. Weinberg's life symbolized "the noblest traditions of tzedaka," or charity. It follows the Talmudic injunction that every Jew is responsible for every other Jew and, in Mr. Friedman's opinion, for every other human being.

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