Harlan Diamond, the former president of Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights, was honored with the Jewish National Fund-USA’s 2022 Tree of Life award for his lifetime of philanthropy, including support of the state of Israel. During the Aug. 28 awards dinner at Landerhaven, family members, community members and leaders of the Jewish National Fund-USA came forward to discuss the difference Diamond has made in so many lives over the decades, as well as the impact his philanthropy has had in helping JNF-USA meet its mission to support the state of Israel. This is his second time receiving the award, having first done so in 2006.
“You are an ardent supporter of Israel,” said Bill Zell, Diamond’s cousin. “You have always supported your synagogue and other Jewish institutions in Cleveland. You are a lover of your country. And more so. You are a champion of your city of Cleveland. You’re so proud of Cleveland. The generosity that you have shown publicly across Northeast Ohio, everyone knows about. What people don’t know about is your private charity. Where you have opened your checkbook to people that you just feel need your help. And it’s never without question or doubts.”
[ Timeline: A look back at Harlan Diamond's life and career ]
Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the Cleveland Jewish News and president of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, was asked to present the Tree of Life award to Diamond, noting that he truly personifies what the award represents.
“The Tree of Life Award is a humanitarian honor given in recognition of outstanding community involvement, dedication to the cause of American Israeli friendship, and devotion to the peace and security of human life,” said Adelstein. “Who better exemplifies this than our friend Harlan Diamond?”
Diamond is “genuinely driven by doing for others,” Adelstein said. “Helping people and helping organizations. That’s Harlan.”
Diamond, in accepting the award, spoke of his gratitude to the local community and the opportunities it provided to him.
“I’m probably the luckiest guy in the world,” he told attendees. “I was born lucky, I’ve been lucky and I am lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to share some of the most wonderful special occasions as well as more comforting occasions as probably anybody in the history of the state, if not the country. It’s been an amazing run. … We were the second longest living catering company in the history of the United States. We got lucky to be accepted by the community (and) had a love affair with the opportunity to be of service.”
And Diamond said providing the best service is what always mattered.
“It’s never made much difference as to whether we made a profit or what the profit was, the function had to be good, it had to be taken care of properly,” he said.
“I’ve been privileged to share in almost every one of your lives,” Diamond said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity, thank you.”
Diamond retired in 2020 following a 70-year career. In 1983, Diamond bought the former Landerhaven Country Club, which he turned into an event center. Driftwood Restaurants & Catering bought the building and site in August 2020 for $2.5 million.
Other speakers at the event included Russell F. Robinson, the Jewish National Fund-USA’s CEO, Rebecca Bar-Shain, JNF-USA Northern Ohio board president, Michael Jacobson, JNF-USA Northern Ohio board of director vice president, schools and community engagement and national conference recruitment chair, Chuck Whitehill, JNF-USA Northern Ohio board member and Rabbi Dan Roberts, who is rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu El in Orange. Whitehill served as emcee and host.
The event itself provided another opportunity for Diamond to make a difference as the funds raised went directly to support JNF-USA’s Galilee Culinary Institute in Northern Israel.
The institute, which is expected to open in 2023 “will offer a total immersion program that is designed to help culinary students acquire a combination of practical skills and an understanding of the major themes that impact the food industry today,” Adelstein said during his introduction of Diamond.
The institute will also play an important role in building the infrastructure and economy of Galilee, Robinson told attendees. The region, which is surrounded by Syria and Lebanon, only has 22,000 residents and the JNF-USA concluded that food would play a crucial role in its growth.
“We understood that food was a major part of the economy there, farming, growing,” Russell said.
In response, JNF-USA built the Beit Asher Food Innovation Center, which opened in September 2021, where foreign countries come to learn about food security and food technology with the intent to “know how to make protein for the third world, to feed the rest of the world, how to protect the food that we have. And (to ensure) Israel is the leader of that.”
Now, the JNF-USA is building the The Galilee Culinary Institute to ensure Israel “is going to be one of the greatest culinary institutes in the world,” Robinson said. When the institute opens in 2023 it will draw people from all over the world because they “get to learn from a place called Israel and the Jewish community. So at (Le Cordon Bleu), you can learn French cooking, when (at the Israeli institute) we’re going to teach you 82 different nationalities, including Tunisian in Yemenite, Ethiopian polish, Romanian, from all across the globe.” At the institute “in a place called Israel you get to learn it, you get to feel it” and then when going back to your home country “you will have learned how Israel really is the real story of Israel, our culinary institute and our restaurant. ... We’re going to transform the area into food and culinary capital of the world.”
And by extension, build the region up, he said.
“It’s going to be a strong, vibrant community in Israel bringing strength to the North as we have to the south,” Robinson said. “That’s because generosity involved is the strategic vision for the Jewish National Fund.”