Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf spoke of his parents, priorities and sense of responsibility for the Jewish community at a Jewish Federation of Cleveland fundraiser called “Real Estate, Football and Philanthropy.”

The Nov. 6 fundraiser at Red Space in downtown Cleveland drew about 150 people who were asked to fill out pledge cards.

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About 150 people came to the event at Red Space in downtown Cleveland.

Jeff Wild, chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 2019 and 2020 Campaign for Jewish Needs, opened with an overview.

 “We’re right in the middle of the 2020 Campaign for Jewish Needs, and as of this morning, we’ve already raised money from 3,900 people for a total of $22.5 million,” Wild said to applause. “And while those numbers are huge and it’s an amazing accomplishment, unfortunately, we have a very long way to go in the next 35 or so days. … Last year, we raised $32.7 million from over 10,000 donors.” 

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Jeff Wild

Wild reminded those gathered that the real estate event in 2018 came a week after the shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. This time, he said, the talk took place two days following a thwarted plot to bomb a synagogue in Pueblo, Colo.

“Security needs are greater than they were a year ago,” he said.

He said there are “so many more people today” living below the poverty line within the Jewish community than there were a year ago. 

“They need our help just for basic necessities.” he said. “That’s why this year we have to do so much better than we did in 2019.” 

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J. David Heller

J. David Heller, chair of the Federation, spoke of Wilf’s contributions to the Jewish community in Israel and the United States. He served on the Young Leadership Cabinet when Wilf was its chairman. Wilf now chairs the Jewish Federations of North America.

Heller called Wilf “a real inspiration to all of us,” citing his work in Israel and the United States.

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Mark Wilf

Wilf praised the work of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.

“You and all your leaders are doing incredible work, and as you’re well aware in Cleveland, ‘It’s All About the Who,’” he said, quoting the title of Morton L. Mandel’s 2013 book. The businessman and philanthropist died Oct. 16. 

“And I say this phrase with great respect and affection,” Wilf said. “Mort Mandel, of blessed memory, was a good friend and mentor and a giant in his service to the entire Jewish community. I mourn his loss with you and I know his legacy will continue to set the pace for all of us in the future. He really was a special man. I got to spend some time with him. Every word out of his mouth, as you all know, was wisdom and excellence.”

Wilf said he enjoys speaking to real estate professionals and noted parallels between that work and philanthropy as “builders.”

Wilf spoke about the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue as well.

“Pittsburgh is strong today because it was strong the day before that tragedy,” he said. “The alliances that were in place, the power of collective emotion, that’s what Federation’s all about. … Our training on the ground in Pittsburgh saved lives.”

He also mentioned the Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, Germany.

“On Yom Kippur, there were 50 Jewish people praying and they were saved because of our dollars … just a few dollars to put a camera and a secure door in place. And that saved countless lives.”

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Mark Wilf listens as Jeff Wild fields a question from the audience. | CJN Photo / Jane Kaufman

Wilf spoke of the need and the responsibility to give.

“It starts and ends with good people who have the heart and soul and the means to turn our world around and point it in the right direction,” he said. “My parents and grandparents, all Holocaust survivors, understood the value of perseverance.  … My grandmother … escaped the Lvov ghetto of 180,000 Jews and rescued my mother, my uncle and my grandfather. She had Christian papers. She worked on a farm. My grandfather was hidden under the floorboard of a barn for three years.”

He spoke of his grandparents’ success in the United States.

“They came with nothing, but they built the foundation of a family business that’s been sustained now for three generations. But they also knew that success was not complete without giving back to others, just like you’re doing tonight – giving back.”

He said their agenda included building up the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Wilf said he attended that day for Holocaust survivors at Café Europa, a program of Jewish Family Service Association, which helps survivors.

“Almost a third of Holocaust survivors in this country live below the poverty line and that is something unacceptable,” he said. “We have a wealthy Jewish community and that should never be.”

Wilf said the greatest reward is being able to give more.

“In the end, we’re measured not by who we aspire to be allies, but by the actions that demonstrate who we actually are,” he said. 

To donate to the 2020 Jewish Federation of Cleveland Campaign for Jewish Needs, visit campaignforjewishneeds.org.

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