For Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf, family history informs his priorities and sense of responsibility for the Jewish community, prominently in his role as chair of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“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.”
He made the remarks at a Jewish Federation of Cleveland fundraiser “Real Estate, Football and Philanthropy” Nov. 6 in downtown Cleveland, which drew about 150 people.
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.
Heller called Wilf “a real inspiration to all of us,” citing his work in Israel and the United States.
Wilf said he enjoys speaking to real estate professionals and noted parallels between that work and philanthropy as “builders.” He also spoke about the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue.
“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.”
Wilf spoke of the need and the responsibility to give, drawing on his family’s own experience.
“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,” Wilf said.
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. That day, Wilf said he attended a program for Holocaust survivors at Café Europa, a program of Jewish Family Service Association that 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 (as) allies, but by the actions that demonstrate who we actually are,” he said.