A Tribute to Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Dedicated in Jerusalem

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould with Foundation Chairman David Latchman at the dedication; photo Olivier Fitussi/Israel Sun.

Last week saw the inauguration of the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Legacy Room at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony the British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, said, “Maurice and Vivienne Wohl continue to be an inspiration for others in their generosity… the contribution they’ve made is extraordinary.” Recounting his own visits to several Wohl endowed projects – especially his great enjoyment at the Wohl Rose Garden – Gould continued, “It has become clear as I traveled around this country the role that UK Jewish families have played and continue to play in building Israel.”

The Ambassador is correct. For despite the long-time generosity of the Wohl’s – and other U.K. families – their many contributions to Israel are often less well known.

In order to become a bit more familiar with the Foundation, eJP sat the next morning with Foundation Chairman David Latchman and CEO Kate Goldberg to learn a bit more about the Wohls and the Foundation’s approach to philanthropy. Despite the Brits natural tendency to be a bit reserved, an engaging conversation ensued shining light on the family’s legacy and their approach to philanthropy.

Maurice Wohl was a successful property developer who took the same business approach with his giving. Along with Vivienne, he “had a passionate desire to make the world a better place.” For them, their philanthropy “was a way of life.”

When it came to giving, Wohl strongly believed that the Foundation needed to operate “in a business-like manner”. That included investing assets where there was minimal risk; looking at the leadership and sustainability along with the governance of their potential grantees; and because he was a property man at heart, Wohl wanted to be certain that the buildings with the Wohl name were of the highest quality.

Looking at the Foundation’s institutional giving, their preference was to often “come in” at the end of a project – say, after 85% of the funds had been raised. While they still take this approach today, the Foundation has become more proactive at early stages, often working in tandem with other UK funders.

While there were many large-scale projects and causes supported by the Wohls, there was also a lifetime of private giving to individuals – much of it simply, and quietly, to assist those in need.

Vivienne, unexpectedly, pre-predeceased Maurice and as a result during the last several years of his life Maurice became very clear about how the Foundation would continue when he was no longer with us.

The Wohls supported 150 projects in Israel, the United Kingdom and the Former Soviet Union, in addition to countless donations to individuals. They gave to Jewish and non-Jewish institutions, spanning culture, medicine, science, religion and academia. In Israel alone, these projects include the Wohl Rose Garden near the Knesset and the Wohl Archeological Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City; the Wohl Amphitheatre in Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park; the Wohl Torah Center at Yeshivat Hakotel and the Wohl Torah Centre at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav; the Wohl Convention Centre, Bar-Ilan University; and, wings, centers, and projects at Bikur Cholim, Hadassah, Shaarei Tzedek, Sourasky, Rambam and Schneider Hospitals, to name but a few.

The Wohl Legacy Room is housed in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, where the Wohls were founding members and where Maurice served as president, and is open to the public Sunday-Thursday mornings.