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The philanthropist who wants to give away his wealth

Mikhail Fridman and Matthew Bronfman were guests of honour at the launch of Chabad Belgravia's new Living Torah programme

    Audience at the launch of the new Living Torah programme
    Audience at the launch of the new Living Torah programme

    The Ukranian-born billionaire Mikhail Fridman plans to give away all his wealth to charity during his lifetime.

    And at an event in London, he explained why. “I firmly believe if I will give my money to the kids, it will destroy their life.”

    As a parent, he had given his children “a lot of knowledge and values which they could bring to their future life” by investing in their education, he said.

    “It’s much better for them to live their own life, to live their own destiny, to achieve their own achievements.”

    In contrast, some children from wealthy families had been “mentally dismantled” by their money “because they don’t know what is the real value of their life”.

    Mr Fridman co-founded the Russian Jewish Congress and also the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which supports Jewish activities for Russian-speaking expats across the world and diaspora projects more widely, including the PJ Library for children and Moishe House for young adults in the UK.

    Last Thursday he was one of the speakers at the launch of Living Torah, an educational initiative of Chabad Belgravia, one of London’s most poly-glot communities. At a reception beforehand, Russian, French and Hebrew were among the languages being spoken among guests, who included a large contingent of those in the mid-20s to 40s age group.

    His fellow speaker was Matthew Bronfman, chair of the American Jewish Committee’s trustees and son of one of North America’s most famous Jewish philanthropists, the late Edgar Bronfman. 

    An investor too in Jewish education, he chairs the steering committee of Limmud FSU, which holds events for Russian-speaking Jews around the diaspora, including one of the biggest international Limmud conferences in Moscow.

    Seeing “the joy and the passion and the learning that goes on and the connectivity between previously unaffiliated Jews” at such events touches hearts, Mr Bronfman said.

    Emphasising the need to promote inter-Jewish harmony, he observed: “We are a divided people… There is too much judgmentalism, not enough tolerance in today’s Jewish life.”

    Mr Fridman argued that many young Jews, growing up without the religious background of previous generations, needed a rationale to remain Jewish in a world inviting them to be equal members of the societies in which they lived.

    Advocating a more philosophical approach to Jewish education, he suggested the younger generation needed to learn the principal ideas and values of Judaism before details of ritual observance.

    In response, Chabad Belgravia’s Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson said that ritual should be “infused with the philosophical” if it were not to become mechanical routine. “A body without a soul is a corpse,” he said. “A soul without a body is a ghost.”
     

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