Leona Helmsley trust not so mean to Israel

Over at the New York Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt reports on the $90 million that the Leona and Harry Helmsley Trust Fund has spent on Israel causes. And we’re not talking dog biscuits.

Fortunately for the State of Israel, Mrs. Helmsley chose Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, 69, a local Jewish attorney who worked closely with her the last 18 years of her life, to be one of the four trustees who now oversee that major trust. Frankel, who is married to an Israeli and has visited Israel frequently since he was a teenager, is proud to say that he has a passion for the Jewish state.

As a result, in the first four years of the trust’s grant making, some $90 million has gone to a range of humanitarian — not political — projects in Israel, from health care and preparedness to scientific research to Birthright Israel.

The latest project: The Jerusalem Press Center, a state-of-the-art facility and restaurant in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.

The center is intended to serve as an attractive alternative to the American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem, a longtime favorite gathering place for the foreign press based in Israel.

The Helmsley Trust Fund, through the Jerusalem Foundation, was the major benefactor of the new press center, with a $2.8 million grant. As Frankel explained in his remarks that evening, “Our hope is that with the opening of the club’s doors, the press will flock here, and will accurately report” on the country and its people.

He said the trust had been looking to support “a truth machine — some way to let the world see, accurately, the truth about Israel — what it is, what it is not, how remarkable its people are, what are its considerable challenges and how does it not only surmount those challenges but flourish.”

The center is not designed to propagandize for Israel, Frankel asserted, but if it “fulfills its purpose — and it will — we may be graced with reading and hearing from people who actually know what they are talking about.”

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Ami Eden is JTA’s CEO and editor in chief, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the agency’s operations, including editorial, business, marketing and fundraising. Before joining JTA in the summer of 2007, he served as executive editor of the Forward newspaper and the founding editor of the Jewish Daily Forward Web site. He also worked as an editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.