By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Theodore F. Perlman remembers his mother as the first feminist in the Jewish organizational world. She was the national founder in 1944 of B’nai B’rith Girls, a division of BBYO, now called BBG since its split from B’nai B’rith International.
Anita M. Perlman exhibited leadership, community involvement and philanthropy throughout her extraordinary life. So it was not surprising that Ted Perlman, a Chicago industrialist and philanthropist, and his wife Harriette, would give a gift to BBYO International in his mother’s memory. What is remarkable is the size of that donation: $25 million. It is one of the largest single commitments to a youth-serving organization in modern history, according to BBYO officials.
The gift will provide unprecedented resources to train young women and teens through the launch of the Anita M. Perlman Women’s Leadership Initiative. “My mother had the foresight to know, even decades ago, the capabilities of young women and their desire to move into positions of leadership,” Perlman said. “It is an honor to support her vision in the twenty-first century.”
“Ted and Harriette have made an extraordinary gesture in honor of an extraordinary woman,” said Matthew Grossman, Chief Executive Officer of BBYO. “Anita gave life to a movement of powerful young Jewish women and this initiative will enable us tohonor her by impacting the lives of others.”
“One of our objectives is to support continuity in the Jewish faith,” Perlman said. “We believe BBYO is one of the bastions of that direction. It has a pluralistic view of Judaism. It doesn’t favor one area of Judaism over another.”
Perlman, who founded The HAVI Group, a supply chain management, packaging and logistics firm, 40 years ago, has received the Anti-Defamation League of Chicago’s “Community Leadership Award” and the “Weizmann Leadership Award” from the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science. His philanthropic career includes serving on the Board of Trustees for Ronald McDonald’s House Charities; Board of Directors of the Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago; Vice-Chairman of B’nai B’rith Beber Camp; Board Member of BBYO, Inc., and President of The Perlman Family Foundation.
His family gift coincides with the 75th anniversary of BBG. According to Noga Hurwitz, the Anita M. Perlman International N’siah, the teen leader elected as president by thousands of her peers internationally, “the gift reaffirms the value BBYO has placed on leadership for both women and men. Ted’s mother did have the vision that women will lead and BBYO would offer access and the environment to develop as Jewish female leaders.”
Encouraging young adults who are some of the 400,000 alumni to come back and lead the younger high schoolers is an aim of the gift, Perlman said. “The idea is to combine the idea of Jewishness as fun and an understanding of the world around them. It will lead them to be fuller participants with their friends, their chapters and the community as a whole.”
The gift was announced at the BBYO international Convention in Denver. About 5,500 teens and adults attended.
Debbie Shemony, vice president of marketing for BBYO, said the organization is still working out the details of how the gift will be used. Most will go to leadership training, scholarships and bringing in speakers, she said.
Meanwhile BBYO continues to grow with over 22,000 members in North America and a presence in 50 countries. “We’re seeing growth year after year,” Shemony said. She sees as the reason the fact that BBYO is the only pluralistic Jewish organization so there are many ways to connect to Judaism. “They have the opportunity to behave as leaders, plan programs and community service and conduct outreach.”