A Holocaust refugee, Jim Joseph emigrated with his parents from Austria as a small child in 1938. He grew up in New York and Los Angeles, and after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earning an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he entered the real estate business, buying commercial property on the West Coast, including in what would become Silicon Valley.
In 1960 he founded the Interland Corporation which, according to its website, develops, constructs, operates and acquires executive office parks and major apartment complexes in the western United States.
In the 1980s, Joseph, who identified as Orthodox, established a charitable trust, a much smaller, incarnation of the Jim Joseph Foundation. Al Levitt, an attorney who is the president of the foundation and was a longtime personal friend of Joseph, says the philanthropist was “very concerned about the survival of the Jewish community in the U.S. in the long run.” A supporter of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (a day school advocacy group established in 1997), Joseph was initially most passionate about supporting day schools.
However, according to Levitt, in the last five years before his death Joseph “began to realize that although day schools are important, they only affect a small portion of Jewish youngsters” and became increasingly interested in Birthright Israel and Jewish summer camps.
According to Levitt, shortly before his death Joseph emphasized that he wanted to help educate “all Jewish children,” not just those enrolled in day schools and that he wanted to “find them where they are.”
Divorced and the father of three grown children, Joseph left the bulk of his estate to the foundation. While Joseph’s daughter, Dvora, who works as an AIDS counselor in Mozambique, serves on the board, the philanthropist “was very adamant that he did not want his family to control the foundation, and the articles and bylaws firmly establish that,” Levitt says.
In addition to Levitt and Dvora Joseph, the lay leaders running the foundation (and its staff of 13) are Phyllis Cook, the former executive director of San Francisco’s Jewish Community Endowment Fund; Susan Folkman, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at University of California, San Francisco; Jack Slomovic, a Los Angeles real estate developer who is Joseph’s brother-in-law; and Jerome Somers, a Boston labor lawyer who is a former chair of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations.