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Charles and Diane Karp: A Heritage of Giving

A Conversation on Family, Philanthropy, and Tikkun Olam
Kathleen M. Ron

"One of the greatest moments in my life was the moment that Diane and I decided to do this," said Charles Karp, relaxing with his wife Diane on a Friday morning, in the kitchen of their Newport Beach home.  "Besides marrying Diane and watching the birth of my kids, nothing has made me feel better." 

Charles and Diane Karp have set a standard for our community in making the largest-ever cash investment by an individual or family in Jewish Federation's 42-year history.  [A donation of land, then valued at $3.5 million, by the Fainbarg and Feuerstein famlies for Federation's former campus in Costa Mesa, remains the largest-ever total investment in Jewish Federation history.]

The Karps have shown great care and creativity in choosing to direct their philanthropy to projects ranging from camperships for children to leadership training for adults.  Through this investment, they are providing pacesetting support to programs supported or sponsored by Federation, as well as other nonprofits in the wider community. 

613 Ways to Build Community

The largest portion of the Karps’ commitment over the next few years will benefit the Generations Fund and the Connect 2 Community Initiatives of Jewish Federation.  The grant names the Women’s Philanthropy division; partially sponsors the Federation’s forthcoming SkillsetNPOtm training program for Jewish non-profit organization lay leadership; supports the Ruth Feuerstein Scholarship Fund for Our Jewish Future; underpins counseling and emergency aid programs of Jewish Family Service, senior assisted living at Heritage Pointe, the building fund of the North Orange County Chabad Center, and a Jewish free loan fund. 

A new challenge grant project, the Charles and Diane Karp Camperships, will make Jewish camping scholarships available to hundreds of Jewish children of all ages.  “When we learned that so many kids need help to attend a Jewish summer camp,” said Diane, “we were very interested in giving in a way that we could double or even triple the amount.  So the money we’re giving for camperships is a challenge grant.” 

An additional challenge grant will provide major support to The Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school in Huntington Beach that houses the Karp Early Childhood Center.  The Hebrew Academy is also a longtime Community Partner of Jewish Federation, and a recipient of the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award from the United States government, considered to be the highest honor an American school can achieve.  “Hebrew Academy has always been a pet project of ours,” said Charles.  Why, we asked.  Diane answered, “Their values and ideals speak to us.  Rabbi Newman is deeply inspirational – a great teacher and a great leader.  His leadership has made the difference.  No one falls by the wayside, and it’s a very nurturing school.”  Several years ago, the Academy asked the Karps to head a campaign to create a preschool, which subsequently was named in recognition of their support and leadership.  “When you see the kids in the schoolyard, marching and saying ‘I’m proud to be Jewish,’ well, without a doubt, it is awe-inspiring.” 

The remainder of the Karp commitment will be allocated through Jewish Federation to Hoag Hospital, the Orange County Rescue Mission, Doctors Without Borders, Parkinson’s disease research, and other projects chosen by the family.  All of the grants will be made through Jewish Federation.

Shortly after making their decision, Charles says, “I had a kind of ‘confirmation from above’ that we’d done the right thing at the right time.  My stockbroker called to tell me the exact dollar value of the shares I’d sold to fund this gift.  Diane and I knew it would be upwards of $500,000.  When my stockbroker told me the number, I nearly fainted.  He said to me, ‘It’s $613,000.’  That’s right.  613.  The number of mitzvot in the Torah.  When I woke up the following morning, I looked at the clock.  It was 6:13.  A kind of spiritual coincidence.”  

A Pride of Lions

Topping off an extraordinary range of commitments, Diane Karp had a special idea in mind, as a surprise to their daughters Elizabeth and Stephanie, residents of Tulsa and Las Vegas, respectively.  “My daughters are amazing women; they make my heart sing,” Diane kvelled.  “They’re active, they’re involved in Jewish life in their communities.  You never know, as a parent, if your kids really learn the lessons you try to teach them about tzedakah and tikkun olam, as they’re growing up.  Then they become adults, in a situation to be able to give back something.”  Charles continued, “When our older daughter said she would be chairing Super Sunday in Tulsa, our jaws dropped.  We were surprised, but in a very very happy way, that she made the choice to step up as a Federation leader in her community.  When our younger daughter said she was getting involved in Federation Young Leadership Division, we had the same reaction.  So I guess the lessons have ‘taken’.” 

Diane continued, “I had been thinking, what can I do that will be special and meaningful for our daughters.  I had an epiphany – making them Lions of Judah in their communities would give them something to remember, something in which they’ll take pride and pass down to their children.  I cannot describe how proud I am and how much I appreciate that what they were taught at home is being lived in their communities.”  And so, at an August garden luncheon surrounded by close friends, Stephanie and Elizabeth were “pinned” as Lions by their proud mom as Charles looked on with palpable pride and joy.  “Diane will take care of their commitment for five years,” added Charles.  “Then, they’re on their own.  They’re young, and it usually takes a few years before women are in a position to give at that level.  So we’re just giving them a head start.” 

“We’re Just a Couple of Federation Brats”

Both Charles and Diane have a long and distinguished history of Federation involvement, commitment and leadership.  Orange County residents for the last 12 years, they lived in Long Beach from 1978 until 1995.  During a Long Beach Federation Mission to Israel early on, said Charles, “I led a Yizkor service at Yad Vashem, and that was it.  They had me.  It was a heart-rending moment, one of many touching moments in Israel.  I have a picture of Diane holding an Ethiopian Israeli boy in her arms – another image from what was a life-changing trip.”  Not long after, Charles was elected Campaign Chair in Long Beach, and Diane became President of Women’s Division (as Women’s Philanthropy was then known). 

Diane subsequently became President of the Federation, Western Region UJA Chair (a position which Charles also held in a different year), and served on the national Women’s Division Board for 10 years.  Charles proudly noted, “There was no Women’s Division in my mother’s time – just temple sisterhood.  In those days, there were very few opportunities for women to lead.  So when Diane was asked to be President in Long Beach, I backed her so she could do her Federation work and still spend quality time with the kids.  I think Diane is a great leader, and I think she could have been national chair.  But with all the travel, being away too much, she felt it would be too much of a sacrifice for the family.  She felt her giving was more important at home.  And I certainly couldn’t argue about that.”

We asked about their move to Newport Beach.  Charles responded, with a smile, “I think they posted someone at the border!  They saw us coming.”  Diane added, “We moved after our kids were grown up.  I was still President in Long Beach, and couldn’t commit to anything locally at the beginning.  We loved our time in Long Beach, but it had been our dream for many years to move to Newport Beach.”  Continued Charles, “I became Major Gifts Chair the first year, then Campaign Chair, and then I was President of the Board for several years (1999-2002).  Diane has been active all along – I think she got involved in Federation even before I did.  We’re just a couple of Federation brats!”

Family Philanthropy – It’s a Generation Thing

“I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, a small community,” said Charles.  “Every year, Federation (then known as UJA) published a little blue book with an alphabetical list of community members AND the amounts they gave.  The anonymous gifts were alphabetical as well, so even the anonymouses couldn’t really be anonymous.  We knew who was who and who gave what, or didn’t.  One weekend night, I was headed out on a date.  My father asked with whom.  I named a local Jewish girl, and he said “Why’re you going out with her?  Her father doesn’t give to UJA!”  That’s how it was – even my dates were rated according to the family’s involvement in Federation.”

The lessons passed from parents to son, and on to daughters.  Charles continued, “My daughter Stephanie has a birthday in January.  When she was a child, we’d celebrate early, over the December holidays, with her grandmother and all the aunts and uncles.  Each year, as we were leaving, my mother would give Stephanie an envelope.  I remember that on her 8th birthday, she gets the envelope, opens it, and says ‘Dad!  Grandma just gave me $250 – do I owe anything on my pledge?’  Can you imagine?  Eight years old!  I was glad I could answer, ‘nope!’.  She’d paid her pledge already.  I insisted that my kids make a Federation pledge, and that they’d pay it themselves.  They babysat to earn money.  Whatever they earned, or received for birthdays, the first thing they did was to pay their commitment to Federation.  Their pledges as children might have been $25 a year or even as much as $100.  But they had to do it themselves.  A lot of kids in Orange County today can do that easily - $25 a year – but they need to know the importance of giving to the community.  That’s why I am such a fan of Family Philanthropy.”

The Family Philanthropy Venture Fund of Jewish Federation came into being in 2006 under the leadership of attorney Sam Wyman and a core group of his friends, parents of young children.  One of the families is that of Charles’ business protégé, Michael Stoll.  “Michael ran the idea past me, when it was first being brainstormed.  I loved it.  I said to him, ‘Michael, I think this is going to be one of the strongest legs on which our future community can stand.’  All these new people getting involved and demonstrating their commitment.  And, most importantly, teaching their children about tzedakah from a very early age.  Getting them involved in making decisions and investing their pennies and dollars in the community.”

It is the Karps’ dream that the children of our community will be inspired not only to give, but to step up and take the reins of leadership.  Having grown up in a small community where many in his parents’ generation found it difficult to break into leadership circles, Charles noted the difference in Orange County.  “Look what has been done here in just one generation.  And that has come from so many people stepping up in their own way to create something new.  We’re very fortunate that we have Henry Samueli, that Donald Bren had a chunk of land to sell, that Shalom came in as director.  And that others came forward to build this great campus, people like Ralph Stern.  I remember that Mike Lefkowitz had a hand-drawn plan, just a rough idea of what this campus would be.  It’s hard to sell a project with just a sketch, but I knew we had a success when I saw people arguing over the same naming opportunities.  I think we were the first gift solicited for the new building.  Diane and I named the Board Room.”

We spoke about their philanthropy, through this new Federation investment, to causes that touch a wider population, locally and nationally.  “Jim Palmer is doing excellent work at the Orange County Rescue Mission,” said Charles. “We’ve spent some time learning about what they do, and we just couldn’t bear the thought that there are kids living in motels, living in their families’ cars.  Their parents are working people, but they just can’t earn enough to pay the rent.  OCRM is doing a great deal to help the working poor to get a foothold in life.”

A chance meeting in an airport led to their grant to Doctors Without Borders.  “We were en route to Hong Kong,” said Diane.  “We ran into a friend of my brother, a physician who was en route overseas to be a DWB volunteer.  He explained to us what he was doing, and we were awestruck.  Volunteers like him go all over the world, doing surgery for children and adults with orthopedic issues and physical deformities -- things from which they would otherwise never have relief.  DWB gives them a chance.”

About their grants to Hoag Hospital, and for Parkinson’s disease research, Charles spoke movingly about his personal battle with Parkinson’s, the quality of care he has received at Hoag, and the support that is necessary.  “We are still discussing whether our grant to Hoag will be for a piece of equipment or for medical research, but in truth, when you’re talking about a hospital, there is no bad way to give.  Everything is needed.”

Welcoming Shabbat, Looking Forward

Our conversation paused for a moment as Charles answered the doorbell, welcoming a deliveryman with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers.  What’s the occasion, I inquired.  “I send my wife flowers every Shabbos,” said Charles with a broad smile.

A beaming Diane brought us back to the topic of the moment, saying “What makes me feel so emotional, so good about this investment is that we can see our dollars working, and we’re still here.  It’s not being bequeathed to the community after we’re gone.  We can be actively involved in what our money will do for the children, the schools and the organizations.”  I expressed once again the Federation’s deep gratitude for their outstanding commitment.  Diane responded, “Well, I really want to say thank you to the Federation, and to the community, for giving Charles and me this opportunity.  We are so grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference.”

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To contribute to the Charles and Diane Karp Camperships Matching Fund, click here.

To make a matching gift to the Karp Fund for The Hebrew Academy, click here.