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The Roslyn and Joseph Baim Family Foundation:
A Lifetime of Giving


A Conversation with Joe Baim

 

by Kathleen M. Ron
June 2009

 

Sit down for a conversation with any community leader to talk about their philanthropy, and inevitably the discussion will focus not on dollars and cents, but rather on family, friends, colleagues and leaders – the people who influence one’s life and one’s giving.  So it was, when I sat down recently to talk with Joe Baim about his pacesetting support of Jewish Federation.  Over the past 16 years, Joe has advanced our community through The Roslyn and Joseph Baim Family Foundation, an entity he established with his beloved late wife, Roz, and continues to operate today with his fiancée Barbara Adler.

 

Since 1993, The Roslyn and Joseph Baim Family Foundation has been a mainstay of Federation, with over $674,000 in support of the Generations Fund (formerly known as the Annual Campaign), which underpins a wide range of Jewish community projects and services.  A portion of this support has underwritten Federation E-News from April 2007 through May 2009.  The Foundation has also supported special campaigns for Israel and other emergency needs.  Roz Baim was a Lion of Judah in her lifetime, and Joe has generously sustained Roz’s Lion gift in the years since her passing.  Barbara Adler became a Lion of Judah in 2006, a proud tradition she continues to this day.

 

The Federation family knows Joe as a Past President, longtime Board member, current Co-Chair of Endowments, and generous supporter.  But that’s only part of the picture.  He is father to son Keith and daughter Jill, and grandfather to Lisa and Jason.  A practicing attorney throughout his career, he was a member of the American, Illinois, California and Los Angeles Bar Associations.  He has also been a haircare products entrepreneur and a sushi restaurant owner, a collector of art and artifacts from his travels the world over, and a builder of community institutions – Federation, University Synagogue, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, The Wellness Community of Orange County and Israel Up Close, among others -- through his leadership, vision and fundraising expertise. 

 

You were born in Chicago – what drew you to California?

 

I got a taste of the warm weather out west, while studying for a degree in marketing and advertising at the University of Arizona.  After finishing law school [at DePaul University] back in Chicago, I started working there with my brother’s law firm.  One day, my mother said “you know, you ought to take the California Bar Exam so that when you retire, you can practice law in California.”  And my response was “if I retire, why do I have to practice law?”  But it got me thinking.  So I came out and took the Bar Exam.  They all expected me to come back to Chicago afterward, but I stayed and opened a law office in Los Angeles.  That’s what people did in those days, in the 50s.  You hung out your shingle and went to work.  Much of my early practice was domestic relations and personal injury with some corporate work and injunctive relief. 

 

How did you meet your wife Roz [Roslyn Beim Baim, z”l, who passed away on January 13, 2005]?

 

As a newcomer to LA in the late 50s, I joined Temple Beth Am, a conservative congregation on La Cienega.  I got active in the temple, and it was a great way to meet people and build business contacts.  In those days, we didn’t call it “networking” but that’s what it was.  One of the people with whom I networked was Roz’s Uncle Sol – I didn’t know her at the time.  He was a manufacturer of plastic products in the stationery field, and I wanted to represent him.  He introduced us.  I took Roz out on a blind date on June 3rd, asked her to marry me on July 4th, and we were married on August 30th, 1957.  We lived in Los Angeles, moved to Sherman Oaks in 1960, and then to Laguna Beach in July 1993 when I retired. 

 

You have often said that your philanthropy really began with Roz.  Can you tell us more about that?

 

First of all, we were fortunate to have been blessed with the ability to give, and the motivation to give.  Roz and I would sit down together and write contribution checks in November or December each year.  We did this every year we were married, until December 2004, the month before she passed away.  We would go down the list of charities we cared about, and she would say “let’s give this one a little more” or “let’s add this one”.  She made up the list.  It wasn’t about organizations where she was on committees or boards.  It was all about answering needs.  Eventually, some 50 organizations were on the list, principally in the areas of health and education, and of course Jewish life.  We were members of Valley Beth Shalom since 1965, and I’m still a member there; I’m also a member of Congregation B’nai Israel and University Synagogue in Orange County.  [Click here to view the list of organizations the Baim Family Foundation has supported.] 

 

As you know, for the past seven years, our Foundation has been honored to underwrite Shabbat Alive, the monthly Friday night musical service, as well as the monthly speaker at University Synagogue.  The Foundation has also been privileged to fund the musicians during University’s High Holiday Services that have added so much joy and warmth to the holy days.

 

Here in your oceanfront home, you are surrounded by art of all kinds -- has this been a lifelong passion?

 

You know, Roz was very creative.  She had been a comparison shopper for a major department store back east (her family was originally from New Jersey) and she eventually became fashion advertising manager for Robinson’s department store in LA.  By the way, she was a very gifted writer, too -- she edited my trial closing arguments for years.  I exercised my creativity through my business, but also took some metal sculpture classes for a few years.  And wherever we traveled, we would find pieces that we liked.  By famous artists and not-so-famous ones.  We bought what we liked, and it’s still here.  I haven’t really retired anything.  We also have an unusual collection of 29 Hanukkah menorahs:  28 that we enjoy displaying and one that we light each night of the holiday. 

 

It’s interesting to note the romantic theme that runs through your collection, as many of the works are couples.

 

People who have visited our home told Roz and me that there is a lot of love displayed in each room, as we actually have 64 couples of all shapes, positions, sizes and materials – bronzes, various woods, paintings, stainless steel, Lucite, crystal, stone, etc.  Roz and I collected the first 44, and Barbara and I have collected another 20.  And there’s space for more!

 

How did you and Barbara meet?

 

We met at Valley Beth Shalom in April of 2005, through mutual friends from my VBS havurah who encouraged me to attend a bereavement group there.   Barbara’s husband had passed away shortly after I lost Roz, so we were both in the same situation in life.  Over time, we became acquainted and learned that our extended families actually intertwined in many ways.  So although we didn’t know one another until we met at VBS, our respective circles have been circling one another for years.  Barbara has a wonderful mind for business, and I could not have done “The People vs. Abraham” without her.  She is a true partner in everything we do.  I have been truly blessed.  Many people go through life without finding true love.  I went through 48 short years after knowing Roz for only two months before we married.  And to have been blessed the second time with Barbara as a loving woman is indeed unbelievable.  My cup does run over.

 

Barbara and I will be doing the second Trial in our series at University Synagogue on February 21, 2010 – The People vs. Joseph’s Brothers: A Trial, with the same cast of players – the Honorable Joseph Wapner serving as Judge, UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky representing Joseph’s Brothers, former federal prosecutor Jonathan Shapiro representing the People, and Dr. Robert Wexler of American Jewish University as moderator of the panel discussion of rabbis. 

 

Through your support of the Generations Fund the past two years, you have underwritten Federation’s weekly E-News, for which we are deeply grateful.  Now the opportunity is available for someone new.  Would you like to share some perspectives on that?

 

I was very happy to be offered this naming opportunity, when Federation launched E-News in the spring of 2007.  I wanted to do something to memorialize Roz, and E-News was a tangible way to bring her name, and our Foundation, to the community.  Now, as I’m moving into other areas of philanthropy, I thought, why not give someone else the chance to have their company or foundation name on the masthead, or to name E-News as a memorial or tribute to a loved one?  It’s time for me to explore some new charitable ventures, and I’m happy to open the door and allow someone else this privilege. [To learn more about this naming opportunity, email Kathleen@jfoc.org or call Kathleen Ron at 949-435-3484, ext. 346.]

 

Let’s talk a bit about leadership – in addition to your business leadership, you have been a President of Federation, served on its Board in various capacities; you were an Organizing President of The Wellness Community; Board member for seven years of MAZON, a Board member of Israel Up Close and you’re very active with University Synagogue.  You know leadership from the for-profit and non-profit sides. Are there lessons you can share from the world of business, that impact on community work?

 

I like the fact that Federation has created SKILLSETnpo – getting people educated on how to lead.  The most important lesson I can share is to always remember to thank people, and in particular to do it personally.  When we were starting our haircare products company, we enlisted a salon owner from San Francisco in our distribution leadership team because she was not only an excellent hairstylist, she was great at motivating people.  Whenever she was introduced to someone she would always send a note to that person within two or three days.  She’d write it on the plane coming back from our out-of-state meetings and trade shows.  She was always in touch.  That impressed me. 

 

I used to tell my product distributors, when you go into a salon, the owner has just three questions in mind:  who are you, what are you selling, and what will it cost me.  In that order -- cost is last.  When you are introduced to someone new, the first two minutes are the most important time of contact with that person.  Within those first two minutes, the person is deciding whether or not to like you, and whether or not to do business with you.  It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product or promoting a nonprofit organization.  Studies have shown that this critical initial two-minute period is when the person makes up their mind. 

 

So I believe, if you want your meeting with a person to be memorable, follow up with a written note as quickly as you can.  Sure, you can use email today, and people might answer an email faster than a handwritten note.  But you can’t deny the feeling generated by a handwritten letter.  It may take the same amount of time to handwrite a few lines as it does to email.  But your recipient will feel more personally touched by the handwritten note.  When you give in this way to another person, you can make them a friend for life.  And then, you can motivate them, engage them, solicit them, gain their cooperation in whatever you’re doing.  It’s that personal contact -- writing, and saying thanks.  Nothing takes the place of being nice to someone.

 

I’ll leave you with one last story:  My law offices in LA were in a 12-story building on Wilshire.  I was the second tenant in that building, since February 1957.  The building manager was a fellow named Bill McDonough.  Some time in 1965, he developed cancer, and went to Chicago for treatment at Billings Hospital.  While he was away, I would call him every Friday, before I left the office to pick up Shabbat flowers on the way home.  We’d shoot the breeze on the phone for five minutes or so.  Bill recovered, and he came back to work.  One day he told me that the building owners were planning to sell the property.  “Would you like to handle the sale?” he asked me.  Now, the building owners had their own attorneys, and I’d never done any work for them.  “Do they know you’re here asking me this?” I inquired.  No, he said, but I will tell them.  I said to Bill, “This building is full of lawyers, why me?”  And he responded, “You’re the only one who called me.  I’ll always remember that.  Every Friday – you never missed a week.”  It never occurred to me that a simple call, being nice to a guy who was having cancer treatment 1,800 miles away, would ever lead to something. 

 

And the moral of the story is..?

 

Be nice to everyone.  You never know what’s coming out of left field in your direction.