Leaving Our World a Better Place: Remembering Bruce Whizin
The Jewish people and Israel have lost one of their greatest admirers and supporters, who passed away at the age of 91.
“How about changing the slogan to ‘Repairing - Learning - Celebration’? We want it to be as positive as possible,” Bruce said to me, in shorts, barefoot, in his arm chair and surrounded by colorful folk art.
“I love it,” I replied, and updated our motto for Jewish Earth Week, on March 17, 2015.
Thankfully, I saved those notes from one of my meetings with the influential and unconventional Jewish philanthropist, Bruce Fabian Whizin Z”L, who passed away on July 9th at the age of 91.
Unconventional Orthodox Rabbi Meets Unconventional Philanthropist
Rob Eshman had suggested I reach out to Bruce when I asked if he had ideas on who might be interested in funding our Jewlicious Festival, an annual three-day gathering of 500+ of Jewish college students in Long Beach. "He's a character, but you can deal, if anyone can."
I learned listening to the moving tributes his children and grandchildren gave at his funeral, that Bruce always was Bruce, and unconcerned with what anyone thought of him. He was unconstrained by convention in dress and ideas. He had several masters degrees and saw the world through simultaneously an idealistic and pragmatic lens.
Doing some research I learned that Bruce had gone to CSUN. I reached out to Judy Alban who was running CSUN Hillel, and got his phone number. I left Bruce a phone message, and he called me back.
Entering Bruce’s home I felt instantly relaxed and happy. I had grown up around a lot of art. Bruce’s home was filled with art — sculptures, masks, paintings, wall hangings and prints. I’m sure everyone had a story. Bruce was a gracious and welcoming host. The first time we met, we had an hours long conversation about anthropology, the future of the Jewish community, his philanthropy, the restaurants, his parents, his strong love and views on Israel, physiology, Biblio drama, and his friend Rabbi Steven Robbins.
When I pitched him on supporting twenty-five students to attend the Jewlicious Festival, he said yes, AND… That was my first Bruce life lesson. To this day, every time I find myself saying the word “but”, I try to stop myself and say “and”. Bruce lovingly scolded me the first time we met. “Yonah, ‘But’ is a limiting word. ‘And’ is an expansive word. We must be expansive…”
Changing the World One Tu B'Shvat Seder at a Time
Thanks to Bruce, and his passion and love for Tikkun Olam, Jewish students and Israel, we started Jewish Earth Week, a project to have Tu B’Shvat Seders on as many college campuses as possible every year. We provided funds, a campus guide, and PDF of a Tu B’Shvat Seder I wrote when serving as rabbi for Hillel at CSU Long Beach.
Every year, together with partners around the world, we continue to organize and support college student seders thanks to the support of the Whizin Center for the Jewish Future.
Bruce Fabian Whizin left an incredible legacy, one that deserves a book. He passed on his passion for making our world a better place to his children and grandchildren. He supported many different organizations, one of the most diverse portfolios of any modern Jewish philanthropistI ever had the privilege to work with. The Jewish people and Israel lost one of its greatest admirers and supporters.
AND Bruce, may his memory be for blessings, left our world a better place than he found it.