In Los Angeles, Milken Known More for Munificence Than Maleasance
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In Los Angeles, Milken Known More for Munificence Than Maleasance

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Michael Milken, the junk-bond wizard who was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison, is judged in his hometown more by his good deeds than by his felonies.

Milken was born and still resides in the suburban San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, which has benefited greatly from his wealth. Through his three charitable family foundations, he has been the largest benefactor of the city’s Jewish institutions.

Up-to-date figures on the capital and disbursements of his foundations are hard to come by, but by the end of 1987 they had totaled close to $100 million to some 200 different programs, with $183 million remaining in assets.

During the past three years, Milken has actually stepped up his rate of giving. It is estimated that currently more than 500 programs, about half in the field of education, are recipients of his largess.

No more than 25 percent of all grants have gone to Jewish institutions or programs, but even that fraction is enough to rank Milken as the community’s No. 1 giver.

The major beneficiaries are the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, which received $5 million in one grant alone to erect the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, named for Milken’s father.

Next in line is Stephen Wise Temple, which has received grants in the millions of dollars. Milken, his brother Lowell, and their families are long-time members of the Reform congregation. Their children attended its day school, and , until his conviction, Michael Milken frequently showed up as a volunteer math teacher.


Other large recipients include the United Jewish Fund, the University of Judaism and Valley Beth Shalom Temple (both Conservative institutions) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust studies. In a typical gesture, Milken secretly purchased, for $165,000, a set of letters written by Anne Frank for the Wiesenthal Center’s planned Museum of Tolerance.

Lesser but still substantial sums have gone to the American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Hebrew Union College, Jewish old-age homes and Jewish day schools.

There is no complete inventory of Israeli programs aided by Milken, but according to Metukah Benjamin, the Wise Temple educational director and a good friend of the Milkens, the list is substantial.

Included are three schools and a teacher-incentive program in the West Bank settlement of Ariel; science and computer labs in Druse villages; and the Gesher educational center, designed to bridge religious differences within Israel.

There is a Milken Wing at the Assaf Harofeh hospital, as well as major funding for the Children’s Medical Center, the ILAN sports center for the disabled, Everyman’s University in Tel Aviv and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority.

When Milken was first indicted on securities fraud charges, there was considerable concern that the government might freeze the millions of dollars received by educational and charitable groups, on the grounds that Milken’s money was obtained illegally. Apparently these fears have proved unfounded.

In contrast to many large Jewish givers, Milken has generally kept a low profile, has lived unostentatiously and has largely shunned personal publicity. His charities for various programs are customarily acknowledged merely by a line in small print, “Funded by the Milken Family Foundations.”

Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Wise Temple some months ago spoke for most beneficiaries when he described Michael and Lowell Milken, the wealthiest congregants in his affluent congregation, as “very modest people, who are loyal to their friends and deeply concerned with Jewish education. They really are good Jewish boys.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund