Sir Isaac Wolfson, Dead at 93, Remembered for His Magnanimity
Menu JTA Search

Sir Isaac Wolfson, Dead at 93, Remembered for His Magnanimity

Download PDF for this date

Funeral services were to be held Tuesday in Rehovot for Sir Isaac Wolfson, a prominent British Jewish philanthropist who died at his home there June 20 at the age of 93.

Wolfson, who also had a home in London, had been inactive due to illness and old age for the past several years. He lived to see his name grace institutes throughout Israel.

Wolfson, who owned Great Universal Stores, a vast retail empire in Great Britain, was one of Britain’s richest men and best-known philanthropists. He contributed to Jewish, Israeli and British causes with great magnanimity through the Wolf-son Foundation, which he founded in 1955.

He is believed to have given about $200 million to various causes.

Wolfson also donated his personal service to Israel and to British Jewry. He was leader of the Joint Israel Appeal for many years and was president of the United Synagogue from 1962 to 1973.

He was made a baronet in 1962.

Wolfson was born Sept. 17, 1897, in Glasgow, Scotland, one of 11 children of Solomon and Necha Wolfson, who were Orthodox Jews. His mother was an immigrant from Bialystok, Russia.

Wolfson began his commercial life in his father Solomon’s store, where he made cabinetry and picture frames. One of his first jobs was selling frames at 5 shillings per week.

His father once said, “I am not much good at business, but I have a son who is a financial genius.” Isaac was then 9 years old.

Wolfson became managing director of Great Universal Stores in 1932 and by 1946 was chairman of the company, a title he held for 38 years.

The business swelled, acquiring such companies as Burberry’s, Waring’s, Jay’s, Hope Brothers and Global Tours.


He established the Wolfson Foundation to benefit health, education and youth activities in the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth.

He laid the foundation stone for the replacement of London’s Central Synagogue, which was destroyed in the bombing of London during World War II, and renamed the Bayswater Jewish Schools in London as the Solomon Wolfson Schools.

Wolfson joined Zionist endeavors in 1949 at a dinner for the Joint Palestine Appeal, forerunner of the Joint Israel Appeal. Admitting he had not taken an active part earlier, he said, “I must now throw myself wholeheartedly into the ranks of the builders of the Jewish state.”

In Israel, some of the most famous landmarks associated with Sir Isaac are Heichal Shlomo, in Jerusalem, the seat of the Chief Rabbinate, named for his father; and the nearby Great Synagogue built in the early 1980s.

Near the Knesset stands Kiryat Wolfson, one of his several real estate projects in the country.

A special love of Sir Isaac was the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. The biology institute there is named for him.

Wolfson served on the boards of numerous institutions in Britain and the United States.

He won the Einstein Award for Philanthropy in 1967 and the Lehmann Award in 1968.

(The Jewish Chronicle of London contributed to this report.)

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