While the rest of the philanthropy world seems to be in the tank, it appears that the Jewish world has found a new benefactor — and perhaps Messiah.
Guma Aguiar, a 30-something oil man, has announced two major gifts to Jewish non-profits over the past several weeks.
First came the announcement that he had given some $8 million to the pro-alliyah group Nefesh B’Nefesh over the past year. Then, last week, the March of the Living, which takes high school-aged Jews to Poland to see the sites of the Holocaust, announced that Aguiar had given it $500,000.
The announcements came with the standard fanfare that arrives with most similar announcements.
From Nefesh b’Nefesh::
"This substantial donation demonstrates how the remarkable commitment of Jews who choose to make Israel their home even in these challenging times, is echoed and fortified by the support of generous individuals like Guma," said Tony Gelbart, Co-Founder and Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, "these vital funds strengthen Israel’s human resources and ensure its future. The gift has already played a major role in helping Nefesh B’Nefesh bring a record number of newcomers to Israel in 2008."
Aguiar firmly believes in creating facts on the ground and views his commitment to Nefesh B’Nefesh as a vital strategic investment in Israel. "There is no greater priority for the Jewish people or Israel than strengthening immigration (Aliyah) from the US, Canada and the UK" stated Aguiar, who was named "Top Industry Executive of 2008" by Oil & Gas Investor Magazine, " Our goal of enabling 100,000 individuals to realize their Aliyah dream seems more realistic with every passing day, in light of the 18,000 who have moved to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh’s assistance thus far, and another 12,000 already ‘in the pipeline.’ My family is deeply moved to be a part of this incredible historic process."
"Our tradition teaches us that when economic times are tough, giving to others for important causes is the most helpful thing to do," Aguiar added, "It is a profound honor for me to help fulfill what I consider a truly sacred task."
And from the March of the Living:
“On behalf of the thousands of people who will benefit from Mr. Aguiar’s generosity, we sincerely thank him,” said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, Chairman of the International MOL. “This support will enable us to forge ahead with our work of educating the next generation about the horrific realities of the Holocaust while effectively combating anti-Semitism and hate.”
The gift will support the organization’s scholarship funds and its educational opportunities. It will enable students without sufficient financial means to take part in this invaluable, life changing experience represented by participation in the March of the Living.
“It is urgent and vital for our youth to witness and understand the magnitude of the Holocaust firsthand and grasp the astonishing miracle of the rebirth of the State of Israel from the ashes of the Shoah,” said Aguiar. “I am extremely moved to be a part of the 2009 International March of the Living. This outstanding organization is on the forefront in enlightening the next generation both about our people’s history and heritage.”
“With the rising wave of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial spreading worldwide,” he continued, “the three kilometer March from Auschwitz to Birkenau will act as a powerful unifying experience helping to inspire the future leaders of the Jewish people.”
This could be the start of big things from Aguiar, the CEO of Leor Energy.
Aguiar apparently had never spoken with Nefesh officials before giving them his first gift. He simply walked into their Jerusalem offices last year and handed them a check for $5 million, according to Charley Levine, a spokesman acting on Aguiar’s behalf. That was followed by two more gifts, of $2 million and $1 million each, Levine told the Fundermentalist. (“Everyone looked around the room and said, ‘Let’s see if that check cashes,’” said one person close with the situation.)
Aguiar discovered huge natural gas reserves in Texas and made a fortune, Levine said, and now he wants to give back significantly to the Jewish people.
“He retired at 31 and is now actively exploring ways to put his money to work,” Levine said. “Parenthetically, I see this as a new model of post-financial crisis. Post Madoff. A new model of the Adelson type. Only he came through totally unscathed of anything over the past six months.”
Aguiar, who apparently didn’t come from much of a Jewish background but started learning about Judaism several years ago, could be an interesting character to watch.
The Orlando Sun Sentinel ran a story a few weeks ago in which Aguiar’s uncle, with whom he founded Leor Energy, accused his nephew of wanting to become the messaiah.
And he has become something of a star in the Orthodox world since his Nefesh gift was announced. The right-wing Israel National News has a video interview with Aguiar and the blog Daas Torah spills a lot of e-ink on him.
Those close to Aguiar insist that he does not think that he is the messiah and that his uncle was merely trying to slander his nephew over a business disagreement.
Rabbi Moishe Meir Lipszyc, the director of Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Lauderdale, has known Aguiar for five years, since Aguiar was just a 26-year-old tennis instructer. Aguiar has given Lipszyc’s organization about $1 million in gifts so far.
Aguiar came to Lipzyc after Aguiar’s grandmother died, and knew nothing about Judaism at the time.
“He gives tzedaka to no end. He attributes his whole success to God. He did not grow up frum, did not grow up religious,” Lipzyc said. “The man is a person that loves other human beings. This talk about the mashiach is so ludicrous. He wants to make the world a better place to help bring the mashiach.”