In honor of Israel’s 70th birthday, the JT is highlighting six Baltimoreans whose advocacy has greatly impacted hundreds and thousands of Jews throughout the world. In the second of three installments, we profile a Baltimore oil tycoon who helped convince David Ben-Gurion to accept the U.N. plan to partition Palestine into the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel, and Jerold “Chuck” Hoffberger, former owner of the Orioles who helped plan the aliyah of 8,000 Ethiopian Jews.
Next week, in the final installment, we’ll profile living legends Shoshana Cardin, who negotiated the release of thousands of refuseniks from USSR; and Richard Pearlstone, a consistent presence with the Jewish Agency for Israel who is committed to promoting a “collective responsibility” amongst the Diaspora.
Jacob Blaustein was the son of oil tycoon Louis Blaustein. Together they founded American Oil Co. in 1910 when Blaustein was only 18. Throughout Blaustein’s impossibly lucrative career as a businessman and diplomat, he’s been credited with playing a vital role in the revival of downtown Baltimore, advising five United States presidents, convincing Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov to accept the human rights articles of the United Nations Charter and negotiating the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of the Holocaust.
However, Blaustein might best be remembered for his accord with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
In 1948, Blaustein is said to have helped convince Ben-Gurion to accept the UN’s plan to partition Palestine into the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel.
In 1950, Blaustein, who had only been elected the president of the American Jewish Committee a year prior, came to an agreement with Ben-Gurion that Jews living in the United States who chose not to make aliyah would continue to lobby and raise money for Israel, but would not be considered exiles.
“Jacob was a real patriot. He was a very pro-American individual,” said Arthur Roswell, husband of Blaustein’s daughter Betty. “Jacob, with the backing of the American Jewish Committee, felt that [demanding all American Jews to be citizens of Israel] might reduce the effectiveness of Americans to be Americans.”
Although he never identified as a Zionist, Blaustein’s impact can still be felt in Israel, even posthumously. In 1980, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation made a generous donation to Ben-Gurion University. The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, located on the Midreshet Ben-Gurion campus in the Negev desert, hosts internationally renowned programs in environmental physics, solar energy, water and waste-water resources, agriculture, biotechnology, desert ecology and desert architecture.
“He was the hardest working person I’ve ever met,” said Roswell, who along with Blaustein’s grandson, Dan Hirschhorn, described Blaustein as “formal,” recalling him wearing a jacket and tie on the weekends and at informal family gatherings.
Still, Hirschhorn says that despite his busy schedule and frequent traveling Blaustein, who died when his grandson was only 13, was a family man who took more of an interest in what his grandchildren were doing than discussing work.
“I can’t honestly say when I was that young I understood the roles he played,” said Hirschhorn. “I didn’t fully appreciate his accomplishments until I was a young adult, and frankly I’m still learning.”
Jerold “Chuck” Hoffberger
Any individual accomplishment on the resume of Jerold “Chuck” Hoffberger is impressive enough for one person’s lifetime. Owner of the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years and owner of the National Brewing Company for 28 years are among his accolades.
Add to that list a stint as chairman of the board of governors for the Jewish Agency for Israel, during which Hoffberger was a part of meetings to plan Operation Moses, a rescue mission that successfully brought some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and his story becomes nearly inconceivable.
“He wasn’t a guy who talked about his work much. He was much more interested in our pedestrian lives,” said Hoffberger’s son, Peter. “It wasn’t at all that he was this tight-lipped guy who kept his cards close to his vest, he was just more interested in what we had to say.”
Hoffberger’s lack of disclosure wasn’t exclusive to clandestine, potentially dangerous missions like Operation Moses. Peter remembers the way he learned of his father’s first, and arguably greatest accomplishment as the owner of the Orioles, the signing of Frank Robinson.
“I don’t think I knew about it until I was walking across the hall at Park School and saw Frank Robinson walk in with his kid,” said Peter, barely able to control his laughter.
When asked at what point his father became involved in philanthropy, Peter replied, “Birth.”
“His grandparents were exceedingly generous people,” Peter said. “They were really planning to address a systemic social concern and eliminate it.”
To end his phone interview with JT, Peter shared an anecdote to illustrate his father’s ability to be a masterful negotiator, while also not taking himself too seriously.
Shortly after Hoffberger’s death in 1999, the family went through one of his vaults, which contained a manila envelope with six documents. Although the majority of them Peter could not recall, two will forever stand out in his mind.
“One document was the owner’s manual for his Casablanca overhead fan; the other was an advance copy of the Camp David Peace Accord, the body of which he had sought to influence at the pleasure of President Carter,” Peter said, chuckling in disbelief. “On the Accord was a note in my father’s handwriting, instructing his secretary to file it away and pull it out in ten years so they could see ‘how it was holding up.’”