Legacy of Giving

Elaine Mintzes at home. (David Stuck photo)

Despite being personable and talkative, there’s one thing that Elaine Mintzes doesn’t want to talk about: Elaine Mintzes. What she really wants to talk about instead is her late husband, Alvin S. Mintzes, and the recent honorarium she arranged so that his legacy and their good works together over the past six decades will never be forgotten.

That honorarium — the renaming of the former Hatzalah of Baltimore chapter to the Alvin S. Mintzes Hatzalah of Baltimore — not only includes funds to help keep the all-volunteer independent ambulance service organization going, but also symbolizes Alvin’s own caring and regard for the Baltimore community in which he lived and worked for so many years.

Hatzalah, headquartered in the 2900 block of Taney Road in Northwest Baltimore, was founded 10 years ago and operates around the clock, with about 30 volunteer paramedics and EMTs and 15 dispatchers, handling more than 1,000 calls a year in Northwest Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Elaine Mintzes has nothing but praise for the organization and its volunteers who provided such caring service to her and her husband through multiple medical emergencies.

“We really didn’t know much about Hatzalah. It’s the best-kept secret of which we became aware a number of years ago,” Elaine said during a sit-down interview with a JT reporter. “They are committed unequivocally to saving the patient. I always refer to the Jewish proverb that says that if you save a life, you save the world. And this should be designated for Hatzalah’s work.”

The organization’s ambulances recently had the new Alvin S. Mintzes Hatzalah of Baltimore logos affixed, which Elaine said will help spread recognition of her husband’s legacy of compassion and helping people, which she said is also Hatzalah’s lifesaving work.

“Hatzalah has not forgotten that patients are human,” she added. “That, although they’re sick, they can’t all have a standardized treatment, that there are individual differences that Hatzalah volunteers recognize.”

Hatzalah leadership said the undisclosed gift will be a boon to the organization.

A recent honrarium to Hatzalah saw the organization change its name to the Alvin S. Mintzes Hatzalah of Baltimore. (Dr. Eli Goldstein photo)

“The generous gift by Mrs. Mintzes in memory of her late husband, Alvin, will make it possible for us to stay current with all of our lifesaving needs,” said Dr. Eli Goldstein, president of Alvin S. Mintzes Hatzalah of Baltimore. “We will have funds for projects such as updating medical equipment and enhancing training for many years to come.”

Elaine Mintzes and her husband, well-known for their widespread and generous philanthropy to Jewish and non-Jewish institutions alike, were married for 51 years when Alvin died in 2005. But her devotion to him and to continuing his good works has not flagged, even as Elaine, 91, moves spiritedly into her 10th decade. Friends say their devotion to one another was legendary and inspirational.

“I’m not interested in necessarily what you are going to say about me — I’d prefer that you say very little,” she told the JT, “other than we were soul mates and that my success, whatever it is or has been, was the result of my husband’s guidance, mentoring, friendship, etc. Because I feel that if I had any other man in my life, I would have succumbed and not done anything enviable.”

But, whether she wants to talk about it or not, Elaine Mintzes is a woman of substance in her own right, one who bucked convention and, along with her husband, helped change many people’s lives for the better.

Mintzes calls herself “a proud Jew.” A lifelong resident of Upper Park Heights, she grew up in a religious household at a time when many neighborhoods in Baltimore were exclusive.

“This area had many covenants of no Jews, dogs or blacks living in this area,” she remembered. “Well, my parents were Orthodox, and in about 1922, my parents were among the first Jews out there.”

She attended Western High School for girls when it was located on Gwynns Falls Parkway, then went on to an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. At the University of Michigan, she earned a master’s degree in American institutions. From there, it was on to the New York University School of Law, where she was one of only seven women in a class of more than 700. Notwithstanding that gender gap, law school was a good fit for her.

“I was always an argumentative person. I was always a controlling person, and, of course, law school afforded you some of those things that I thought I would be qualified to do, and do well. I just didn’t want to be average in anything,” she said. “And of course, women in law school, when I entered in 1950, were a rarity. Moral turpitude was frequently used to deter admissions of women to law school. New York University, being in a major city, was a little bit more liberal. They admitted women with the hope that they would flunk out.”

Apparently, her future husband, Alvin, wasn’t looking for an average mate. When they met at NYU, she at first rebuffed his advances. But Alvin was persistent.

“I was sitting in the law library, studying assiduously, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. My back was to whoever was behind me. I didn’t turn around and look, and this young, aggressive, I thought, ‘hood’ whispered to me, ‘You’d make such a nice wife,’” she recalled with a laugh. “And I thought, well, for sure this is a scam. We only had seven girls in a law class of about 750, so I figured, they’re out to get me. I’d better be careful. He asked for a date. Well, I was in shock. I was sure there was more to all of this than he wanted a date.”

She resisted at first, but finally gave in. “After a date or two,” she recalled, “I realized that this individual had more complex attributes than I could ever imagine, and he just grew on me.”

Elaine Mintzes sits under a painting of her late husband, Alvin. (David Stuck photo)

She graduated in 1954, and they were married. She went to work for her father’s real estate business while Alvin tried to find work as a CPA in a business climate that often rejected Jewish applicants.

“We knew the pestilence of poverty when we came back,” she said. “He wasn’t aware of the anti-Semitic aura here. He went to a non-Jewish firm, and they said, ‘Well, we’re sorry, you’re qualified and you’ll probably do well, but we’re not going to hire you because our clientele wouldn’t want their financial backgrounds to be examined by a Jew.’ So, he didn’t get that job.”

But he did land a job at a small firm, eventually moving to a government job in Washington, D.C. Later, they worked together in their real estate firm, Castle Realty.

Elaine credits her husband for mentoring her, smoothing out her rough edges and leading her to a more involved connection with her Judaism, which influenced their outreach and philanthropy later in life.

“I was a rough-and-tumble individual. I was aggressive. I thought diplomatically so, but as I look back, I wasn’t. I have since become endowed,” she said. “Alvin grew up in a non-Jewish community in Long Island; he was, as a matter of fact, the only Jew who lived there. He wasn’t bar mitzvahed; he had no Jewish examples to observe. He was not a practitioner of Judaism, and, I think, he did not experience anti-Semitism himself, but he saw it all around him.

“One place was, of course, when he was looking for a job. I came from a [haredi] Orthodox family. Alvin had a need for some identity with the faith, and he was able to present that need to me in a way that I wanted to support him and wanted to bring a new ingredient into his life.”

“He was a selfless individual. It was not how much he wanted something, it was what he could do for someone else who had a need. Now, how do you reject that?” she added. “You see it, and if you have any ethics or morality, you want to help sustain the individual who is making that search, and I was able to see it. And we were a team. We worked together in business, in every thing we did, without trespassing on each other’s freedom or status.”
[pullquote]“Most people leave their resources, their estates, for distribution after they die. Well, I think they’re missing the joy of giving that way.” — Elaine Mintzes[/pullquote]
The Elaine and Alvin team went on, throughout their lives, to a level of philanthropy that is held in high regard by many. Their generosity extended to many organizations and institutions, including Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Weitzman Institute in Israel, the Jewish National Fund, Shearith Israel Congregation, Beth Tfiloh Congregation, the Baltimore Opera Company, the Council on Italian American Affairs, Israel Bonds, McDaniel College, Israel’s Bar Ilan University, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), Boys Town in Jerusalem and support for diabetes and Parkinson’s research, among others.

“We chaired Shaare Tzedek [Medical Center in Jerusalem] for 18 years and raised $6.5 million for them,” Elaine said. “When Alvin and I became the chair people, nobody even knew what Shaare Tzedek meant; they thought it was a synagogue,” she said. “Our initial philanthropy began with the Conference of Soviet Jewry. We had gone to Russia on a mission with George Washington University. We tried to get the release of many Jews to Israel. It wasn’t totally successful because the movement was too new, and Russian leadership certainly wasn’t going to do anything to send them to Israel. But we tried to, in desperation, move these people to the United States.”

The Mintzes also gave money to Gilchrist, a residential hospice facility in Towson, to help Orthodox people focus on adherence to Jewish law. The gift includes a kosher food service, chapel, four rooms, a sliding glass roof and a wall made of Jerusalem stone, where people can leave prayers. The prayers are collected by staff and sent to Israel to be placed in the Western Wall.

The Mintzes are not alone in their charitable giving, as Jews in general give more to charity than other religious groups or the nonreligious, according to Giving USA. In 2016, average annual charitable donations from Jewish households was $2,526 compared to $1,749 and $1,142 for Protestant and Catholic households, respectively.

(David Stuck photo)

In her article “American Jews and charitable giving: An enduring tradition” (The Conversation, Dec. 2017), Brandeis University postdoctoral fellow Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim says Jewish education and wealth help to explain that level of giving, with American Jews attaining an average of 13 years of schooling, while 44 percent of Jewish households earn $100,000 or more in annual income.

“As education enhances charitable giving at all income levels, it is one key to understanding Jewish generosity. And donors of all faiths, regardless of their religious practices and identities, tend to give more money when their income rises,” Bar Nissim writes.

A “strong theological foundation” is another reason.

“Expressed in Hebrew, the Jewish concepts of tzedakah (charitable giving), tzedek (justice) and chesed (mercy or kindness) instruct and compel all Jews to give to charity and treat people who are less fortunate with compassion,” she adds.

At Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, the Mintzes’ determination to improve patients’ lives is well remembered.

“The heartfelt generosity of the Mintzes in the Baltimore Jewish community and beyond is well known,” said Joel Simon from the LifeBridge Health Department of Development. “Mrs. Mintzes created the Alvin and Elaine Mintzes Fund for the Care of Levindale Animals after a brief stay at Levindale several years ago when she experienced firsthand how spending time with one of Levindale’s dogs, Lincoln, benefited her own recovery. She wanted to make sure pets would be cared for while they continued to enhance the lives of residents and patients. We cannot thank Mrs. Mintzes enough for supporting such a vital and joyful program at Levindale.”

[pullquote]“I think that they are a product of their generation. And what I mean by that is, as their means increased, their awareness for others only intensified.” — The Rev. J. Joseph Hart, director of Spiritual Support Services at GBMC[/pullquote]

The Rev. J. Joseph Hart, director of spiritual support services at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, where both Elaine and Alvin were frequent patients, said their philanthropy and regard for the community was, and is, always filtered through an ecumenical, interfaith lens. He credits them with drawing him into their circle, where he learned about Judaism from their lives and activities.

“My desire was, my prayer to God was, that I would meet a Jewish family in my life that I could walk with, and at some level they would invite me into their different moments of life that I could really experience Judaism firsthand. Alvin and Elaine did that, and [she] continues to do that,” he said. “Alvin was a great ecumenist, as is Elaine. The first thing they invited me to was when they dedicated Beth Tfiloh’s auditorium in their name. And then the second major event was their 50th wedding anniversary and the renewal of their vows at Beth Tfiloh.”

Hart has also spoken at Alvin’s yahrzeits, which Elaine holds every year in his memory.

“I think that they are a product of their generation. And what I mean by that is, as their means increased, their awareness for others only intensified,” he said. “They were an important part of the generation [that fostered dialogue] between Christians and Jews and their understanding and their camaraderie and the desire to be in relationship with each other to be co-learners. And [she] continues to be.”

Friend Mary Mangione is still close to Elaine and the two talk frequently.

“She is top of the list as far as I’m concerned, being a wonderful person all the way around,” Mangione said. “I’ve known Elaine about 25 years. Mrs. Mintzes was in real estate and my husband was a developer and builder, and they started a business together. And from there, we created a deep friendship. Her generosity is legendary. As long as I have known her I’ve never seen anybody more generous and more giving.”

Elaine Mintzes said that giving while still alive allows an enjoyment of philanthropy and the ability to see its effects.

Portrait of Alvin S. Mintzes. (David Stuck photo)

“Maybe I ought to clarify the philosophy behind our giving,” she said. “Most people leave their resources, their estates, for distribution after they die. Well, I think they’re missing the joy of giving that way. We were never interested in the aggrandizement of our checkbook. Of course, we wanted enough money to live respectfully and comfortably, but our kick was seeing the flowers bloom while we were alive. We didn’t care whether it was Reform, Conservative, Orthodox. To have the continuity and growth of Judaism, because we are proud Jews — that was what we wanted to see in our lifetime. We believe that we have had that joy.”


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