A secure and prosperous Israel draws its strength from a society in which every individual can realize his or her full potential.
Gustave Leven, founder of the Rashi Foundation
In memory of Gustave Leven (October 2018)
Rashi’s founder Gustave Leven came from a French-Jewish family with a deeply ingrained philanthropic tradition. This tradition dates back to 1860, when Gustave’s grandfather, Narcisse Leven, was part of the group that founded the Alliance Israélite Universelle, or Kol Israel Haverim in Hebrew (KIAH).
The goal of Alliance, the first and most substantial Jewish organization in modern times, was to assist Jews in distress – politically, financially and socially. The Alliance set up a school network that extended from Morocco to Iran and gave impoverished Jews in these countries access to progressive education as the key to social mobility.
While leading Alliance for many years, Narcisse also served as chairman of JCA, the Jewish Colonization Association, and supported the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel together with the Rothschild family. At the same time, he was deeply involved in public activity connected to human rights and the struggle against antisemitism. His son Georges kept this commitment to social causes in his turn.
Gustave, Georges’ son, embraced the family legacy and carried it forward in his own unique way. His experience during World War II convinced Gustave of the utmost importance of making Israel a secure homeland for the Jews, and he devoted most of his fortune to this endeavor.
What gave Gustave the means to realize his vision was his exceptionally successful business career. The high point in this career was Perrier, the mineral water company he transformed from a small, outmoded plant into a leading global brand.
Gustave began his philanthropic investment in Israel as a private donor. He gave generously to various causes in the newly founded state, among them projects that helped build its national security. But his main objective was to develop the country’s most important resource: its people.
Looking to deepen the impact of his investment, Gustave decided in 1984 to establish a foundation that would carry out his philanthropic work – the Rashi Foundation, and asked his nephew Hubert Leven to lead it.
With great modesty and discretion, Gustave always insisted on giving anonymously; instead of naming the foundation after his own family, he chose the name Rashi, the great Torah commentator who lived in medieval France. Gustave Leven passed away in July 2008 at the age of 94.
Hubert Leven served as Rashi’s President for 35 years, retiring in October 2018 and passing the torch on to his son Francois – the fifth generation of a remarkable family legacy.