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Larry Goodman sees a lot of synergy between Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the city of Beer-Sheva. Acting on this conviction, he chose to adopt both.
“Twelve or 13 years ago I was looking for a place in Israel where I could be helpful,” he recounts, “and saw a number of projects. I visited BGU and was very impressed with the University and its growth, and the potential I saw there.
“I have a propensity for doing things that make a real difference. So I started supporting the University and then Beer-Sheva because I feel the city and the University are one.”
The city—which has doubled in size since that time—could not have become so successful without BGU, he points out. At the same time, the University needs a vibrant Beer-Sheva, because without its infrastructure and cultural opportunities the talented people might not come to BGU.
In line with this belief, he was the major donor to the new Ben-Gurion University train station, which makes the city and campus more accessible to Tel Aviv and other cities.
Through the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations, Larry also provided major funds for the Engineering Administration Building, and, most recently, the Lillian and Larry Goodman Open Apartments Program, which was named for him and his wife and close partner, who passed in 2009.
Goodman feels especially attached to this program, which gives students free housing in poor neighborhoods in return for volunteer work in those communities. He “accidentally” connected with Open Apartments at its outset, he explains, because a BGU staff member told him during a visit one day about the idea for such a program if housing could be found. That night he dined with a member of Israel's Minister of Housing and prevailed upon him to locate available apartments.
Seventy-three apartment are in use today. “The program helps not just the students, but he entire community,” he says. “It improves the city’s makeup and culture and the lives of children and families.”
Goodman also supports Soroka University Medical Center, another plus for both BGU and community. And for Beer-Sheva, in line with his desire to promote culture and social service as well as education, the Foundations created the Bat Dor Dance Company, the L&L Goodman Theater & Acting School, the Ilan Ramon Play Park, and the L&L Goodman Child and Family Center, now being expanded for the third time.
Larry takes satisfaction from these projects’ direct impact on BGU. “I’ve spoken with professors who wouldn’t take the job without some of the features—one wanted to know if there was a dance school, another one asked about an acting school. And the family center is important to many people.”
Goodman’s initial career was in retailing. After serving in WWII, he founded the Community Discount Stores, a forerunner of the modern self-service department store. He built a 35-store chain over 17 years, then sold it and founded a commercial real estate firm, the Goodman Group and American Asset Management Services. The company operates office buildings and shopping centers in seven states.
Today, he spends half his time running the business and the other half actively directing the Foundations. He is proud that several of his grandchildren are involved in them as board members. In addition to the Negev projects, the Foundations fund Jewish causes, hunger relief and drug abuse prevention in the United States.
To Goodman, using his business earnings this way makes basic sense. “If you’re fortunate enough to have some wealth, you don’t have much choice what to do,” he says. “They say you can’t take it with you. So if you have a feeling you want to leave this place somewhat better than you found it and are able to afford it, why not?”
Larry is a member of BGU’s Board of Governors and the recipient of an honorary doctorate. Among his many philanthropic roles, he chairs the American Friends of the Beer-Sheva Foundation. The municipality of Beer-Sheva has expressed its appreciation for what he has contributed with a lifetime achievement award presented last year at an event attended by more than 1,000 people.
"BGU's growth into a world class university has been phenomenal. I contribute to BGU because it's a great learning instituition filled wih accomplished staff through throughout all disciplines."
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of working with all of our partners in Beer-Sheva. Together we are fulfilling David Ben-Gurion's dream to enrich the Negev region."