Philanthropic giant Eugen Gluck passed away on Monday night at the age of 92, sealing the book on a life of survival, financial success, and the development of Jewish communities. The Forest Hills resident is best known for his support of Bet El, the yishuv north of Jerusalem bolstered by Gluck’s ability to secure funding from thousands of individuals at annual dinners that brought some of the leading political figures from America and Israel.
Builder of Bet El
“The fact that some 800,000 Jews live today over the green line in Judea and Samaria and the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem is due in great part to this great, late leader Eugen Gluck, of blessed memory,” said former Knesset Member Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz. “For 40 years, Mr. Gluck made the return of Jews to Judea and Samaria and numerous charities the central thrust of his life. He was a rare Jew who correctly read the map of Israel’s future and contributed much to shape it. He was a primary force in changing the way the State of Israel relates to the liberated territories in Judea and Samaria. In the merit of his activism and philanthropy, this region will remain in Jewish hands forever.”
Katz first met Gluck in the late 1970s, when Bet El was an outpost built on the site of Yaakov’s dream involving angels and ladders, an altar used prior to the Bayis Rishon, and a biblical-period community that was destroyed by the Roman legions. Through his philanthropy, this town became a center for Jewish education that includes the Bet El Yeshiva Center for college-age men, a Yeshiva High School for boys, the Jeanie Gluck High School Academy for Girls, and the Gluck Israel Defense Forces Preparatory Academy.
The message of Jewish building, defense, and daily life in Judea and Samaria is disseminated by Arutz Sheva, also known as Israel National News, an online platform and B’Sheva, its print counterpart, which were founded by Gluck and based in Bet El.
For the past 36 years, American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center has been holding its annual dinners at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square – the largest Zionist dinner in America. “Eugen Gluck was instrumental in bringing people to the dinner. He took it to heart,” said dinner Executive Vice President Sheila Simanowitz. “He was the most wonderful person, a marvelous man.”
The dinner was a news event, as it hosted political luminaries such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his predecessors Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon; Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, US National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who served as the dinner’s chairman prior to his appointment as diplomat by President Donald Trump. In his own philanthropy prior to being elected, Trump also made a donation to Bet El and has an award from the dinner on display at his office in Trump Tower.
“He had an impact on tens of thousands of people. He’s a gadol in the sense of the word,” said Bet El supporter Dr. Joseph Frager. “He also supported Ateret Cohanim, which builds Jewish homes in Jerusalem. He was with me in every step of the way. He was a giant.”
On the map, Bet El is located on a hilltop overlooking Ramallah, the administrative seat of the Palestinian Authority, or “State of Palestine” as it prefers to be known. Such a community would appear as an easy target for removal, in order to give the Palestinians more land for their state. But as a result of Gluck’s efforts, the community cannot be so easily dislodged. It is comprised of homes and apartments, student dormitories, schools and workplaces, and Jews of multiple backgrounds, including olim from India, Peru, and the former Soviet Union. A place of importance for ancient Israel has become a vital component of Israel’s settlement enterprise.
Also in Israel
Besides his support for Bet El, Eugen Gluck and his wife Jean were also supporters of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, the Magen David Adom, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. “Jean and Eugen Gluck were a dynamic duo who transformed the bitter memories of the Holocaust into a lifetime commitment to the survival of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” said Rachel Wolf, CEO of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center. “Their belief that the future lies with our children inspired all of their philanthropic endeavors.” She noted that the Jerusalem hospital’s general pediatric department is named for the Glucks as a lasting testament to their support.
Gluck also sponsored the “Hakafot Shniyot” in Jerusalem’s Bell Park that brought out local residents and visitors for a post-Sukkos celebration.
Master of Timekeeping
Gluck was born in the Romanian city of Satu Mare in 1927, known by his nickname Yidel. He survived the concentration camps and relocated to Antwerp after the war where he met his wife Jean. In 1948, they immigrated to New York. After initially operating a bakery in Brooklyn, the Glucks went into the watchmaking business. The E. Gluck Corporation, based in Little Neck, grew into one of the biggest watchmaking firms in the country, famous for Armitron, an early brand of digital watch. By the end of the century, it was the fifth largest firm in the industry.
“He dictated orders to [Jean] and she went to the post office. Her turnaround time was like that of Amazon,” said his daughter Barbara Weichselbaum at Jean’s funeral in 2018. “To my father’s credit, not too many decisions were made without my mother’s input.”
On the Local Scene
Gluck resided in Forest Hills Gardens and was a longtime member of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, the shul closest to his home that shared his strong Zionist sentiments. “Besides being a great benefactor of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, his joyful spirit and enthusiasm gave great chizuk to all the members of the shul,” said shul president Philip Belkin. “He will be missed by all who had the privilege to know him.”
“He was such a positive person,” said Rabbi Ashie Schreier, rav of the shul. “After any interaction with him, you always felt better, no matter what. Even until the very end he was always smiling and positive. We lost a giant.”
Outside of the synagogue is a Hatzolah ambulance that was funded by Gluck. When the volunteer service was launched, Gluck offered to pay for half of its funding, but then Jean urged him to pay for all of its initial expenses. It is today the largest volunteer ambulance service in Queens. “Since 1980, Forest Hills had four ambulances, each one donated by the Glucks,” said former Queens Hatzolah coordinator Yitzchok Rowe. “He received so much nachas from the growth of Bet El and seeing an ambulance going on a call. In those days, a Hatzolah call was a newsworthy event.”
The Glucks were also among the top supporters of the Concert with a Message in Central Park, which brought pro-Israel speakers and musicians together in a message of uncompromising support for Israel and traditional Jewish values.
Concert supporter Odeleya Jacobs first heard of the Glucks as a student at Yeshiva Dov Revel in Forest Hills. “I spoke with Eugen Gluck in July. We appreciated the music room in the new Dov Revel building that he donated. He continued to again to say, ‘Do not stop. Keep going strong. It is important to help the Jewish people.’”
Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, which offers support for families facing challenges, noted Gluck’s support in a statement. “The OHEL family mourns the loss of a longtime friend and supporter... He was the ultimate Zionist, the ultimate philanthropist, and the ultimate mentch.”
One of his more recent local causes is Chazaq. “When I spoke to Mr. Gluck about the work Chazaq does with public school students, he always showed excitement,” said Chazaq Operations Manager Yaniv Meirov. “He would hold my hand and say, ‘Never be satisfied. You must keep doing more and more until you inspire each one.’”
In May 2018, Jean Gluck died, diminishing some of the happiness that he exuded throughout his life; but when there were opportunities to inspire others, he rose to the occasion. In the following year, Gluck celebrated his 90th birthday. His life story was shared on the social media page Humans of Judaism, describing his survival, success in business, and support of Jewish causes. A Facebook audience that may not have heard of Gluck became aware of his life and work. At the time, he had three children: Sydney Gluck of Manhattan, Rosie Friedman of Forest Hills, and Barbara Weichselbaum of Lawrence; 12 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.
Gluck’s funeral took place yesterday. Shiv’ah is being observed at the Gluck residence through Tuesday.
Our community, and the Jewish world-at-large, has lost a great man, but Eugen Gluck will live on forever through his philanthropy and love for his people.