Saul E. Ashkenazi: Man of Wisdom, Generosity & Accomplishment

If a person puts their mind to something there’s nothing they can’t achieve. – Saul E. Ashkenazi

Brooklyn, N.Y.  My grandfather was my superhero, my protector, and my teacher. As my role model, my Grandpa Saul inspired my business work ethic and philanthropic character. For as long as I can remember, Saul E. Ashkenazi A’’H emphasized the importance of honesty, passion, commitment, diligence, and charity work to my siblings and me. I consider the example set by his actions, and not simply his instructions, the prime inspiration for my developing perspective, character, and work ethic towards both business and philanthropy

In his prime, my grandfather built a successful audio company from scratch, and donated much of his affluence to charitable causes. After seeing my grandfather’s success in business, and kindness towards those less fortunate, I became inspired to study business and become a philanthropist.  For many, philanthropy is an option, a preference; for me, philanthropy is a vocation, a way of doing good in the world and doing right by my grandfather.

Grandpa Saul was a Worker: Saul E. Ashkenazi was born in Louisiana on July 4, 1920, and soon thereafter was moved to his parents’ previous home in Mexico.  When the Great Depression hit, and his father was injured in a machinery accident, my grandpa (14 years old) and his brother (12 years old) began searching for work to support his family and move them to America. When my grandfather and his family finally moved to America, they settled in Arkansas; however, there wasn’t much opportunity there so they moved to Texas, where my grandfather and his younger brother became peddlers. For a while, my grandfather and his brother failed to make sales due to their lack of proficiency of the English language.

Through serendipity, they came across a Mexican neighborhood, and their repertoire of Mexican mother tongue, culture, and tradition, allowed them to communicate and generate sales. This influx of money allowed the Ashkenazi family to move to Georgia, and open up a store that sold a large range of merchandise. When they moved to North Carolina, Grandpa Saul managed a children’s wear wholesale business and his brother managed their retail business. In the early 50’s, my Grandpa Saul began to import cigarette lighters from Japan and a short time after, transistor radios.  Without having any background in this emerging field, they deserted the retail business and focused on radio sales. The rest is history. My grandfather co-founded an electronic audio company, and worked until his body did not allow him to do so at the age of 91.

Grandpa Saul was a Giver. After accumulating a substantial amount of affluence my grandfather donated a vast amount of it to charitable causes. Whether through signing a large check for a non-profit organization, or through giving money to a poor man to support his family, my grandfather never failed to lend a hand. My mother always tells me that whenever my grandfather received a solicitation in the mail, or a phone call for a donation, no matter what the cause, he never said no. My grandfather lived by the principle that if he is fortunate enough to live an influential life, it is his duty to use his power to assist those less fortunate.

I am very fond of one story in particular. Many years ago, while my grandfather was interviewing people for a job opening, he had a prospective employee sitting by his desk. After reviewing the prospect, my grandfather discovered that this man was way too overqualified for the specified job. My grandfather told him that he was overqualified and could find a better paying job. The man begged for the job, and said that he could barely put food on his family’s table. My grandfather insisted he find a better job, because he saw the potential this man had for success. The man continued to desperately beg, saying that he didn’t have money to support his family much longer. My grandfather excused himself and exited the room. When he returned, he had a signed check of $15,000, to which he handed to the man. “Here, put food on your table for your family, and go out to find a better livelihood for yourself.”

Grandpa Saul was a Man of Education. When a community in a small town of New Jersey lacked a local school, my grandfather built a school on ten acres of land he had purchased and donated. He understood the importance of having access to educational institutions and lived by the belief that no one should be deprived of the natural right of education. Thousands have benefited and continue to benefit from the benefactor my grandfather was.

I recall my grandfather always sitting in his chair reading when I came to visit his home. My grandfather studied all languages, religions, cultures, sciences, and histories, to learn about the people of the world. He believed every person was special and unique in his or her own way, and each deserved his attention.

Grandpa Saul was a Man of Integrity. “Growing up, I remember how your grandfather dedicated his family time with many from the community,” my mother said. “People would come to him for both personal and business advice because they knew he was a fair man and would give an honest unbiased opinion.”

My mother always tells me that my grandfather treated everyone with equal respect. “As a child, I remember going to his office and he would introduce me to his entire faculty. He would treat them all equally, from the janitor to the vice president. He explained to me that all people, regardless of social status, color, or culture, deserves the same amount of respect.”

Grandpa Saul was a Man of Lessons. One day, when my grandfather pulled up to the school he had built in a Subaru, the students came out to greet him. One of the children asked him why he drove around in a Subaru, when he could have afforded any car he wanted. My grandfather simply responded, “Because this car gets me exactly to where I need to go.”

A couple of months before my grandfather passed away at ninety-one, he taught me lessons I took away with me for the rest of my life. My grandfather believed that knowledge was power and education was a weapon. He believed that the world was a magical place, and that studying its ways through science, history, and religion, a person could gain access to the secrets of the world.

He taught me that my mind is stronger than my body, and that anything I put my mind to, I will achieve. He used this same principle when he was paralyzed and mute from his stroke fifteen years ago, with an ominous prognosis of death within seventy-two hours. He thought to himself that he was strong, and would develop the power to walk out of the hospital healthy and happy. He did. My grandfather lived fourteen healthy years following his prognosis, with the ability to speak and walk.

Taking my cues from Grandpa Saul, I have followed the mantras he repeated to me daily.  Knowledge is power.  Business education is the bridge to success.  Hard work and persistence are the necessary tools if one wishes to make a difference. Work hard and play hard. Achieve your goals, but always give back to the world. Feel confident about yourself, but never neglect your gratitude to those from who you came. There are, of course, clichés in the business and philanthropic world, but those simple truisms are the creeds by which I hope to live.

This article was written in honor and in loving memory of Saul E. Ashkenazi A”H: whose leadership, vision, generosity, and wisdom in both business and community service will be a living example for generations to come.

Dear Grandpa Saul,

Every day I wake up and go to sleep after looking at your picture on my desk. You are there when I pray, you are there when I work, and you are there when I give. I love you and miss you very much. Although theoretically you are very far, I feel every day I am getting closer to you because I am following in your footsteps.

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Isaac J. Kassin
Isaac J. Kassin is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author, studying Finance and Marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business. As Co-Founder of Financial Technology startup Exeq Instituional, member of The Luce Foundation’s Board of Directors, and Founder of The World Youth Initiative, Isaac has raised over a million dollars for causes meaningful to him. Isaac has been mentioned in the media including The Huffington Post and The Stewardship Report, and is author of The Alphabet Kids Go to the Planetarium, a children's book encouraging interest in science. His focus today is on building his company and on spreading goodness through his upcoming charity campaigns.

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