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More than Meets the Eye

Barbara Bensoussan

Legally blind, and living in the simplest of apartments, Naomi Adir is hardly your typical philanthropist. Yet over the decades she’s given hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Torah education.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On December 2, 1995, the New York Times published a small article in its Education section entitled, “A Quiet Auditor Leaves Yeshiva a Fortune.” Anne Scheiber, a single woman who had worked for the IRS and lived with acute frugality in a rent-controlled apartment, had managed to coax a $5,000 nest egg into $22 million by the time of her death at age 101. While this was a feat that drew gasps of admiration from financial analysts, even louder gasps were heard from Yeshiva University the day they got a call from Scheiber’s lawyer, informing them she’d bequeathed it all to them.

When I first heard the Scheiber story, I was convinced it was a once-in-a-century occurrence. But then, just last week, I met a woman who’s Anne Scheiber’s match — if not in millions, then in generosity.

Naomi Adir, now ninety-two, lives alone in the Brooklyn apartment she once shared with her parents, in the kind of absolute simplicity that characterizes many gedolim. Unlike Anne Scheiber, Naomi made the choice over thirty years ago not to wait until 120 years to bestow the fruits of her investments on needy yeshivos.

Since 1979, this former public school teacher, who has never seen fit to renovate her creaky apartment or replace her comfortable but scuffed shoes, has been making the kind of yearly donations more typically offered by women wreathed in furs and diamonds. And unlike most other benefactors, she doesn’t have the pleasure of beholding the results of her largesse in any of the usual ways: Naomi, who has suffered from a visual impairment since young adulthood, is almost totally blind.

 

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