He helped to renovate and enlarge synagogues in Amsterdam, Madrid, Istanbul, Naples, Budapest, Rhodes, and Vienna. He saved the historic synagogue of Clermont-Ferrand (France) from destruction by buying it for the community, and he contributed to the expansion of the Cannes synagogue and Synagogue Beth El in Paris. He also helped refurbish synagogues in many small French cities including Evian, Annemasse, and others.
He supported dozens of synagogues and yeshivot in Israel, including those led by Rabbi Yaacov Attieh (his family’s rabbi from Beirut) in Bat Yam, as well Yeshiva Porat Yoseph, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, and many others. In addition, the tombs of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai were especially important to Edmond Safra, and he was without question the most generous supporter of these holy pilgrimage sites. For many years on erev Shavuot, the yahrzeit of his beloved father, he would pray at the tomb of Rabbi Meir until dawn.
Throughout the world, one can find hundreds of Sifrei Torah and sacred books that Edmond Safra donated to yeshivot, synagogues, and kollelim in memory of his parents. He lent books from his collection and supported exhibitions of ancient Hebrew manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in order to encourage younger generations to learn about their Jewish heritage.
Caring for the sick took priority over everything else in Edmond Safra’s life. If a family member, friend, or employee became ill, he would devote his time and resources to helping him or her have a full recovery. He would speak with dozens of the world’s best doctors about the case, he would personally visit the hospital, and he often sent planes to transport people and necessary medicines. During his lifetime Edmond J. Safra donated millions of dollars to provide medical treatment for sick individuals – people he did not know personally – who sought his assistance.
Hospitals across the globe – the Hôpital Cantonal de Genève, the Hôpitaux de France, and countless institutions in the United States, for example – benefited enormously from Edmond Safra’s generosity. He was one of the founders of Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paolo, today one of South America’s largest and most prestigious medical centers. In Israel, he initiated the construction of the cutting-edge Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Tel Hashomer.
In the area of medical research, he was a significant supporter of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and a number of different centers studying specific diseases in France, the United States, and elsewhere around the world. He created the Edmond and Lily Safra Chair in Breast
Cancer Research at Tulane University.
At the time he made public his own battle with Parkinson’s disease, Edmond J. Safra announced his intention to devote significant resources to helping those suffering with the disease and finding a cure.
Edmond J. Safra believed higher education was essential for every young person in the modern world, even though he himself never attended university. Understanding that the highest form of philanthropy is helping people be able to provide for themselves, he was firmly committed to making educational opportunities available for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
During his lifetime Edmond J. Safra provided university scholarship funds for hundreds of needy students who were recommended by friends and employees. In addition to this direct assistance, he helped tens of thousands more through the International Sephardic Education Foundation (ISEF), an institution he established in 1977 to support deserving Israeli students. Recipients of ISEF scholarships have distinguished themselves across the globe in every discipline.
Edmond J. Safra also helped universities directly, often through the support of chairs and particular programs (such as Judaic Studies). For example, at Harvard University he endowed the Jacob E. Safra Professorship of Jewish History and Sephardic Civilization, and he gave significant funds for the Robert
F. Kennedy Visiting Professorship in Latin American Studies. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he created the Jacob E. Safra Professorship of International Banking and the Safra Business Research Center.
He was a significant benefactor of the American University of Beirut, and he was awarded Honorary Doctorates by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Yeshiva University (where he established the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies) for his ongoing support of those institutions.
With respect to younger children’s education, Edmond Safra directed most of his support to poor Jewish community schools, particularly those that had the potential to encourage Jewish continuity. He was especially devoted to schools in the cities where he lived – for example, he founded Ecole Girsa,
Geneva’s first and largest Jewish school. He took great pride in founding the Beit Yaacov school in Bat Yam, which has been consistently rated among the best of Israel’s schools.
He made major contributions to the national, cultural, and religious life of the State of Israel, including building Safra Square in Jerusalem. He purchased Einstein’s 1912 manuscript of the Special Theory of Relativity and donated it to the Israel Museum, and he also provided funds for this museum to deconstruct,
transport, preserve, reassemble, and display the historic synagogue of Suriname. He was a Founding Member of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s International Board of Governors, a Founder of the Israel Museum, and a long-time supporter of Yad Vashem.
Also in Israel, he generously supported institutions providing welfare services to the less fortunate, as well as a variety of organizations serving children with special needs.
Recognized worldwide for his philanthropy, Mr. Safra was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government; Commandeur de l’Ordre de Mérite by the Grand Duke of Luxembourg; and Commandeur de l’Ordre de Rio Branco by the government of Brazil.
Mr. Safra created a major philanthropic foundation to ensure that needy individuals and organizations would continue to receive assistance and encouragement for many years to come. Following his passing in 1999, and under the chairmanship of his beloved wife Lily, the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation draws continuing inspiration from its founder’s life and values.