Mrs. Lily Safra shared her commitment to caring for the less fortunate with her husband, Mr. Edmond J. Safra, one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished bankers and founder of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. Since her husband’s passing she has chaired this Foundation, which supports projects related to education, science and medicine, religion, culture, and humanitarian relief in over 40 countries. Mrs. Safra has initiated many educational projects in memory of her husband, including endowing the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. A long and distinguished relationship with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem led to the naming of the Edmond J. Safra Campus. In an impoverished area of northern Brazil, she founded the Alfredo J. Monteverde School, which teaches science and technology to 1,000 children.
Mrs. Safra is Honorary Chairman of the International Sephardic Education Foundation, which she established with her husband in 1977, and which has become the largest non-profit organization promoting higher education for gifted Israelis from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Edmond J. Safra Foundation remains ISEF’s largest ongoing supporter. ISEF alumni have distinguished themselves in every sector of Israeli society, becoming, for example, members of the Knesset, university professors and administrators, corporate leaders, medical researchers, and social welfare advocates.
The Edmond J. Safra Foundation has supported all of Israel’s universities, providing funding for a range of needs, primarily in the area of faculty recruitment and student scholarships. Selected projects include the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Bioinformatics at Tel Aviv University; the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the University of Haifa; and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Technion.
The Foundation provides support for primary and secondary schools internationally, and particularly in Europe and in cities throughout Israel. In addition, it has taken a leading role in projects such as “A Window to Tomorrow – A Computer for Every Child” in partnership with the Israeli government (providing many thousands of computers and hours of training to families living in over 100 municipalities), a program supporting disadvantaged young people to study for their Bar and Bat Miztvah in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Education, and the provision of “Smart Classrooms” in schools in partnership with ORT.
The Foundation funded the development of a groundbreaking learning disabilities diagnosis and treatment program for Arabic-speaking children at the University of Haifa, which provides hope and new opportunities for thousands of families in the Arab community. It has also provided ongoing assistance for the Beatzmi organization’s social and educational support program for the Ethiopian community in Israel. At Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, the Foundation funds teacher training seminars and helped construct a new wing of the school.
The Foundation has developed a significant portfolio of Parkinson’s disease research and patient care projects at some of the world’s leading universities and scientific institutes including the University of Toronto, King’s College London, Imperial College London, New York University, the Centre Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris, the Université Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, and the Clinatec Institute, also in Grenoble. It is also one of the leading funders of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, of which she is a Board member, and it sponsors the Edmond J. Safra Fellowships in Movement Disorders, an elite training program for the next generation of Parkinson’s clinician-researchers.
The Foundation created a novel program to improve the teaching of Parkinson’s disease in nursing schools throughout the United States, and it has sponsored numerous professional education programs on Parkinson’s disease throughout the world in partnership with the International Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Society. Further, it has helped the National Parkinson Foundation (USA) produce and distribute tens of thousands of resource kits for Parkinson’s patients, aiming to give them the tools to receive better care in case of hospitalization. It also sponsors the Edmond J. Safra Parkinson’s Wellness Program in five US cities.
Mrs. Safra and her husband built the cutting-edge Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, which annually treats thousands of children from across the region, and the Foundation has also provided significant funding for other hospitals and medical centers throughout the State of Israel (including Poriya Hospital, Rabin Medical Center, Hadassah Hospital, Laniado Hospital, Beit Holim Meir in Kfar Saba, Ziv Medical Center, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and others).
In 2006 Mrs. Safra established the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience in Natal, Brazil, now that country’s most highly-regarded brain research center. She is a member of the Board of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, where she constructed the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge for patients being treated at the NIH Clinical Center and their families. With her leadership, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation endowed the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the largest and most ambitious neuroscience project in Israel.
Mrs. Safra and the Foundation follow the example set by Mr. Safra in supporting Jewish religious life in Israel and throughout the world, providing funding for hundreds of synagogues, yeshivot, kollelim, and schools. Mrs. Safra finished a project she and her husband began together, the landmark Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Manhattan, and she also took a leading role in the reconstruction and renovation of the magnificent Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg. Since Mr. Safra’s passing, the Foundation has built over 20 synagogues in Israel alone, and it has helped renovate Wilson’s Arch at the Kotel and the tombs of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Additionally, the Foundation has built and renovated numerous mikvaot in municipalities across the country. The Foundation underwrote the publication of a new Chumash in French and the first French translation of the Talmud Bavli, both dedicated to the memory of Mr. Safra.
Mrs. Safra is a Trustee of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage and an Honorary Governor of the International Board of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and she is a generous supporter of both institutions. A passionate art collector, she is a member of the Director’s Circle of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, home to the Edmond and Lily Safra Fine Arts Wing, and a member of the Chairman’s Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She established the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Mrs. Safra is also significantly involved with the activities of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, supporting curators and providing scholarships to outstanding art history students.
Mrs. Safra also pursues humanitarian causes including building homes for orphaned children in Romania; helping to establish the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda; providing welfare services for the elderly in Odessa; and assisting the Red Cross with its relief efforts after natural disasters around the world. She is a Co-Founder of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, dedicated to the sustainable and equitable management of natural resources.
In Israel, Mrs. Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Foundation have generously supported a wide variety of such organizations, with a focus on those providing services for sick and disabled children and adults. These include, among many others, the Jordan River Valley Camp for children with cancer and other serious illnesses, Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl, Aleh, Neve Michael, Alut, Keren Or, and the Peres Center for Peace’s “Saving Children: Medicine in the Service of Peace” program. Additionally, the Foundation assists welfare organizations such as Yad Sarah, the JDC Eshel program for the elderly, and the Nitzav Refael soup kitchen and food distribution program in Jerusalem.
Also in Israel, the Foundation established the Keren Shemesh organization for youth entrepreneurship. Inspired by the Youth Business International (YBI) of HRH the Prince of Wales, Keren Shemesh has become a global model of loans and mentorship for young entrepreneurs. Its innovative approach to employment-through-entrepreneurship has made it a leader in the field. To date, over 1,100 new businesses have been created across the country and businesses launched by Keren Shemesh-supported entrepreneurs have created over 3,000 new jobs, many in Israel’s peripheral regions or populations.
Mrs. Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Foundation are particularly devoted to the well-being of the State of Israel and its people, having provided hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations in that country over the past fifteen years. On the occasion of what would have been the 75th birthday of Mr. Edmond J. Safra in 2007, Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra gave a special concert in a specially-built amphitheater atop Mt. Scopus, and the Foundation announced donations of $180,000 to each of 75 Israeli charitable organizations, totaling $13,500,000.
In recognition of her philanthropic leadership, Mrs. Safra has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa, Brandeis University, and Imperial College London, and is an Honorary Fellow of King’s College London and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She was made Chevalier dans l’Ordre de Léopold II by the King of Belgium. She is a Commandeur of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Officier de la Légion d’honneur.