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    Severyn Ashkenazy

    Severyn Ashkenazy is a retired wealthy businessman and building developer, philanthropist, author, Holocaust survivor, and leader in helping to rebuild Poland’s Jewish population.


    Born in Tarnopol, Poland (now Ukraine) in 1936, he survived the Holocaust as a little boy by living hidden in a basement for three years with his parents and brother. The family left Poland in 1946 for France where he completed his undergraduate studies.


    Mr. Ashkenazy emigrated to the United States in 1957. He attended UCLA Graduate School where he advanced to a PhD candidacy in literature. He eventually would return over a half-century later to deliver the commencement address.


    In 1964, Mr. Ashkenazy started a real estate development company, which, over 25 years, developed over 100 individual projects, including scores of buildings in West Hollywood. These projects included hotels, apartment buildings, office buildings, single family sub-divisions, and others. He is the founder of The L’Ermitage Hotel Group. Ashkenazy, who appeared on the cover of Forbes (Poland edition), also founded and is past chairman of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.


    Mr. Ashkenazy returned to Poland in 1995 to investigate the possibility of reclaiming some real estate owned by his parents and grandparents – which he did. He was told that there were fewer than 5000 Jews left in all of Poland. He has helped rebuild the Jewish community to 35,000 in less than three decades.


    In addition to real estate, he also acquired new friends, one of whom was the president of HBO Poland, Mr. Gene Roeder, whom he invited to spend a weekend at his summer home. Conversations soon turned to the unfortunate state of the Jewish people in Poland. Mr. Roeder told Mr. Ashkenazy that, in addition to some ex-pats, he had met some Polish Jews – relatively young and successful. Mr. Ashkenazy asked him if he could arrange a meeting to see if there was a possibility to bring together the few Jews remaining in Poland. Mr. Roeder promised to do so.


    Indeed, a few days later, a meeting was held at a local luxury hotel. Mr. Roeder was able to invite five other Jews, including two Jews who lived in Poland. All expressed the desire to meet again. Jonathan Miles (an ex-pat) agreed to host the next meeting the following week at his home.


    At this next meeting it was decided to hold an Oneg Shabbat once a month and to invite whoever might be interested. Adrian Ashkenazy, Mr. Ashkenazy’s son, who was going to spend the summer working in Poland, offered to take charge and assume the financial responsibility. This was to be the first Oneg Shabbat since the war organized for the progressive Jewish community and its sympathizers. Roeder offered his luxurious home for the event. It was a success, with about 10 Jews and approximately 20 other people attending. These were the beginnings of Beit Warszawa.


    For the next three years, on the first Friday of each month, an Oneg Shabbat took place in Warsaw, at the home of Mr. Ashkenazy’s close friend, Malgorzata Bochenska, a Pole, who has since revealed her Jewish identity. Eventually the number of attendees, mostly Jews, grew to 60. Every year Passover and the High Holidays were celebrated in style, led by guest rabbis and foreign spiritual leaders.


    Throughout the years, the vast majority of Beit Warszawa’s financial burden rested with Mr. Ashkenazy, who in 2002 took a long term lease on a large home and office building in Warsaw to house the burgeoning Jewish Community. Sixteen years later, Beit Warszawa along with Beit Polska, the umbrella organization for Progressive Judaism in Poland, has been taken over by Rabbi Haim Beliak and the local Jewish leadership. There are now more than a half dozen Progressive Jewish communities in Poland.


    In addition to being the founder of Beit Warszawa, Beit Polskaand Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland, under the umbrella of Jewish Revival in Poland, Mr. Ashkenazy continues his work and now concentrates on the training of lay cantors, respondingto other Jewish educational needs, and organizing Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and Jewish life cycle events in communities that otherwise would not know Jewish life. He is presently involved in the rapprochement of a large U.S. Catholic university and the largest Polish Catholic university in development in their departments on Judaic studies and beyond.


    Mr. Ashkenazy was a Board Member for almost 40 years of Congregation Beth Israel, the oldest conservative synagogue in Los Angeles, which he also helped rebuild.


    He is also the Founder of the L’Ermitage Foundation, which supports children’s causes through concerts of the highest caliber. Past concerts have featured such performers as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Placido Domingo, Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz,Theodore Bikel, The Klezmer Conservatory, Marcel Marceau, Andre Watts, Michel Legrand, Joshua Bell and many others.


    Additionally, Mr. Ashkenazy was named ORT’s “Man of the Year” for helping to build that worthwhile organization.