Jack Nash z”l

Jack Nash, a hedge fund pioneer and important Jewish philanthropist, passed away yesterday at the age of 79.

Mr. Nash was one of the founders of the New York Sun and the newspaper published an editorial today in his memory.

After the jump, I’ve pasted an email that Nigel Savage of Hazon just sent out, remembering Mr. Nash’s indispensable role in helping Hazon get off the ground.

Baruch dayan emet.

New York
Thursday July 31st 2008 / 28th Tammuz, 5768

Dear All,
A man named Jack Nash died last night, may his memory be for a blessing.

His name is not mentioned anywhere on Hazon’s website, and nor has his name appeared in any previous Hazon email. But there would be no Hazon were it not for Jack Nash: no bike rides, not the more than 700 people who’ve traveled to Israel with Hazon, the thousand families now members of Jewish CSAs, the couples who met at our Rides who’ve got married, the kids who’ve been born, the man who came to our New York Ride and converted to Judaism, the two bat mitzvahs we’ve hosted, the staff and alumni, the programs we’ve supported in Israel and the US, the Jewish food curricula, the teens and families who’ve grown through our programs – none of it.

I met Jack just twice. The first time was when he agreed to give the money to launch Hazon – an extremely significant amount of money, given to an English 30-something who’d never previously worked in the Jewish community, never run a non-profit, never worked in the United States and, for good measure, could barely ride a bike – and had certainly never been on, much less led, a 3000-mile bike ride. (One memorable interchange in that first meeting was when he said “a cross-USA Jewish environmental bike ride? That’s an interesting idea. But why don’t you go by bus – you’d get there quicker…” In this way he taught me my first lesson in the need to explicate more clearly what Hazon was about. )

Jack and his wife Helen and their family in fact provided not only the money but also, initially, everything else we needed: for Hazon’s first year of operations I worked in the offices of the Nash family’s foundation.

To this day, I don’t fully understand why he and his family decided to support the launch of Hazon. But his son spoke at the funeral today of his father’s “incredibly creative and impactful� generosity. Being the person who enabled Hazon to come into existence certainly qualified as creative, and today it is clear that his gift has been impactful beyond what either of us could have imagined eight years ago. He enabled the birth of Hazon because he cared about the Jewish people and because he was willing to take a risk on an unknown 30-something.

A risk, by the way, but not a risk without unique due diligence. I had given him a business plan. He said, “I’m going to support you. There’s a lot going on here. Pick one thing to get started. And fill this out and get it back to me” – and he handed me a 150-question psych evaluation, from a private-sector testing company that, I gathered, he used for prospective employees in his business. I gulped at the sight of this – would all my deep hidden fears suddenly be revealed?! – and said that I was happy to fill out the questionnaire, but I wanted him to agree to give me a copy of it, whatever it said, to which he readily agreed. The report I received in due course was the most accurate description of my strengths and weaknesses that I’ve ever read; so much so that, in the interests of a healthy working relationship, I gave a copy of it five years later to Cheryl Cook when I invited her to become Hazon’s COO – I felt it was the clearest and most independent way that I could let her know what she was in for.

It has been important to me that, in the last year, I got in touch with Dr Judith Ginsberg, and through her with Jack and Helen, to thank them for the support they initially gave, and to let them know how the seeds that could not have been planted without them, seeds that were nourished and watered initially by Jack and Helen and their family alone, have now turned into a healthy young orchard, bearing many sorts of fruit, and touching, in so many different ways, a remarkable number of people here and in Israel.

I’m surprised to note that news of his passing brought tears to my eyes. Surprised because I really hardly knew him. I think the tears are because he was a quite incredibly good man, a man of considerable modesty, and someone who in very quiet ways – and certainly not just through Hazon, but in gifts to many organizations and many people – did great good in the world. His loss is indeed a loss not only to his family and friends but to the Jewish community and also the wider New York community, which he supported in so many ways. In our over-saturated world, he remains a model to me of old-fashioned menschlichkeit.

So I share the news of his passing with great sadness. And although, in life, he wanted no honor and no recognition, I want anyone who has been in any way touched by Hazon and by what we have done these last eight years to know now that our accomplishments, such as they are, rest upon his generosity and his trust.

I end by noting that tomorrow night is not only Shabbat but also Rosh Chodesh Av. This is, if you think about it, a very strange day, because Rosh Chodesh is always a time of celebration, yet this particular Rosh Chodesh is also the first of “the nine days” – nine days of deep sadness that culminate, next Saturday night and Sunday, with Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, a commemoration for the destruction of the Temple and of the many destructions that we have endured subsequently. So it’s a strange day because we talk about “the nine days” rather than, for example, “the eight” – which is what technically we should say, since Rosh Chodesh cannot be a day of sadness or of deprivation. The rabbis, I think, in including Rosh Chodesh within the nine days were implicitly reminding us of how celebration and mourning are inevitably connected.

So as we move towards this particular Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, we mourn the death of Jack Nash – and celebrate the great goodness that he did throughout his life.

Shabbat shalom, chodesh tov,


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