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September 17, 2015 7:13 pm

Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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Sandor (Sandy) Frankel at the Jerusalem Press Club, one of many Israeli projects funded by the Helmsley Trust. Photo: Facebook.

Sandor (Sandy) Frankel at the Jerusalem Press Club, one of many Israeli projects funded by the Helmsley Trust. Photo: Facebook.

Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions.

Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country need the most attention.

Over the course of the last seven years or so, the Helmsley Trust has donated in the ballpark of $145 million in grants (out of overall assets of over $5 billion) to works in and related to the Jewish state. Among these are: a joint grant to the Technion and the Weizmann Institute for alternative-energy research ($15 million); multi-million-dollar grants to the Weizmann Institute for stem-cell research and a sophisticated MRI for Crohn’s disease diagnosis; a new blood bank for Magen David Adom ($8 million); a grant to Haifa University for a Mediterranean Sea research center ($7 million); funding for an underground facility that converts a parking garage at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa into a 2,000-bed, bomb-proof facility for war-time ($5 million); the Jerusalem Press Club facilities in Mishkenot Sha’ananim; Birthright trips; and a grant for a robotics project at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev ($6.3 million).

For two years running, it has also funded full-page ads in American newspapers on Israel Independence Day, which feature Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The list goes on, and grows with each trip Frankel makes to Israel – once a year on average.

Frankel began representing real estate mogul Leona Helmsley in 1990. By that time, the Jewish girl from Brooklyn — who had already made multi-millions both on her own and through a number of marriages – had earned the derogatory nickname “Queen of Mean.”

This, too, was the title of a Piers Randsdell novel based on her life and subsequent made-for-TV movie in 1990.

Frankel spent more than 17 years, until Helmsley’s death in 2007, handling her legal affairs, which were many and varied. For instance, she was convicted of federal income tax evasion and other crimes in 1989. Though she initially received a 16-year sentence, it was later reduced to 19 months in prison and two months under house arrest. During the trial, a former housekeeper of the oft-called “tyrannical tycoon” testified she had heard Helmsley say: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

But Frankel’s relationship with the controversial character grew to be more familiar.

“She [Helmsley] gradually began to speak with me about matters that weren’t strictly legal,” he told The Algemeiner in a recent interview. “And when she passed away, she left most of her fortune, around $8 billion, to the Helmsley Charitable Trust.”

Frankel was named by Helmsley as one of five trustees and executors of her vast estate. One of these was her brother, an elderly man who died shortly thereafter, leaving the four others to handle the liquidation of her assets and the decision-making about the charities worth financing.

Though Helmsley was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland – and, as Frankel put it, “very aware that she was a Jew” – she never visited Israel; was not affiliated with a synagogue or other Jewish institutions; and her charitable giving was not focused on Jewish or Zionist causes.

Creating a program for the latter was Frankel’s idea; it is what he “brought to the collective table.”

The other trustees were on board; Frankel became the lead trustee for Israel-related projects; and the rest is history – in the making.

Frankel, the only Jew among the four trustees, explained the impetus for his pushing to cultivate this particular niche.

“There are a multitude of reasons that one becomes a lover of Israel,” he told The Algemeiner. “It’s hard to know even where to start. It’s the homeland of the Jewish people; it’s a bastion of democracy and Western values in an area of the world that lacks both; it’s a modern-day miracle that not only survives, but flourishes in the tsunami of warfare, terrorism, hatred and conflagration of all types. And the development of the security of Israel is important for the development and security of the world.”

Frankel said there is also “cross-pollination” where projects funded by the trust are concerned.

“For example, we have a very substantial program for Crohn’s disease research. As it happens, Crohn’s disease affects many Ashkenazi Jews, and therefore, there’s a prevalence of the disease in Israel. So, there are grants we’ve made in Israel for that, which is partly an Israel program and partly a Crohn’s Disease program. Another example is our very substantial Type 1 Diabetes program and a grant made to one of the institutions in Israel that works on Type 1 Diabetes.”

Asked what he considers the biggest challenge facing the Jewish state, and where the Helmsley Trust can have the biggest impact, Frankel sighed.

“There are so many ways that we can hope to have some impact in Israel that it’s impossible, really, to pick one,” he said.

He concluded by describing the process he underwent – and is still undergoing – to determine the value of the many Israel-related projects that come his way.

“I can tell you that at the beginning, as I was getting my feet wet in this whole area, I thought that working with some of the premier educational institutions in Israel was a good way to get started. But as things progressed, I began to think a lot more about Israel, and ideas starting flowing. I read a lot about Israel. I meet with a lot of Israelis who come to the U.S. and those I see when I travel to Israel. There is no lack of good work that can be done philanthropically in Israel; it’s just a question of using one’s judgment to sort out what are the most valuable, the most impactful and, in general, what are the best directions to go in. We have turned down worthwhile projects, because as large as we are, we’re dealing with finite resources. So ultimately, it’s a question of judgment.”


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  • please answer me about when Adv Sandy Frankel will get my messege

    Waiting for any reply

    Ilan- Claudio

  • Using the Helmsley Charitable Trust to benefit the many great needs in Israel, a country where the people are very careful not only to support humanitarian efforts enthusiastically, but also not to waste resources, is nothing short of a stroke of genius, an act of leadership and inspired brilliance in the field of philanthropy, since it is also varied and yet targeted in terms of its beneficiaries, and is helping those who would be harder pressed than organizations outside the Jewish State, to obtain such charitable assistance, though they need it greatly, and it will have a widening positive effect on Israel and then on the world’s population.

  • Astralight


    Firstly, may Leona Helmsley rest in peace close to the throne of the Almighty! What a pity that she never had a chance to visit Israel during her lifetime.

    Adv. Frankel definitely has his work cut out for him! Hopefully, he is not spending too much time talking to Israeli politicians; each of them have their own agendas and projects.

    What Israel really needs is several more hospitals! This has been discussed for decades without much progress being made. Obviously, security-related donations for new inventions and top-of-the-line warcraft are Israel’s greatest priorities!

    Hopefully, Adv. Frankel will examine and study these two areas.

    It goes without saying that that donations to other causes would be graciously welcomed, but these are the two that would commence my PERSONAL list.

    Wishing everyone a safe new year!

  • christian gospel

    I love isreal

  • Ezra

    Mr Frankel,

    I too add my thanks to you and the Helmsley Charitable Trust. While it is true that Israel is a progressive democracy and a hub of medical and technological innovation and discovery, I hope you can see your way to assist poor and under privileged Israelis who are in need. I especially speak about those remaining Holocaust survivors who need assistance just to subsist daily.

    • I thank Mr. Frankel for his support of Technion in the field of renewable energy.

      My company, Low Wind LLC is looking forward to working with the Technion with our development, based on $5 million of prior R&D, of a wind turbine that is capable of generating grid-level power in wind speeds beginning at 5 mph (8kph).

      With support, it would be a breakthrough technology, that could be the equivalent of another Natafim in the MENA where prevailing winds are =< 12 mph (18 kph)

    • I have written abook about the great heroism of my mother during the Nazi persecution in Rome 1943-1944. THE BOOK IS INCLUDED IN MY WEBSITE.The JEWISH-Israeli film director Mr joshua Sobol( recommends that this heroic story must be turned into a movie– a Israeli-Italian coproduction .
      Yet.such adream may never be accomplished because I cannot afford it financially.In short ,it shows a fragile jewess who in order to save her family in hiding from starvation joins a Nazi night club , becomes the sweetheart of a Nazi officer, transfers military crucial information to the Allied Forces nearing Rome and so facilitates the liberation of Rome. Please, help me render a loud cry for help to make this dream come true via the Charitable Hemsley Trust –a plea to Mr Sandy Frankel ( adv working in N.Y–New York a trustee of this charitable project.

  • Dave

    Frankel is an example of the relationship that is not always verbalized or understood between the nation of the Jewish people and the Jews of the diaspora. Strengthening Israel economically, culturally, scientifically allows the Jewish State direct its resources to confront outside challenges and threats. It is also an answer to the BDS folks, who want to see Israel disappear. God bless Frankel and the Others at the Helmsley Trust for allocating some good will towards Israel

  • Paula Goldman

    Even in this year 5776 we Jews are often faced with Anti-Semitism. And Israel must constantly fight for survival. Here in Massachusetts there is some nastiness, thank the Lord not deadly.

    We Jews are going to the synagogue tonight to celebrate Yom Kippur, the day of atonemennt. Maybe some Anti-Semites will give up their hatred of us and atone for their sins. We will never forget the Holocaust when six million Jews were murdered because of their religion.

  • dante

    I second what Tess said (for whatever reason, hers is the only comment that I can read, though a total of 4 comments have been posted). Heaven protect the Jewish People and Israel and their friends, true Christians and all people of good will!

  • Spaseeba (spaSEEba) (Russian), Toda (toDA) (Hebrew), Danke (DANke) (German/Yiddish), Gracias (Spanish), Merci (French); English translation: Thanks. There are too few excellent people such as you on this planet.

  • Akiva Shapero

    Thank you for your efforts in this area. In a world of hate, your work is a bright light.

  • Caryl BERNER

    I couldn’t agree more with what Tess wrote and I’d also like to express my appreciation to the other trustee’s who agreed with Mr, Frankels suggestion. Bless you all and Bless Israel.

  • Tess

    Thank you mr frankel there is no cause more worthy than supporting a people who fight everyday for their survival, again.

    • I sent you a comment regarding the Helmsley Charitable Trust–
      addressed to Mr/Adv Sandy Frankel.

      Will he ever read it ? Will it be brought to his attention so

      he himself will consider it and decide whether to help or not.

      i sent it on October 3 ( evening ) PLEASE ANSWER ME.