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Schusterman, Charles

SCHUSTERMAN, CHARLES

SCHUSTERMAN, CHARLES (1935–2000) and LYNN (1939– ). U.S. business persons and philanthropists, Charles Schusterman was born to Russian immigrants living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in petroleum engineering, Schusterman became a successful entrepreneur and generous philanthropist, whose charitable efforts helped to revitalize Jewish life in America, the former Soviet Union and Israel.

Lynn Josey Schusterman was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She was raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and moved to Tulsa after she married Charles in 1962. Lynn served as president and ceo of their eponymous family foundation. Their daughter, Stacy Schusterman, served as a member of the foundation board.

In addition to co-founding and directing the Charles and Lynn Family Foundation (clsff), Lynn plays a leadership role in several national and international charitable organizations responsive to her philanthropic and religious goals. In 2006 her positions included president of bbyo, the largest, non-denominational Jewish youth group in North American; co-chair of the International Board of Governors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life; and president of star (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), a philanthropic partnership conceived to promote Jewish renewal through the synagogue.

Charles ("Charlie") Schusterman founded Samson Resources Company in 1971. Over the next 30 years, Samson grew to rank among the largest independent energy exploration and production companies in the United States. In 1983, shortly before his 48th birthday, Charlie was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (cml). He responded to this disease with characteristic vigor, but later developed a second illness, interstitial lung disease (ild), from which doctors believe he ultimately died in 2000.

In 1987, during the most trying times of Charlie's battle with cml, he and Lynn established their foundation with an emphasis on education. While not overtly spiritual or religious, the couple also identified strongly with Judaism and their deep affiliation with the Jewish people permeated every aspect of their philanthropic agenda. "In a very short time," Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg remarked when Charlie died, "The Schustermans established themselves as world leaders on the frontier of philanthropy for Jewish renewal."

Their passion to work on behalf of Judaism and Jewish causes was fueled by their first visit to Israel together in 1977. It was during that experience that Lynn, in her own words, "fell in love with being Jewish." The Schustermans eventually purchased an apartment in Jerusalem and increased their funding of causes vital to the security and economic future of the Jewish state, as well as to organizations that supported the overall social well-being of its citizens, especially children and those most in need.

Since its creation, the clsff has pledged and contributed more than $110 million toward the two causes that form its mission: its hometown of Tulsa and Jewish people wherever they may reside. It is known for its tactical and hands-on approach to philanthropy and for challenging its recipients to strive for excellence both in programs and in administration. Experts in the field have described the clsff as a model of strategic private philanthropy widely recognized for its professionalism, its ability to act quickly, and its willingness to take risks. The clsff also has a reputation for taking the long view in its grant-making; many of the groups it supported in its earliest years continue to receive funding today.

Locally, the clsff supports Oklahoma-based, non-sectarian charitable groups that help people help themselves, especially organizations that focus on education, children, and community service. Among its grantees in the early 21st century were the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, the Tulsa City County Library Commission, the Parent Child Center of Tulsa, and the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, an organization that helps families in economic need achieve self-sufficiency. The foundation also seeks to create links between the programs it funds in Oklahoma and projects with similar missions in Israel.

Nationally and internationally, the clsff supports organizations that bring greater vitality and relevance to Jewish life. Its pursues its mission – to help spread the joy of Jewish living, giving, and learning – in communities throughout the world, from Moscow to Minneapolis and from Montevideo to Modi'in. The clsff seeks to ensure that a community of proud and educated Jews thrives for generations to come, even as increasing numbers of Jews count themselves among the unaffiliated and the intermarried. The foundation's support for programs that make Judaism more accessible has produced positive results in all of the geographic areas upon which it has chosen to focus: United States, Israel, and the former Soviet Union.

In America, the clsff has funded a carefully selected array of programs and organizations including Birthright Israel, which has brought tens of thousands of college-age students to Israel to experience the same sense of connection that Charles and Lynn felt during their first family trip to Israel. The clsff also supports the American Israel Education Foundation, The Foundation for Jewish Camping, MyJewishLearning.com, and The Curriculum Initiative, a project designed to provide quality Jewish experiences for Jewish high school students attending boarding or other private schools.

The foundation also supports a diverse and growing number of Israel-based organizations, including the Beit Lynn network, a growing number of facilities designed to treat victims of child abuse and neglect, and the Meitarim network of schools, institutions that educate Jewish children in a religiously pluralistic environment. In the former Soviet Union, the clsff promotes Jewish renewal through its contributions and work with Hillel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Hebrew Union College, and the World Union of Progressive Judaism.

One of the hallmarks of the foundation's operating philosophy is to engage in coalition-building of philanthropic partnerships, in efforts such as Birthright Israel and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (peje). Such partnerships leverage resources for maximum effect, and reflect the foundation's continued adherence to the Schustermans' leadership model. In particular, the clsff encourages unity among Jewish organizations, and stresses that Jews from all denominations, backgrounds, and affiliations should work cooperatively on matters of mutual concern. The clsff also places a high priority on the professional development of those working on behalf of the Jewish people and sponsors several conferences each year to assist in that effort.

The clsff maintains offices in Tulsa, Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem.

[Alana Hughes (2nd ed.)]

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