By COLlive reporter
Photos by JEM
David Chase, who was one of the wealthiest people in America and a major supporter of Chabad and Jewish institutions over the years, passed away on Thursday, 25 Iyar 5776.
He was 86 and battled Parkinson’s in recent years.
Chase was named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest people in the country in the late 80s. He presided over Chase Enterprises, a family-owned business with assets once estimated at $2 billion.
Based in Hartford, Connecticut, the diversified conglomerate had extensive holdings in real estate, banking, insurance and media in the United States and Poland.
On one of his visits to Poland, Chase gave a dollar from the Rebbe to Lech Walesa, the Polish labor leader who helped lead his country to democracy and later served as Poland’s president. Walesa carried the dollar in his wallet.
When Walesa visited the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv and saw a picture of the Rebbe, he asked Chase, who was accompanying him: “Is this my Rebbe? The one who gave me the dollar?” When told that it was, Walesa bowed from the waist toward the Rebbe in a gesture of respect.
His connection with Chabad began when he purchased the Kresge Department Stores, based out of Newark, in 1964. New Jersey’s Head Shliach Rabbi Moshe Herson invited Chase to Rabbinical College of America’s annual dinner. Chase replied that though he was not accomplished in Judaic studies, he would be willing to help in any way possible.
When the duo met, a close friendship developed and Chase embraced the Rabbinical College’s cause with great vigor, lending his office and utilizing his personal staff for the institution’s affairs, according to Lubavitch Archives.
Rabbi Herson brought Chase to 770 Eastern Parkway for a farbrengen celebrating the Rebbe’s 79th birthday, after which the Rebbe wrote to Chase: “Although it is not customary or proper to ask for a birthday gift… considering our special relationship, I venture to do so, being confident that you will treat it in the proper spirit.”
The Rebbe wrote, “The birthday gift that I have in mind, which I would consider an honor, as well as a great pleasure, is that you devote a quarter of an hour of your time every weekday morning and dedicate it for the sacred purpose of putting on Tefillin, with the appropriate prayer that goes with it, such as the Shema [prayer] and the like. The latter need not necessarily be recited in Hebrew. If you can manage this in ten minutes, I am prepared to forego five minutes and let it be only ten minutes of your time.”
The Rebbe gifted Chase 3 sets of tefillin, one which he would use in his home in Hartford, another for his home in Florida, and a small set to use while traveling. “I will do my best not to overlook putting on tefillin in the future,” Chase responded and insisted on paying for them.
Chase served as chairman of the board of the Rabbinical College of America – Chabad’s regional headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, and Machne Israel Development Fund, instrumental in garnering financial support for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Over the years, Chase addressed the International Kinus Hashluchim Convention in New York, the annual meeting of Lubavitch Youth Organization, and the memorable groundbreaking ceremony for Lubavitch World Headquarters – 770 Eastern Parkway in the presence of the Rebbe.
VIDEO: Chase tells the Rebbe: “I love you Rebbe, very, very much”
Chase grew up in Sosnowiec, Poland, and at the age of 12 he walked on the death march when the Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1939. His family was taken to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where 60 relatives perished including his mother and a younger sister.
During a death march from Mauthausen concentration camp, Chase managed to escape, Palm Beach Today reported. On May 5, 1945, he was liberated by General Patton’s Third Army and arrived in America in June, 1946.
After graduating the Weaver High School in Hartford, he started waxing cars and moving on to settling household products door-to-door. The company he built owns buildings and shopping centers and later banks, insurance companies, broadcast and engineering companies.
Chase has been the recipient of many honors for his philanthropy, among them Doctor of Law from the Rabbinical College of America, Gold Medal from the State of Israel and the Presidential Medal from Poland.
In the 1990s, Chase told the Rebbe that at a meeting with American ambassadors in Poland, he spoke of how proud he was to be part of the Lubavitcher movement, and a private in the Rebbe’s army.
The Rebbe said, “Don’t underestimate my appointment. I appointed you a long time ago, not as a private, but as a general, and now with four stars.” Mr. Chase responded, “I”m a lucky man. I feel humble enough to be a private, and proud enough to be a general.” Handing him another dollar, the Rebbe said, “And this is for the fifth star to come in the near future.”
“David saw the Rebbe as the ultimate leader of Jewish life in the world,” says Rabbi Yosef Gopin of Chabad House of Greater Hartford, which Chase helped establish. “He saw the perpetuity of Judaism in Chabad house, and saw the joy and the pride with which Chabad presents Judaism.”
In a condolence note to the family today, Rabbi Herson wrote: “Our hearts are broken. The dictionary does not have enough words to describe David’s departure. G-d is with you and him. The Rebbe is with you and him at this time.”
He is survived by his wife Rhoda Chase, children Cheryl Freedman and Arnold L. Chase; grandchildren.
Baruch dayan haemes.
VIDEO: David Chase speaks to COL