new york | Alexander Soros — what a catch! And not just for the obvious reason. Sure, papa George is worth $22 billion, and as your bubbe says, it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.
But any grandmotherly nudge would be superfluous for young, liberal Jews who have embraced Democratic Party membership and the concept of tikkun olam as pillars of religious identity. For them, and they are many, Soros’ politics will be as appealing as his paternity.
Soros could easily buy what most of the world considers the good life: leisure, parties, private planes. But his definition is different and involves not spending money but giving it away, and more studying than partying.
Soros, 25, is pursuing a doctorate at U.C. Berkeley, along with a higher profile as a philanthropist. “To have the ability to be a philanthropist is a big luxury,” he said.
In 2010, he became the leading student donor to — wait for it — the Democratic Party. And in August, he gave his first major donation, $250,000, to Jewish Funds for Justice, a foundation that supports low-income communities and grassroots organizations. He also sits on its board.
The donation brought him in September to New York, where he visited a Queens office of the immigrant rights organization Make the Road, a JFJ grantee. There, Soros listened far more than he talked, walking quietly through the building and asking the circle of clients and staffers who had been convened for his benefit only one question: how the recession had affected them.
“My Jewish identity is intrinsically linked to philanthropy, whether to Jewish organizations or not,” said Soros. “We have an affinity with other minorities. That means a sense of responsibility, especially in light of the Holocaust.”
Your parents will like it, too, when you bring Soros home, even if they have some qualms about his dad. George Soros has had an image problem in some Jewish circles since a 2003 speech in which he linked a rise in European anti-Semitism to U.S. and Israeli policies.
Like his father, the son supports J Street, which calls itself the “pro-peace Israel lobby.” J Street keeps Jews who are ambivalent about Israel connected to it by providing an alternative to AIPAC, the younger Soros said.
“I’m in a position where I can take a controversial stand,” he said. “It’s important to take risks in philanthropy.”
And besides, he is a good boy, a bookish boy, genuinely excited about his studies and enrolled in one of the most prestigious programs in his field, modern European history. Plus, he confides that his chosen subject has personal as well as intellectual allure.
“I like to say I’m a covert Jewish historian,” Soros said. “I don’t like the idea of bracketing off Jewish history necessarily, but it’s a way for me to be in touch with and discover my own history.”
Soros has a bit of the regular guy about him, too. He cops to liking fantasy football. And he enjoys travel, albeit off the beaten track: Bhutan, and New Guinea, which he loved for its remoteness and plethora of languages.
Inheriting mind-boggling wealth is, counterintuitively, not as easy as it sounds. An ongoing Boston College study of the superrich reported in 2007 that the children of the wealthy tend to feel isolated and aimless. The oldest son of his father’s second marriage, Soros seems to have grappled successfully with the scion’s demon of dilettantism. He has professional goals and, in philanthropy, a mission to help build a society that can be critical of itself.
If that vision reflects his father’s thinking — George Soros’ philanthropy is called the Open Society Foundations — that is not an accident. His father also has supported the Jewish Funds for Justice.
“Anyone who is a son or daughter of someone who was in hiding, or in a camp, it gives you a certain way of viewing things,” the son said.
George Soros survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest by assuming a false identity.
“I have a feeling of responsibility toward my father’s foundation and his legacy,” Alexander Soros said. “Therefore, I am there to help in any way I can. At the same time, it is important to me to be independent and to engage in activities unrelated to my father.”
But Soros also traces his passion for philanthropy and social justice to his mother, Susan Weber Soros, and his nanny, Ping, from China via Flushing, Queens. His mother, also from Queens, was influential in setting up his father’s foundation, he said, and as much as his father formed his view that as a Jew he has a responsibility to help those who suffer persecution and exclusion.
Ping was like a second mother and inspired Soros’ interest in the rights of domestic workers, and workers in general, he said. Now that she is retired, he and his younger brother help take care of her.