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Giving really can save your life

Giving really can save your life

July 05, 2012

What does a dry goods merchant, Macy's, pasteurized milk, and the Titanic all have in common?

This week I'm in Israel and want to tell you an incredible story that shows how giving really can save your life. No. For real.

This is truly inspiring and I know you'll be as amazed as I was.

The most influential man in New York?

Nathan Straus is considered the person who did the most for the welfare of New York City in the early 20th century and his amazing generosity is still talked about to this day, more than a century later.

This week while travelling on a bus to Tel Aviv where this story unfolded I couldn't wait to share it with you.

If you're reading this most likely you are involved in business or changing the world. So this story is for you. It's about a great business man who changed the world. His name is Nathan Straus.

He is considered the person who did the most for the welfare of New York City in the early 20th century as well as making a huge impact on the state of Israel. He and his brother, Isidor, began their careers selling fine china to R.H. Macy & Company department stores in the 1880s. A few years later, Nathan and Isidor became co-owners of Macy’s. They bought the Abraham & Wechsler dry goods store in Brooklyn, making them owners of the two largest stores in New York City. That’s impressive… but the story is just beginning.

As a businessman, he was certainly well respected. But it’s his amazing generosity that made him legendary and why we continue to talk about his legacy more than a century later. Let me explain…


One man’s effort to save thousands of infants

We may even have Straus to thank for pasteurized milk. In 1892, he and his wife funded the Nathan Straus Pasteurized Milk Laboratory to provide pasteurized milk to children. And in those times, this could mean the difference between life and death for infants. Here’s why:

In the early 20th century, infant mortality was a scary-to-believe 25%. Can you imagine, 1 in every 4 children dying? It’s believed that unclean, unpasteurized milk was the chief cause of diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, scarlet fever, and diphtheria that led to this truly frightening infant mortality rate. In New York, where pasteurized milk had become the norm, the infant mortality rate was far less, at 7%. Straus is credited as the leading proponent of the pasteurization movement that eliminated the hundreds of thousands of deaths per year due to disease-bearing milk.

This week I was in a charity distribution warehouse in Jerusalem, Yad Eliezer where thousands of containers of pasteurized milk is still given freely to mothers and babies in need.


Thanks to Nathan Straus, pasteurized milk helped save the lives of thousands of babies in Israel. Last week I was in a charity distribution warehouse in Jerusalem, Yad Eliezer where Straus' legacy lives on as containers of pasteurized milk are still given freely to mothers and babies in need.

Straus also used his milk stations to sell 25 pounds of coal for just 5 cents during the Panic of 1893 – the worst economic Depression the country had seen at the time. Those who couldn’t even afford it received the coal for free. He opened lodging for 5 cents for 64,000 people who could afford a bed-and-breakfast. And he funded 50,000 meals for one cent each. He also gave away thousands of turkeys anonymously.

At his store, Abraham & Straus, he discovered two of his employees starving themselves so they could save money to feed their families. After seeing that, he established what is considered the first company-subsidized cafeteria.

As America prepared to enter World War I, he sold his yacht to the Coast Guard, and he 
used the money to feed war orphans. So what does this mean for mere mortals like you and me? Think big! No matter where you are you can do something really great in the world. The more you stretch the more you get.


One lived. One died. Why?

Isidor (left) and Nathan Straus pictured here before they were set to sail to New York aboard a luxury cruise liner.

A trip in 1912 to what was then called Palestine affected Straus profoundly. He became fascinated by Israel, as he sought to rebuild the land and bring milk pasteurization to infants and mothers, just as he had done in the U.S. His brother Isidor and his sister-in-law decided not to stay. They booked tickets on a luxury ocean liner for themselves and for Nathan and his wife to return to New York on the ship’s maiden voyage.

Nathan and his wife choose to continue their work in Israel and remained behind, giving up their tickets aboard the ship. Isidor and his wife perished aboard when it sank. And what was the name of that boat? The Titanic.

We never really know G-d's reasons for doing things. But the universal principle that charity saves your life is found very clearly here.

That event inspired Nathan to devote two-thirds of his fortune to helping Israel. He created a school for girls and a health bureau to fight malaria and trachoma, and he started a free public kitchen. He also opened a Pasteur Institute and child-health welfare stations. Today, the Israeli city of Netanya is named after him. When I was in Netanya I felt obligated to share his amazing story with you. But wait, look...


Do well by doing good

His giving spirit lives on. In the cities and towns here, I’ve never seen more charitable organizations and more people who are willing to give. People whom you would think have nothing to give offer us water – and then offer us ice – because that’s all they can give. It’s a powerful reminder that we can all do well by doing good.

It’s a Universal Law that he who gives, receives more than he could have imagined. It’s certainly true for Nathan Straus, and I’ve been blessed to see it for myself as well. Those who focus on giving – and not only on making more and getting more – become far more successful.

The more you give, the more you get. What can you give? Can you give time? Money? 
Those who are stingy with their time or money are never truly successful.

Normally I would stop right here, but this week I was also in a bus station that has - A MIND BLOWING STORY…this one gave me chills when I was there…

This is the same bus station where another amazing story of generosity unfolded...

A store owner in the busy central bus station in Jerusalem (similar to Grand Central Station in New York City) noticed a young girl dressed in rags crying in his store. Her mother found her frantically searching everywhere. The store owner decided to start taking care of this little girl and her mother.

On the girl’s wedding day, the store owner gave her an envelope with enough money for her to start an apartment and a life. When she had her first child, he gave her another envelope with more money to pay for a crib and clothes for the baby. But something weird happened when her next child was born.


Come back tonight after the store is closed…

Her husband grew suspicious and demanded to know more about their generous benefactor. Who was this person? Why was he sending them money? So he decided to go to the bus station and investigate on his own against his wife’s wishes. The store owner tracked down the young man. He told him, “The bus station is a small place and I heard you were snooping around here ... Come back tonight after the store is closed.”

The husband and wife grew scared. The store owner had a reputation as a rough guy, and he didn’t feel comfortable meeting him after dark. But the husband went anyway. He walked into the store. The owner closed the door behind them. The young man thought he might never return home.

The store owner explained to him that years ago he stood face-to-face with a robber who broke into his store, pointed a gun at him, and demanded all his money. At that moment, a rabbi walked through the door and the robber fled.


“Charity will save your life”

The rabbi was a kabbalist. He warned the store owner that the robber will definately come back and will kill you. Fearing for his life, the store owner asked him what he could do. The rabbi said: “Charity will save your life.”

The next day, the store owner saw the poor young girl and her mother, and it was clear he was meant to help this girl. The robber never came back. And he had never 
had any problems since he began taking care of the young girl.

The husband apologized but insisted that they couldn’t take his money any longer and refused to accept it. Here is the shocking and tragic part of the story. The next day, the store owner was murdered by the same robber who came back to complete the job from years before. As soon as he stopped giving, he lost his life!


Give more and get more

Both stories are true. And both show how giving not only changes the lives of the people who benefit, but those who give also get more. They get more wealth, more joy and more life.

I’ve learned there are two types of people. There are (1) givers and (2) takers. The questions is, which are you?

It’s always better to be a giver. No matter how little you have you can always give something whether it’s your time or your money. The store owner gave money. Nathan Straus gave his time and his money – and it saved his life!

For me, I choose to be a giver. I spend quite a bit of my time in pro bono work for clients because I firmly believe that I get more out of it than I can possibly give. What are you passionate about? What charitable causes can you support? How can you help someone else? If you look around you will find that the most successful people are often the most generous people.

By doing good, you really can do well.

Always taking you from where you are to where you want to go,


Jon Goldman, President & CEO 
Brand Launcher 
Lumpy Mail