Lifelong Five Towns resident Shalom Maidenbaum says he was inspired to get involved in Jewish causes and support Israel by his parents when he was young.
That immersion in Jewish life has propelled Maidenbaum, who now lives in Lawrence, to an appointment to the board of the United States-Israel Educational Foundation, endorsed by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a Woodsburgh resident.
Maidenbaum, 61, a principal in the Cedarhurst law firm Maidenbaum & Sternberg, recalled the honor he felt when he received the letter from Friedman, whom he has known for roughly 35 years, on June 30. “This is something that I’m really proud of and grateful for,” Maidenbaum said. “I’m eager to begin, as it is important to live up to the expectations and high standards of the Fulbright Program.”
The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright. Since its inception, it has awarded scholarships or grants to roughly 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists, giving them the opportunity to study and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
USIEF was created in 1956 by the United States and Israel to administer the Fulbright Program in Israel. The foundation is funded by the two countries’ governments, and is overseen by a 10-member board of directors, five from each country. It also aims to promote mutual understanding between the two nations through student and faculty exchanges.
Friedman was appointed ambassador in December 2016 by then President-elect Trump. He became the nation’s 20th emissary to Israel when he was confirmed by the Senate the following March. His father, Rabbi Morris Friedman, was the spiritual leader of Temple Hillel, a Conservative synagogue in North Woodmere. He hosted President Ronald Reagan when Reagan visited the Five Towns in 1984, at his home and at the synagogue.
“I am honored to confirm your appointment as an American member of the Board of Directors for the USIEF,” Friedman wrote in the letter to Maidenbaum. “I know that you have many demands on your time, yet I am sure that you will make important contributions to the USIEF’s management of the Fulbright program.”
In 2017, the Zionist Organization of America honored Maidenbaum and his wife, Iris, for their charitable donations with the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award. “I believe in giving back, as life has been good to me financially,” he said. “My mother was born in Israel and my father was born in Poland. I grew up in a post-World War II era, understanding the importance of having a Western civilized Jewish state.”
Some of the charitable causes the Maidenbaums have been involved in include helping fund Beit Elazraki, a foster home for children in Netanya, Israel. They have also provided scholarships for Ethiopian students, and donated video teleconferencing equipment to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
The family connection continues to this day for Maidenbaum: His sister lives in Israel with her nine children and 30 grandchildren. “I’ve studied in Israel, as I spent a semester studying at Tel Aviv University Business School,” he said. “I also spent a semester at Hebrew University Law School.”
He described his new role on the USIEF board as a natural fit. “I grew up with a deep appreciation and knowledge of Israel, and I think the ambassador realized that,” he said. “This position is something that furthers and strengthens Israeli academia in a nonpartisan way, which is a great thing.”