(September 2, 2019 / JNS)
Eugen Gluck was a gift from heaven. A giant among men. But first and foremost, he was a righteous man. Eugen showed everyone who knew him what they should strive for in life. Truly larger than life, he made everyone feel welcome and valued. He was loved by all and he loved everybody.
His love for Eretz Yisrael was legendary. He built Bet El, which is now home to over 10,000. His Bet El Dinners, which he gave his all for, were monumental. The dinners drew “the largest crowd of any dinner anywhere,” he liked to say. His dinners were attended by 1,200 to 1,500 people every year, for 36 years, a fact of which he was rightfully very proud.
I had the privilege of working with Eugen and his team on a number of these events. It is very hard to believe that on Dec. 3, 2018, Eugen organized his last dinner. It was a fitting tribute to his beloved wife, Jean, who had passed away earlier that year, and featured Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, U.S. rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Fox And Friends host Pete Hegseth.
We all thought Eugen would continue these incredible events for many more years. There was never a thought that one day he might not be there. He was so full of energy and life it simply never occurred to me that he would not be greeting me in December 2019 with that unbelievable hug, pinch on the cheek and inimitable hello.
I spoke to him in mid-July before traveling to Israel with Mike Huckabee. Eugen featured Mike Huckabee at his dinners on Dec. 6, 2010, Dec. 18, 2014, and again on Dec. 6, 2015, and also supported his brief run for the White House in 2016. Eugen was ecstatic that Donald Trump won the election. During the campaign, he constantly asked me if Trump really had a chance, and I always said yes. I told him I didn’t believe God would go to the trouble of helping Trump defeat 17 Republican candidates only to have him lose in the general election.
He always encouraged everyone he met to fulfill their potential. He featured John Bolton at the Bet El Dinner of Dec. 5, 2016, and again on Dec. 6, 2017. He always thought Bolton would rise through the ranks of government—which of course he did. Bolton is now National Security Adviser. Eugen knew how to call them. When Benjamin Netanyahu keynoted one of the Bet El Dinners in the 1990s, Eugen said he would become prime minister. In May of 1996, he did.
Eugen had a knack for predicting the future. It was one of the reasons he was so successful in business. Despite his wealth, however, he remained modest and accessible. He was a great supporter of so many worthy projects, but was perhaps best known for his founding and funding of the Bet El Institutions and Arutz Sheva (Israel National News). Yaakov Katz (“Katzele”) was his closest and dearest associate. Together, they changed Israel forever.
Among the causes Eugen supported were some I was associated with, including American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, National Council of Young Israel, Young Israel Chovevei Zion and the Israel Day Concert in Central Park. His support of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, Yad Vashem, Sha’are Zedek, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue and so many other incredible institutions is extraordinary.
Born a Satmar Chassid, Eugen survived several concentration camps and went on to become the world’s greatest Zionist. He accomplished in life what very few ever do—and did it with a smile and a pleasant word.
I last saw Eugen at the shiva for U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s mother. He was his old self, but had lost weight. He tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a glowing hello. It was invigorating. Eugen had clearly been affected by the passing of his beloved wife, Jean, but kept going to work every day.
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine spoke to him at my urging about a Chazaq event. He was as sharp as ever and made sure to offer his support and blessings. His passing on Monday in New York came as a shock. We will all sorely miss this man who touched the lives of so many. With his passing, the Jewish people lost one of their pillars. May his family know no further sorrow, and may they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Dr. Joseph Frager is 1st vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
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