Transformational. That’s the word most often associated with the gifts of William (Bill) Farber (z”l). Just a few days before his passing on March 25, 2017, he visited the new Farber Hebrew Day School (formerly Akiva Day School), the place where his remarkable philanthropic journey with the Jewish Federation began.
It wasn’t about his name on the building. “His happiest moments were when he was surrounded by the kids,” said Rabbi Harold Loss of Temple Israel, where the Farber family belongs.
Speaking at his funeral, Director of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, Stacey Deweese shared that she was honored and humbled to represent the Detroit Jewish Federation to express the community’s immense gratitude. “Bill and Audrey’s philanthropy, in large part through Federation’s Centennial Fund, has fundamentally changed the landscape of our community. It has literally opened the doors for generations to come,” she said.
Among the largest donors in Federation’s history, the Farber family contributed a total of $45 million to organizations and causes primarily to benefit education, children and caring for older adults.
Through their work together over a period of eight years, Stacey and Bill Farber became close and trusted friends. Their business meetings soon became weekly lunches where they enjoyed one another’s company, and talked about anything and everything. “We never ran out of things to talk about, problems to be solved, and there was always a lot of laughter,” observed Stacey. “I would be in awe of our discussions of how much, and where, Bill wanted to give his philanthropic gifts.”
Bill essentially was a frugal man. Stacey continued,“Bill had a way with words and a sense of humor. He would tell me, repeatedly, that if there were anything he wanted that would make him happier than giving, he would spend all his money on himself. Of course, I never believed him. In his neshema, his soul, Bill Farber was inherently a generously giving and caring man.”
An entrepreneur and visionary in business, a family man at heart
Born in Detroit in 1931, Bill had a long and prosperous career as a pharmacist and was a pioneer in the generic drug industry. He was the founder and CEO of two start-up, generic wholesale drug companies, both of which are thriving today. In 1991, he purchased a struggling Lannett Company, one of the first generic drug manufacturers in the U.S., successfully upgrading the company’s manufacturing facility, adding customers, expanding its pipeline and guiding its turnaround and development.
With Audrey, his beloved wife of 62 years, Bill leaves his legacy of hard work and generosity now to his family – sons, Larry (Barbara) Farber, David (Nanci) Farber and Jeffrey (Jennifer) Farber. Reflecting on his father’s professional accomplishments, Jeffrey, Lannett’s current chairman, said, “My father dedicated his life to help bring lower cost medications to millions of people; we are honored to carry his legacy forward.”
“Our dad taught us that we’re not above anyone – an attitude which mirrored his own perspective about the company he ran,” said David Farber. Commenting on her father-in-law’s remarkable philanthropic achievements, Nanci Farber observed,“Bill wanted to make transformational gifts while he was alive. He made a huge impact in a short amount of time and that was all by design.”
A quiet philanthropist
While Bill spent years as a quiet, yet consistent, donor to a variety of causes, the sale of Lannett provided him the means to make his landmark gifts in a series of contributions and decisions that would transform the lives of organizations and people within the community of Jewish Detroit and far beyond.
True to his business sensibility, Bill was cautious and strategic about the gifts he chose to make. He wanted to be sure an organization was viable and sustainable before he agreed to be a donor. For that reason, he was skeptical when presented with an idea for an art studio and restaurant to be staffed by young adults with special needs under the auspices of Friendship Circle of Michigan.
Motivated by son David and his wife, Nanci, longtime Friendship Circle supporters, and his faith in the organization’s leaders, Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov, Bill agreed to fund what is now the Farber Soul Center and Soul Cafe in West Bloomfield. Once the Center opened, Bill took great pleasure in admiring the artwork in the gallery and meeting friends in the cafe. “In fact, it became one of his favorite places to hang out,” David said.
Celebrating its ribbon-cutting and dedication on Sunday, May 21, the Farber Hebrew Day School stands as one of Bill Farber’s most remarkable philanthropic achievements. Although Bill was a Reform Jew, he admired the Zionist orientation of the school and viewed it as a vehicle to grow the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. What was intended as a renovation for the old Akiva school building turned into an $8 million gift to build the new 69,000 square-foot facility.
Following the gift to Akiva Hebrew Day, the Farbers gave nearly $10 million to Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills in several phases — first to create the William and Audrey Farber Family IDEA Lab, built in 2014, and then to renovate most of the interior of the school into a 21st-century learning center where students could learn amid collaboration and creativity.
In 2014, the Farbers established an endowment of $10 million to support the preschool program and scholarships to the Susan and Rabbi Harold Loss Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.
Over the years, the Farbers generously have supported Tamarack Camps. Those gifts have included the Audrey and William Farber Family Village, music programming and the newest initiative, the Farber Farm.
In Israel, Bill’s passion for education extended to his support of an educational program for Israeli soldiers: The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Formal Education Program, which allows IDF soldiers to receive their high school completion certificates during their military service.
The long list of organizations the Farbers have helped to transform includes:
- PJ Library, a program that provides books to children and brings young families together
- Michigan State University Hillel and the Michigan State University and Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan (HCAM), providing educational programming to benefit college students across Michigan
- Opening the Doors, a special education program of Federation
- Lifelinks, a program of Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy
- Brown Adult Day Care Center, serving more than 200 older adults on two sites
- Jewish Senior Life (JSL) health services and programming, for residents on the West Bloomfield Campus
- The Well, an inclusive Jewish community-building, education and spirituality outreach initiative geared to young adults
- Yad Ezra, Michigan’s only kosher food pantry
- Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET)
Some secular beneficiaries of the generosity of the Farbers include the Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association, Starfish Family Services, the Empowerment Plan in Detroit and a new pet care program at the Haven shelter for victims of domestic violence.
In addition to his wife, Audrey, his immediate family – Larry and Barbara, David and Nanci, and Jeffrey and Jennifer – Bill is survived by 10 grandchildren, Channa Farber, Noah Farber, Adina Farber, Amanda Farber, Justin Farber, Hailey Farber, Mackenzie Morton, Alexis Morton, Jacob Farber and Jessica Farber; and brother and sister, Gerald “Jake” Farber and Marsha Berniker. He will also be missed by his many loving nieces, nephews, cousins and a world of friends.
William (Bill) Farber, 1931-2017. May his memory forever be a blessing to our community.