Billionaire Michael Steinhardt, founder of a charter school chain called “Hebrew Language Academies,” was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment. 

A story in the New York Times began:

“Sheila Katz was a young executive at Hillel International, the Jewish college outreach organization, when she was sent to visit the philanthropist Michael H. Steinhardt, a New York billionaire. He had once been a major donor, and her goal was to persuade him to increase his support. But in their first encounter, he asked her repeatedly if she wanted to have sex with him, she said.

“Deborah Mohile Goldberg worked for Birthright Israel, a nonprofit co-founded by Mr. Steinhardt, when he asked her if she and a female colleague would like to join him in a threesome, she said.

“Natalie Goldfein, who was an officer at a small nonprofit that Mr. Steinhardt had helped establish, said he suggested in a meeting that they have babies together.

“Mr. Steinhardt, 78, a retired hedge fund founder, is among an elite cadre of donors who bankroll some of the country’s most prestigious Jewish nonprofits. His foundations have given at least $127 million to charitable causes since 2003, public filings show.

“But for more than two decades, that generosity has come at a price. Six women said in interviews with The New York Times and ProPublica, and one said in a lawsuit, that Mr. Steinhardt asked them to have sex with him, or made sexual requests of them, while they were relying on or seeking his support. He also regularly made comments to women about their bodies and their fertility, according to the seven women and 16 other people who said they were present when Mr. Steinhardt made such comments.

“Institutions in the Jewish world have long known about his behavior, and they have looked the other way,” said Ms. Katz, 35, a vice president at Hillel International. “No one was surprised when I shared that this happened.”

“Mr. Steinhardt declined to be interviewed for this article. In a statement, he said he regretted that he had made comments in professional settings through the years “that were boorish, disrespectful, and just plain dumb.” Those comments, he said, were always meant humorously.”

Steinhardt insisted he was joking. The women who spoke up did not get the humor.

Is there something about billionaires that makes them believe they are irresistible and invincible?

Steinhardt’s Hebrew language charter schools are part of a growing chain that operates in several cities. Its students are ethnically diverse but classes are taught in English and Hebrew. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $5 million to the chain, though it was never in need of external funding.

Michael Steinhardt’s daughter Sara Berman is chair of the chain’s board.

Since Hebrew is a spoken language only in Israel, it is not clear what the value of Hebrew is to Black and Hispanic students.

Steinhardt endowed the New York University School of Education, which bears his name, as well as the conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the SteinhardtGallery at the Metropoitan Museum of Art.

Steinhardt made his fortune as a hedge fund manager. He overcame inauspicious origins. According to Wikipedia, Steinhardt’s father Sol was a compulsive gambler and a notorious “fence” for stolen jewelry. He hung out with “underworld crime bosses Meyer Lansky, Vincent Alo (aka “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo), and Albert Anastasia (he was out gambling with Anastasia the night before he was killed). Sol, aka “Red McGee,” was later convicted on charges of buying and selling stolen jewelry and sentenced to five to ten years in prison.”

A gambler and criminal in one generation produces a successful hedge fund manager in the next. Hmmm. Food for thought.