Charles E. Smith was born on March 28, 1901 in Russia. His village, Lipnick, was located in a hilly rural (farming) area and his family farmed potatoes and corn. At the age of seven he contracted diphtheria. At that time there was no cure and it was a miracle that he survived. In 1908, Mr. Smith’s father Rueven emigrated to America to learn carpentry and earn enough money to bring his family over to America.
Mr. Smith emigrated to America in September 1911. At that time his last name was changed from Schmidoff to Smith. His family settled in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn. Two of his cousins also roomed with his family in their three bedroom apartment. Mr. Smith started school at P.S. 125 in Brooklyn, placed in the fourth grade until he could work his way up to sixth grade (his peer group).
Mr. Smith married Leah Goldstein of Yonkers, New York in February 1927. Shortly after their marriage she contracted diphtheria. Eventually, after her recovery, she had their first son, Bob and then daughter Arlene. Charles and Leah Smith were married until her death in 1972. Mr. Smith and his second wife, Micki, were married for thirteen years.
Charles E. Smith worked hard, even though his professional life went through many ups and downs. At twenty-two, Charles E. Smith became an accountant but decided to pursue his passion for construction and building shortly after. In his mid-twenties he began building homes and shopping centers in Brooklyn, NY. Mr. Smith lost a great deal of money in the stock market crash and the Great Depression. He worked hard to rebuild his business. In 1942, Charles E. Smith moved to the DC Metro area to build apartments and office buildings. Not long after moving to DC he decided to start his own company and build apartment buildings. By 1948, the Charles E. Smith Company not only built apartment buildings, but managed them as well.
Giving to those in need in order to make the world a better place was important to Charles E. Smith. In the mid 1960s, Mr. Smith raised the $10 million to build a complex of buildings to house the Jewish Social Service Agency, Jewish Community Center and Hebrew Home for the Aged. After a successful career as a builder, Mr. Smith retired in 1967. After retirement from his company, he started to do philanthropic work full time. His morning ritual involved reading the newspaper to find stories about those that might be able to use his help. His gifts were both large and small, from donating a washing machine to a woman with many children to helping build a place for inner city kids to play. He felt that it was very important to help people and make a difference in the world and he passed this value on to his family.
Education and learning were also very important to Mr. Smith. In 1968 he became a member of the George Washington University Board of Directors and helped the university raise enough money to build a new medical school. In the 1970s he started an institute in Israel to study psychobiology (the relationship between the mind and body). In 1981 a Jewish Day School that he had helped form and support financially was named for him, becoming the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
After a long and eventful life, Charles E. Smith died on December 30, 1995, but his legacy lives on in his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, several of whom attended CESJDS. His memory also lives on in all of the students at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day school, past and future.
Each year on March 28, JDS celebrates Charles E. Smith Day with assemblies and special events to honor our namesake.