For Haim and Cheryl Saban, philanthropy is not just something they do — it’s part of who they are.
“Haim’s mom and dad both taught him to be giving — it’s really a family thing for him,” says Cheryl, who founded the Cheryl Saban Self-Worth Foundation for Women and Girls in 2009 and has served on the boards of numerous philanthropic organizations, including the Los Angeles Universal Preschool and Keck School of Medicine at USC. “When Haim’s family had nothing, they shared everything they had — they shared their nothing.”
When Haim Saban was a child, he was given a box of chocolates for his birthday. The tradition in the family was to pass the box of chocolates around until all the relatives got to sample. There were so many relatives, by the time the box came back around to Saban, there were no chocolates left.
“But that’s the way it goes, you share,” says Cheryl Saban. “Haim has always been taught by his dad to be a good person, to be kind, to be giving. It’s just the way he was raised, and he believes that in his heart. It’s just the way he is.”
This desire to help others is also deeply enmeshed in Cheryl, who, prior to meeting Haim, was a single working mother with two young daughters. She often didn’t have the money to pay for her own medical expenses. Part of her drive to improve the lives of those in need through her work in the medical community, such as the Saban Community Clinic, with three locations in Los Angeles, is that there was a time when she was on the receiving end of such help.
“The Clinic is extremely important in Los Angeles,” says Cheryl Saban. “One of the reasons that we give there is because I was a patient there. I was able to take care of medical visits for my two girls, but I didn’t have money to take care of my own , and I had to go to this free clinic. I felt awful because I felt that I was taking a place that someone who had literally nothing needed, and it was a very humbling experience. I was afraid that I was going to be shamed by going there, but it was so much the opposite. I was treated wonderfully, and I learned something about the people that work there: they’re very kind, very giving and they donate their time. They’re doing angel work for the community.”
On both the local and international levels, Cheryl Saban has helped to spearhead many other charitable endeavors in the areas of girlhood empowerment, children’s education and family health and wellness, including the Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; the Saban Center for Health and Wellness of the Motion Picture & Television Fund; and the Saban Pediatric Medical Center at Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva, Israel.
“Soroka Medical Center is the largest hospital in the southern part of the country and the third-largest in Israel,” she says. “If you’d seen the conditions when we first walked into this place, you wouldn’t have believed it. Even though the doctors and nurses are highly trained, they were treating kids in an overcrowded facility. There were not enough operating tables, and they were delivering babies in hallways with improvised sections, divided by curtains. They were getting the best care but they just didn’t have the room they needed. We obviously have a huge connection to Israel — it’s paramount to us, and I’ve always been dedicated to peace for Israel — so it really made us feel wonderful to be able to help Soroka grow into the spacious, technologically advanced hospital that it is. That Soroka treats Palestinians, Negev Bedouin, as well as Israelis equally — that part of it was especially gratifying for me.”
Cheryl is also passionately committed to her work providing under-served youth with scholarships for STEM and STEAM programs — educational tracks that focus on science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
“I see the benefits to kids, particularly girls, and when they light up, when you turn a kid onto something they didn’t know was possible, it’s a tremendous feeling,” Cheryl Saban says. “I literally go to bed with gratitude on my lips and I wake up with gratitude in my heart. Haim and I consider it an honor and a duty to help others who might find themselves in untenable circumstances. And when I reflect upon why we give, I think it’s very simple: it’s just love. Helping to make a person’s life better, whether you do it with money or kindness or just helping with your time, that’s one of the most important things you can do in your life.”