The Leon Levy Foundation is a private New York City-based grantmaking foundation created from the estate of hedge fund manager Leon Levy. It makes grants to Jewish causes, New York-based institutions, neuroscience research, and in support of archeological ventures. It also has a “human rights” portfolio that makes grants to left-of-center organizations that support looser immigration laws and legal abortion.
Leon Levy’s Career and Interests
The foundation was formed from the estate of Leon Levy, a hedge fund manager who helped to pioneer the use of the leveraged buyout to purchase and then restructure companies with distressed assets. Levy’s father, Jerome, was a dry goods merchant who was an amateur economist and investor. Jerome Levy predicted the stock market crash of 1929 and deleveraged, making a substantial profit. His son Leon, who began investing at 13 with $200, became chief research analyst of Oppenheimer Funds when it was first formed. Later becoming co-managing partner, he would sell Oppenheimer Funds for more than $120 billion. With business partner Jack Nash, Levy then founded Odyssey Partners, which was valued at more than $3 billion when it was dissolved in 1997. 
Levy died in 2003. By the time of his death, he had already given away several hundred million dollars, including large gifts to Bard College, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and archeological publications and research at Harvard University. 
Levy was an enthusiastic amateur archeologist and, with his wife Shelby White, amassed one of the world’s finest private collections of ancient artifacts. Levy and White were criticized by some archeologists who accused them of having looted ancient sites and spirited artifacts out of the countries in which they were found. In 2005, the Italian government opened an investigation into several artifacts from the Levy-White collection, and a New York University archeology professor resigned from NYU’s Center for Ancient Studies over its acceptance of a $200 million grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. 
White later returned 10 pieces to the Italian government, while maintaining that the artifacts had been purchased legitimately. She was not charged with any criminal activity. 
The foundation’s grantmaking program reflects Levy’s interests and is mostly focused on organizations in or around New York City. 
The foundation supports a number of left-of-center advocacy groups, especially those working on issues relating to immigration and abortion. It regularly supports the Center for Reproductive Rights, funding litigation that seeks to roll back restrictions on abortion passed by U.S. states.  It annually supports both Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the largest abortion provider in the United States, and its local chapter, Planned Parenthood of New York City.  The foundation has given more than $10 million over the past decade to the American Civil Liberties Union, in part to support programs that litigate in support of abortion rights and against legal restrictions on abortion. 
The foundation is a major annual supporter (including $500,000 each year in 2016 and 2017) of the Immigrant Justice Corps, which trains attorneys to represent people before U.S. immigration courts, as well as to mount broader legal challenges to U.S. immigration laws and policy. 
Reflecting its donor’s interest, the foundation has an extensive giving program related to archeology and historical research about the ancient world. In addition to archeological programs at NYU, the foundation has supported the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, an ancient seaport site in Israel that dates back to the Neolithic age. Results of the excavations, which took place over the course of more than two decades, have been displayed at the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, also a grantee of the foundation.  The foundation is a longtime supporter of projects memorializing Jewish culture, including the Jewish Museum in New York City and the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, a project that digitizes and compiles ancient Biblical manuscripts found in Israel in 1947. 
The foundation has given extensively to cultural institutions in and around New York City. It gave $3.25 million to the Brooklyn Public Library—then the largest grant the system had ever received—to build an “information commons” in its main branch that allowed patrons to conduct Internet research, search digitized databases, and edit video audio files.  It supported the director of the Brooklyn Museum with a $5 million endowment grant.  It is a regular, longtime supporter of botanical gardens in the Bronx and Brooklyn.  The foundation also was among the seed funders of The City, an online nonprofit news outlet covering local news in New York City and the surrounding region, launched in the spring of 2019 with $10 million in philanthropic funding. 
Levy’s widow, Shelby White, was founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation.  The foundation’s president and CFO is Robert F. Goldrich, previously a senior policy advisor in the administration of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I, later D).