Concord businessman says tzedakah makes good sense

Andrew Nosanchuk was raised in a kosher home and became a bar mitzvah at Conservative Congregation B'nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. He has worn a Star of David for most of his 43 years.

But the Concord businessman never felt truly connected to the Jewish community until an opportunity arose in late 2001. It was then that the owner of Concord's California Closets donated $100,000 to the fledgling Contra Costa Jewish Day School, which opened in the fall of 2001, and became the school's first corporate sponsor and a member of the Founder's Circle.

"To me being a Jew is in your heart," explained Nosanchuk, whose family moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the East Bay in 1966. "It's not what you do. It's how you do it and what you do for others."

Nosanchuk credited his mother, whom he described as "very caring, funny and personable," for his dedication to Jewish values, and his father for his "driven, business sense." His father gave him the opportunity and the money to buy his business, which mostly serves residential customers, and they have been partners since 1986.

"My father always said, 'Do whatever you want to do, just do it well. Then hire others to work for you,'" said Nosanchuk, who has been enterprising since he owned a window-cleaning business during his last two years of high school.

But despite his business success, Nosanchuk felt he was lacking in a few other areas.

He always regretted not furthering his formal education beyond high school, though he did get a lot out of a four-year stint in the Army, followed by 3 more years in Germany.

On the positive side, along the way he met and married: He and his wife, Lisa, have a 21-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son. And though both his children attended Hebrew school, Nosanchuk himself never felt tied in to the local Jewish community, and wanted to do something to change that.

Opportunity knocked shortly after the Contra Costa Jewish Day School opened in Lafayette. One of the school's founders, Karla Smith, asked Nosanchuk for a substantial contribution. He assumed Smith meant $3000 to $4000, but she requested $100,000 and suggested he could pay it out over four years in monthly installments.

"I went to my father and told him we had the opportunity to give back to the community," Nosanchuk recalled. "It's good business and I wanted the contribution to be my legacy. Now when I visit the school and people come up to thank me, I don't understand what all the hoopla is about. It's a little overwhelming and embarrassing because I don't feel I need to be thanked."

The school community, however, sees it much differently. Nosanchuk's financial commitment has not only helped the day school stay afloat, but it has had a direct impact on the lives of the students and their parents.

"The East Bay Jewish Federation doesn't have the resources to give money to our school," said Smith. "So it's been wonderful that Andrew stepped up to the plate. He is such a mensch and a blessing. From the first time I met him, I felt he was such a wonderful guy. His passion and his involvement are wonderful. He made the contribution because he really sees what it means to Jewish continuity."

"When he comes to visit," said Dean Goldfien, head of school, "Andrew always asks, 'How can I help?' He's a selfless guy. His kids are grown, but he believes that a Jewish day school is an integral part of the Jewish community."

Nosanchuk is so passionate about Jewish education that he is unable to understand why more businesspeople, especially those with the means, don't help the Jewish day school.

Nosanchuk is also guided by a personal philosophy that fits nicely with the journey metaphor that wends through his life. "I always told my kids, 'Reach for the stars but settle for the mountaintops.'"

One time a neighbor asked him, "How do you know when you've been to the mountaintop?"

Nosanchuk pondered the question for a moment and then simply said, "I don't know."

At the last day school open house of the year, there was a big presentation, with the kids singing and a luncheon. Nosanchuk stood up to leave and noticed several people wanted to approach him.

"One woman finally came over and thanked me," he said. "Then another woman came up and said, 'I just wanted you to know if it wasn't for you my children wouldn't be able to come here.'

"That day I made it to the mountaintop."