Longtime Los Angeles resident Chic Wolk lets out a smile while talking to a longtime friend at Izzy’s Deli in Santa Monica.
Longtime Los Angeles resident Chic Wolk lets out a smile while talking to a longtime friend at Izzy's Deli in Santa Monica. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

There's an item on the menu at Izzy's Deli in Santa Monica called "Chic Wolk's Hot Oatmeal."

"Can you imagine anybody coming to a deli to eat oatmeal?" its namesake, a friend of the restaurant's owner for 60 years, asked, laughing.

"When I come to Izzy's Deli, I want food, not oatmeal."

That's typical of the Brentwood philanthropist's easy humor and disinclination to appear in any kind of spotlight. But people from the San Fernando Valley to rural Lithuania, just starting their adult lives and at the end of very long ones, would sing his praises given a chance.

An L.A. resident since 1951, the Chicago-born Wolk, who likes to give his age as 86.2, contributes to a variety of charitable causes, including acting as an honorary consul for the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan.

The retired parking lot mogul seems especially pleased to donate to two operations, though, whose only similarities are their connections to his family heritage.

The Jewish Vocational Services' Scholarship Program provides financially strapped L.A. area college students with grants of up to $5,000 per year to further their higher education.

The Survivor Mitzvah Project, which Wolk describes himself as "nominally a founder" of, sends money and aid to elderly, mostly rural Jews in countries such as Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine who, by luck of having escaped deportation by the Nazis during World War II, receive no compensation from the German government.

Wolk learned about the JVS Scholarship Program about five years ago.

"That appealed to me, especially now," Wolk explained. "I visualize somebody who's completed three years of college, bright young person, and their mother or father lost their job and there's no money for tuition anymore. Their potential is going to be lost to themselves, and if they could continue their education they could probably contribute more to society."

Wolk does not want the amount of his contribution revealed, but Pat Sills, who manages the scholarship program, noted that his contribution more than doubled in the past year. Part of her job is to earmark individual donors' contributions to specific recipients.

Some want their money to go to veterans or students at their alma maters.

Others are like Wolk.

"Chic is such an easygoing guy, when I asked him if he had any parameters, he said `No, just break it up any way you want."' Sills recalled. "Which makes it pretty gosh darn easy, because this whole matching thing can be very difficult."

One of the seven students Sills channeled Wolk's funds to this year is Taylor Younani, a North Hollywood 20-year-old who is studying political science and religion at UC Santa Barbara. Younani's mother has cancer and is hospitalized once a month, and his father suffered a stroke a year ago.

"The generosity of this man I have never met but has been a strong influence on my life ... It's kind of hard to put that to words," Younani said of Wolk. "To know that there is somebody out there who is willing, from the kindness of their heart, to give you an opportunity that you would not necessarily have otherwise ... And the fact that he's willing to do that for me makes me want to work that much harder."

Wolk discovered the plight of the Holocaust survivors about nine years ago when his interest in Yiddish - a language his parents, who hailed from Moldava and Ukraine, trained him in as a child rather than the more common Hebrew - led him to an Oxford scholar who was researching the remnants of that shattered culture.

Chic Wolk is photographed in Santa Monica on Dec. 14, 2012.
Chic Wolk is photographed in Santa Monica on Dec. 14, 2012. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

"When we heard of this, we realized that the major Jewish organizations were putting all of their resources into Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev, and nothing out in the boonies because they said there's no way of reaching those people," Wolk said of the Mitzvah Project, which is run by former actress and television director Zane Buzby. "Zane developed very successful methods of getting the money to them."

A smart man not prone to self-examination, Wolk has thought about why these two charities mean so much to him.

"I don't see it as trying to please my parents in some way," said Wolk, who emphasized several times that he's a secular Jew who still hasn't had a bar mitzvah. "But it is the heritage that they gave me, so that I feel very much Jewish. Secular, again I say, but the values and traditions and the culture of being Jewish are important to me."

His philanthropy reaches both the young people starting their lives and the older people in their twilight.

"They're the most vulnerable people, the most in need. Usually, though not always, people in their middle years have better access to resources."

As for the deli oatmeal that bears his name, "I haven't tried it," Wolk admitted.

bob.strauss@dailynews.com

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