The Joseph Robert Foundation was created to honor the legacy of Joseph B. Kaufman, and his son, Robert L. Kaufman. Joseph Kaufman, an immigrant who moved from Russia to the U.S. in the early 20th century, was an entrepreneur who purchased a commercial building in Long Island City, NY in 1925 to house his textile business. Extra space was rented out and the building evolved into a major manufacturing center during World War II for consumer goods such as shoes, clothing, etc. It was also designated as a fallout shelter for the area in case of an attack and stored barrels of non-perishables for emergency use. Located near the Queens approaches of the Queensboro (59th St.) Bridge, it was surrounded for many years by manufacturing and industry. Beginning in 1960 the whole building was rented as a warehouse to the clothing retailer Robert Hall. When Robert Hall moved out, the space was subdivided and once again became a location for small businesses and manufacturers. Upon Joseph’s death in 1963, Robert took over the management of the building. Over the years, the neighborhood began to gentrify, and at the time of his death in 2005, the building was home to a large number of artists’ studios, along with other mixed-use tenants. Both Joseph and Robert had always intended for the building to remain in the family, and that had also been the intent of Robert’s three children, Leslie, Roger and Jonathan, who inherited it after Robert’s passing. But with a burgeoning interest in the neighborhood, the expansion of residential and business construction, and the increasing value of all real estate on the Queens side of the East River, the three siblings made a decision that this was the right time to sell the property and it was sold in 2016. Leslie decided that establishing a foundation in the names of her grandfather and father would be her way of honoring them.
Leslie identified the three areas of interest for the foundation as being the arts, animal welfare, and the environment. These represent her passions, as well as those of her father and grandfather, and her aunt, Lynne Atlas-Wittkin, Robert’s sister. Since Leslie was a young child when Joseph passed away, her awareness of his values was limited to his love for his family, and his belief that they would continue to make an impact on the world. Robert was committed to nature and the outdoors, before contemporary terminology regarding the environment was in common usage. He also had a special love for horses. Lynne was a talented sculptor and painter who served as Leslie’s role model, and spread her generous spirit to all with whom she came into contact. Leslie’s interest in giving back was also inspired by her mother, Eileen, and her grandmothers, Sonia Kaufman and Estelle Chestney, who all made significant contributions to their local chapters of the Jewish women’s organization Hadassah.