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Token of gratitude from Google boss
- Society that cradled Russian’s US dreams

New York, Oct. 25: Were it not for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, there might be no Google.

Thirty years ago today, Sergey Brin, a six-year-old Soviet boy facing an uncertain future, arrived in the US with the help of the society.

Now Brin, the billionaire co-founder of Google, is giving $1 million to the society, widely known as HIAS, which helped his family escape anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and establish itself here.

“I would have never had the kinds of opportunities I’ve had here in the Soviet Union, or even in Russia today,” Brin said in an interview. “I would like to see anyone be able to achieve their dreams, and that’s what this organisation does.”

The gift is small, given Brin’s estimated $16 billion in personal wealth, but he said it signalled a growing commitment by him and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, to engage more substantially in philanthropy.

“We’ve given away over $30 million so far, which isn’t so tiny but obviously small in terms of our, um, theoretical wealth,” Brin said.

He noted that Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, was widely criticised for not giving away enough money but is now known as one of the world’s leading philanthropists. “While everyone was criticising him, he was generating a whole lot more money for his foundation, and ultimately, when he got serious about philanthropy, he did it really well,” Brin said. “I’d like to learn from that example.”

The bulk of the money the Brins have given away has gone to the Michael J. Fox Foundation and other research organisations devoted to Parkinson’s disease.

But this year, in honour of the 30th anniversary of the Brin family’s immigration to the US, they have given gifts to several Jewish organisations that aided along the way.

HIAS, which helped the family navigate the cumbersome process of leaving the Soviet Union for the US, paid for tickets, gave them money and helped them apply for visas, received the largest amount.

The family lived in Paris for several months while waiting for visas and then moved to Maryland, and the relationship with HIAS ended. “Although they gave us tremendous help, we didn’t stay connected with HIAS,” said Eugenia Brin, Brin’s mother. “Then a few years ago, I guess because of Google, we got a call from HIAS asking if we could help them digitise their archives.”

Eventually, Eugenia joined the HIAS board and started a social networking site, mystory.hias.org, initially to encourage Russian Jewish immigrants to post their stories and eventually to attract the stories of other immigrants.

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