Much has been said, and much has been written about the real Al Jolson. There are those who said he was selfish, arrogant, and shallow. Others knew him as generous, often giving money to those in need without being asked, without credit. In 1935, on his Shell Chateau radio program, Al introduced a song by Irving Berlin called "When I Leave The World Behind." In it, a man relates his legacy, such as it is, to the next generation. Not a millionaire, the man leaves simple yet meaningful gifts when he passes on. Well, Al did accumulate a good bit of material wealth during his career. It even became the butt of many jokes. But when he did leave the world behind, the depth and breadth of the organizations to which he left his fortune tell us volumes about the man, Al Jolson.
It should be noted that an estimate of Al Jolson's estate, in 1950, was some four million dollars. That would be equivalent, in 2007 currency, of about $35 Million.
Al Jolson took to heart the essential Jewish mandate of tikun olam, perfecting the world. It is a belief rooted in Jewish liturgy and practice to leave this world a better place than when you entered it, and from the variety of causes helped by Jolson's wealth, I think he helped significantly in completing this task.
Here is a listing of the charities which benefited from bequests in Jolson's will. Wherever possible, I have provided web links to sites maintained by those charities or successors.
If you know of a site for any of the unlinked charities, or to correct any broken links, please Email me with the URL and I will be happy to update this page. Thanks to Kevin Deevey for spotting Memorial Sloan Kettering as the old Memorial Hospital