Washington — Ronald Perelman is in the news, and once again it is for his family’s trademark feuds, fueled by millions, many millions, of dollars.
In the latest round, now on display at a New Jersey court, Perelman’s daughter is suing her uncle over her grandfather’s inheritance for more than $600 million. In the past decades, there have been similarly expensive lawsuits with ex-wives and even between Perelman and his brother.
But in the Jewish community, especially in the Philadelphia area, the Perelman family is known more for philanthropy than for scandals. While some may associate the name with raunchy tabloid headlines, others see it on plaques marking the family’s donations on the walls of hospital wings, school buildings and synagogues.
The Perelmans’ contributions to the Jewish community are undergoing a generational shift. While Raymond Perelman, the family patriarch, made his mark on Conservative Judaism by funding day schools and synagogues, his son Ronald Perelman’s personal draw to Orthodox life is translated into more attention being given to Chabad, and more donations going to Chabad-related causes. In Orthodox circles, Ronald Perelman is known for his strict observance, keeping kosher wherever he travels and flying rabbinical students across the globe to make a minyan for Sabbath prayers.
“I believe that God plays this enormous role in my life, and I believe that it’s my obligation to give back and to follow the rules that were set,” Ronald Perelman said in a 2011 interview.
The Perelman prominence in the Jewish community began with Raymond Perelman, 96, a successful businessman who moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park after marrying Ruth Caplan (who died in 2011 at the age of 90). The couple’s two sons, Ronald and Jeffrey, followed in their father’s footsteps in the business world, although it was clear from the start that Ronald, who is now 70, was the one who shared his father’s passion for high-stakes acquisitions and trades. Ronald Perelman’s net worth is currently estimated by Forbes magazine at $14 billion, making him the 27th richest American. He is the chairman of the cosmetics giant Revlon and is involved in numerous other investment areas.
Perelman’s personal life has drawn just as much attention as his business success. A serial monogamist, he has been married five times and has eight children. His divorce cases ended with hefty settlements and extensive tabloid coverage.
Perelman met his first wife, Faith Golding on a cruise to Israel when he was 21. They were married for 19 years and had four children together. His second wife, Claudia Cohen, a former New York Post gossip columnist, was also born into wealth. Her father, Robert Cohen, owned the Hudson News airport retail network.
It is this branch of the Perelman family that is currently onstage. Or rather, in court. Samantha Perelman, 23, Perelman’s daughter with Cohen — who died in 2007 — is suing her uncle James Cohen over the Hudson News inheritance. She is claiming that he used “undue influence” to persuade his father, Robert Cohen, who was ill at the time, to cut her mother from most of his estate.
The lawsuit reflects the noxious relationship that Ronald Perelman has had with his former brother-in-law, and Perelman’s belief that Robert Cohen was not fit to make decisions about his estate because of his medical condition. Perelman was once even banned from visiting the Cohen residence after being accused of attending a bar mitzvah celebration uninvited in order to spy on Cohen to look into his health. The trial going on at the New Jersey Superior Court, in Hackensack, is as ugly as could be expected. In the latest developments, lawyers for Samantha Perelman presented a video of her late grandfather unable to speak clearly or to read a document presented to him — further proof, they claim, that he was not fit at the time the decision was made to bequeath most of his estate to his son rather than to his late daughter.