The Ukrainian-Born Founder of WhatsApp Has Become a Major Donor to Jewish Causes

June 22, 2022 | Asaf Shalev
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Jan Koum, the founder of the mobile messaging service WhatsApp, famously keeps a low public profile. As Asaf Shalev reports, the Ukrainian-born Jewish entrepreneur has kept his large donations to an array of Jewish causes—including Chabad-Lubavitch, Israeli hospitals, and the European Jewish Association—quiet as well.

Koum’s story is a real-life rags-to-riches tale of an immigrant who came to the United States with nothing, sought to improve his lot, worked hard, and became fabulously wealthy as he developed a product used by billions of people every day.

Koum was raised on the outskirts of Kyiv in the town Fastiv, which happened to be shelled by Russian forces early in the current war. In 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union and amid political turmoil and anti-Semitic tension, a teenaged Koum and his mother immigrated to Mountain View, California, and began living in a two-bedroom apartment made available through public assistance. His father stayed behind and died in 1997.

They relied on food stamps as his mom earned money babysitting and Koum swept the floors of a grocery store for work. His mom was soon diagnosed with cancer, entitling the family to disability payments for a while. She died in 2000, leaving Koum an orphan at twenty-four.

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