Legislation honoring Julius Rosenwald clears Congress, awaits presidential signature

How should Congress memorialize one of America’s greatest Jewish philanthropists? With a national park, according to new legislation. A bill which passed Congress Monday afternoon would kickstart the process of creating a national park dedicated to Julius Rosenwald, the former chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and a prolific philanthropist in the early 20th century.

In collaboration with famed educator Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald spent millions of dollars to fund the construction of more than 5,000 schools for Black communities throughout the South beginning in 1910. The schools educated hundreds of thousands of Black Americans, including poet and activist Maya Angelou and the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Rosenwald was also one of the founders of the organization that became Chicago’s Jewish United Fund (JUF). 

Should the president sign it into law, the bill would require the National Parks Service to examine creating a national park honoring Rosenwald, including a museum in Chicago — Rosenwald’s home city — chronicling the businessman’s life, and satellite sites at several of the remaining schools he financed throughout the South.

The Senate passed the bill Monday by a voice vote, after a House vote of 387-5, with 37 members not voting, last Thursday. Reps. Justin Amash (I-MI), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Tom Rice (R-SC) and Chip Roy (R-TX) voted against the bill.

The bill’s passage in Congress marks the culmination of a yearslong campaign in which advocates lobbied members of Congress, in particular Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who introduced the House resolution, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who introduced a corresponding resolution in the Senate.

Dorothy Canter, president of the Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historic Park Campaign, said she first learned about Rosenwald and his philanthropic work — as well as his success at Sears — from the 2015 documentary “Rosenwald,” directed by award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner.

Canter, who described herself to JI as a “national parks fanatic,” said she then discovered that there are currently no national parks dedicated to Jewish Americans. 

“This was a story that needed to be told,” Canter said.

After Canter conceived of the Rosenwald park concept, she worked with the National Parks Conservation Association — with which she is also deeply involved — and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to begin building the campaign and researching which Rosenwald schools were the best preserved.

They next approached legislators from the Illinois delegation to push the introduction of legislation to honor Rosenwald, according to Steve Nasatir, a former president of JUF and a member of the campaign’s advisory board.

Davis told JI on Friday that his connection to Rosenwald runs deep, including a stint as a clerk in the Sears flagship store in Chicago. 

“When we were approached relative to this bill it was an automatic,” Davis said. “Julius Rosenwald has not gotten the kind of recognition that he is due, period… The reason it means so much to me is I grew up in rural America. I know the history of these communities that didn’t have a school.”

“If there was ever an individual who deserved [this], not for himself — because… he wasn’t that kind of guy — but for what it has meant and what it means and what he has done for America and the world,” Davis added.

Davis caused a stir in the Jewish community in March 2018, when he praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and dismissed Farrakhan’s antisemitic rhetoric. Those comments led J Street to consider pulling its endorsement of Davis — although the congressman later condemned Farrakhan’s statements about Jews and Judaism.

Some of Rosenwald’s descendants are hesitant about the park project, arguing that Rosenwald strongly eschewed personal fame and recognition for his philanthropic works during his lifetime.

David Stern, one of Rosenwald’s great-grandchildren, said he has mixed feelings about the project and has remained uninvolved in the campaign because the Rosenwald descendants “have never really been into legacy, into institutional memories. We don’t believe in building the buildings and naming them after people, things like that. So there’s something a little inconsistent about this with our general philosophy.”

But he also noted that Rosenwald’s legacy of supporting the Black community is worthy of acknowledgement and has inspired philanthropy in others, pointing to columnist Courtland Milloy’s recent Washington Post article touting the Rosenwald schools as a model for improving Black community education in a post-pandemic world.

Stern added that, in an early discussion with Canter, he was skeptical that the project would even make it off the ground.

“I really thought it was never going to happen,” he said. “I’ve been watching her with incredible admiration at the speed and ability to move this along as quickly as she has.”

Rosenwald’s grandson Peter Ascoli, who wrote a biography about his grandfather, called the project a positive step honoring Jewish Americans and an important part of Black history, but said that he’d be more comfortable if it was funded by private sources, rather than the National Parks Service’s already-strained resources.

Canter told JI that when she first met Ascoli in 2016, he told her that Rosenwald would not have approved of the campaign.

“My response was that this is bigger than [Rosenwald]; this is the story of the son of German Jewish immigrants who did not finish high school but used his tremendous business acumen to catapult Sears, Roebuck into the predominant retailing powerhouse of the early 20th century… and then used his vast resources to help others in need to gain a foothold on the American dream,” Canter told JI. 

Ascoli is now a member of the Rosenwald Park Campaign’s advisory council.

Stephanie Deutsch, who is married to another of Rosenwald’s great-grandsons, agreed. 

“He had two things that kind of propelled his work. One was the Jewish idea of tzedakah [charity] and giving,” said Deutsch, who also wrote a biography about Rosenwald’s work and is a member of the campaign’s board. “And then his sense of identification… he said ‘as a member of a persecuted minority,’ he being Jewish, identified with African Americans. So I see the park as something really exciting. And it tells a story that’s so important and significant, but it’s largely not known today. So I think it’s about more than honoring a person.”

Eric Fingerhut weighs in on the election and next steps for pandemic relief

While Americans anxiously awaited the outcome of the presidential election, Eric Fingerhut, CEO and president of the Jewish Federations of North America and a former U.S. representative, called on the next administration and Congress to provide additional pandemic relief to “ailing non-profits” and increase funding for non-profit organizations’ security needs.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Fingerhut — who represented Ohio’s 19th congressional district from 1993 to 1995 — said that at a time of deep divisions, he views the way that North America’s 146 Jewish federations function as a model for all Americans.

“Leaders of our community, many members of JFNA’s board and at most federations, are on both sides of this election,” he said. “This has always been the case.” 

On Tuesday night, past JFNA board chair Kathy Manning flipped a redistricted House seat and will represent North Carolina’s 6th congressional district as a Democrat. Detroit oil and real estate magnate Max Fisher, a major philanthropist to Jewish causes until his death in 2005 and a member of JFNA’s board, served as an advisor to Republican presidents on Israel and Jewish concerns. Current JFNA board chair Mark Wilf, who co-owns the Milwaukee Bucks franchise, is a longtime Democratic donor who in March contributed $21,250 to the Biden Victory Fund.

“We have always had people on both sides of the political aisle, and always been a model of how we’ve worked together on matters of common concern for Jewish life, Israel and the Jewish people around the world,” said Fingerhut. “We have maintained that unity on that common agenda even as we’ve disagreed politically and worked against each other vigorously. We will continue to, no matter the outcome of this election.”

Fingerhut also noted that the Jewish community is “disproportionately deeply engaged in the civic affairs of the United States as candidates, campaign workers and as supporters of the democratic process, like as poll workers.” The community’s effort, he said, “reflects both our caring for the health and welfare of the country and our appreciation for the unbelievable welcoming and prosperity and success the Jewish community has achieved in this open, democratic society.”

JFNA has representatives in Washington who lobby Congress and the administration on a wide range of issues, including funding for human services — most Jewish federations fund or manage facilities for senior citizens and the mentally and physically disabled — but usually refrains from commenting on specific policies. Earlier this year, the organization worked with the Orthodox Union, the Union for Reform Judaism, Agudath Israel of America, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups to push legislators to provide relief to faith-based charities and religious nonprofits struggling from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Fingerhut was hopeful that the next president will sign into law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, and ensure that Medicaid and Medicare programs are extended.

Fingerhut was quick to point out that today’s political climate bears resemblance to other tumultuous times in modern American history.

His 2004 run for Senate coincided with former President George W. Bush’s campaign for a second term, and the country, he said, was terribly split over the Iraq war. His state, Ohio, a swing state, was “deeply divided. The rhetoric was very acute.”

“We have had very close elections in our recent past, have been very divided over very contentious issues, and we’ve gotten through,” Fingerhut told JI, adding that Jewish values have something to teach all of America at this tense time.

“One of the things we have in our Jewish tradition is a commitment to civility and respect for differences of opinion. We need to exemplify that in our own behavior, and insist on it in others in public life.”

Amid layoffs and funder bailouts, the Jewish nonprofit world is fearing 2021

The American Jewish community’s network of approximately 9,500 nonprofit organizations has largely avoided collapse during the COVID-19-spurred slump that has caused many for-profit businesses to shut down or significantly shrink.

The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which allowed businesses and nonprofits to obtain forgivable loans if they kept staff on payroll, ended August 8. Making the difference now, experts say, are the American Jewish philanthropists who have stepped up to support the nonprofit system. Foundations are dipping into their endowments to provide additional funds to support camps, Jewish schools, human services agencies and others — well beyond what they anticipated when originally planning their 2020 budgets.

While the pandemic has led to struggles in the Jewish nonprofit community, including a months-long shut-down of fee-for-service organizations like Jewish community centers and camps, with resulting layoffs, furloughs and re-prioritization of funds, the biggest worries lie ahead.

“The real question is, what is 2021 going to look like? Everyone is making it through 2020. But everyone is very concerned about the impact on 2021. I don’t know where things will be,” said Reuben Rotman, chair and CEO of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, which represents 140 agencies providing food, counseling services, support for those with developmental and physical disabilities, vocational assistance and more.

“There have been reductions in staffing and services. But right now, our agencies by and large are being kept whole” with the help of government resources like PPP, and with aid from philanthropists, Rotman told Jewish Insider.

The worst fears — the collapse of the Jewish nonprofit community — have not come to pass, at least so far. “The catastrophic scenario we feared was averted,” said Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network. “The entire camp system, human services, JCCs, schools, [were] at risk. It suffered a lot but it didn’t collapse. This should not make us complacent.”

No one knows how much, in the aggregate, American Jewish philanthropists have contributed to pandemic relief, experts say, but it is significant.

A new study by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy found that American funders in general donated $11.9 billion overall to coronavirus-related needs so far in 2020. This marks a strong contrast to the impact on nonprofit organizations during the 2008-09 financial crisis.

“If you dial back to the recession 12 years ago, philanthropy took a break. It went down in the short term. Between 2005 and 2010, philanthropy stayed flat,” said Avrum Lapin, president of The Lapin Group, a Philadelphia-based consultancy. “In this crisis, philanthropy has pretty much stood up. Not to say that organizations are not having a tough time. It has not only stayed current but looked at some systemic challenges and risen up to meet them.”


The umbrella for North America’s 146 Jewish federations and network communities, each of which is also an umbrella for social services, Jewish education and other agencies in its local area, is the Jewish Federations of North America.

Six months into the pandemic, “we’ve had 146 different emergency campaigns,” said Eric Fingerhut, JFNA’s president and CEO. Jewish federations have “raised $175 million dollars above and beyond their regular annual campaigns,” specifically for pandemic assistance, he told JI. “Federations made special allocations to camps and human services agencies to respond to the crisis in the moment. It is a moment of incredible generosity and response.”

Jewish federations generally distribute some $3 billion annually to the agencies they support domestically, as well as overseas programming through the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and other groups.

Since the early days of the pandemic, JFNA has been an organizer of philanthropy efforts to support Jewish nonprofits through the crisis. On Sept. 1 it announced a new matching grant program totaling $54 million to aid the severely impacted human services field.

The Human Services Relief Fund is the newest of a number of pandemic emergency funds and systems put in place since March by major Jewish funders and the organized Jewish community.

JFNA also oversees the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF), which has provided approximately $91 million in emergency relief to Jewish nonprofits. More than $10 million of that has been distributed in the form of grants, and about $81 million as zero-interest loans, said Felicia Herman, who directs the grant program. Funding has come from seven foundations including the Aviv Foundation, The Paul E. Singer Foundation, the Lynn and Charles Schusterman Family Foundation and the Wilf Family Foundation.

So far this year, the Schusterman Foundation has spent $400 million addressing COVID-19-related needs and funding its regular grantees, which include civic programs nationwide and Jewish organizations.

Of that, “at least $10 million” has been designated as emergency funds for groups that do direct support, like the Blue Card, which aids Holocaust survivors, said Lisa Eisen, co-president of the Schusterman Foundation. It gave $15 million to JCRIF and overall this year has upped its support to Jewish organizations by about 50% over what it had planned, Eisen told JI.


The pandemic has still taken a toll on a number of Jewish nonprofit organizations. Income at fee-for-service agencies like JCCs — which employ a total of 40,000 people — took a big hit. Synagogues are currently tallying their High Holy Day renewals. Philanthropic funding is down at some organizations, though generally in the single-digit percentage range, which is in line with national trends. The National Council of Nonprofits published a study showing that individual giving in the U.S. overall was down 6% in the first quarter.

There have been significant layoffs at Jewish community centers around the country. JFNA itself laid off 37 of its 180 staffers in May. In April, Hillel International laid off or furloughed more than 20% of its staff.

J Street, the liberal Israel-focused lobbying group, cut its $8 million budget by $1 million, Jeremy Ben-Ami, its president, told JI, having saved a significant amount of money by moving the organization’s conferences online. J Street received a forgivable PPP loan of $660,000 and some tax credits, he said, and has not needed to lay off or furlough any staffers. J Street’s 2020 budget of $8 million is balanced, Ben-Ami said, and he expects it to grow slightly for 2021. But, he cautioned, “I am not ready to declare victory, because we have not seen the full impact” the pandemic will have on philanthropy. “The stock market [strength] has in a way cushioned the blow, and we haven’t quite seen the end of this story yet,” he added.

The Zionist Organization of America, a right-wing organization led by Mort Klein, has not fared as well. The organization pushed its annual gala dinner from December to January 2021, and then to March, and Klein is uncertain if it will be possible to hold the banquet at all. “A handful” of its approximately two dozen staff positions had to be cut, he said, though he did not provide more specifics regarding the layoffs or the organization’s annual budget. A recent ZOA campaign against the Movement for Black Lives saw the organization receive a number of unanticipated donations, which Klein said has helped to minimize the fundraising downturn.

The left-wing New Israel Fund has experienced a mixed picture, CEO Daniel Sokatch told JI. Unrestricted gifts to NIF were up 18% through the end of July compared to the same period in 2019, he said, but the number of individuals donating is down 9%. The biggest drop in support has been from supporters in New York City, where COVID-19 hit hard early in the pandemic. A PPP loan of $927,000 allowed NIF to retain its U.S. staff (it also has staff in Israel), though all staff members were forced to take a temporary salary cut and in Israel the entire staff was furloughed for a period. Looking ahead, with everyone continuing to work from home, Sokatch is considering dropping office space leases that are approaching their renewal dates, he said.

Even among organizations that are staying afloat, the big question is how long they will be able to do so. The American Jewish Historical Society, whose archives contain some 30 million documents, added an additional staffer, bringing the full-time employee count to seven, said Annie Polland, the organization’s executive director.

AJHS got a $130,000 PPP loan through the Small Business Administration, which helped it retain staff through the spring and summer. The organization received what Polland called a “lifesaver” grant of $205,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act fund. 

While AJHS, like most public-facing Jewish organizations, quickly shifted to virtual programming in what Polland said was “a whirlwind adaptation to Zoom,” and the foundations that support its work have not lessened their funding, “we don’t know what 2021 is going to look like,” she said.

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights has also fared relatively well through the pandemic, said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, its executive director. T’ruah has not needed to lay off or furlough staff and has even been able to add a full-time position and a part-time position to its roster of 10 full-time staff and six part-time workers, said Jacobs. “People have been very generous,” she told JI. “Those who are still employed or not dependent on a salary are more motivated than ever to contribute as a moral response to this crisis, as well as to the major threats to democracy. We’ve in particular had a strong response to our efforts to stand up the deployment of federal agents in Portland, OR, and the work of our rabbis who have been on the street there,” she said.


With no end to the pandemic in sight, funders and CEOs alike are grappling with the uncertainty of what the next year will look like, both in terms of programming and fundraising. 

“We’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty so we in the philanthropic community should continue to be flexible, to dig deeply, maybe deeper than would feel comfortable, and to help nonprofits with scenario planning and other forms of technical assistance,” Eisen told JI. “The uncertainty makes it hard to plan and budget even as fundraising is anticipated to decrease.”

The uncertainty impacts not only planning for programs, but also trying to budget for 2021.

Spokoiny told JI that his biggest concern was the survival of what he called the “second layer” Jewish organizations, like Jewish federations, schools and community centers.

Because the stock market has continued to perform well, foundations whose money is invested have “more money than ever to give,” said Spokoiny. But “more than 80% of the funding in the Jewish community, in dollar terms, does not come from major funders, but by individuals giving $1,000 to the scholarship fund at their day school.”

It is that type of grassroots donor whose ability to give is most vulnerable to job loss, loss of government unemployment assistance, and a possible economic slump.

T’ruah’s Jacobs noted: “If we do see a deep and long recession, and if many donors find themselves out of work in December, we are concerned about a drop in donations, especially as more than half of our gifts come from a broad base of small-dollar donors.”

According to Eisen, “there are a lot more conversations about organizations joining forces in partnerships, or in mergers, of sharing assets, buildings and staff, of synagogues coming together. There are many, many conversations happening at the national level and the local level.”

She noted that the Schusterman Foundation has provided funding through JCRIF, offering technical assistance with a consultant to organizational leaders pursuing mergers.

“Not every institution is going to survive, nor should it,” said Eisen. “This is a moment to look at what our community needs to be sustainable, and that will include some tough and painful conversations.”

“I am optimistic that our community can emerge stronger, but there will be some painful decisions along the way.”

Josh Kraft takes charge of his family’s philanthropic efforts

After decades of consistent success on and off the field, the Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, are preparing for a big transition: Josh Kraft, the third of four sons of Robert Kraft, is set to take over his family’s philanthropic efforts, including a new foundation created last year to combat antisemitism. 

You would be forgiven for confusing this with a different piece of recent Patriots news. The announcement, which the family has made public in recent weeks, may lack the panache and emotional potency of star quarterback Tom Brady’s departure from New England, but it similarly marks a new era in the Kraft family legacy.

Though this transition occurs away from the limelight of the football field, it signals an important shift for the myriad philanthropic programs run from the offices of One Patriot Place.

Kraft, 53, has spent the last 30 years — virtually his entire career since graduating from Williams College — working for the Boys and Girls Club of Boston. Originally managing the group’s youth outreach program in south Boston, Kraft founded the group’s Chelsea branch in 1993, and was named the Nicholas CEO and president in 2008.

“I’ve learned so much,” Kraft told Jewish Insider in an interview on Friday. “But I just feel it was time for a needed professional change.”

Looking at different options in the nonprofit space, Kraft found the transition to his family’s foundation to be a natural fit. “I couldn’t picture myself working for another nonprofit,” he said.

As president of Kraft Family Philanthropies, he will oversee a high-profile operation that includes the Kraft Family Foundation, the Patriots Foundation, the Revolution Foundation, the Kraft Center for Community Health and the newly formed Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism.

While his new role appears to have a larger portfolio than the Boys and Girls Club, Kraft emphasized that the mission, which he describes as “supporting marginalized groups and building community,” remains the same.

“For the last 150 years, the Boys and Girls Clubs nationally have been true social justice,” Kraft explained. “What we’ve really done at any Boys and Girls Club is leveled the playing field so any kid that walks in the door, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, physical or mental abilities [or] socioeconomic status, is afforded the same opportunities.”

The latest Kraft Philanthropies initiative is the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism. Robert Kraft announced the creation of the foundation, along with a $20 million funding commitment, in June 2019 while accepting that year’s Genesis Prize in Jerusalem. That announcement was followed by a high-profile $5 million donation to the foundation by Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich and the hiring of Rachel Fish as the new group’s executive director in October.

Kraft promised that the new organization, which remains in development, will open a new front in bringing awareness to the continued propagation of antisemitism. The effort, he hopes, will put “antisemitism in the discussion with other forms of hate,” he explained. “It’s not just a Jewish problem, it’s everybody’s problem.”

The foundation has supported countless Jewish causes over the years, including recent donations to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Agency. The contributions come amid rising concerns over domestic antisemitism.

Football fans were alarmed earlier this month when Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted an antisemitic quote misattributed to Adolf Hitler. In response, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman issued a video statement inviting Jackson to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Kraft acknowledged that the organization had been in contact with Edelman about his statement, but declined to address the incident.

While antisemitism remains a growing concern for the organization, much of the recent focus has been on combating the effects of COVID-19. Even during his transition, Kraft finds himself busier than ever as the pandemic continues to rage.

Since coming onboard his family’s foundation, he has launched a joint effort with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation that has provided more than three million meals to veterans and their families. With many children unable or discouraged from receiving vital healthcare at hospitals and clinics, the Kraft Foundation repurposed some of its mobile opiate units to provide services, such as vaccinations, throughout the region.

The Kraft Foundation also provides grants to support grassroots nonprofits across New England. Kraft highlighted recent efforts to support health care — including efforts to increase access to cancer screenings as well as issuing grants of up to $750,000 through the Myra Kraft Emergency Fund — and social justice work like Operation Exit, a program to match young adults released from prison with stable jobs and support for victims of domestic abuse.

“We’re always leveraging our partners to make an impact,” Kraft said. “It’s just staying flexible and meeting the needs of the community, even in a pandemic.”

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