Giving is a Family Tradition For ‘Venture Philanthropist’

By Dan Levin

Published November 10, 2006, issue of November 10, 2006.
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‘I am very interested in getting the biggest bang for my buck,” Alice Rosenwald told the Forward recently. “When I invest, I want to make a difference.”

Rosenwald, who appears in this week’s Forward 50, is co-chair of American Securities Holdings, a merchant and investment bank with a history of developing innovative investment businesses by partnering with successful management teams. As director of the Alice Rosenwald Foundation, she brings this professional expertise to philanthropy. “I am a strategic venture philanthropist,” she said. “I look at philanthropy as an investment.”

Last month, Rosenwald was honored by Children’s Rights, a child-welfare and protection organization. A co-chair of the board of directors and longtime supporter, she has given half a million dollars to Children’s Rights and is in the process of giving another $1 million to the organization for a reserve fund to allow for future sustainability. Rosenwald received the Children’s Rights Champion Award at the organization’s October 5 ceremony in New York, which was hosted by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien and featured New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine as keynote speaker.

“I do a lot of research into which organizations have the greatest impact,” Rosenwald said, which is one reason she has become so involved with Children’s Rights. Over the past decade, through litigation and policy reform, Children’s Rights has won landmark cases against 12 states and secured more than $2 billion in additional funding for child-welfare services across the country.

“The issue of child abuse is important to me because I have children,” she explained. “Through over 20 years of research and giving, I found Children’s Rights to be the only real youth advocacy organization. I gave money to five organizations, and Children’s Rights soared above the others. The work they do — whether it is legal reform, policy reform or systemic reform — shows proven, measurable results. It works.”

“Alice is tireless,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, founder and executive director of Children’s Rights. “She is devoted to defending the rights of children, and through the years has played an increasingly helpful role. She is very committed to strengthening our organization.”

Whether she is giving to Children’s Rights, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee or the UJA-Federation, there is an overarching theme of community support and involvement regarding Rosenwald’s philanthropy.

Growing up, Rosenwald learned much about compassion and philanthropy from her family. Her grandfather was Julius Rosenwald, the renowned Jewish philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Julius was active in a wide variety of causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. He was one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee, and donated a sizable amount to save Russian Jews from the pogroms. He also created the Rosenwald Foundation, through which housing and more than 5,300 “Rosenwald Schools” were built for African-American youth across the South from 1917 to 1932.

“In a way, my grandfather viewed the African Americans in the South much as I view abused children — totally disenfranchised and isolated. He felt he had a moral duty to help them. And the impact he had on that community, that legacy, has been very powerful for me.” Rosenwald said.

But it was her parents, and her experiences with them that truly instilled the core value of giving. Her father, William, was president of the United Jewish Appeal for three decades and was active in the Joint Distribution Committee, the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Congress.

“My father grew up in a condition of caring and compassion,” Rosenwald said. “He got people out of Germany. My mother was a double refugee from Germany and Russia, she knew abject poverty, hunger, suffering. I experienced these deprivations through her memories. They are very real to me, as a daughter, and as a mother. My parents would go to Israel in the ’50s and ’60s, and she would burst into tears at the heartbreaking conditions, which my father was very active in mediating. She would ask him, ‘Bill, how can you stand to be immersed in this?’ and he would say, ‘Because I am doing something about it.’ Really, I tip my hat to my incredible family.”

“Philanthropy is a tradition in my family that I am blessed to have,” she noted.

“The Rosenwald family holds a distinguished place in the philanthropic history of American Jewry,” said John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. “Alice’s grandfather, Julius Rosenwald, worked tirelessly on behalf of the Joint Distribution Committee, among many other Jewish causes in his local Chicago community and nationally. The family tradition continued in New York City, where Alice’s father, Bill, was a leader at UJA-Federation. Alice and her sisters are following in the family’s footsteps. She has served on the JDC board, and is an officer of the William Rosenwald Family Fund, where she continues a legacy of philanthropic leadership in service to the Jewish people.”

By supporting Jewish and non-Jewish causes alike, Rosenwald’s philanthropy follows the larger trend of Jewish giving. According to United Jewish Communities’ National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01, 62% of Jews give to non-Jewish causes, while 41% give to Jewish causes other than the federation system.

“For most Jewish donors, the money is going to a secular, good cause, but the donor feels that this is a Jewish act, that their Jewish values compel them to pursue good in the world, through charity” said Amy Sales, director of the Fisher-Bernstein Institute for Jewish Philanthropy and Leadership at Brandeis University.

This is certainly true for Rosenwald. Like her father and grandfather before her, Jewish values inform all of her philanthropy, even when the organization, such as Children’s Rights, is not specifically Jewish. Rosenwald explained: “Compassion, activism — those are part of who I am as a Jew.”

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