Pride Ver­sus Prej­u­dice

By chan­nel­ing his wealth into char­i­ta­ble projects de­signed to di­min­ish racial in­equal­ity, Julius Rosen­wald be­came one of the great Jewish phi­lan­thropists of the 20th cen­tury.

Forward Magazine - - Reviews - By Glenn Altschuler

JULIUS ROSEN­WALD: RE­PAIR­ING THE WORLD By Ha­sia R. Diner Yale Univer­sity Press. 237 pp. $25.

In a speech to the As­so­ci­ated Jewish Char­i­ties of Chicago, of which he served as president be­gin­ning in 1908, Julius Rosen­wald out­lined the life he might have led. As part-owner and leader of Sears, Roe­buck & Co., Rosen­wald pointed out, he could have spent his time “buy­ing and selling, com­par­ing sales with the sales of the same day be­fore… only shuf­fling [his] feet to the dance… only seek­ing pleasure and fight­ing taxes,” so that when the end came, he could leave as small a tax­able es­tate as pos­si­ble.

In­stead, Rosen­wald and other phi­lan­thropists had done some­thing “bet­ter and finer.” Though he pro­vided no de­tails in that speech, his au­di­ence knew he had given away mil­lions of dol­lars in ful­fill­ment of the Jewish obli­ga­tion of tzedakah, a con­cept de­rived from the word for “jus­tice.” Rosen­wald’s lis­tener might not have been sur­prised to learn that in 2013, Ad­vanc­ing Phi­lan­thropy mag­a­zine se­lected him as one of the na­tion’s great­est bene­fac­tors, a per­son who di­rected his vast wealth to­ward “re­in­forc­ing the unity of Amer­ica.”

Be­cause he did not be­lieve in per­pet­ual en­dow­ments or al­low his name to be put on build­ings, Rosen­wald is not all that well known. In “Julius Rosen­wald: Re­pair­ing the World,” Ha­sia Diner, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can Jewish his­tory at New York Univer­sity and a two-time re­cip­i­ent of the Na­tional Jewish Book Award, gives him the recog­ni­tion he de­serves.

Ap­par­ently, Rosen­wald was not prone to sel­f­re­flec­tion. He did not ini­ti­ate phil­an­thropic projects. Ac­cord­ing to Diner, his ap­proach to phi­lan­thropy was con­sis­tent with the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural agenda ad­vanced by turn of the 20th-cen­tury pro­gres­sives. Rosen­wald’s gifts were in­tended to counter prej­u­dice and re­duce poverty by pro­mot­ing equal op­por­tu­nity, in­di­vid­ual ini­tia­tive, “ster­ling char­ac­ter, hard work, and clean liv­ing.” He sought to con­trib­ute “in pro­por­tion to the re­cip­i­ents’ will­ing­ness to con­trib­ute an equal, and where pos­si­ble, even greater share.” He in­vested in pro­grams in­tended to elim­i­nate re­li­gious, eth­nic and eco­nomic di­vi­sions within Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. He be­lieved local, state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments also had a role to play in so­cial re­form.

Diner doc­u­ments the spec­tac­u­lar scale, scope and im­pact of Rosen­wald’s gifts. She em­pha­sizes as well that the con­stituen­cies on which he fo­cused his re­sources — Jewish Amer­i­cans and African Amer­i­cans — dis­tin­guished him from most of his fel­low phi­lan­thropists.

Of­ten at­tribut­ing his mas­sive wealth to “lucky op­por­tu­nity” at a pro­pi­tious mo­ment for busi­ness, Rosen­wald wanted all Amer­i­cans to have a fair shot at suc­cess. Diner main­tains that he also viewed his phi­lan­thropy as a refu­ta­tion of stereo­types of Jews as greedy, dis­hon­est and tribal. Nonethe­less, al­though he contributed to many, many causes, Rosen­wald in­vested enor­mous time and re­sources on “projects that promised to en­rich Jewish cul­ture, bring Jews into pos­i­tive contact with non-Jews, and im­prove Jews’ lives.”

Fol­low­ing the ad­vice of Rabbi Emil Hirsch, who presided over the Chicago Si­nai con­gre­ga­tion to which the Rosen­wald fam­ily be­longed, Julius Rosen­wald be­gan close to home, with the Chicago-based As­so­ci­ated Jewish Char­i­ties, the Fed­er­ated Or­tho­dox Jewish Char­i­ties, the Chicago He­brew In­sti­tute (a

Jewish Hull House), the He­brew Ora­to­rio So­ci­ety and the Jewish His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety of Illi­nois. In time he sup­ported the Cincin­nati He­brew Union Col­legeJewish In­sti­tute of Re­li­gion, New York’s Jewish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary of Amer­ica and Yeshiva Univer­sity. Rosen­wald fought anti-Semitism through the Amer­i­can Jewish Committee and the ef­fort to free Leo Frank, who had been un­justly con­victed of mur

Rosen­wald viewed his phi­lan­thropy as a refu­ta­tion of Jewish stereo­types.

der in a cel­e­brated case in At­lanta. He made siz­able con­tri­bu­tions to a con­tro­ver­sial pro­ject to en­cour­age Jews to move to Ukraine and the Crimea to take up farm­ing.

Al­though Au­gusta, his wife, gave gen­er­ously to Hadas­sah, Rosen­wald re­jected Zion­ism, Diner sug­gests, not only be­cause he deemed the move­ment im­prac­ti­cal, but also out of a deep con­vic­tion that Jews could (and should) “live in a world on an equal foot­ing with the non-Jews around them” with­out losing their eth­nic or re­li­gious iden­ti­ties.

“As a Jew,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “Julius Rosen­wald did not have to be ini­ti­ated into the meth­ods of race prej­u­dice.” Diner agrees that his Jewish iden­tity played a piv­otal role in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to di­min­ish the sub­stan­tial in­equal­i­ties be­tween black and white Amer­i­cans. Rosen­wald funded 25 YMCAs and two YWCAs for African Amer­i­cans in cities through­out the United States. He paid the salaries of AfricanAmer­i­can doc­tors and nurses, but in­sisted that South­ern states rec­og­nize th­ese men and women as agents of the pub­lic health sys­tem and con­tinue to em­ploy them when the Rosen­wald sub­si­dies ended. Rosen­wald made pos­si­ble the es­tab­lish­ment of some 5,000 pri­vate ele­men­tary and se­condary schools in the South. A study by econ­o­mists of the Fed­eral Re­serve Bank of Chicago at­trib­uted 30% of the progress in ed­u­ca­tion achieved by South­ern blacks in the 1910s and ’20s to Rosen­wald schools. And Rosen­wald funded higher ed­u­ca­tion for blacks in law, medicine, teach­ing, so­cial work and the hu­man­i­ties.

To be sure, Diner re­minds us, while Rosen­wald as­sumed that prej­u­diced peo­ple would even­tu­ally al­ter their views, vir­tu­ally all his ini­tia­tives (in­clud­ing a hous­ing pro­ject in Chicago) “ac­cepted the re­al­ity of seg­re­ga­tion.” Nor did Rosen­wald ever fully un­der­stand “the uni­verse of dif­fer­ence” be­tween African Amer­i­cans and Jews, who “de­spite a pin­prick here or there” could far more read­ily gain ac­cep­tance in the United States.

“Why are you do­ing so much to help the Ne­gro?” Rosen­wald was once asked. “I am in­ter­ested in Amer­ica,” he replied. “I do not see how Amer­ica can go ahead if part of its peo­ple are left be­hind.”

Julius Rosen­wald died in 1932. In the en­su­ing decades, Diner notes, many African Amer­i­cans re­jected his views “of how to ad­dress racial re­al­i­ties.” More­over, the al­liance be­tween blacks and Jews, which helped ad­vance the cause of civil rights, has frayed since the 1960s, with con­flicts over af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, black na­tion­al­ism and Pales­tinian rights.

All the more rea­son to re­call Rosen­wald’s ap­peal “as an Amer­i­can and a Jew” to “all high-minded men and women to join in a re­lent­less cru­sade against race prej­u­dice.”

WIKIMEDIA COM­MONS

RE­PAIR­ING THE WORLD,

HIS WAY: A por­trait

of Julius Rosen­wald,

signed by Rosen­wald on Fe­bru­ary

15, 1912.

AP PHOTO

LEGACY OF ED­U­CA­TION: Marie Glover holds a photo of her­self in Goochland, Vir­ginia, with fel­low stu­dents of a school funded by Sears Roe­buck president Julius Rosen­wald.

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