Since the Abrams family set foot on U.S. shores in the late 19th century, Jewish identity has been synonymous with tzedakah and community activism. The example set all those years ago by Meyer and Ida Vera Abrams, Russian immigrants to Trenton, remains the basis for the crucial community service work of the Abrams Foundation. A more recent act of kindness by the foundation is likely to set a new example for many generations to come.
In November, the Abrams Foundation donated $100,000 to Magen David Adom, which is “Israel’s national ambulance, blood-services, and disaster-relief organization,” according to the American Friends of Magen David Adom website, for an ambulance.
It was the fourth ambulance donated by either the foundation or members of the Abrams family. The first was donated by Samuel Abrams and Sue Abrams in 1970, and the others by the Abrams Foundation in 1990 and 2002.
“There’s always a need for emergency ambulances,” Nati Kushner, who married into the Abrams family and now disburses funds for the foundation, told NJJN. “Life in Israel is rough, and [ambulances] are being called all the time.”
The Abrams name is prominent in the community, and it is featured on three major institutions: the Abrams Hebrew Academy; the Abrams Residence, an assisted living facility under the Greenwood House umbrella; and JCC Abrams Camps. Still, Kushner thought she should introduce it to a new generation.
“Years ago people knew who the Abrams [family] were, but [today] people don’t know,” she said. Proud of the family she married into in 1966, Kushner said she wants everyone to know “the way they grew up — their mother gave money to charity. All their lives, not only since the foundation was founded, they always gave money to charity.”
The story of the Abrams family in New Jersey began more than 130 years ago, in 1884, when Russian-born Ida Vera Abrams and her four children joined her husband, Meyer, who had moved to Trenton before his family. Three more children were born in Trenton. Meyer, a talented furniture maker, established a workshop on Ferry Street, and his sons opened Abrams Furniture on Broad Street.
The family, part of a small, tight-knit Russian-Jewish community in Trenton’s ninth ward, lived in a small house attached to the store. They were among the founders of Congregation Brothers of Israel, Trenton’s first Orthodox synagogue. The Abrams boys attended the Herzl Zion School, which later became Trenton Hebrew Academy and, in 1981, Abrams Hebrew Academy. Their mother had left bequests to a number of charities in her will, with the largest portion benefiting the Herzl Zion School.
The Abrams children followed the example of their parents and quietly funded numerous Jewish institutions. When the oldest son David died in 1968 he bequeathed a considerable sum to his brother, Samuel, to set up a foundation for charitable giving. A few years later, he sold his business and started the Samuel Abrams Foundation.
In the 1960s Samuel was instrumental in creating the Trent Center, two high-rise apartment buildings for aging Jewish Trentonians, adjacent to the original Brothers of Israel synagogue. In 1970 he helped found the local Jewish Federation. He was also a major donor to the Abrams Day Camp and a few years later paid for the JCC swimming pool. His contribution also helped facilitate Greenwood House’s move to Ewing. Another Abrams sibling, Sue, was active in the Brothers of Israel Sisterhood and helped establish an Ivriah Hebrew language chapter in Trenton.
In 1966, Melvin Kushner, grandson of Meyer and Ida Vera Abrams, married Nati, nee Zingler, who was born in Tel Aviv and visiting a cousin in the United States when she was 22.
“I was supposed to go back, but somebody introduced me to Mel,” Kushner said. “Three weeks after we started going out, we were joking about getting married.” Melvin died in 2002. Nati has two children and six grandchildren.
Nati and Mel first connected with the Abrams Hebrew Academy when Samuel Abrams, Melvin’s uncle, invited them to a scholarship dinner for the school. They were so impressed, they sent their children to the Abrams kindergarten.
The Abrams Foundation’s contributions, beyond the institutions that bear their name, have been far reaching. They include Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, Rider University’s Holocaust remembrance, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, Jewish Historical Society of Greater Trenton, the Deborah Hospital in Browns Mills, and scholarships for students at Brandeis University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Nati takes the responsibility of carrying on the family’s tradition for charitable giving and community service for the foundation very seriously.
“When I give money, I always remember that it is not mine,” she said.