Guests representing every denomination and every avenue of Jewish education gathered at the Hilton Parsippany May 17 to honor Paula and Jerry Gottesman, the Morristown philanthropists who have given or committed $30 million toward Jewish day school education in the Greater MetroWest community and millions more for Jewish camping, PJ Library, and other area causes.
Close to 600 people attended a gala benefitting the Gottesman RTW Academy, the community day school in Randolph named in their honor.
Guests represented three of the four Jewish day schools in the area, as well as a wide circle of institutions the Gottesmans have supported, including the Foundation for Jewish Camp, PJ Library, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and the Friendship Circle.
The Gottesmans “don’t just give money away, they ‘invest’ those funds, and themselves,” said Steve Levy, chair of the school’s capital campaign, at the gala. He continued, “It is rare that Paula and Jerry have made a major philanthropic commitment without establishing some way to maximize the impact of that gift by incentivizing or inspiring others to follow them.”
Kim Hirsh, a parent of three academy alumni, a former development director at the school, and a cousin of Jerry Gottesman, was also honored at the dinner. She has advised the Gottesmans on their giving to Jewish education, first at the school, and, as it grew, as endowment development officer at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest, and now as director of philanthropic initiatives for the JCF, whose largest single fund is the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation. Hirsh also administers the Greater MetroWest Day School Initiative.
The initiative, inspired in large part by the Gottesmans, was established in 2007 by private donors and what was then United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and JCF of MetroWest NJ as a community-wide fund-raising collaborative. The Day School Endowment campaign, part of the initiative, has raised more than $70 million for the three original day schools and now a fourth in the area. Including day school capital campaigns, about $100 million has been raised.
Hirsh has dubbed the Gottesmans’ impact on the larger community “the ripple effect.”
Each of the heads of the four day schools in the area offered a video tribute to honorees.
Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, whose son Moshe is married to Abbie, one of the Gottesmans’ four daughters, gave the keynote address.
“We are living today at the climax of 350 years of incredible development of modern civilization,” said Greenberg, the former chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. It is also, he warned, a period in which Jewish literacy is in decline, and support like the Gottesmans’ for Jewish education offers “transformational” potential for Jewish continuity.
The couple has given or committed $1.5 million to the Friendship Circle — which offers support for families of children with special needs — and they are donors at the highest level of giving to the GMW federation, where they are members of the Lester Society of high-level givers.
Three of the Gottesmans’ daughters attended Jewish day school — either at the precursor to the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, now in Livingston, or at what was then known as the Hebrew Academy of Morris County, renamed a year ago in the Gottesmans’ honor.