Steven Roth of Short Hills grew up knowing the educational obstacles his parents had to overcome after they fled from Austria at the start of World War II. His mother, Ellie, finished high school in Shanghai, China, before going to Israel. His father, Ben, fought in Israel’s War of Independence and never got to finish high school.
The two of them came to the United States in the mid-1950s, and they made a success of their lives here, with Ben eventually owning his own clothing stores. He and his wife are retired now and live in Florida. Their son has succeeded, too, as an asset-based lender with Lake Equipment Leasing in Short Hills.
It was the awareness of his parents’ early challenges that led Steven Roth to the decision to provide assistance to young immigrants making their way in Israel. The H. Steven and Nancy Roth Education Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest provides need-based college scholarships to students in Israel. A number of the recipients have been from Ethiopia and from Cherkassy in Ukraine.
“My goal,” said Roth, who established the fund in 2007 with his wife, Nancy, and their three grown sons, “was to give scholarships to young men and women who fled their countries to come to Israel to be able to be Jewish and have better lives.”
So far, a total of 31 $1,000 scholarships have been awarded. Financial need is taken into account, and preference is given to those who have served in the Israel Defense Forces. Many of the Roth scholarship awardees are studying engineering, and many are working part-time and raising children.
On a visit to Israel in late October, Roth and his mother visited Matnas Ramat Eliyahu in Rishon Letzion, a community near Tel Aviv that has partnered with the Jewish community of Greater MetroWest for over 30 years. They met and spoke with a number of the current recipients.
Roth said, “To see the glow in their eyes when we arrived was breathtaking. They were so thrilled that we would even think of coming to their neighborhood to visit with them, and I was overwhelmed by them wanting to sit with us and get to know us.”
Most were the first in their families to go to a university, he said. “They all had the same goals: to be leaders in their community, to show their siblings that if they work hard and get a good education, the sky is the limit. You could see their drive, knowing that nothing will get in their way, and that they will overcome all obstacles. It is the same drive that my parents had as young adults in Israel after having such a difficult childhood, and it is a pleasure to see.”
Choosing the recipients is tough, he acknowledged. “I know there is a much greater need than what I can do,” he said, “but if we can tackle this one student at a time, I know it will make a difference.”