Joan Bildner, cofounder of Jewish life center at RU

Joan Bildner, cofounder of Jewish life center at RU


Joan Lebson Bildner, a stalwart supporter of New Jersey’s Jewish community, died June 23, 2013, after a brief illness.

Bildner, who had homes in West Orange and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was founding cochair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, and cofounder with her husband, Allen, of Rutgers University’s Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, located on the New Brunswick campus.

Her accomplishments in what was formerly the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest are abundant.

Her memberships included the federation board, Achim — the highest level of giving in its UJA Campaign — and the Lester Society.

As an active volunteer in the MetroWest federation, in 1962 she founded and organized its Women’s Division (now Women’s Philanthropy). In 1974 she was vice-chair of the Women’s Pacesetter UJA Campaign. Bildner also participated in the Operation Exodus project of Women’s Division to build the MetroWest High School in Ra’anana and was a long-time participant and committee member of Women’s UJA Day of Play at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell. She also served as president of the Grotta Center for Rehabilitation in West Orange.

“Joan was a born leader,” said Max Kleinman, executive vice president/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “With her husband, Allen, she was a great philanthropist for UJA, Jewish, and general organizations and other causes. I witnessed Joan’s great leadership in the launching of the Bildner Center for Jewish Life.” As a result of her and Allen’s vision, said Kleinman, “tens of thousands of students from all faiths will encounter the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that Judaism imparts on one of the largest campuses in the United States.”

“All through the years Joan Bildner has been an ardent supporter of federation and federation special projects,” said Wendie Ploscowe, past chair of the UJA Campaign and past president of Women’s Philanthropy. “I recall that when I was chair of Operation Exodus, Joan not only supported the work that we did, but also joined us in Israel for the dedication of the MetroWest High School in Ra’anana.

“I found her to be a confident, forthright woman who had a vision for federation and the future of the Jewish community. It was my honor to have known her .”

Her contributions extended far beyond the Jewish community.

She was a board member of Rutgers University, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, and the Maltz Theatre in Jupiter, Fla.

Bildner received numerous awards recognizing her community service, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Lifetime Achievement Award at Dartmouth College; Volunteer of the Year by the National Society of Fundraising Executives, New Jersey; and honorary doctorates from Rutgers, Bloomfield College, and Rowan University.

In addition to her husband, Bildner is survived by her sons, Rob (Elisa Spungen-Bildner) of Montclair and Jim (Nancy) of Manchester, Mass.; her sister, Marion Prigoff of Jupiter, Fla.; and her grandchildren, Elana, Lizzie, Ari, Eli, and Rafi.

Funeral services were held on June 26 at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations may be made in Joan Bildner’s memory to the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn; the Maltz Jupiter Theater, Jupiter, Fla. 33477; and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC 20024.

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