Philanthropist Jerome “Jerry” Gottesman, 87, of Morristown, the cofounder and chair of Edison Properties in Newark, died in Israel on Sept. 10. The funeral was held at Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph two days later, with interment at B’nai Abraham Memorial Park in Union.
“We have lost a dear friend and a giant in our community,” said Scott Krieger, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which spans Essex, Morris, Sussex, Union, and parts of Somerset counties. “Thinking through the lens of real estate, Jerry understood that building Jewish community meant deep investment today, but always with an eye to the future.”
The Gottesmans were visiting family in Israel when Jerry took ill. While there, he saw one of his granddaughters, Lillie DeBode, join the Israel Defense Forces.
As a testament to his stature in the community, leaders across the Jewish landscape, from rabbis to institutional leaders to fellow philanthropists, attended the funeral, and underscoring Gottesman’s contributions to the city, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was there as well.
Named one of New Jersey’s 50 wealthiest individuals in 2016 by njbiz.com, Gottesman’s net worth was estimated at more than $550 million. He and his widow, Paula, have been recognized as leading Jewish philanthropists locally and nationally. Their charitable giving was guided by a deep personal commitment to Jewish education and their approach was to innovate where the need is greatest. In a 2015 interview with NJJN, Paula explained that the couple’s gifts went to organizations that had goals the family believed in, leaders they trusted, and were not well funded.
Perhaps the Gottesmans are best known in the Jewish world for having developed a groundbreaking tuition grant program to help middle-income families send their children to Jewish day school. Developed in the 1990s at what was then the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County (HAMC), now Gottesman RTW Academy (GRTWA) — which two of the Gottesmans’ four daughters attended — the program is a model that has been adopted by day schools around the country.
At the time, the Gottesmans said that the idea came from a conversation Jerry had with a Jewish employee. Jerry had asked if the man sent his kids to Jewish day school; the employee explained that because he made a good living, the family was not eligible for scholarship assistance and as a result could not afford the tuition. Saying the program reflected their belief in Jewish education as a key to ensuring the future of the Jewish community, the Gottesmans launched their initiative.
“Jerry was a mentor, donor, and most of all a wonderful and close family friend,” said Naomi Bacharach, director of institutional advancement at Gottesman RTW Academy and a 1979 graduate of the school. “I am desperately sad that he won’t be here at our GRTWA events and programs anymore. I’ve known him my whole life. He’s my giant.”
When the Gottesmans’ recognized the need for a mechanism to secure the future of the tuition grant program, Jerry made another innovation, adapting their financial structure of the Jewish education arena to fit the endowment model popular at independent private schools.
GRTWA was renamed in their honor in 2014 after they donated $15 million to the school for renovation and expansion.
The couple also spurred the creation of a community-wide joint endowment fund for the Greater MetroWest area’s four Jewish day schools. In 2007, the Gottesmans also founded a giving society recognizing donors of $100,000 or more to Jewish day school endowments — one of the first such societies in North America.
“There is no question that the school owes its existence for the past 10 years and its sustainability for the next 50 years to Jerry and Paula. Without the Gottesmans, there would be no Jewish day school in Morris County,” said Steve Levy, a GRTWA board member and cochair of its building campaign. Levy is also a trustee of the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation.
The Gottesmans’ philanthropy was not limited to day schools. They have given generously to Jewish camps, PJ Library, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and the Friendship Circle’s new LifeTown facility in Livingston for children and teens with special needs. Organizations in Israel they have supported include Yemin Orde Youth Village, the Israel Center for Educational Innovation, and the Leket Israel food bank, as well as such advocacy organizations as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Gottesmans also endowed a position for a full-time Jewish student director at Vassar College, Paula’s alma mater. Jerry was, with his family, a longtime member of Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael.
The Gottesmans, said federation executive vice president and CEO Dov Ben-Shimon, “have literally reshaped our community in profound and lasting ways that impact thousands of Jewish children and their families today, particularly in the fields of Jewish day school education and Jewish overnight camp.
“They have transformed lives, secured institutions, and changed the way we think about Jewish education, formal and informal. The impact of their philanthropy will be felt for generations to come.”
The family’s emphasis on Jewish education did not begin with Jerry and Paula. Rather, it can be seen in the actions of Jerry’s parents, who are considered early leaders of the Hebrew Youth Academy, a forerunner of Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston (it was established in 1942 as the Yeshiva of Newark and later known as the Hebrew Academy of Essex County before taking on the Kushner name), and integral in securing its success.
Sadie Gottesman was president of the PTA in 1946. She was responsible for the hot lunch program and for others that supported “the Torah education and religious programs,” according to Erica Rosenfeld, communications associate at the school. She added that Joseph Gottesman was one of the institution’s leaders from the time of its founding, and served as an officer in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and as treasurer from the mid-1960s until 1980, when he no longer had any children at the school.
Jerome Gottesman was born to Joseph Gottesman and Sadie Herskowitz in 1930 in Newark, where he was raised. He attended the Hebrew Youth Academy, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1952, and served in the U.S. Air Force for three years. He married the former Paula Rachlin in 1961, and they lived in Montclair before moving to Morristown in 1975.
Prominent in New York and New Jersey real estate circles, Gottesman cofounded Edison Properties with his late brother Harold in 1956 in Newark, where it is still headquartered. He was also the founder of Manhattan Mini-Storage, part of Edison Properties.
In addition to his wife, Jerry Gottesman is survived by four daughters, Sally Gottesman of New York, Archie Gottesman DeBode (Gary DeBode) of Summit, Jane Gottesman (Geoffrey Biddle) of California, and Abbie Gottesman Greenberg (Moshe Greenberg) of Israel; 17 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a brother, A. Edward. He was predeceased by his older brother, Harold, and his younger sister, Arlene Reff.