Jewish Philanthropy

Jewish Philanthropy to Colby College

Ginny Keesler ’13 (January 2013)

Click here for the full version of this study, summarized below.

What do the Pulver Pavilion, Harold Alfond Athletic Center, and the Colby Museum’s Lunder Wing have in common? All are facilities funded by and named after Jews. Indeed, Jews have donated generously to Colby, in ways that reflect trends in American Jewish philanthropy.

Jewish philanthropy has become increasingly secular. In the 1950’s, Marshall Sklare examined Jews in a suburb of Chicago, which he called “Lakeville.” Sklare found that while 67% of respondents considered “support all humanitarian causes” to be essential for a “good Jew,” only 39% considered “contribute to a Jewish philanthropy” to be essential. By the 1980s, the majority of dollars donated by American Jews went toward secular causes. Secularization of Jewish philanthropy has been driven by assimilation of Jews into American society.

Institutions of higher education have benefited. Tobin, Solomon, & Karp examined mega-gifts of $10 million or more from 1995–2000 and found that 49% of dollars donated by Jews went to institutions of higher education. The extent to which this philanthropy is truly secular, however, remains ambiguous. Since the 1980s, for example, Jewish philanthropy has helped make Jewish studies programs more common.

Jewish philanthropy toward Colby reflects both secular and Jewish values. Jews have enhanced the college in secular ways but have also advanced Jewish studies specifically.

Pulver PavilionDonations from Esther Ziskind Weltman, David Pulver (’63), Ludy Levine (’21), and Pacy Levine (’27) provide examples of secular philanthropy. Mrs. Weltman’s gift endowing non-western studies allowed Colby to expand its offerings in Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Indian, and African culture. Mr. Pulver was inspired to support the construction of Pulver Pavilion by his concern for student community generally. The Levines financially assisted Colby students regardless of religious faith.

The desire of local Jews to support Colby and the Waterville community simultaneously is also a manifestation of philanthropic secularization. Paula and Peter Lunder (’56) made a lead gift to Colby Museum’s Lunder Wing and endowed the Lunder Curator of American Art and Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion. The Lunders would bring local children through the museum and aimed to help the community through their donations. Harold Alfond’s grant for Colby’s outdoor track was inspired by public use of the indoor track. Bill Alfond (’72) has supported extensive renovations to the college’s athletic facilities, but he emphasizes his role in launching the Big Brother Big Sister Program and his involvement with Educare.

Contributions to Colby also illustrate ways in which colleges have attracted efforts to enhance understanding of Jewish heritage. Inspiration for donating to Colby’s Jewish studies program varies generationally. Bernard Lipman (’31) and Doris Rose Hopengarten (’40) were motivated by their experiences during a period of rampant anti-Semitism.

Bernard Lipman failed physical education at Colby because of a prejudiced teacher, but according to his son, he “forever associated Colby with scholarship” (Lipman, 2007). He funded the Bernard H. Lipman Library of Judaic Studies and the Samuel and Esther Lipman Lectureship on a Jewish subject. Mr. Lipman endowed the Chapman Room, naming it after the English professor who supported him in an environment sometimes inhospitable to Jews.

Doris Rose Hopengarten’s choice to come to Colby was influenced by the college’s willingness to admit Jewish students. She created Colby’s Hopengarten-Moss Library Fund to purchase resources for Jewish studies. Mrs. Hopengarten valued her experiences at Colby, perhaps particularly because it was a relatively welcoming school for Jews.

David Pulver and Patricia Berger, 1960s alumni, have supported Jewish studies on the basis of principle. Mr. Pulver’s inspiration for the Pulver Family Chair in Jewish Studies came from reading a B’nai B’rith publication indicating that Colby had less to offer Jewish students than peer institutions. Endowing a Jewish studies chair was not related to Colby memories but to a sense that students should have access to Jewish programs. Patricia (’62) and Robert Berger established the Berger Holocaust Studies Fund based on the general importance of combating anti-Semitism. Robert Berger explained, “the Holocaust is a prime example of what can happen when tolerance for other people does not exist.”

Colby can be viewed as a microcosm of broader trends in American Jewish philanthropy during the second half of the twentieth century. Contributions have reflected philanthropic secularization, but Jews have also supported Jewish studies, if for different reasons across generations.