The MetroWest Jewish community, and the entire Jewish world, lost a giant this weekend. Jerome (Jerry) Gottesman, 87, died peacefully on Sunday, September 10, while in Israel with his wife of 55 years, Paula, surrounded by close family.
Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph, New Jersey, the school attended by two of the Gottesman’s daughters, was the family’s chosen location for Jerry’s levaya, held on Tuesday, September 12. The service was said to be appropriately moving and beautiful, befitting a man of Jerry’s stature—a pillar of the Jewish community for so many years—not just a tremendous philanthropist, but a mentor, benefactor and friend to so many. The funeral was attended by more than 800 people.
Jerry and Paula are among the leading Jewish philanthropists of their generation, both locally and nationally. The couple’s contributions to the greater Jewish community, particularly in the areas of Jewish day school education and Jewish camping, will be felt for generations to come.
“The Gottesmans have literally reshaped our community in profound and lasting ways that impact thousands of Jewish children and their families today,” said Dov Ben-Shimon, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. “They have transformed lives, secured institutions and changed the way we think about Jewish education, formal and informal.”
“We have lost a dear friend and a giant in our community,” said Scott Krieger, president of the Greater MetroWest NJ Federation. “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.”
Guided by a belief that a thriving Jewish future requires educated Jews, and that it is a communal responsibility to provide the means for quality Jewish education, the Gottesmans were among the first in the nation to develop a tuition grant program to help middle-income families afford Jewish day school education. This “Base Grant” program, started in the late 1990s, presaged and helped shape a national movement to make Jewish education more affordable, particularly for families who do not qualify for scholarships but do not earn enough to afford tuition.
One of Jerry’s passions in philanthropy was securing the future of vital Jewish organizations through endowment. A decade ago, the Gottesmans were among the first Jewish philanthropists in the nation to make major endowment gifts to Jewish schools, adapting the historical practice of private independent schools to the Jewish education world. They have led a campaign that has raised more than $80 million in endowment funds for Jewish day schools in the Greater MetroWest area. The program they created has been replicated in dozens of communities across the U.S. and Canada.
“Mr. Gottesman’s visionary leadership, prescience and commitment to Jewish continuity and education have provided the resources and inspiration for JKHA/RKYHS and our sister MetroWest schools to transform the lives of generations of students,” said Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School Head of School and Klatt Family Rosh Hayeshiva Rabbi Eliezer Rubin. “Along with Paula, Jerry’s philanthropy—as well as his benevolence—has eased the burden of tuition by creating an unprecedented middle-income affordability program. Following the leadership model of his parents, the ever-humble Mr. Gottesman never waited to be asked to support the eternal value of Jewish education; he took responsibility for his people and demonstrated authentic and meaningful magnanimity. His lessons and values will live through each of the institutions he cared for, cherished and supported,” he continued.
JEC Executive Vice President Pinchas Shapiro concurred.“The Jewish Educational Center family is deeply saddened by, and mourns, the passing of a great friend and inspirational leader, Mr. Jerry Gottesman,” he said. “A titan of industry and giant of philanthropy, Mr. Gottesman’s most precious investment was in the education of Jewish children. The impact he and his beloved Paula have had on the Jewish people will be measured in generations of Jewish children yet unborn. The Gemara relates that one who educates his neighbor’s child becomes like a birth parent. By that measure, Jerry and Paula Gottesman’s family multiplies daily as the thousands of Jewish children learning and growing are truly their own.”
In 2007, the Gottesmans founded a giving society—The Herskowitz Society of Greater MetroWest NJ—which recognizes donors of $100,000 or more to Jewish day school endowments. Named in memory of Jerry’s mother and maternal grandparents, it was one of the first Jewish day school endowment societies in North America.
“Jerry understood that strong Jewish day schools are a foundation of a vibrant Jewish community, and that we need to secure these precious institutions with long-term investment,” said Steven D. Levy, executive board member of Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest and trustee of the Paula and Jerry Gottesman Family Foundation. “The Gottesmans were the first to step forward and do this in a major way in Greater MetroWest. More than 100 families have followed in our community, and many hundreds more have followed across the nation.”
“Jerry’s leadership in Jewish education has created a lasting, profound impact for thousands of past, present and future Jewish day school students,” said Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah, the national organization for Jewish day schools. “Across North America, countless students, teachers and families benefit because other philanthropists have followed Jerry and Paula’s model of success in creating high-quality, more affordable, financially strong and sustainable Jewish day schools.”
A centerpiece of their support for Jewish education has been building a thriving community-wide collaboration among local Jewish schools from diverse backgrounds—Orthodox, Conservative and non-denominational. The schools meet regularly and share programming and best practices.
Driven with passion and a bold spirit to test new ideas on their home turf, the Gottesmans began both the middle income and the endowment programs at what was then the Hebrew Academy of Morris County. That school now bears the name Gottesman RTW Academy, in recognition of a historic gift the family made in 2014 to build a new school building and expand the campus. The Gottesmans chose to honor the founding families—Rubenstein, Turner and Wertheimer, all close friends of theirs—with the “RTW” initials added to the school name.
“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,” said Levy, who is also a board member of the school and co-chair of the Gottesman RTW Academy building campaign.
“Without the Gottesmans there would be no Jewish day school in Morris County for the hundreds of Jewish students it has educated and will educate,” Levy added.
The Gottesmans have also been innovative supporters in the field of Jewish camping, creating one of the first professional positions at a Jewish Federation solely devoted to sending more children to Jewish overnight camp. They are the lead benefactors of the largest endowed community-based Jewish camp program in North America.
“Their innovative leadership with the Greater MetroWest Camp Enterprise and with NJY Camps stimulated replication by generous philanthropists across North America,” noted Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp.
The Gottesmans are also the lead benefactors of “Lifetown,” a new 50,000-square-foot center in Livingston that will serve individuals with special needs from around New Jersey. Lifetown is sponsored by the Friendship Circle, which brings children and teens with special needs together through extensive programs.
“Jerry Gottesman was not just a philanthropist; he lived each day dedicated to helping the Jewish community. His tireless efforts and passion will be felt for years to come. He and his beloved wife, Paula, have changed the future of Judaism through their revolutionary focus on Jewish education, both formal and informal. Generations yet to be born will have Jerry to thank for their connection to Judaism,” said Friendship Circle of New Jersey Executive Director Zalman Grossbaum.
The Gottesmans also brought to their home community a program called PJ Library, which provides free Jewish books and music to families with young children. About 3,500 children across Greater MetroWest now receive these packets monthly.
A towering figure in the New York and New Jersey real estate community, Jerry co-founded Edison Parking, a company now known as Edison Properties, with his late brother Harold in Newark in 1956, and served as chairman of the company until his death. The diversified firm specializes in mini storage, parking and real estate development. The company, still headquartered in Newark, has created a charitable trust that is used solely for Newark causes.
In light of his long-term ties to the city of Newark, Jerry over the past year created the position of “Gottesman Fellow, Jewish Cultural and Educational Liaison to Newark” at the Greater MetroWest Federation. This position and related programming supports the rebuilding of ties between the Jewish community in largely suburban Greater MetroWest and Newark—the city of its roots.
Jerry also served on the board of the Newark Museum.
Additionally, the Gottesmans have endowed a position for a full-time Jewish student director at Vassar College, Paula’s alma mater. They are also leading benefactors of a research program at Johns Hopkins University into innovative approaches to treating neurofibromatosis. They are trustees of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and major supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
In addition to their philanthropic activities in the U.S., the Gottesmans are also leading supporters of many innovative organizations in Israel, including the Yemin Orde, which provides educational communities for at-risk and immigrant Israeli youth; the Israel Center for Educational Innovation, an improvement program for Israeli elementary schools with large Ethiopian-Israeli populations; Leket Israel, the country’s largest food bank and rescue network; and Pardes, a Jerusalem-based learning center that trains Jewish educators worldwide.
Loving husband of Paula Rachlin Gottesman; devoted father of Sally Gottesman, Archie Gottesman DeBode, Jane Gottesman and Abbie Gottesman Greenberg; father-in-law of Gary DeBode, Geoffrey Biddle and Moshe Greenberg; grandfather of 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, Jerry was born to the late Joseph Gottesman and Sadie Herskowitz in Newark, New Jersey. His older brother, Harold, and his younger sister, Arlene Reff, predeceased him. His younger brother A. Edward survives him.
Mr. Gottesman graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1952 and served in the U.S. Air Force for three years.