Donor Profile: Janice Rothschild Blumberg
A $50,000 gift from the Rothschild family, members of Atlanta’s Jewish community, and corporate benefactors has established the Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild Fund for Jewish Studies at the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies to honor the late religious leader and civil rights advocate.
The fund supports an annual lecture series on Judaism and social justice that will bring prominent national scholars on Judaism and civil rights to speak at Emory. The first lecture was given on April 7 by Ellen Umansky, the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Chair in Judaic Studies at Connecticut’s Fairfield University. The title of the talk was “ ‘Here I Am, Send Me’: Mission, Social Justice, and Modern Jewish Identity.”
Rothschild, who served as rabbi of Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation—now known as The Temple—from 1946 until his death in 1973, was an outspoken supporter of Atlanta’s civil rights movement.
Janice Rothschild Blumberg helped raise the funds to honor her first husband. She says Rothschild knew from his earliest days in the rabbinate that he wanted to emulate the courage of rabbis he was influenced by during his youth. “This lecture series is ideal for perpetuating Rabbi Rothschild’s memory because, being an annual event, it gives the opportunity for reminding the public and the Emory community what he stood for and why,” Blumberg says. “He would be very pleased about the focus on social justice. That is what he considered his main contribution to society.”
As a child, Rothschild attended Temple Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Rabbi J. Leonard Levy and Rabbi Samuel Goldenson were early influences through their activism in civic reform and social justice. He also admired an uncle, Samuel Spier Mayerberg, who served as rabbi of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City from 1928 until 1960, Blumberg says. Mayerberg was a respected leader who, at great physical risk to himself, tackled corruption and racketeering in Kansas City government in the late 1930s.
After accepting the rabbinate in Atlanta, Rothschild was disturbed by the depth of racial injustice he witnessed and resolved to make civil rights a focal point of his rabbinical career. When fifty sticks of dynamite exploded at the Temple on October 12, 1958, many observers concluded that the rabbi’s outspoken support of civil rights had made the synagogue a target for extremist violence. Condemnation of the bombing by elected officials, members of the press, and the vast majority of the public led to a renewed official commitment to racial moderation in Atlanta.
Rothschild stepped up his activism following the bombing, speaking regularly in support of civil rights and assuming the vice presidency of the Atlanta Council on Human Relations. Rothschild also served as chair of the Committee on Social Justice for the Central Conference of American Rabbis and helped establish the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C.
Rothschild continued to speak regularly and candidly about social justice and civil rights until he died, after suffering a heart attack, on December 31, 1973. Blumberg says her husband felt being a member of the clergy came with the obligation to work for the betterment of society. “Rabbi Rothschild would very often answer some question posed by a non-Jewish person about the Jewish faith by saying that Judaism is a religion of deed rather than creed. That is certainly what motivated him and it is what we would like to perpetuate as his legacy,” Blumberg says.
The gifts that established the Rothschild Fund are part of Campaign Emory, a $1.6 billion fund-raising endeavor that combines private support and Emory’s people, places, and programs to make a powerful contribution to the world. Investments through Campaign Emory fuel efforts to address fundamental challenges: transforming health and healing, gaining ground in science and technology, resolving conflict, harnessing the power of the arts, and educating the heart and mind.
–Maria M. Lameiras