Samuel Rothberg (1910-2007), a key architect of the American Jewish community’s relationship with Israel, was both a philanthropist and business leader.
Born in the Ukraine in 1910, Sam Rothberg and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1912 and settled in Philadelphia. Prevented from studying medicine by college quotas on Jewish students – "these were the realities and you took them in your stride," he later said – he majored in bacteriology and microbiology at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Shortly after his marriage to Jean Culver in 1941, the couple moved to Peoria, Illinois, where they raised their four children — Heidi, Kathy, Michael and Patrick. Initially employed as a senior researcher for the American Distilling Company, Rothberg moved into management, where his exceptional skills in sales and marketing propelled him to become a leader of the industry.
Several formative events during the 1940s served to shape Sam Rothberg's life and the extent of his involvement in the Jewish community. In 1944 he was invited to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) to meet Henry Montor, an inspiring figure who became his teacher and mentor in fundraising and Jewish communal affairs. Rothberg led the major efforts of the UJA before and after the creation of Israel in 1948. These campaigns were quite successful in sustaining the survivors of the concentration camps and helping to bring them to Israel. In 1947, during an extended visit to war-ravaged Europe and the "displaced persons" camps, he met with a group of young Jewish orphans and vowed that he would do all in his power to prevent any Jewish child suffering as had these children.
In a message for the dedication ceremony of the Boyar Building, Rothberg stated: "Ever since 1943 when we first learned of the mass killing of Jews by Hitler's Nazis, I have been deeply concerned with all aspects of the future of the Jewish people. This has been the driving force in my activities on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel."
During his frequent visits to the nascent State of Israel, Sam Rothberg applied his characteristic no-nonsense approach to help develop the country's economic, scientific and educational infrastructures. He played a leading role in the State of Israel Bonds program, overseeing its successful operation in many countries and accompanying both David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir on their fundraising drives. In 1958, long before private investment in Israel became widely established, Rothberg and his close friend Lou Boyar founded the Israel Investors Corporation.
In 1968 Sam Rothberg was elected chairman of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a position he held until 1981. In the wake of the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, he joined forces with University President Avraham Harman to orchestrate the University’s return to its historic home on Mount Scopus. He played a key role in the establishment of new academic units such as the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Of particular importance to him was the creation of the School for Overseas Students, today known as the Rothberg International School, which he perceived as a means of encouraging aliyah and enriching Jewish life throughout the world. Likewise, he devoted his efforts to creating on-campus housing for students, to the establishment of the Center for Pre-Academic Studies, and to the creation of the Golda Meir Fellowship Fund.
For Sam Rothberg, the Hebrew University epitomized a central meeting point where Israel could nurture excellent students from all backgrounds, foster fruitful academic exchange with outstanding young scholars from throughout the world, and engage in world-class research.
Sam Rothberg won friends in Israel and throughout the world through his unswerving loyalty and love. His life partner and wife, Jean, and their children all supported him in his leadership role, and the Rothberg family is committed to continuing the work of Sam Rothberg. In later years, when his health deteriorated, Sam asked his daughter Heidi to continue in his place in the University leadership.
Heidi Rothberg is a prominent lay leader in the United States, whose keen interest and active commitment perpetuate the legacy of philanthropy instilled in her by her parents. She lives in Colorado and is currently serving as a governor of the Hebrew University and co-chairperson of the International Board of Overseers of the Rothberg International School. She is also a former trustee of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. In June 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to supporting the University for over 30 years, Heidi Rothberg sponsors other worthy causes in Israel. Her sister Kathy is also a strong supporter of the Hebrew University.
Kathy Rothberg Barnett is a member of the University's Board of Governors. She was bestowed an Honorary Fellowship by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in June 2009. Kathy lives in Illinois with her husband Brian Barnett, and is an active philanthropic community leader, who is continuing to foster the Rothberg family's exceptional legacy of support and friendship for the State of Israel and the Hebrew University.
The Rothberg family continues to be devoted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.