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Jewish Journal

$20 million gift to L.A. Federation is its largest ever

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

April 18, 2012 | 1:56 pm

Donor Geri Brawerman, is shown here with her now-deceased husband, Richard. The couple made education a central part of their giving.

Donor Geri Brawerman, is shown here with her now-deceased husband, Richard. The couple made education a central part of their giving.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has received its largest gift ever — a $20 million bequest from Geri Brawerman to create a scholarship and fellowship program for needy Jewish college students from Los Angeles. Brawerman is a Westwood resident who, along with her late husband, Richard, has long been a major force in funding educational initiatives.

The Geri and Richard Brawerman Leadership Institute each year will fund 10 undergraduates who show both financial need and leadership potential. The students will receive $10,000 a year toward tuition and expenses at a four-year university. Fellows will participate in summer and midyear retreats focused on community service and Jewish values, and will be paired with mentors throughout the school year.

“The idea of this program is to help deserving young people get a quality education, and to do it with a sense of Jewish values and purpose, with the goal of engaging them in the Jewish community when they graduate,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Federation.

Federation is currently accepting applicants from students entering college in 2012.  Four students will be accepted for the first year as Federation gradually rolls out the program, eventually hoping to handle 40 students at a time.

This is the largest gift ever promised to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and one of only a few donations of this size to federations across the country. It is among Brawerman’s largest legacy gifts, according to her business manager.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has long been an important part of the giving portfolio of Geri and Richard Brawerman. Richard Brawerman, who died in May 2009, was an attorney and a captain in the U.S. Army during World War II.  He has two children from a previous marriage, and he and Geri, a hands-on philanthropist who was raised in Chicago, were married for 24 years.

“If Richard were here, he would be thrilled to know that his legacy now includes a program that builds leadership and ensures the Jewish future by both supporting the educational goals of Jewish high school students and giving them the experiences and skills they’ll draw upon as future stewards of Jewish Los Angeles. It is my dream that the students we empower today will lead the community tomorrow,” Brawerman said.

The bulk of the funds are an endowment bequest, payable when Brawerman, who would not disclose her age, dies. But she has put seed money into the Leadership Institute to kick off the program while she can still be involved.

The Brawermans had previously funded a nursing institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and are the named founders at the elementary school at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s west campus, as well as at the elementary school that opened this fall at the temple’s historic Wilshire Boulevard building. They created an ambulatory care center at City of Hope and have been significant supporters of the Walt Disney Concert Hall at the Los Angeles Music Center, Jewish Free Loan Association and the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

Federation leaders worked with Brawerman for a year to find the intersection of her passions and Federation’s needs, Sanderson said.

“We look to collaborate with our donors and with our agencies,” Sanderson said. “Would we have gone in this direction now, without Geri’s gift? Probably not. Do we want to be going in this direction? Absolutely. This was a collaborative idea based on Federation’s priorities and our donor’s desire.”

Andrew Cushnir, chief program officer at The Federation, notes that the program fits into Federation’s priority areas — caring for Jews in need and ensuring the Jewish future. Federation has already hired a part-time administrator for the program.

A curriculum has not yet been set for the summer and winter seminars, but it will focus on Jewish values. Students are expected to participate in Birthright Israel trips and will also engage in service-learning opportunities in the United States during winter break. The program will also include a summer institute in Israel.

During the school year, students will be paired with local mentors who can teach them effective leadership and guide them through their Jewish journey. Federation plans to nurture a strong alumni network for the Brawerman Leadership Institute.

The scholarships will be need based, and the not-yet-formed selection committee will determine need on a case-by-case basis.

Cushnir said the scholarship is intended for those truly in need, and he hopes the $10,000 will open up opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach.

Among students who qualify in terms of need, the Brawerman Leadership Institute will be looking for students who are Jewishly involved and demonstrate potential for leadership.

Applications are due May 11. For more information, visit JewishLA.org/Brawerman

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