Eleanor Katz, a prominent philanthropist whose foundation’s work on Jewish studies had an impact locally, nationally and in Israel, died Feb. 19 at her home in Hollywood, Fla.
The former Eleanor Meyerhoff was 80 years old.
Katz and her late husband furthered their core belief in tzedakah by establishing the eponymous Eleanor M. and Herbert D. Katz Family Foundation in 1983 to support Jewish organizations and programs throughout the country, and, following her husband’s passing, Eleanor served as the lead foundation trustee.
In her husband’s memory, Katz joined her family in established the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, a haven with an international profile known for post-doctoral research and study about Jewish civilization in all its dimensions. The center also is famous for its legendary library.
The couple also made their sense of charity work worldwide. Through the Jewish Federations of North America, she was instrumental in setting up preschools in Israel, in Beit Shean and Eschar; youth clubs on Kibbutz Gesher Haziv; and an absorption center in Tzfat.
Eleanor helped finance the Katz Federation Building for the Jewish Federation of Broward County in Davie, Fla.; she and her husband also established the Herb and Ellie Katz Leadership Development Award, presented each year by the Jewish Federation of Broward County.
Both she and her husband had vital and influential interests in Jewish studies, says David B. Ruderman, the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and Ella Darivoff Director of Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.
Ruderman was familiar with the extended Katz-Meyerhoff family for decades; in the mid-1970s, he helped set up the Judaic studies program at the University of Maryland, with major capital aid and support from Eleanor Katz’s parents in establishing the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies.
Ruderman reconnected with the Katz side of the extended family 20 years ago on his arrival at Penn.
At that time, says Ruderman, the advanced Jewish scholars studies program, having evolved over decades from what was originally the Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning, established in 1907, was on its last legs at Penn, with the real possibility it would be swallowed up by the university.
“But Herb and Eleanor got it,” he says of the couple, who, discovering the financially perilous nature of the program, came to the rescue.
“They gave the first substantial gift” to the revised program, recalls Ruderman, and both of the Katzes hit the road to raise funds among friends and cohorts for what would later be renamed the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ruderman attended Eleanor’s funeral in Plantation, Fla., where many of the 200-plus mourners in attendance, he says, spoke about the commitment both Eleanor and Herbert had to furthering the ideals of Jewish studies.
Katz is survived by two daughters, Laura Cutler Katz and Sally; three sons, Thomas O., Walter and Daniel; and nine grandchildren.
Jewish Exponent Staffer Michael Elkin contributed to this report.