Communal Giant Edward H. Rosen Remembered as Mensch

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A former three-term president of the local Jewish Federation and major supporter of the Hillel at Temple University, Rosen's commitment to Jewish life was evident throughout the community.

In the abstract notion of a Jewish communal dictionary, the word “mensch” would be defined by a picture of Edward H. Rosen.

But there was nothing abstract about Rosen, whose communal accomplishments and lasting legacy left one admiring colleague to praise him as “the real deal.”


Indeed, Rosen, a Bryn Mawr resident and retired president of the former Raymond Rosen & Co., a small appliance distribution business, writ his life large and loving over an 87-year existence that ended with his death on Oct. 1.

His decades of service to the Jewish community leave a long legacy, from his leadership roles in the precursor to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to the Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life, dedicated on the Temple University campus in 2009.

Rosen’s role as a three-term president from 1981 to 1984 of what is now the Jewish Federation was marked by major accomplishments and the innovative spirit he brought to all his endeavors, former colleagues said. His work on the Federation’s Pilot Cities Program, which aimed to streamline the nonprofit’s organization, and his shepherding of its first Jewish population study, were key projects that helped reshape the agency at the time.

He also headed up allocations and planning at Federation prior to his induction as president in 1981, and chaired the agency’s Task Force on Refugee Resettlement.

The Philadelphia native and Yale graduate cited his visit to Poland and Israel during a Federation mission as transformative, convincing him to take on leadership roles when he returned home. One who took that communal journey with him was longtime buddy and jogging partner Ronald Rubin, whose friendship with Rosen went back 50 years.

Their association with the Golden Slipper Club linked them early on, said Rubin, a real estate magnate who preceded Rosen as Federation president and called his friend “a leader of the community in almost every area he touched.”

Both were sons of past presidents of the charity who would go on to take the same position held by their fathers.

We were the generational change,” Rubin said of their roles moving the agency forward in the ’60s.  

That early link would be everlasting: “We’d been close friends ever since,” Rubin said, noting that their families had dinner and went to the Eagles game together just a few weeks ago.

It wasn’t that long ago that the two were running on East River Drive on a regular basis as part of a group of friends/joggers that included Albert Nipon and Rick Goldstein.

He had “always been in great physical condition — even at the end of his life," Rubin said. 

His zest for involvement was also enduring.

The member of Congregation Rodeph Shalom was a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, becoming the  first local leader chosen for the council. He also served as vice president of the regional United Way; and president of what was then the Jewish Ys and Centers of Greater Philadelphia, which he also served as a board member.

Rosen was a past president and board chairman of the Philadelphia chapter of American Jewish Committee; commissioner of the Philadelphia Council of the Boy Scouts of America; board member of the Pennsylvania Foundation for Independent Colleges, and board member of Akiba Hebrew Academy, now called the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.

“He made things happen through the power of his personality and leadership," Rubin said. "He was never content to be just a player; he was a leader.”

For Mimi Schneirov, another past president of Federation, Rosen was “not only a dear friend, but a mentor for me in the Jewish community both locally and nationally."

“He was one of a kind — he was a leader who loved people and was loved by people. There are very few people who left such an indelible impression as Ed did,” she said, citing his involvement with such agencies and institutions as Federation, the JCCs, the National Museum of American Jewish History and Hillel.

“He was unique — upbeat, passionate, intellectually curious — who loved, loved, loved being Jewish and being part of the Jewish community. He was the real deal. He touched everybody.”

Among those touched were thousands of Temple University students who have been able to take advantage of part of Rosen’s lasting legacy: the $8 million, 10,500 square foot Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life, dedicated on the Temple campus in 2009. A sample of their comments reacting to his passing that were posted online: Rachel Older, Temple Class of 2016 , recalls "the first time I met Mr. Rosen was at Super Sunday and he was so excited to hug me and ask me what I do for Hillel. His youthful presence and dedication to Judaism are traits I hope to carry on throughout my life."

Aimee Goldstein, Class of 2014, says, "After a Jewkebox performance" by Temple University's Jewish a cappella group sponsored by Hillel, "he came up to me, hugged me, and said, 'You're a star!' We told him that he is an honorary member, and even ordered him a T-shirt. Years ago, when my dad was little, Edward Rosen helped my dad off the bus. I had wished to one day tell him that my dad remembers that moment to this day."

At a 2010 program at the building, Lila Corwin Berman, a Temple University professor and director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History acting as the event's moderator, pondered why a Yale graduate would feel such a commitment to Philadelphia’s Hillel and devote so much energy and attention — as well as raising funds — to see it built.

“My contention,” she said at the time, “is that it had something to do with his sense of civic responsibility and urban responsibility. It wasn’t because he went here. It wasn’t out of some sort of sense of bolstering one’s own alma mater. It was about what the city meant to him, what he wanted the city to be for him, for Jews and for, frankly, the broader white middle-class and perhaps upper-middle-class community, and he saw this in many ways as a good investment.”

One who can attest to how well it has paid off is his longtime friend, Rabbi Howard Alpert, CEO of Hillels of Greater Philadelphia, who also considered Rosen a mentor.

“He was among the most gracious menschelik individuals. He had a knack for understanding the needs of those around him and a desire to make them comfortable and feel valued,” Alpert said.

Alpert recalled a recent camping trip he and his wife took in Maine, at a site close to where Ed and his family were vacationing.

“After Shabbat dinner, we went over for dessert and when it was time to walk back to our campsite, it was pitch black outside,” recalled Alpert.

Since the rabbi was not able to carry a flashlight on Shabbat, Rosen volunteered to carry it himself to help guide the Alperts back to their camp.

“Let me walk you back in the dark; I know the path better than you,” Alpert remembered Rosen saying.

Although the Alperts managed back on their own, Rosen’s gesture exemplified the kindness and consideration he always displayed, Alpert said. He noted how Rosen even sold appliances from the distributorship started by his late father not just at a discount, but at his cost, to leaders in the Jewish community.

When Alpert made a purchase, he said, “I went to thank him." But Rosen "thanked me, for being a leader in our Jewish community.”

At the Temple Hillel opening in 2009, Rosen explained his lifelong commitment: “I’ve been working in the community trying to pay back the opportunities I had growing up,” he said.

He is survived by his wife, Evelyn Bodek Rosen; five daughters, Liz Rosen-Ducat, Lesley Hirsh, Jillian Herschkowitz, Elizabeth Murdoch and Alexandra Seres; two sons, Scott R. Isdaner and Tom Rosen; 19 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Contributions in his memory can be made to The Edward H. Rosen Center for Jewish Life, 1441 Norris St. Phila., PA 19121. 

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