Philanthropist Rosalie Gerson Dies at 95

A photo of Rosalie Gerson sits on top of a pile of articles written about her and her work.
Rosalie Gerson and past Jewish Exponent articles written about her | Photo collage by Heather M. Ross

Longtime area philanthropist Rosalie Gerson died on April 26 at Waverly Heights in Gladwyne. She was 95.

“She was devoted to music, to Israel, to the synagogue and to Jewish-American causes,” granddaughter Leah Popowich said.

She served on several boards of Jewish organizations, including the board of trustees for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the national board of the American Association of Ben Gurion University, American Friends of Hebrew University and Adath Israel on the Main Line.

She also was president of Adath Israel and was involved with Gratz College, Central Agency for Jewish Education, HIAS, Jewish Community Centers of Philadelphia and the American Jewish Committee.

Her devotion to the arts included the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Orchestra, Curtis Institute of Music and the Academy of Vocal Arts, among others.

While her philanthropy was a significant time commitment, she always tried to do it while her children were at school so she could be there for every piano recital and play, family members said. She took her children to museums and orchestras as often as she could.

Gerson also taught her children and grandchildren about the importance of community.

“We would collect donations for Allied Jewish Appeal door to door. We’ve come a long way since that. I would go down to Federation with her and listen in on meetings and understand the importance of supporting our local Jewish community and also a strong love of Israel and understanding that importance as well,” daughter Deena Gerson said.

Deena Gerson said philanthropy and community involvement were always a part of the family. Rosalie Gerson would take her grandchildren to meetings, to phonathons and to award dinners.

“My grandmother’s mom, whom I was named after, was also very involved in the community. My grandmother grew up with it. [It’s] passed down from generation to generation. It’s just what you did. It’s how you live your life,” Popowich said.

Rosalie Gerson, who was bat mitzvahed at Adath Israel in her 60s, devoted much of her time to making sure her children and grandchildren had the foundation to have Jewish households themselves. That included taking all three of her daughter’s children to Israel individually.

Her love for the community showed itself in other ways, too, with Shabbat dinners that included many guests — dinners her family says many still remember.

“In the condolences I’m getting from people, it’s like she was Philadelphia royalty,” Deena Gerson said.

While her love for the community was notable, so was her love for her husband, Irv Gerson. After just three dates, he proposed marriage. They were married for more than 60 years before his death in 2012.

The couple was inseparable, even in death.

“It’s hard to talk about Eemy without talking about Papa, but I’ll try. It’s hard not to think of them as a unit, but they were individuals and we had individual relationships with each of them, which was extraordinary,” Popowich said.

Born June 9, 1926, Gerson grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, and moved to Philadelphia with her family as a teenager. Later, she lived in Elkins Park, where she began her lifelong journey with gardening.

With her daughter, Deena Gerson, Rosalie worked on her rock garden every spring and summer. The two would search for beautiful or interesting rocks to use for the garden. They also weeded the garden and meticulously cared for the periwinkle flowers and mountain pink.

“A rock garden is built into a little slope. Different colors [of flowers] bloom at different times. The rocks and their shapes become a big part of it; you wouldn’t do it on a flat surface. The rocks hold the plants and soil in place,” Deena Gerson said.

Rosalie Gerson taught her family about her love for trees with the knowledge she learned from studying horticulture at the Barnes Foundation in Merion. She took pride in being able to identify trees even in winter, just by looking at the bark and branches.

Rosalie Gerson is survived by her five children, Ben (Leslye), David (Debra), Deena, Jesse (Eloise) and Esther Sharon; eight grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.


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