Yiddishists court Ross


During the short period that the Fundermentalist has been around, I have on occasion received email from readers who wish to get in touch with potential funders about whom I have written.

But I had yet seen a response like the one I got after writing about Mickey Ross, the former writer and producer on All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Three’s Company, who is apparently giving away most of his fortune to programs that promote Yiddish. So far, the 89-year-old Ross, who has no heirs, has given away some $14 million to UCLA and the City College of New York to build up their Jewish Studies programs.

Half a dozen people associated with Yiddish programs have contacted me asking for a way to get in touch with Ross so they could pitch their organizations to him. (Unfortunately for them, when I called my contact for Ross, he told me that Ross is not interested in solicitations at this time.)

Thursday, I finally asked one of them why it is that Ross has generated so much interest.

While there has been a Yiddish revival of late, and a groundswell of interest in keeping the language alive, it seems that finding funders is somewhat difficult, Adrienne Cooper, the executive officer for external affairs for the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, told me. Even within Jewish philanthropy, Yiddish is simply a niche market.

“There isn’t a clear sense of who is out there,” Cooper said. Funders of Yiddish tend to fund very close to home, she said. They tend to associate with programs that they know intimately or that they helped start. And getting the word out to other potential donors is sometimes hard.

“They don’t always know what we do because [they often fund programs with which they have] a familial connection,” Cooper said. “And they often reach out to organizations in their own communities, or they are flying under the radar.”

The Workmen’s Circle has a budget of about $2.3 million, said Cooper, who has also worked for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, another Yiddish-centric organization.

And often, when funders find her, it is a total surprise and not necessarily the result of long-term donor cultivation.

She may have also shed light on another Ross-related tidbit.

The Folksbiene National Yiddish Theater recently honored Rob Reiner for his efforts in preserving Yiddish. Reiner, of course, became famous for his role as Meathead on All in the Family.

I wonder what kind of schpeel the Folksbiene used to court Meathead?

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