(JTA) — Mary Ann Stein of Bethesda, Maryland, who as the founding president of The Moriah Fund supported human and civil rights in the U.S. and Israel and causes that included women’s rights and reproductive health and economic justice, died Sept. 6. She was 80.
Stein served, starting in 1985, for more than 30 years at the helm of The Moriah Fund, a private foundation established by her father and uncle, Robert and Clarence Efroymson. During her tenure the fund established the Israel Center for Educational Innovation, which seeks to improve literacy among Israel’s Ethiopian immigrants. Family members said she was “profoundly committed to the successful integration of the Ethiopian immigrant community in Israel.”
Stein also served as president and long-time board member of the New Israel Fund, which promotes Israel’s civil society and democratic institutions. A supporter of Palestinian as well as Israeli Jewish rights, she served as co-president of Americans for Peace Now and in 1997 supported then-President Bill Clinton’s public criticism of Israeli settlement policies.
“For decades, Mary Ann was deeply engaged in the work of democracy and peace building in Israel and Palestine,” Americans for Peace Now said in a statement. “Her leadership and philanthropy blazed new paths for the institutions in the region and in the US that are dedicated to building a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Stein was also the co-founder and founding chair of the Fund for Global Human Rights, which since 2002, has made more than $125 million in grants to more than 900 organizations in 60 countries around the world.
Her son, Gideon Stein, said she passed down an ethic of philanthropy that was “trust-based” and focused on finding solutions without preconceived notions about what the problem or challenges are.
One example, he said, was her leadership of the Global Campaign for Microbicides, which championed the development of HIV prevention options and access for women. When she approached the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support her efforts to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, an expert there told her that women in developing countries would be too embarrassed to use the applicators used to deliver the microbicides.
Undaunted, Stein tracked down Melinda Gates at a conference, and convinced the then wife of the Microsoft head to provide the initial $8 million for clinical trials in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2003, the Gates Foundation made a $60 million grant to accelerate the use of topical microbicides to prevent HIV transmission.
“She had a core belief in talking to people on the ground,” said her son.
Gideon Stein said his mother “deeply identified as Jewish” and felt most comfortable in Israel, where she would travel three times a year for extended periods. She would also lend her apartment to others, including the novelist Colum McCann, who worked there on his 2020 novel “Apeirogon.”
The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Mary Ann Efroymson was raised in Indiana, where her father ran the Real Silk Company hosiery business and later the investment company Real Silk, Inc.
After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts at the height of the civil rights movement, the 22-year-old Stein moved to Calhoun County, South Carolina for Freedom Summer events organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. There she registered Black voters and met one of her mentors, Hope Williams, the grandson of slaves and founder of the NAACP’s Calhoun County Branch. Decades later, after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, Stein provided early funding for the Black Voices for Black Justice Fund, a pooled philanthropic fund.
“My father taught me the basic principles of civic and human rights,” she told Inside Philanthropy in 2020. “He made it very clear to me, and I’ve tried to make it clear to others, that we have an obligation to serve others. We have a responsibility to give our gifts, including our wealth and our access to benefit others. And that has been the rule of my life.”
After getting her law degree from George Washington University, she worked with the Department of Human Services in the District of Columbia, and served on the D.C. Judicial Nominations Commission. In the mid-1980s, her father and uncle decided to create a family foundation, and she convinced them to let her run it.
In addition to its work in Israel, The Moriah Fund supported progressive community organizing groups like Community Change; the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates; Funders for Reproductive Equity; Human Rights First, and National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. In 1998, the $90 million Efroymson Fund was established by a gift from the Moriah Fund at the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
Her marriage in 1970 to the liberal philanthropic advisor Robert Stein, who founded Democracy Alliance, ended in divorce. They became good friends in later years, said her son; Robert Stein died in 2022.
Stein is survived by her children, Gideon Stein of New York City, Dorothy Stein and Noah Stein of Washington, DC, as well as five grandchildren.