|From left, Ramapo college’s president, Dr. Peter P. Mercer, Lauren Gross, vice chair of the Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Paul Gross stand together on campus.|
Former longtime Hillsdale residents Paul and Gayle Gross awarded a five-year, $250,000 challenge grant to the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey through the Gayle and Paul Gross Foundation, which supports Jewish organizations and causes in the arts, human services, and education.
The center, established in 1990 and part of the Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies, will be renamed the Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
“Gayle and I have been associated with the center for a long time and are firm believers in the ongoing need to ensure that all people, especially schoolchildren, know about the Holocaust and the impact of hatred and bigotry in our societies,” Mr. Gross said.
He founded the NIA Group insurance brokerage in Paramus in the 1950s and sold it four years ago. During the 50 years they lived in Bergen County, Paul and Gayle Gross were involved in many nonprofits, including the YJCC in Washington Township. Today they devote most of their time to philanthropic endeavors.
In a conversation from West Palm Beach, Florida, where the couple retired three years ago, Mr. Gross explained that their daughter, Lauren, has served on the Ramapo center’s advisory board for several years and now is vice-chair.
“I’ve attended many of the lectures there and have found them interesting and educational,” he said. “I’ve also attended sessions where they brought teachers from all over New Jersey to train them in Holocaust and genocide studies, and I thought they did a fantastic job.
“Recently, my daughter told us that one of the significant donors passed away and they lost some of their funding, so I thought it was time for me to step up to bat and make up for that missing donor and give somewhat more than he was giving. We chose a challenge grant because we want to make sure the center continues ad infinitum doing what it’s doing, and that they’re not solely dependent upon my money; a challenge grant gains other donors. That will perpetuate the support, so that other people will pick up the ball when I’m gone.”
The center’s programming focuses on the history and lessons of the Holocaust, the genocide in Armenia and Darfur, and other conflicts. It is a member of the Association of Holocaust Organizations and participates with similar organizations in programs and outreach efforts under the New Jersey State Commission on Holocaust Education.
The center’s Gumpert Teacher Workshops provide secondary-school instructors with strategies and lesson plans for incorporating the Holocaust and genocide studies into their classroom studies.
Its lecture and film series, held in collaboration with other campus and community groups, bring scholars, filmmakers and policy leaders to campus for discussion. All events are free and open to the public.
Dr. Michael Riff, director of the center, said the challenge grant will allow for “maintaining and beefing up our programing and pave the way toward financial sustainability for the future.”
The center’s director since 1996, Dr. Riff also teaches courses at Ramapo including 20th century Jewish history and “The Paradox of Genocide.” He estimated that about 20 percent of Ramapo’s students are Jewish.
“We’re now developing programing with other religious or secular institutions, not necessarily Jewish,” he said. “We try to reach out to the campus community, to involve young people who are going to be leading their communities one day. A lot of our students become teachers and reappear at the teacher workshops or contact me for advice, so our work is very gratifying.”
Dr. Riff said he has enjoyed a long relationship with the Grosses, whom he characterized as “a very philanthropic and savvy family.”
Mr. Gross said he and his wife stay in New Jersey several months each year, so they can be near their children and 11 grandchildren. “I will continue to visit classes that Michael Riff provides when I’m visiting the area,” he said.
Dr. Peter P. Mercer, president of Ramapo College, said the challenge grant will further the institution’s mission of community engagement. “It is part of our ongoing effort to encourage tolerance and peaceful conflict resolution, to raise awareness of genocide and to promote the democratic outcomes of a liberal education,” he said.
Dr. Riff noted that the Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies has a new dean, Dr. Stephen Rice. “He’s lent us a great deal of integrity and intellectual heft that has helped provide a sense of security for the Grosses and others who choose to invest in us,” he said.
Learn more about the center at www.ramapo.edu/holocaust.