Tzivi reviews Rosenwald

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“You can look at the people who got grants from Julius Rosenwald, and say, these are the predecessor generation to the civil rights generation that I’m a part of. And I’m a predecessor generation to the Obama generation that resulted in the election of the first black president of the United States.”

-Renowned Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond

Rosenwald, filmmaker Aviva Kempner’s latest documentary, opened in Metro Chicago Friday. Kempner is already highly-respected for her award-winning films The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, but Rosenwald has special significance for members of Chicago’s Jewish community because Julius Rosenwald was one of our own.

Although he was born and raised in Springfield -- very close, in fact, to the residence of then President Abraham Lincoln -- Rosenwald lived most of his life very close to the University of Chicago Campus where there is now a building built in his honor called Rosenwald Hall.

“All Gaul is divided into three parts,” said Julius Caesar, and so is Kempner’s film. Part One provides an overview of how this child of German Jewish immigrants became the logistical genius who turned Sears, Roebuck and Company into one of the most successful mercantile enterprises in the history of American Business. Part Two explains how Rosenwald used his vast -- and most unexpected -- resources to build Rosenwald Schools for African-American children all across the South. Part Three shows how he went on to create the Rosenwald Fund which sponsored the early work of some of the USA’s greatest African-American artists.

This film, which was in the making for more than a decade, arrives in theaters at the perfect moment. Just as the U.S. is finally facing the enormity of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, America’s Jewish community is learning how many members of our own mishpacha are biracial. Given the enormous role Jewish-Americans played in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, this should not be a surprise, and yet it seems that it is. We know that many famous people such as Rain Pryor, Lani Guinier, James McBride and Rebecca Walker are both Black and Jewish. And, in fact, Julian Bond’s wife, Pamela Sue Horowitz, a former staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, is also a Member of the Tribe.

Rosenwald helps us understand that the Jewish role in the history of the African-American experience did not begin or end with the murder of three Civil Rights workers -- Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner -- in 1964. The ties that bind the Jewish-American community and the African-American community were tied tight and tied forever by Chicago businessman, philanthropist, and mensch Julius Rosenwald.

On a personal note, I saw Rosenwald for the first time on July 9 at a private event for members of the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Filmmaker Aviva Kempner gave a brief introduction before the screening and then participated in a panel discussion after the credits rolled with Julian Bond, NYU Professor Hasia Diner, former LBJ speechwriter Eli Evans, and Rabbi David Saperstein. It was an unforgettable evening, made especially poignant by the fact that it was one of Julian Bond’s final public appearances. He died in Florida on Aug. 15 at age 75. But you would never have predicted that on July 9. He was elegant, eloquent, and in full command of his faculties. Those few moments at the end, when I spoke with him one-on-one at the reception, were joyous. He was there to celebrate the life of Julius Rosenwald, and he worked the crowd -- me included -- like a champ.

Rosenwald is now playing in Metro Chicago at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema in Lincoln Park and the Landmark Renaissance Place in Highland Park. For schedule information and tickets purchases, visit her website:

You can also purchase tickets from the Landmark Theatres website:

Follow this link to read more JUF News coverage of the film by JUF News Executive Editor Cindy Sher: 

For more photos and links, visit my blog.

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Top Photo: Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee Institute (1915) courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Bottom Photo: Director Aviva Kempner with Julian Bond at the 2015 Washington Jewish Film Festival. Photo credit: Aryeh Schwartz (WJFF)

After 35 years in Chicago, Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) now lives in Brooklyn. She recently released a new eBook, " Tevye's Daughters: No Laughing Matter ."... Read More

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