John Harrison Streicker, president of Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, was among some 2,500 people who crowded into the sanctuary Wednesday night for an appearance by Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was interviewed by ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams.
Streicker also had a more personal reason for attending the event sponsored by the Skirball Center, Temple Emanu-El’s innovative adult education program: the announcement by Rabbi Joshua Davidson that Streicker has made a record $15 million donation to the center, now to be known as The Temple Emanu-el Streicker Center.
It marks a major new development for Emanu-el, which has a storied history. Built in 1845 it is considered the flagship house of worship of the Reform movement, known for its magnificent structure and prominent membership.
The grant, $5 million “for current needs” and $10 million for an endowment to provide “a meaningful supplement to the program’s budget,” will allow the center to expand its educational courses and public events, which attracted some 22,000 men and women last year, Streicker said.
“Over the last several years Emanu-El has been exploring ways to make itself more relevant to a new generation while still preserving its long and important legacy,” hesaid in an e-mail interview. “We have added new more participatory services and have been experimenting with our traditional services.”
Streicker, a longtime Temple Emanu-El board member, is an attorney who serves as chairman of Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, an international real estate investment advisor. He supports “a variety of both Jewish and non-Jewish causes and organizations,” he said.
A native New Yorker and frequent visitor to Australia, Streicker produces wines in Margaret River, Australia, under the “Clairault” and “Streicker” labels. In 2006, he founded a U.S.-based charity that supports Australian wildlife conservation.
His grant to the center “will allow us to do more of the sorts of things that we’ve been doing … open[ing] the doorway for more people to come into the synagogue,” Rabbi Davidson told The Jewish Week.
No specific new programs will be funded by the grant, and no physical expansion of the center’s quarters are planned, said Gady Levy, the center’s executive director. “We’ll do more” of the educational programming and the attention-grabbing events that have increased over the last three years, Levy said. “And we’ll do it better.”
Established in 1994 by a $1 million grant from the New York-based Skirball Foundation, the center is one of the city’s leading sponsors of Jewish adult education offerings, along with such stalwarts as the 92nd Street Y and the JCC Manhattan.
Last year the Skirball Center sponsored 30 courses and 35 events.
“Everything we do is through a Jewish lens,” Levy said.
Besides this week’s appearance by Ginsburg, notable programs in the last few years have included appearances by some of the most sought-after personalities in the country. Among the crowded list of upcoming programs this fall, law professor and author Alan Dershowitz will serve as defense attorney in “The People vs. King David,” on Nov. 20. The king will stand accused of “adultery, murder in the first degree.” Chric Cuomo, CNN anchor, will serve as prosecutor.
Streicker’s grant will support more-such programs, Rabbi Davidson said. “We rejoice in the Streicker family’s enormous generosity.”
The renamed center will be part of the congregation’s ongoing effort “to reach out to the larger community,” the rabbi said.
Temple Emanu-El’s membership “has grown” in the last few years, the result of new initiatives that include the center, an “Exploring Judaism” program for potential converts, an increased interfaith relationship with the Muslim community and new programs for people in their 20s and 30s, the rabbi said.