Daniel Rose is a prominent real estate developer and philanthropist, widely known for his award-winning essays and speeches on a wide range of topics, from economics to racial relations. He also has much to say about American Jewry and its future.
Contrary to most observers these days, he’s an optimist.
While sociologists and religious leaders worry about the growing number of Jewish youth who are unaffiliated and disengaged from communal and religious life, Rose points to the fact that 94 percent of respondents in the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish.
“I look forward while most others look backward,” Rose, 89 and still working full-time, told me over the course of several lengthy conversations at his midtown office.
His insights on why and how Jewish life will flourish, and his deep involvement with the black community, offer the unique perspective of someone whose words and actions have had a lasting impact on our society over many decades.
Assessing Jewish life in America today, Rose, who describes himself as a deeply involved cultural Jew, said that assimilation and intermarriage are realities that can be lamented but not undone. “The future of a healthy, vibrant and sustainable Jewish community in America calls for the acknowledgment of a broad spectrum of beliefs and the ability to deal with each other respectfully,” he said.
Rose insists that American Judaism can flourish if it is open to everyone, and promotes the kind of “life-enhancing values” like tzedakah, tikkun olam and the recognition of the dignity of each life, that are at the core of our heritage.
“We must reach out to the spouses and children of intermarriages, make them feel welcome and encourage them to embrace the Jewish ethos,” he said, not for theological reasons but “for their own self-respect and benefit because it offers the life-affirming incentives of curiosity, endless questioning and great intellectual ferment.” Only Judaism, Rose says, “believes the world was not created perfect, but rather that it is up to each of us to improve it.”
The key is not that Jews are a Chosen People, but that “we can feel part of a Choosing People with a moral obligation to be a producer rather than a consumer — to leave our bit of the world a little better than what we found.”
In his professional role with Rose Associates, a New York-based real estate corporation that he chairs, he led the development of Pentagon City in Alexandria, Va., and One Financial Center in Boston. But his great passions are philanthropy and writing essays and speeches. He won the Cicero Speechwriting Award on six different occasions, and Kirkus Reviews named a collection of his essays and speeches, “Making a Living, Making a Life,” as one of the Best Books of 2015.
That collection includes a number of topics of particular interest to Jewish readers, ranging from Rose’s role as a guest on Iranian national television for two years as a “defender of American values,” to the qualities and values of tzedakah, to his personal views on Judaism.
He says he would accept into the faith anyone who identifies as a Jew because most important is choosing to be part of the community rather than basing identity on one’s bloodline.
Rose is proud of his own family history. He spoke of one great-grandfather, Simon Jacob Rose (1820-1905), an entrepreneurial type who left Poland, grew etrogim for a time, built houses in Jerusalem and eventually came to America in 1870. He settled in New York City, bought and sold properties, and always had strong ties to Israel and Jewish social, educational and cultural causes.
Rose’s other great-grandfather, Menachem Rubinstein, was a quiet Jerusalem scholar so pious that the chief rabbi of Jerusalem referred to him as a lamed vavnik, one of the 36 righteous people in each generation on whose merit the world survives, according to legend.
Rose attended Yale in the class of 1951 and is proud that each of his four children went to Yale.
The Rose family has long been associated with Jewish communal life. Daniel’s brothers, Frederick and Elihu, played leadership roles in Jewish organizations, including UJA-Federation of New York, the 92nd Street Y and the Technion in Israel. Daniel was president of the Jewish Community Centers of America, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the YM/YWHA of the Bronx, was on the board of the Jewish Publication Society and a founding member of Technion’s New York partnership with Cornell University, Cornell Tech, whose new campus is on Roosevelt Island.
Regarding Israel, Rose said his family was close to and supportive of founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Golda Meir and other leaders. But he said the decision to allow the Orthodox chief rabbinate to marginalize non-Orthodox rabbis “made my parents’ generation sad, makes my generation angry — and doesn’t matter at all to millennials because they don’t think of Israel’s problems as their problems.”
That’s one reason why Rose asserts that the degree of engagement with the non-Jewish spouses and children of Jews today will determine the future of American Jewry.
‘The Right Thing To Do’
In the spring of 1963, Rose, through his close friend, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, met personally with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was seeking support for the planned March on Washington to promote civil and economic rights for black Americans. When Rose made a major donation, King thanked him and noted that 90 percent of the most significant gifts for the cause came from the Jewish community. The march that August attracted huge crowds and is best remembered for King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Since then Rose has been deeply involved in promoting racial equality “because,” he said, “it’s the right thing to do.”
He is a founder of and remains chair of the Helping Africa Foundation, a New York-based charity that seeks to improve “health, education and social welfare conditions in Sub Sahara Africa,” according to its website. He takes particular pride in having helped to create and sustain the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF), a trail-blazing after-school program encouraging youngsters in Harlem to achieve academic excellence. The emphasis is on “future-mindedness and high aspirations,” Rose said, and promoting “self-discipline and self-confidence” in students. “Always think ahead,” Rose says. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
The program, marking its 30th anniversary this year, is cited nationally for its successes, with 100 percent of the thousand-plus Harlem public school students graduating from high school. Almost all go on to a four-year college; 35 percent enter graduate school (compared to the national average of 11 percent). Rose stays in touch with alumni who have gone on to impressive careers as doctors, teachers and scientists.
He believes in the uniqueness, magnitude and importance of American philanthropy. In a speech he gave at the Oxford Literary Festival at Christ Church College three years ago, he noted that private philanthropy tends to be innovative and creative, and that it is “more entrepreneurial, more cost-effective and more swiftly responsive to public needs than government,” especially in areas like “culture, education and scientific research.”
He asserted: “All who can afford to do so should follow their charitable intent, answering the biblical question:‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ with the reply: ‘Yes, I am.’”
Through his philanthropic efforts, from supporting Israel and Jewish causes to giving hope and opportunity to youngsters in Harlem, Dan Rose has spent a lifetime on that path of caring for others.