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Brandeis receives $50 million; largest single gift in its history

Rosaline Cohn, Marcia Cohn and Nancy Winship in 1998.

WALTHAM – Brandeis Uni­versity has received a $50 million bequest from the estate of Chicago philanthropists Rosaline and Marcia Cohn. It is the largest single gift in Brandeis’ 69-year history.

In accordance with the Cohns’ wishes, the Jacob and Rosaline Cohn Endowed Scholarship and Fellowship Fund will provide financial aid each year for hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students who, in the words of Mrs. Cohn, will help solve the “problems and conditions of today and tomorrow.”

“We are deeply moved that Mrs. Cohn was so inspired by Brandeis’ values and mission that she chose our university to receive this remarkable gift,” said Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz. “For current and future Brandeis students, this gift will be life-changing and will, as Mrs. Cohn envisioned, enable them to help make the world a better place.”

Jacob and Rosaline Cohn’s relationship with Brandeis began in 1951, when they gave $100. Fifteen years later, in response to a solicitation letter from Brandeis’ founding president, Abram Sachar, Mrs. Cohn returned a pledge card on which she checked off “considering the establishment of” and, in perfect handwriting, added “something” to describe the nature of the gift.

Liebowitz noted that it is striking that no one in the Cohn family was a Brandeis alum or faculty member, or had any formal connection to the university. “Like many generous philanthropic families, the Cohns were inspired by the very idea of Brandeis, a university founded by the Jewish community to be open to all students of talent, reflecting the Jewish values of reverence for academic excellence and dedication to using one’s talents to improve the world. For that, we are profoundly grateful,” Liebowitz said.

In the mid-1970s, with a gift of $32,600, Mrs. Cohn established the Cohn Fund as a memorial to her husband, who died in 1968. She wrote to then-Brandeis President Marver Bernstein that she wanted the scholarships it created to support students in the social sciences and other academic disciplines that “hold promise for ameliorating the problems and conditions of today and tomorrow.”

Throughout her life, Mrs. Cohn met and corresponded with many Brandeis leaders; attended university-organized events in Chicago; visited campus for Commencements and other special events; and built enduring relationships with senior administrators, faculty and staff.

One of the first recipients of the Cohn Scholarship, Daphne Greenberg ’84, was thrilled to learn that the family’s additional gift will support subsequent generations of Brandeis students. “I will always be grateful for the scholarship support I received from the Cohn Scholarship. Without it, I would not have been able to attend Brandeis,” says Greenberg, now Distinguished University Professor and head of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy at Georgia State University. “I used to worry that 18-year-olds today would not be as fortunate as I was. But with this gift from the Cohn family, students like me will continue to be given an opportunity.”

When Mrs. Cohn died in 2010 at age 97, she left her daughter her entire estate. The estate of Marcia Cohn, who died in 2015, maintained the same beneficiaries as her mother’s.

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