Lynn Schusterman is determined to make the world a better place—not by herself, but with the help of a multitude of people and organizations she supports in Israel, Europe and the United States.
Heeding the Jewish imperative tikkun olam, to “repair the world,” Schusterman and her husband Charles (now deceased) have been dedicated philanthropists for most of their lives. In 1987, they formed the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to enrich and expand Jewish communities around the world, as well as to support their hometown of Tulsa Oklahoma, through education, advocacy and community service.
In establishing the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin with a $6 million challenge grant, the foundation added a new chapter to its philanthropic mission—one focused on the comparative study of Jewish life in the americas—the United States, Latin America, and Canada—an area of inquiry never explored fully.
“One of the roles of a university is to educate our young people about the history and values that are at the core of western civilization,” says schusterman, who believes Jewish tradition has much to offer in this regard. “More than a religion, it is the story of a people that dates back millennia, and brings with it a culture, tradition and value system that are very meaningful. i hope to share the energy and excitement coming from this field with the students of the university—regardless of their background.”
Schusterman identified the university as uniquely suited for such a center because of its existing faculty expertise in Jewish studies, as well as its vast trove of Jewish cultural and scholarly materials. the books, manuscripts, photographs, film and art
housed in the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, Benson Latin American Collection, Harry Ransom Center, Center for American History, and Perry-Castañeda Library illuminate the experience of Jews in the Americas and have rich collections in more traditional subjects of Jewish studies.
The university’s manuscript collections include materials of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Stella Adler, David Mamet, Leon Uris, Albert Einstein, Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Woody Allen, Sarah Bernhardt, George and Ira gershwin, and many others. The wide-ranging collections include periodicals about Yiddish and Jewish theater, Jewish literature and recordings of Jewish music from Latin America, and rich resources illuminating Texas Jewish history.
“In all, the unique mix and depth of Jewish studies resources at the university are extraordinary,” notes history Professor Robert Abzug who directs the Schusterman Center, “and one of our missions will be to encourage scholars and students on campus and from universities across the world to make use of them in creating new visions of Jewish life and culture.”
The university’s prioritization of its Jewish Studies curriculum was additional motivation for Schusterman to offer the grant to establish the center.
“Courses have covered everything from an introduction to Aramaic, to issues in modern healthcare in Israel,” Schusterman notes. “That breadth of topics is an important element of the center; and bringing together the knowledge and research tools of different disciplines makes for a rewarding environment.”
Although the university draws a significant number of Jewish students from texas and other regions, Abzug explains the center’s goal is to integrate the study of Jewish life and culture into the broader curriculum, for non-Jewish students, as well as Jews.
While schusterman lives in Oklahoma, both of her children attended the university: her son for his undergraduate education, and her daughter for an MBA. “I recognized the quality of the university’s teaching and research, and the engagement of its student body,” she says, “and it has great influence as a flagship university in the southwest.”
While Lynn Schusterman is compelled to share the accomplishments and perseverance of the Jewish people as a whole, her personal story also is one of great persistence. From the day she and her husband first conceived of their family foundation, she wanted to be an active part of it. And with his death, she became a singular female figure in the world of Jewish philanthropy, where many of the leading figures are men. continuing on without Charles and establishing a foothold for herself has not always been easy.
“As others have watched my philanthropy, they have seen that I have a consistent vision, and have come to understand that i care about results,” she says. “A reputation builds slowly, and I think that the work that I and my foundation are doing have, thankfully, resulted in a good reputation.”
By its 20th anniversary, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation had awarded nearly $105 million to a wide variety of causes, from providing support for basic needs and leadership development to widespread support for Israel, educational causes and Jewish communities.
Banner image: Photo of Lynn Schusterman