Risch family finds time to give back to Dallas community
By Chris Kelley
Special to the TJP
No doubt there are many families in the Dallas community whose members devote their time and provide support to local organizations. The Risch family is one of them.
Frank Risch was recruited to join the Dallas Holocaust Museum board of directors by fellow board member Tom Halsey and then-President David Bell in the mid-’90s. At that time, the Museum occupied a portion of the lower level of the Jewish Community Center. Risch has been a tireless supporter of the Museum for twenty-three years, watching it outgrow its space at the JCC and move to a larger leased space in the West End Historic District of downtown Dallas. His commitment to the Museum’s mission to teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred, and indifference stemmed in part from the loss of family members during the Holocaust.
Frank and his wife, Helen, are an altruistic team willing to donate their time and contribute financial support to the causes they’ve chosen, even though they have vastly different charitable interests. Helen is on the boards of Levine Academy, Legacy, the Federation’s Jewish Women’s Philanthropy Center, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Dallas. Frank serves on the boards of the Dallas Theater Center, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Communities Foundation of Texas, Carnegie Mellon University-Tepper School of Business, and other organizations in addition to the Museum.
Last fall, Helen was co-chair of the Museum’s inaugural City-Wide Read and Performance, where 12,000 Dallas ISD fifth-graders were treated to pianist Mona Golabek’s musical/theatrical performance of her mother’s story as a Kindertransport refugee. The performances followed weeks of the students reading and discussing Golabek’s book, The Children of Willesden Lane, and learning about the Holocaust. The Dallas Holocaust Museum education team trained Dallas ISD teachers and librarians using age-appropriate curricula for the students. It took six performances over three days to accommodate all the Dallas ISD and Levine Academy students. Helen was there to welcome them all.
Frank was honored as the Hope for Humanity award recipient in 2011 when, in his acceptance speech, he called for the construction of a new museum which could accommodate triple or more the number of visitors as the current small facility. This year, Frank is vice-chair of the Museum’s board of directors, a member of the Executive Committee, co-chair of the Capital Campaign along with Rebecca Fletcher and Ron Steinhart, and a member of the Campaign Cabinet.
He and his fellow co-chairs have been integral in raising funds to build the new Museum. With their leadership, the Campaign Committee raised $45 million during the quiet phase of the campaign, and then took the campaign public last October, increasing donations to $54.5 million. The strong belief of the board is that after serving North Central Texas for 32 years, the Museum should continue to tell the story of the Holocaust along with other genocides, but to significantly larger audiences from all over North Texas and surrounding states.
The new Museum will build from that foundation to include the story of the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after World War II and expand on the advancement of human and civil rights in the U.S.
“The Museum has once again outgrown its space, making constructing a larger state-of-the-art building critical for the fulfillment of its mission,” said Risch. He points to the growing number of active hate groups in Texas — more than any other state. He also cites racial discord and the July 2016 attack on Dallas police officers — the deadliest attack on law enforcement since 9/11.
“The Museum provides an opportunity to the greater Dallas community, and beyond, a chance to better understand differences and create platforms for dialogue, rather than fear, hatred, and prejudice,” he says. “The Museum plays an important role in teaching Upstander versus bystander behavior.”
Jolene Risch, Helen and Frank’s daughter, co-chaired the Museum’s spring fundraisers for the past two years. She admits that fundraising is not her favorite role, but she was monumentally successful, breaking the Museum’s fundraising record with more than $157,000 raised for the Opening Night of Cabaret in 2016 and $150,000 raised at Opening Night of Wiesenthal this past April. “I needed only to think about the anti-Semitism prevalent today and the escalation of similar sentiment in the pogroms perpetrated in Europe. I gained the confidence and momentum to talk to others about the importance of supporting the Museum. I told them our city needs this Museum and the programs it offers.”
Jolene is the president and CEO of a management and executive search firm, Risch Results, helping small- to medium-sized companies find top talent. She now serves with her father on the Museum’s board.
“The new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will build on what the current Museum offers,” said Jolene. “It will extend its content to include other human rights issues and expand its coverage of other genocides. It will continue to inspire visitors to explore the lessons of the Holocaust to understand how the Holocaust, past genocides, and other atrocities are pertinent to contemporary issues. It’s a community museum, and that’s why the capital campaign has been successful.”
Helen and Frank Risch’s grandson and Jolene’s son, Aaron Minsky, is 18 years old. He graduated this spring from Yavneh Academy of Dallas and will start college in the fall at Brandeis University. He intends to pursue a career in community service, business, and politics.
Aaron has served for nearly two years on the Museum’s Junior Board — first as a board member, then this year as chairman of the Junior Board. Aaron says that serving on the Junior Board was not overly burdensome with all the other activities of a student in his senior year of high school. He juggled school and an internship in addition to his duties on the board. “It’s the value of the time I spend with the Museum,” he said. “It is important for me to understand the roles my mother, grandfather, and grandmother have assumed at the Museum. Volunteering to work with staff at the speaker events and spending time with the Holocaust survivors offered me a tremendous value regarding education, volunteerism, and leadership.”
Like his mother and grandparents, Aaron believes it is important that the new Museum provide the space to present a broader range of topics and human rights issues challenging multiple communities, issues that stem from the same root cause as anti-Semitism, in addition to taking a deeper dive into the important lessons of the Holocaust.
In addition to all the activities Aaron has on his plate this year, he participated in the International March of the Living (IMOL). The IMOL is an annual educational program that brings individuals from all over the world to Poland and Israel in order to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance, and hate. “Visiting the camps in Poland was emotionally draining. There is so much darkness, and the light becomes hard to see. Then, you step off the plane in Israel — in a country that was born from the Holocaust.”
Aaron was profoundly affected by the experience and found a deeper sense of understanding at the Yad Vashem Institute and the Book of Names, which contains the names of all the Holocaust victims that the Institute has been able to collect. “In that enormous book,” he said, “I found many victims with the last name ‘Risch,’ including my great-great-grandfather, Nathan Risch. The Dallas Holocaust Museum, now and in its future iteration as the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, is critical for North Central Texas. It will teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred, and indifference by expanding its content to include a focus on other genocides and advances in human and civil rights in America.”
Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, says, “Three generations of the Risch family serve together to make Dallas better and they are leading by example.”