Jewish philanthropist donates $1 billion to Bronx med school, eliminating all future tuition
The front of the Belfer, Forchheimer and Ullmann buildings of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Photo: WikiCommons)

By Luke Tress
February 26, 2024

(New York Jewish Week) — The Bronx’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine will be tuition-free for the indefinite future thanks to a $1 billion donation from a Jewish philanthropist.

The massive gift from Dr. Ruth Gottesman, an emerita faculty member, will be “transformational” in drawing students to the medical school in the city’s poorest borough. And by eliminating up to hundreds of thousands in student debt, the donation aims to make Einstein accessible to a broader range of candidates, the college said in a statement on Monday.

“This donation radically revolutionizes our ability to continue attracting students who are committed to our mission, not just those who can afford it,” Dr. Yaron Tomer, Einstein’s dean, said in the statement. “Additionally, it will free up and lift our students, enabling them to pursue projects and ideas that might otherwise be prohibitive.”

The college was founded by Yeshiva University in 1955, at a time when Jews faced discriminatory quotas in university admissions. In 2015, Y.U. transferred ownership of the medical college to New York City’s Montefiore Medical Center, though the two institutions remain affiliated.

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, the president of Y.U., called Gottesman’s donation to the medical college “monumental.”

“We congratulate the Gottesman family for their visionary leadership in significantly advancing Einstein’s founding mission to expand access for all students to top tier medical education,” Berman told the New York Jewish Week.

Einstein’s statement called the donation “the largest made to any medical school in the country.” It shared footage online of students leaping out of their seats and cheering for more than 30 seconds as Gottesman announced that tuition will be free starting in August.

Gottesman, 93, said the donation will help students attain expertise “to find new ways to prevent diseases and provide the finest health care to communities here in the Bronx and all over the world.”

“l feel blessed to be given the great privilege of making this gift to such a worthy cause,” she said in a statement.

Gottesman, a former professor at the college, has a long history with the institution. In 1968, she joined the college’s Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center where she developed screening and treatment methods for children. In 1992, she launched the college’s Adult Literacy Program. She serves as the chair of the college’s board of trustees, a role she also held a decade ago.

Gottesman is the widow of the wealthy financier David Gottesman, a prominent Jewish philanthropist who died in 2022 at the age of 96. Known as Sandy, he connected with billionaire investor Warren Buffett when the two attended Harvard Business School. David Gottesman became an early backer of Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, earning massive returns on his investment. In 2022, Forbes estimated Gottesman’s wealth at $3 billion.

The Gottesmans launched a family philanthropic foundation, the Gottesman Fund, in 1965, continuing a long tradition of Jewish philanthropy in the family.

In 2021, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, the Gottesman Fund disbursed more than $24 million to dozens of groups and institutions, many of them Jewish, including multiple Jewish day schools. The largest grant — more than $8.4 million — went to the P.E.F. Israel Endowment Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that allocates funding to charities in Israel. (The fund also previously supported the digitization of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s archive.)

The fund also donated in 2021 to non-Jewish causes including mental health treatment, aid for homeless people and the New York Public Library.

Ruth Gottesman told The New York Times that when her husband died, he left her a portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock to disburse at her discretion. She decided to direct the funds to the medical college, where tuition currently costs more than $59,000 per year, leaving many students with large debts upon graduation.

Gottesman stipulated that the college not change its name despite the massive donation, the Times said. The only other medical school in the city to offer tuition-free admission to all students is New York University’s. Einstein has 737 medical students enrolled for this academic year, in addition to hundreds of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. It ranks 42nd in best medical schools for research, according to U.S. News and World Report.

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