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Community stalwart Jean Grossman always had a smile for everyone.

 

Philanthropist and community stalwart Jean Grossman, who dedicated so much of her time and resources to the Phoenix Jewish community, died on Sunday, April 7. She was 91. 

Born in 1927 in Sioux City, Iowa to Israel and Helen Menin, Jean developed a commitment to good works and philanthropy early on. When she was at college at the University of Minnesota, a friend convinced her to help raise money for the Jewish Federation of Minneapolis. She personally donated $25, a hefty sum at the time. From then on, she was tireless in her giving, as was her late husband, Harold Grossman, who died in 2005.

“Jean and Harold Grossman were such a blessing — true leaders, not to mention kind, warm, wonderful human beings,” said Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix President and CEO Richard Kasper. “Even in her final months, Jean shared her thoughts and advice with us for the future of our Jewish community — always looking for ways to contribute and leave us stronger than before.”

After meeting in college, Jean and Harold began their life of giving back in Minneapolis, where Jean served Jewish Federation in several capacities.

In 1981, they moved to Scottsdale and quickly made a philanthropic commitment to their new home. Jean served on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Council for Jews With Special Needs (now Gesher Disability Resources), Kivel Campus of Care, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, Talmud Torah, JCF and AIPAC.

Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix President and CEO Marty Haberer said that throughout his 33-year career in Jewish communal service, he met few people like Jean.

“Any opportunity you had to be with her was always a pleasure,” Haberer said. “Even if it was just a phone call, which would never last less than an hour, she was sharp as a tack.” 

In 1994, the Grossmans’ gift of $1 million established the Harold and Jean Grossman Israel Experience, an endowment fund administered by the Jewish Community Foundation. That gift has allowed thousands of Jewish high school students to travel to Israel.

Neal Kurn, a close friend the Grossmans, said the couple left an indelible imprint on the Phoenix Jewish community.

“Most Jewish communities around the world have a handful of families who are regarded as leaders, who have a passion and commitment to Jewish causes, who are accessible and thoughtful, who have the financial wherewithal to assist, and to whom the community turns first in times of need or crisis,” Kurn said. “For the last 40 years or so, Harold and Jean together, and then Jean alone, were one of those Phoenix families. In so many ways, big and small, publicly and privately, they provided personal and financial leadership.”

Other Grossman community projects include the creation of a Jewish studies chair at Arizona State University and the Israel Center at Federation. Jean and Harold both earned the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s prestigious Medal of Honor award. 

Harold died in 2005 at 78 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. After Harold’s death, Kurn said, Jean continued the family philanthropic tradition with “joy and grace.” 

Rabbi Elana Kanter, director of the Women’s Leadership Institute, also appreciated Jean’s giving spirit. When she started the institute and the Women’s Jewish Learning Center, she asked for Jean’s help. Jean never hesitated, Kanter said. 

“She gave of herself, she gave of her resources and all with a generosity of heart that was unmatched,” Kanter said. “Our tradition talks about the joy that comes from doing a mitzvah, and she was an amazing example of that Jewish value and so many more. Her passing leaves a void in our community that will not soon be filled. But if ever someone has a lasting legacy, it will be Jean Grossman.”

Kasper agreed. “Their impact will be felt here for generations, thanks to the many organizations and programs they supported financially, and the passion and wisdom they shared with so many,” he said.

Until her final days, Jean worked to raise funds and support several Jewish initiatives. Most recently, she donated a generous gift to the Valley of the Sun JCC to expand its Parkinson’s disease fitness program. 

“Jean was a remarkable woman and a monumental leader of our Jewish community,” said Valley Beit Midrash President and Dean Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz. “She was someone who I could constantly learn from and be inspired by because of her deep commitment both to lifelong Jewish learning and to lifelong Jewish service.”

Jean is survived by her daughters, Nancy Leon, Mary Schuman and Molly Levitt; and her six grandchildren, David Schuman, Joanna Schuman, Ellie Levitt, Anna Levitt, Jenny Levitt and Sam Leon. 

There will be a public shiva at the Valley of the Sun JCC on Thursday, April 11, from 7-10 p.m. A short maariv service with mourner’s kaddish will be at 7:30 p.m. followed by the opportunity for guests to share brief remarks. JN

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