It wasn’t until the death of her grandfather, Mandle Zaban, that Laura Zaban Dinerman heard many of the stories about the good deeds done by her grandparents. “People told us all kinds of things,” she said, including how her grandparents went to the train station during the war and handed out toothbrushes to soldiers.
Her grandfather gave funds to help a boy go to college. Her other grandmother stood on the corner and sold poppies on Veterans Day. Mandle Zaban even had a separate phone line in his office for fundraising.
Giving to the community “was always around us. I think it was ingrained in us,” Dinerman said. “One of the main things my father always said was that he got so much pleasure from what he did in the community, and that it was important for everyone to find their own passion,” said the middle daughter of the “godfather of philanthropy,” Erwin Zaban, who passed away nine years ago.
Younger sister Sara Zaban Franco said her father “showed us by example and showed us that, with resources, come responsibility.” But he also taught his three daughters through storytelling. “He’d tell us how he’d been to a meeting and how much pleasure he got from it. He loved soliciting people and playing a leadership part in it.”
Surprisingly, Erwin Zaban never took on the mantle of president in any Jewish organization. “He did that on purpose,” said Franco. “He was running his own business and could jump in and out of projects.” One of those “projects” was donating and raising money for land in Dunwoody that became Zaban Park, home of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. He donated money for the Jewish Home, for which The Zaban Tower is named. And there’s a homeless shelter at The Temple that he greatly supported.
“But in all of his years, he was never president until the community center made him honorary president,” Dinerman told the AJT.
His daughters, on the other hand, have been president and founders of several Jewish community agencies. Franco and oldest sister, Carol Zaban Cooper, were co-founders of the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta. Dinerman was a founding member.
In a recent article in the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta newsletter, Cooper – described as a fourth-generation Jewish Atlantan – noted that she’s been past president of the Federation and Women’s Philanthropy, Community Campaign chair, past president of Jewish Family & Career Services and a “member of too many boards to count.”
Dinerman was the chairman of The Breman Museum and campaign chair of the Federation’s Women’s division. Now her children, and the children of her sisters, are following in the family footsteps with their various community involvements.
Carol (Breman) Nemo calls it the “philanthropic heart” that gets passed from one generation to the next. “My parents instilled it in me,” she told the AJT. “They lived by example, but never forced me to do anything,” said the co-founder of The Davis Academy and a founding board member of The Weber School. “And I always involved my children in my causes.”
For example, when The Temple started its homeless shelter, Nemo was one of the first directors. “I would take my youngest child and she’d play the piano with some of the people. It was just natural for her to go with her Mom.” Now Nemo’s children and their spouses are continuing the family tradition, contributing their time and money to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
Owners of Marlow’s Tavern, the Nemos support the Giving Kitchen, which provides financial assistance to food service workers based on need. They’ve also created a referral program to connect restaurant workers with social services, called The Stability Network.
Adrian Grant grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where his parents were “always volunteering and involved in community activity. I grew up with it, so when I moved to Atlanta in 1970, I got involved in the MJCCA, B’nai B’rith and other organizations. My kids have grown up with my wife, Ilene, and I involved in the community. It’s part of our family. And we transmitted it to our children.”
Indeed, the Grants’ three sons are all involved in leadership roles in the Jewish community, with son, Sammy, the incoming president of the MJCCA. “I’m lucky and blessed that our children have followed in our footsteps,” Grant told the AJT. “We tried to set an example, but you have to be lucky, too.”
Edwin and Louise Rothberg recently set up a family philanthropic committee that includes their children. “I’ve been supporting the community for 20 years through the Federation, Temple Emanu-El and Camp Twin Lakes. I always felt compelled to give back. My kids are happy and healthy and I’m in a position to do this. I’m not big on advertising what I do. I try to be quiet about it, but it’s very rewarding and exciting when the kids participate.”
Passing along the philanthropy gene seems to happen more by osmosis and example rather than actual instruction for these philanthropic families.
Judy Robkin says it was the example of her father, Henry Birnbrey, a Holocaust survivor, that gave her the “clear message” to give back to the community.
Birnbrey came to the United States when he was 13, without a family. But HIAS gave him aid and “he never forgot it. As soon as he could, he gave back. He always considered himself very lucky to have gotten where he is and it’s always been important that we all support the community,” said Robkin of herself and three siblings.
“I look at all four of us and I look at our children and we’re all active in our own way in the Jewish community and the community at large,” said Robkin, an artist who is active with the New Israel Fund and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel. She’s also been involved with what was then the Greenfield Hebrew Academy, and The Weber School.
“Our kids talk about the fact that they were raised in a home that was never about a house, clothes or cars. They always knew they were supposed to give back,” said Robkin. “In fact, our youngest talks about the Tikkun Leil Shavuot that we host every year as the biggest message in his life. It’s always been about learning and education,” she said of the evening-long study sessions held on the holiday of Shavuot in the Robkin house. The Robkins’ two sons are both rabbis and their daughter is an epidemiologist. They have seven grandchildren with another one due any time, hopefully to continue the family tradition of community involvement.
Nemo notes that her 12-year-old granddaughter, who will have a bat mitzvah next year, is already planning her mitzvah project.
According to Dinerman, “My wish is that my grandchildren follow in the same vein. It would be a lifelong dream.”