A $5 million gift from Alan Leve, a UCLA alumnus and the founder and president of Culver City, California-based Ohmega Technologies, will establish several endowments at the UCLA College’s Center for Jewish Studies. Leve said he hopes the gift, which will benefit students, faculty and the community, will honor his family’s legacy of giving — one that started with his late grandmother, Hinda Schonfeld.
Leve still vividly remembers the cold and rainy day in 1941 when he left the Breed Street Shul in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood for his grandmother’s funeral. He was amazed at the sight outside the car window: rows of mourners standing shoulder to shoulder for three city blocks on each side of the street, umbrellas over their heads, to pay their last respects.
“It’s a memory indelibly etched in my mind,” said Leve, now 87. “It was a revelation to me. My grandmother had no fame, no material assets of any value; but everyone gravitated to her because of her warmth and generosity of spirit. I realized then that who you are is more important than what you have.”
His grandmother’s legacy of generosity has lived on through her grandson. In recognition of his gift, the center, which is among the world’s most prestigious Jewish studies centers, will be renamed the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.
“The Jewish presence in academic, social and cultural life on the UCLA campus is strong, and Alan Leve’s generosity helps to ensure its continued vitality,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “We are proud of the role that the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and UCLA — through many other research centers, faculty members, students and public programing — play in the international, national and local dialogue about Judaism.”
Todd Presner, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director of the center, said, “Alan Leve’s gift will enable us to launch a vibrant public history initiative, support undergraduate and graduate students working in all fields of Jewish studies, initiate programs supporting Jewish life on campus, attract international scholars to UCLA and provide vital research and teaching support to our faculty. This gift will secure UCLA’s standing as a preeminent center for the study of Jewish history, culture and civilization.”
The gift will be divided into several endowments.
- The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Student Excellence will be used to fund graduate and undergraduate students engaged in fields related to Jewish studies at UCLA, including graduate fellowships, undergraduate awards and stipends for student travel and summer research projects.
- The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Teaching Innovation will support teaching and curricular innovation in Jewish studies. It also will establish the Etta and Milton Leve Scholar-in-Residence program, which will bring academics from across the world to UCLA and foster international collaborations.
- The Alan D. Leve Endowment for Research Innovation will support faculty and graduate student research and provide travel and research grants and conference support.
Leve, who was born in Boyle Heights at a time when the neighborhood was the focal point of Jewish culture in Los Angeles, has also made sure that scholars won’t forget that history, nor his grandmother’s sense of community. A portion of the gift will establish the Hinda and Jacob Schonfeld Boyle Heights Collection, which, in collaboration with the UCLA Library, will include archival materials and artifacts related to the history of Boyle Heights.
Through the Schonfeld Boyle Heights Collection, the center also will establish a public history program that will include lectures, exhibitions, tours and courses addressing the history of Jewish Los Angeles.
“My parents lived in Boyle Heights from the late 1920s to the mid 1930s and my grandparents from the late 1920s to their passing in the early 1940s, and they were members of the Breed Street Shul,” said Leve, who has 13 family members from three generations of his family who have graduated from UCLA: his daughter, Laura Leve Cohen, two nieces and their husbands, and eight cousins.
“We lived two blocks away on St. Louis Street, just south of Brooklyn Avenue, at a place and time when the majority of the Jewish population of Los Angeles lived there,” he said. “That period of Jewish presence in Boyle Heights is history now. I’m proud that the center plans to keep it alive through its commitment to programming around public history.”
David Schaberg, dean of humanities, said that Leve’s gift will allow the center to expand its research and outreach into a community that helped shape Los Angeles.
“The mission of the humanities is to explore the rich legacy of human creativity and thought,” he said. “Alan’s philanthropic leadership will allow us to study and teach Jewish history and culture in innovative ways so that our students graduate with the ability to thrive as global citizens.”
Founded in 1994, the center is the leading research hub for the study of Jewish culture and civilization on the West Coast and one of the largest and most active centers in the world. It is dedicated to advancing scholarship in Jewish culture and history, educating the next generation about the role of Judaism in world civilization and serving as an exceptional public resource for Jewish life and learning.
Leve, who still occasionally visits Boyle Heights to show relatives where the family roots began, can only imagine what his grandmother — whose dying words to her daughter were “give $2 to the poor” — would have said about his generosity.
“We came from very modest means,” he said. “I don’t think my grandparents or my parents could’ve conceived of such a gift. For me, this gift fulfills a number of personal aspirations on many levels — supporting my alma mater, investing in education, honoring my Jewish heritage by investing in its future, honoring the memory of my parents and grandparents, and establishing an enduring family legacy.”