My trip to Chicago

Posted on December 6th, 2013 by

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago and met with some fascinating people in connection with my upcoming film, The Rosenwald Schools.

First, I visited Chicago Sinai Congregation, where Julius Rosenwald worshiped in the early twentieth century. In Rosenwald’s day, the congregation was located on the south side of the city – today, it’s located in a modern building in the busy near north side. I met with Rabbi David Levinsky, who shared with me some stories about Rabbi Emil Hirsch, Rosenwald’s rabbi who so inspired him to dedicate himself to social justice.


Display at Chicago Sinai Congregation
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Next I visited the Standard Club to meet with its president Alison Pure-Slovin about shooting there in the future. Rosenwald was a member of this prestigious Jewish club and there’s a wonderful painting of him in the 2nd floor library. Slovin is the Midwest Region Director of the Wiesenthal Center.


Peter Ascoli and Aviva Kempner in front of Rosenwald’s portrait at the Standard Club
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

I also met with the dynamite Marilyn Katz, who was the publicist for Peter Ascoli’s book on his grandfather Julius Rosenwald. She has been a great fundraising resource as we attempt to finish the film.

Peter Ascoli (Rosenwald’s grandson) and I went to lunch at the East Bank Club, founded by Daniel Levin, a contributor to the film. Mr. Levin’s son Josh took his future wife Debra on an unusual first date. Knowing that she had written her master’s thesis on Julius Rosenwald, Josh took her to various sites around Chicago related to Rosenwald’s life: his Kenwood home, the Sears plant he built on the west side and even his grave in Rosehill Cemetery. It was good to see Dan briefly and the meal was fantastic.


Peter Ascoli and Aviva Kempner at the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Next I met with 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell and Robert Charles of Strategic Precision Management, Inc. Charles is a consultant on the development team that’s rehabilitating the Rosenwald Apartments and Dowell has spearheaded the preservation effort. She is committed to preserving the glorious legacy of the original building. Together we visited the Rosenwald Apartments (AKA Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments) building site. Since we last filmed there a couple years ago the brush has been cleared. Most importantly the building is being restored to its original glory, including elevators and housing for hundreds. I ate lunch with Mr. Charles and Ms. Dowell at a nearby restaurant called Pearl’s, my favorite soul food place in Chicago.


Pearl’s Place, Chicago
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

At the Jewish Federation of Chicago, I met with Steven Nasitir, head of the JUF, about their annual Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award, which is given to an inspiring leader in the community each year. Nasatir was the proud recipient in 2011.


The Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award along with a list of past winners
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Mr. Nasatir is proud of Rosenwald’s leadership at the Federation. Rosenwald was the first president of the Associated Jewish Charities, which brought together the entire Jewish community of Chicago into an organization that would later become the JUF. This accomplishment will be addressed in the film.


Julius Rosenwald’s portrait at the JUF/JF
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Lovely couple Don and Isabel Stewart put on a wonderful fundraiser for the film, generously opening their home for us. I interviewed Don a couple of years ago for the film about the Wabash YMCA and Rosenwald’s generosity. Stewart, who has headed Spelman College and the Chicago Community Trust, knows the importance of Rosenwald’s generosity.


Don Stewart, Peter Ascoli, Aviva Kempner and Isabel Stewart
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

As with the other Ciesla Foundation films these parlour parties are a great opportunity to show people the work in progress and gain support for funding to finish the film. I am so grateful to the Stewarts for a memorable evening.


Lauranita Dugas, Aviva Kempner and Don Stewart
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013


Aviva Kempner introducing the work in progress version of the film
Photo credit: The Ciesla Foundation, Nov 2013

Also on my trip, I did a pre-interview with 90 year old Bill Buckner. Mr. Buckner is part of the generation of Southerners educated in the Rosenwald Schools. Buckner has warm memories of attending a Rosenwald School just outside of McGehee, Arkansas before he came to Chicago as part of the great migration. I’m planning to film him when I return to Chicago.

I also had dinner with Tamara, Michael and Charlotte Newberger who have become friends and help me in figuring out strategy for my filmmaking and fundraising.

Before I left town, I stopped at the White Sox stadium to meet with Joe Black’s daughter, Martha Jo Black. Martha is part of the White Sox organization and is planning to publish a book about her father, the pioneering African American pitcher Joe Black. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is included in the new DVD of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (available here) and has a great story to tell about Hank Greenberg.

By Aviva Kempner