Gene Wilder, The Frisco Kid and Rosenwald

The Ciesla Foundation mourns the passing of Gene Wilder on August 29. A masterful comedic actor with an infectious smile that wavered between mischievous and neurotic, Wilder kept us laughing while many of his movie roles took aim at prejudices based on race and religion. These include films with director Mel Brooks such as Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote with Brooks.

In the 1979 comedy-adventure, The Frisco Kid (directed by Robert Aldrich, The Dirty Dozen), Wilder plays an immigrant rabbi, Avram Belinski, traveling across the untamed United States to San Francisco. Three scenes from the film help tell the story of Rosenwald. In the first, Avram (Wilder) disembarking from the ship carrying him from Poland illustrates the arrival in the port of Baltimore of Samuel Rosenwald, Julius’ father, from Germany in 1851. Another scene of Avram walking brings to life Samuel’s early years here as a peddler while in another scene, the Frisco Kid’s wedding recalls that of Julius’ parents.

Some Rosenwald audience members have said that the film’s portrayal of the immigrant experience in the 1800s was so authentic that they wondered wheredirector Aviva Kempner got such wonderful original footage, not knowing or forgetting that these film scenes recreated a time before recording moving images was invented.

Click here to see some scenes from The Frisco Kid as we remember the wonderful work and life of Gene Wilder.

James Baldwin’s Legacy

A recent review of the Jesmyn Ward edited book, The Fire this Time, posted by the NY Times cites the collection of essays as a powerful reflection of the very experiences described by the Rosenwald Fund recipient, James Baldwin, through a modern lens. This reflection can be seen directly in the books title, taken from Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. It’s incredible to see that Baldwin’s impact is still clear more than 50 years later.

Read the full book review by Dwight Garner, here.

Remembering Julian Bond

On the first anniversary of Julian Bond’s passing, we at the Ciesla Foundation remember him fondly for his inspiration to make a film on Julius Rosenwald and his wise words in the film. There is not a day that goes by where his impact is not found in American society. His wisdom and humor are sorely missed.

-Aviva Kempner



In honor of this humble and generous philanthropist’s birthday, the Ciesla Foundation team is happy to announce that the enriched ROSENWALD DVD package will be completed and released in time for Hanukah and Christmas purchases.

Once we started reading through the transcripts the team concluded that the stories of Rosenwald’s generosity, the schools, and the artists the Fund supported were so rich that we wound up editing them into three hours of extras. These extras will constitute a separate disc to accompany the film’s DVD. We also have commissioned Teaching for Change to write the Study Guide that will be provided in the DVD and online.

In order to accomplish this monumental task we are grateful to our numerous funders. We were very excited to receive funding from two prestigious foundations, Ford Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation, to create the three hours of extras and study guide.

In order to provide free copies of the enriched ROSENWALD DVD to high schools and colleges we are embarking on a final fundraising drive. We welcome all contributions and suggestions of which individuals, foundations or corporations might give for this purpose. All contributions are tax deductible, please see our donations page, here.

We were very pleased that The National Museum of American Jewish History inducted Julius Rosenwald into its Hall of Fame during its Only in America Gala on June 1st. The exhibit helped draw in a crowd during the July 4th holiday weekend where the museum saw over 3,100 visitors setting a new attendance record! Senator Cory A. Booker made a speech at the gala that can be viewed here.

Finally, the Foundation would like to congratulate its founder and director of Rosenwald, Aviva Kempner, on her recent invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after over three decades of committing herself to film and producing four highly-acclaimed motion pictures that celebrate Jewish lesser known heroes and culture!

Enjoy the end of summer and check the website for venues the film is showing all over the country. Julius Rosenwald’s example of bringing communities together is needed as much now as a hundred years ago.

Thank you for all of your support with the film! Rosenwald and its inspiring message could not have spread this far without all of the generous contributions and word of mouth publicity from our fans.


The Ciesla Foundation