Philanthropic heritage

Philanthropic heritage

Sy Holzer (center) poses with the Rudolphs, Jimmy (left) and Billy (right). 	(Photo by Joshua Franzos Photography)
Sy Holzer (center) poses with the Rudolphs, Jimmy (left) and Billy (right). (Photo by Joshua Franzos Photography)

The philanthropy of the Rudolph family has touched many corners of the Steel City, but its generosity to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and its wide-ranging support of Jewish organizations throughout the community, were recognized on June 8 at the Federation’s Annual Campaign Thank You Event as the family was awarded the PNC Community Builders Award.

Presented by Sy Holzer, special adviser to the chairman of PNC, the award, which was established 13 years ago, “recognizes individuals and families who have made a long-lasting and positive contribution to the Jewish community,” Holzer said. As part of the award, PNC has donated $25,000 to the Federation’s Annual Campaign in honor of the recipient. This year, PNC increased that amount to $35,000.

“When talking about the Rudolph family’s impact on the Pittsburgh community, I have to begin the story with Leonard, may his memory be a blessing,” Holzer said. Recalling how Leonard met his wife Doris, at a Pirates game in 1947, Holzer told the story of how the Rudolphs “turned a patch of farmland on McKnight road into a bowling alley; through hard work and persistence, they grew the business to include more entertainment and fast food outlets.”

Eventually, Holzer said, “Leonard brought his sons, Billy and Jimmy, into the business, but he never forgot his bowling alley that only made three or four dollars a night in the early days. McKnight Realty Partners was formed and named for that first achievement.”

Through the business successes of the family, it has always “found it important to give back to Jewish Pittsburgh,” said Holzer. “They have all been active in the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh for literally decades. Leonard, Jimmy and Billy all chaired the Federation’s board, Doris was campaign chair of the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy, and she and Leonard created the Rudolph Award honoring Jewish communal professionals.” Jimmy and Billy Rudolph also helped to found the Centennial Fund for the Jewish Future, an endowment of the Jewish Community Foundation “that provides immediate and ongoing funding to make quality Jewish learning and experiences available to everyone,” noted Holzer.

The Rudolphs’ philanthropy and volunteerism extends to many other institutions, both within and beyond the Jewish community, Holzer said. “In fact, it would be difficult to find a place in this community that has not had a helping hand from the Rudolph family.”

Billy and Jimmy Rudolph have “followed in Dad’s footsteps,” said Holzer, noting that Billy Rudolph has served on many boards, including The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, the Agency for Jewish Learning, the Lubavitch Center, Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Jimmy Rudolph has chaired the Agency for Jewish Learning and B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation and has served on the boards of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and JF&CS.

“The Rudolphs instilled service in the next generation, too,” Holzer said. “Leonard’s grandson, Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, has dedicated his career to helping those in need as the executive director of Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh. He spends every day helping children with disabilities learn life and socialization skills.”

Other organizations which “have felt the Rudolph family’s generosity” include Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Heinz History Center, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Robert Morris University, United Way of Allegheny County and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.

“Let’s just say that they have collectively won countless awards and have done more good for this community than I could ever list in one night,” Holzer said. “Beyond these lists, the entire clan has been so incredibly generous with their time and support, putting their minds and hearts into service. The Rudolphs have left an indelible mark on this community.”

Joel Smalley was also recognized for making his mark on the community, and for his “passionate fundraising” for the Federation, by being named Campaigner of the Year.

“Since the 1960s, Joel Smalley has been tirelessly giving back to the community,” said Meryl Ainsman, vice chair of the Federation. “Tonight, we thank him for his endless generosity and his tireless work in the Pittsburgh Jewish community.

“Joel Smalley has been a passionate fundraiser for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Annual Campaign for over 35 years, soliciting countless donors and raising thousands of dollars,” she added.

Ainsman noted Smalley’s participation in a host of other efforts, including multiple community planning committees, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Lishma Fellows.

“Joel has been an active leader and organizer in the Jewish community since the 1960s,” Ainsman continued. “Some of his accomplishments include serving as the founding board chair of the Pittsburgh Jewish Association on Aging and as past president of Jewish Family & Children’s Service.”

She also noted that Smalley has been an advisor to his fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi, at the University of Pittsburgh for more than 50 years.

Following the awards, those in attendance were treated to the comedy stylings of Gary Gulman, a stand-up from New York City who is only one of a handful of comics who has performed on every late-night comedy program.

Gulman, whose delivery is decidedly Jewish, elicited uproarious laughter from the audience throughout his hour-long set. With a flair for observational humor, he called out some obvious, yet hysterical truths about his landsman.

Apropos to his Federation gig running concurrent to Game Five of the Stanley Cup, he recalled his mother trying to talk him out of playing hockey when he was a child.

“Jews have shown no acumen for hockey over the years,” he said. “There are exactly no Jewish players in the Hockey Hall of Fame to this day. More Jews have been the Messiah than have been in the Hockey Hall of Fame. You are more likely to walk on water than you are to skate on it holding the Stanley Cup.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at