With JNF honor, Steelers’ owner continues family tradition
Family philanthropyThe Rooney family accepts second JNF humanitarian award

With JNF honor, Steelers’ owner continues family tradition

Greta and Art Rooney II accepted the Jewish National Fund's annual humanitarian award, about 20 years after Dan Rooney received the same honor.

Greta and Art Rooney II accepted the Jewish National Fund's annual Tree of Life award at the Omni William Penn hotel on Nov. 14. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt / PJC)
Greta and Art Rooney II accepted the Jewish National Fund's annual Tree of Life award at the Omni William Penn hotel on Nov. 14. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt / PJC)

Some 20 years ago, former Pittsburgh Steelers owner, the late Dan Rooney was awarded the Jewish National Fund’s Tree of Life Award, a humanitarian honor that recognizes community involvement and support for Israel.

This year, Greta and Art Rooney II, the current owner of the Steelers, continued the family tradition and accepted the 28th Tree of Life Award, given to a Pittsburgh resident or native for their support of JNF, Israel and many philanthropic causes in the city.

“My father was a man of all seasons,” Art Rooney II said, referring to his father’s eagerness to contribute to several different causes. “It’s an honor to sort of follow him.”

The Rooneys accepted the award at a reception and dinner at the Omni William Penn Hotel Tuesday night along with 200 attendees.

Throughout the night, the Rooneys were praised for their involvement in different Pittsburgh philanthropies, including Pittsburgh Public Theater, Senator John Heinz Western Pennsylvania History Center and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

“Art and Greta are such wonderful, beautiful people and they do get involved, they do give back,” said former Steelers running back Franco Harris, who has known the Rooney’s since he came to Pittsburgh in 1972. “That’s really been a trademark of the Rooney family.”

The organization gives out about 20 Tree of Life Awards in 20 cities each year, according to Jason Rose, the associate executive director Midwest for JNF USA. The idea behind the award, Rose said, is to “honor a mensch of the local community and also someone with a strong support for Israel and the Jewish National Fund.”

In recent years, JNF honored Scott Lammie, senior vice president and chief financial officer for UPMC Insurance Services division, and Pittsburgh native and artist Burton Morris.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens spoke about foreign policy, president Donald Trump and Israel at the event. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt / PJC)
At the Rooneys’ celebration, New York Times columnist and former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post Bret Stephens gave a keynote speech about foreign policy in America, addressing how he thinks the current administration should handle the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Stephens listed several “rules” he would offer should the president ask him for advice, including urging the administration to simply not do anything, to focus on what and who is important to the country when deciding how to proceed and to get away from “clichés that have dominated foreign policy for so long.”

“Foreign policy is not about making dreams come true,” Stephens said. “The truth is that foreign policy is fundamentally about keeping your nightmares at bay.

“Draw up a list of your nightmares Mr. President…How are you going to ensure they won’t happen?”

Stephens, who frequently speaks at JNF events, said he got involved with the organization about 15 years ago when his family donated a forest in Israel in honor of his great grandmother. Since then, he has donated a forest for his father and another for a friend.

“Being in Israel gives you a sense of confidence and hope,” Stephens said at the conclusion of his speech. “That’s, I think, a sense of confidence and hope all of you should share not just in Israel but in the U.S. as well.”

Attendees at the event watched a Jewish National Fund video as they waited for the presentation of the Tree of Life award. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt / PJC)
At the event, JNF also honored four local high school students — Leo Berzon, Mitchell Dubin, Maya Groff and Sofia Sherman — who had recently returned from an eight-week seminar studying at the Alexander Muss high school in Israel through a JNF partnership with the Genesis scholarship fund.

Internationally, the Israeli branch of the JNF, known in Hebrew as Karen Kayemeth LeIsrael, or KKL-JNF, is locked in a legislative battle with the Israeli government, which wants a larger cut of the revenue the organization has earned through donations and contributions over the years to fund national infrastructure projects, according to a JTA report.

JNF-USA, the American branch of JNF, does not send money to KKL-JNF and funds their own distinct projects, the report said. PJC

Lauren Rosenblatt can be reached at lrosenblatt@pittsburghjewishchronicle.com.

This story has been updated to include the names of the high school students honored at the event.

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