Sylvia Hassenfeld, philanthropist and Jewish pioneer, dies at 93

Talia Lavin

NEW YORK (JTA) — Sylvia Hassenfeld, a major Jewish philanthropist and the first female president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, has died.

Hassenfeld, of Palm Beach, Fla., died Friday. She was 93.

She served as the JDC chair from 1988 to 1992, representing the organization in the then newly disbanded Soviet Union, and overseeing significant Jewish outreach in Central and Eastern Europe. Hassenfeld also presided over significant JDC operations in Africa.

Hassenfeld led the Hassenfeld Foundation, which supported Jewish and non-Jewish causes around the world.

Her philanthropy was directed at the United Jewish Appeal, Brandeis University, the Jewish Agency for Israel and other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations.“Sylvia Hassenfeld was a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to improving the human condition by protecting the rights of all and promoting religious freedom,” Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence said.

Hassenfeld’s Jewish activism was inspired by the family involvement of her husband, Merrill, the chairman of the Hasbro company before his death in 1980, in the religious and Jewish communal life of Providence, R.I. She would go on to lead the Providence Jewish Federation.

She was a major force behind the Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at New York University that is scheduled to open a new facility in 2017.