Eric Ross, benefactor of local and global renown, dies at 91

Eric Ross, benefactor of local and global renown, dies at 91

Survivor supported arts, education, and Shoa remembrance efforts

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Eric F. Ross helps affix a mezuza to the entrance to Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union’s upper school in West Orange in 2008 at the school’s rededication following a renovation. Photo courtesy SSDSEU
Eric F. Ross helps affix a mezuza to the entrance to Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union’s upper school in West Orange in 2008 at the school’s rededication following a renovation. Photo courtesy SSDSEU

Eric F. Ross, a manufacturer whose support for local Jewish causes and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington placed him among the top ranks of American-Jewish philanthropists, died late Wednesday night, Sept. 8, in Zurich, Switzerland, at the age of 91.

Ross’ name adorns the upper school campus of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, and the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC is located on the Ross Family Campus in West Orange.

Ross and his wife, Lore, who died in 2009, made national headlines in 2006 with a $10 million gift to the Holocaust museum, its largest single gift. The museum’s Ross Administrative Center was dedicated in memory of his parents, Albert and Regina Rosenberg, who died in Auschwitz.

A refugee from Nazi Germany who would live in South Orange and Palm Beach, Fla., he made his fortune in the plastics industry and became a major benefactor to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, and Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.

“Eric Ross led a remarkable life,” said Max Kleinman, executive vice president of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, of which Ross was a major supporter. “After his retirement, Eric and his beloved Lore became world-class philanthropists. I had the privilege of spending many hours having lunch with Eric and joining him and his family for joyous occasions, the most recent for his 91st birthday.

“His legacy will be the great deeds he performed and the family he raised. His memory will live on forever,” said Kleinman.

Ross and his wife supported MetroWest’s United Jewish Appeal Campaign at the highest (Achim) level. They were benefactors in the Lester Society, honoring those who make commitments of $100,000 or more through the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ. They were benefactors of the UJA Benefit Concert, and he chaired the Achim division.

Eric Ross was born in 1919 in Dortmund, Germany. By the time Kristallnacht erupted on Nov. 9, 1938, he was living and working in Hamburg. He escaped Germany and came to the United States via France and England, arriving on the SS Washington. He and his late wife had known each other in Germany, and were reunited in New York after she too escaped from the closing Nazi cordon. His parents, however, were deported from Frankfurt, where they lived, to Theresienstadt and were murdered at Auschwitz.

Ross began his career in the United States in the rubber industry. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and started a vinyl scrap dealership after the war. He began recycling the material, and ultimately developed a process to manufacture virgin vinyl compounds.

His company, Alpha Chemicals and Plastics Corp., located in Newark, became the leading supplier of specialty PVC compounds for a variety of industries and manufacturers. He started a second company, Mercer Plastics, in Florida. Both companies were purchased in 1986 by a Fortune 500 company.

The entranceway of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was named the Eric F. and Lore Ross Rotunda in 2002. The dedication of the Saint Barnabas Hospital Lobby, also named in the couple’s honor, was held on Eric’s 90th birthday in 2009. In 2001, B’nai Abraham named its Ross Sanctuary in memory of his parents.

The Rosses were also major international donors, with leadership gifts to the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Berlin Jewish Museum.

“The loss of Eric Ross leaves a giant hole in the heart of our community,” said Alan Feldman, chief executive officer of JCC MetroWest. “His philanthropy has left its mark across the Jewish communal landscape as he served as a role model to us all, displaying an unparalleled commitment to community — locally, nationally, and internationally.”

“Eric Ross was one of New Jersey’s, and one of our community’s, greatest philanthropists,” said B’nai Abraham’s Rabbi Clifford Kulwin. “While his business career had its start in utter self-reliance and personal sacrifice, he never missed an opportunity to remind listeners he never borrowed money.

“His giving focused on making life better for others. He seemed every bit as dedicated to the way in which he gave money away — with deliberation, thoughtfulness, and utter commitment — as he must have been to building up the business that provided for him and his family.”

In 2007, 16 years after moving into the Eric F. Ross Campus upper school building on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, SSDS broke ground on a $4.5 million renovation, funded largely by Ross.

“His dedication to Jewish education and to assuring that the lessons of the Holocaust would not be lost when his generation was no longer with us were hallmarks of the imprint he has left,” said Feldman. “We will sorely miss Eric Ross and offer our most heartfelt condolences to his family.”

“Eric F. Ross was extraordinarily devoted to Jewish education and to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union particularly,” said SSDS head of school Dr. Joyce Raynor. “His commitment and dedication to our school was ongoing. He had a deep relationship not just with our school, but with our students. He visited on numerous occasions to speak to our students; students wrote letters to him, which he answered. Schechter is so fortunate that Eric Ross has always taken a serious interest in our school.”

Added Raynor: “How unusual for a man who himself never finished high school in Germany, who does not have a family connection to our school, to see the importance of Jewish education, and the value of our school, to become our major benefactor. Our deepest condolences to Eric’s children and grandchildren.”

At the 2007 ground breaking for the SSDS renovation project, Ross referred to the challenges of his youth in an address to students.

“I was not as fortunate as all you kids are,” he told the students. “I left school at age 14. I had to go to work. I have not been back to school. So I make up for it this way. I am delighted to see so many wonderful young people here. You are the future of our Jewish life.”

Eric F. Ross is survived by his daughter, Barbara Bermann and her husband, Pedro; his son, Peter Ross and his wife, Marsha; seven grandchildren, Daniela Bermann, Andrea Kaplan, Steven Ross, Robert Ross, David Ross, Jeffrey Ross, and Marc Ross; and two great-grandchildren, Jordan and Joelle Kaplan.

Memorial contributions may be made to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, PO Box 90988, Washington, DC 20090; Temple B’nai Abraham, 300 E. Northfield Rd., Livingston, NJ 07039; Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, Eric F. Ross Campus, 1418 Pleasant Valley Way, West Orange, NJ 07052; or United Jewish Appeal of MetroWest NJ, 901 Route 10, Whippany, NJ 07981.

A public memorial service will be held in the Ross Sanctuary at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston on Sunday, Oct. 10, at noon.

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