Brandeis receives record $50 million gift

Flowers in a rooftop garden on the Brandeis University campus.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Flowers in a rooftop garden on the Brandeis University campus.

Brandeis University announced Tuesday that it has received a $50 million donation — the largest single gift in its 69-year history — from the estate of Chicago philanthropists with a legacy of giving to the college.

The money will provide financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students, the Waltham liberal arts university said.

Jacob and Rosaline Cohn first donated to Brandeis decades ago, contributing $100 to the budding university. Rosaline Cohn continued to donate to the school, contributing thousands of dollars and establishing the Cohn Fund in the mid-1970s to memorialize her husband.


“The more Mrs. Cohn learned about Brandeis, the more she fell in love with the university,” Nancy Winship, the college’s senior vice president for institutional advancement, said in a prepared statement. “She loved the fact that Brandeis was a great liberal arts and research university that was informed by Jewish values.”

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When she died in 2010, Rosaline Cohn left her estate to her daughter, Marcia, who in turn left the record-breaking donation to Brandeis when she died in 2015.

“We are deeply moved that Mrs. Cohn was so inspired by Brandeis’ values and mission that she chose our university to receive this remarkable gift,” Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz said in a statement. “For current and future Brandeis students, this gift will be life-changing and will, as Mrs. Cohn envisioned, enable them to help make the world a better place.”

No one in the Cohn family had any formal connection to Brandeis. Instead, Rosaline Cohn was drawn to the university by its founding by the Jewish community during a time of anti-Semitism and bigotry, Liebowitz said by phone Tuesday.

“She was inspiried by that,” he said. “A lot of donors are inspired for that reason.”


Jacob Cohn, an immigrant from Lithuania, founded Continental Coffee Company. His family later expanded the firm to include grocery products and frozen foods. Marcia was the Cohns’ only heir.

“That’s the end of the Cohn family. There are no other heirs left,” Liebowitz said. “We hope we find many other ‘Cohns’ that are that generous.”

Sara Salinas can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saracsalinas.