Donald Rothfeld and his wife, Susan Merker, donated the collection in honor of Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, a personal acquaintance.
Oren immediately posted a very public “thank you” to his fellow New Jerseyite on Facebook “for donating the Rothfeld Collection of contemporary Israeli Art to the American University Museum in Washington in my honor.”
To explain his choice, Rothfeld told the New Jersey Jewish News in an interview, “We have been in enough ghettos. It's time for Israeli artists to get out into the real world, not just Jewish museums, synagogues, and JCCs.”
Rothfeld continues to collect, and commented that although he has donated his collection, he and his wife visit Israel at least once a year with “particular interest” in new artists.
The New Jersey native three years ago retired to New York City. Until that time, he was a practicing cardiologist on the staff at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and the head the of the UJA Physicians Division – Daughters of Israel of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. He was also a strong supporter of JCC MetroWest, where his late wife, Harriet, served on the board.
It was Israeli art dealer Bertha Urdang who interested Rothfeld in Israeli art, when one day he walked into her New York gallery in the mid-1980s.
By the time he and his wife were ready to move to the Big Apple three years ago, the couple owned 151 works by Israeli artists.
The collection is comprised of contemporary, mixed-media pieces including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and videos. It is accompanied by a $50,000 endowed gift – the Rothfeld Fund – to support maintenance and exhibition costs for the collection.
Among the artists represented is one of Israel's most prominent painters, the late Moshe Kupferman, a Holocaust survivor and a founder of Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot. Others include Sigalit Landau, Yael Bartana and Elad Lassry, whose work was also shown recently at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Works from the Rothfeld Collection will be shown in exhibitions and will coincide with events cosponsored by the museum and the Center for Israeli Studies.