Bart family to receive Jewish Endowment Foundation Tzedakah Award

The Bart family, active in so many New Orleans and regional causes, will receive the Tzedakah Award from the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana at its annual event on Oct. 28.

JEF President Charles A. (Rusty) Levy III said “The New Orleans Jewish community, and the New Orleans community as a whole, is much better off because of the Barts. They give back with their time and resources to make this city a better place to live, work, and worship.”

The Tzedakah Award is the JEF’s highest honor. The 11:30 a.m. event will be held at the Hilton Hotel Riverside. Hertha Bart, wife of the late Morris Bart Sr., Morris Bart III and his wife, Cathy; and Vivian Bart Cahn will be recognized.

Morris Bart III was influenced to give after growing up hearing stories about how the Holocaust had affected his family. His parents met in Switzerland after his father had served as a pilot in the 82nd Airborne during World War II. Their lessons about tzedakah, combined with his chosen profession as a plaintiff lawyer, were forces compelling Morris to give. “I see every day the suffering of people in New Orleans, working people, minorities, and how they suffer, particularly when they have injuries.”

“I have two major overriding goals,” he explained. “One is to help my local community, Jewish and non-Jewish, to become vibrant and thriving. Beyond that I help and support Israel. It is important to have a safe haven for Jews, and the significance of the Jewish state is paramount.”

He and wife Cathy support a wide range of endeavors through a donor advised fund at JEF they established in 1997. They like the fund’s practical nature — they write just “one check” and can give to many charities through JEF. The organizations they support include the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, where Morris serves on the executive committee, the JCC, ADL, Jewish Family Service, BBYO, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, the New Orleans Museum of Art, United Way, and Loyola Law School.

Morris has donated buildings and playgrounds to many schools and universities in the community. His Bart’s Bees program, which combines his efforts with the New Orleans Hornets basketball team, encourages local schoolchildren to make good grades by rewarding achievement with game tickets and public praise.

Cathy has served on the boards of Federation, the ADL, Jewish Family Service, the National BBYO and is a past member of the UJC (now JFNA) National Young Leadership Cabinet. She and Morris co-chaired Federation’s Annual Campaign in 2011.

“I grew up with a strong sense of what it means to be Jewish,” she said. “Our participation with Jewish Federation and all of its constituent agencies, our synagogues, our children’s schools, as well as many public schools in New Orleans, and many civic organizations, is our way of fulfilling our Jewish obligation of tzedakah.”

They have instilled the privilege and responsibility to their children, Carrie, Michelle and Jennifer, all of whom enjoy philanthropic giving through JEF’s Young Philanthropy and B’nai Maimonides programs. Carrie and her husband, Austin Marks, are continuing Cathy and Morris’s tradition of activism with their involvement in Federation’s Campaign Cabinet. Both are also involved with, and Austin serves on the boards of, Young Jews of the Crescent City, the Isidore Newman School Alumni Association, and Breakthrough Collaborative New Orleans.

Vivian Bart Cahn, Morris’s sister, is a dynamic individual who is an interior designer by trade and a community activist in life. “My father always told stories of how his father did so many good deeds in his community. My mother was a president of B’nai B’rith when we were growing up and my mother-in-law was involved in everything.” The Jewish philosophy of tikkun olam sums up Vivian’s outlook on giving: “It’s an obligation that we are duty bound to fulfill. I don’t even question helping out in various ways, philanthropy being one of them.”

She was on the board and was campaign chair of Federation as well as on the boards of NCJW, National Women’s Philanthropy, Jewish Children’s Regional Service, JFS, Israel Bonds, Hadassah, Brandeis National Women’s Committee, and many civic organizations including KIDsmART, City Park Botanical Garden Committee, Prospect New Orleans, Krewe du Vieux, Lead Lab, and was a YWCA Role Model.

Vivian and her husband, Richard Cahn, have had a donor advised fund at JEF since 1980. “JEF has made giving very easy. Our funds are professionally managed, and distribution is simple to do. Our son, David, now has his own philanthropic fund, and he makes distributions from it to those causes that he is interested in.”

It is important to the Cahns that David continues the tradition of giving. Vivian explained, “I would like my son to understand that he has the power to make a difference and to use that power wisely. I want him to understand that ideally philanthropy involves more than writing a check; it involves some degree of understanding and taking action when you can.”

Hertha Bart was born in Switzerland, growing up during World War II, a time of immense strife for the Jews in Europe. “I knew what was going on and how my people were treated, and that alone is cause to give philanthropically. The identity of being Jewish means a great deal.”

Hertha has supported many causes in the community, including B’nai B’rith (of which she served as president while living in Knoxville), Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League, and the SPCA. She has a donor advised fund at the JEF, which she loves because, she said, “JEF takes care of so many things that are dear to me. My money is in capable hands, and JEF makes sure it goes to the right people and the right places.”

Her generous spirit extends to her personal life as well. Always a “doer,” Hertha was a model, a receptionist for the Plimsoll Club, and a New Orleans tour guide for foreign visitors. But her proudest professional career was as a yoga instructor for 18 years. She imparted the gift of healing through yoga to help so many of her students. Hertha still practices yoga regularly.

Sandy Levy, JEF executive director, said “I have seen firsthand the meaningful and effective philanthropy of the Bart family. They have taken a leadership role in charitable giving in New Orleans, and through JEF I have been privileged to assist them in those efforts.”

Also at the Oct. 28 event, the Helen A. Mervis Jewish Community Professional Award will be presented to Catherine Kahn. This award, named in memory of JEF’s former executive director, is given annually to an outstanding professional employee of a Greater New Orleans Jewish community organization.

Kahn has held the position of archivist of Touro Infirmary since she set up the archives in 1990. She has been extensively involved in the preservation and presentation of the history of New Orleans’ Jewish community. She is a past president of the Greater New Orleans Archivists and the Southern Jewish Historical Society, as well as serving on a number of other boards. “Cathy Kahn is a treasure,” said Levy. “Her knowledge of the New Orleans Jewish community is extraordinary.”

Event chair Morton Katz, said “Our program will feature a panel discussion on the fight against corruption in New Orleans, chaired by investigative reporter Lee Zurik with panelists Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission and New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux. With such deserving honorees and such a timely topic, we are looking forward to an extraordinary event.”

For more information, call JEF at (504) 524-4559 or email jef (at) jefno (dot) org.