Koret honorees get $2.7 million in grants at S.F. luncheon

San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel teemed with royalty Wednesday of last week. Prince Andrew and his entourage visited, while in another room, the local version of nobility dined.

The local folks' titles are not duke, lord or earl but director, president, rabbi, dean. And they don't come from any divine right. Their titles are earned.

The luncheon was being held by the Koret Foundation to celebrate this year's Koret Prize winners: Chang-Lin Tien, chancellor of U.C. Berkeley; Anita Friedman, executive director of San Francisco's Jewish Family and Children's Services; and Gary Tobin, director of the S.F.-based Institute for Community and Religion of Brandeis University.

Even with more than 350 guests, the luncheon's ambiance resembled that of a family wedding, as diners table-hopped, hugged and shmoozed. In keeping with the mitzvah of sharing a simchah with others, the flowery centerpieces were earmarked for the Jewish Home for the Aged.

The S.F.-based Koret Foundation, established in 1979 by Jewish immigrants Joseph and Stephanie Koret, awards between 200 and 300 grants per year, said Jack Curly, Koret's financial officer.

Reflecting its founders' philosophy and the Jewish philanthropic tradition of providing people with the means and education to help them care for themselves, Koret supports programs furthering that goal here and in Israel.

The foundation has given away more than $135 million in all.

Because of Koret, many of the organizations represented at the luncheon — Jewish Home for the Aged, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Jewish federations, synagogues, Stanford University, University of San Francisco, KQED, the S.F. Museum of Modern Art, ACT, the city's symphony, zoo, ballet — have been able to expand and some to simply exist.

The Koret Leadership Prize was created in 1988 for individuals who demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential. Last year it was expanded to include the Koret Prize for Exemplary Contribution to the Jewish Community and a Koret Prize for Contribution to Economic Reform and Development in Israel.

This year's honorees received grants of nearly $2.7 million. Each also received a personal gift: 2,700-year-old oil lamps from Israel.

The Ritz-Carlton event bore little resemblance to the typical nonprofit-sponsored luncheon. There was no donation envelope, no fund-raising pitch, no rubber chicken dish. Diners were given a choice between a vegetarian entree or fish, and the fare rivaled that of San Francisco's finest restaurants.

Awards were presented by Tad Taube, Koret Foundation president. Tien, who is leaving Berkeley in June, received $1.68 million to be distributed between the Chang-Lin Tien Graduate Fellowship in Mechanical Engineering, the School of Journalism, Boalt Hall School of Law and its clinical program, Jewish studies and the Library Judaica.

Taube praised Tien for his energy, dedication, commitment and accessibility. Taub said the chancellor finds time to teach classes, cheer Cal at sports events and make unannounced appearances at university libraries, where he gives cookies to students.

Friedman received $1 million for the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services.

"If you are credited with great accomplishments, it is only because you didn't do it alone," Friedman said as she recognized the JFCS staff.

Friedman, the only child of Holocaust survivors, is also vice president of the American Jewish Congress and president-elect of San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel. Characterized by those who know her as a woman who wants to solve the world's problems, she told of finding a note on her chair during a synagogue personnel meeting.

"Dear Anita," the note read. "You are not totally, absolutely and irrevocably responsible for everything. That's my job. Love, God."

Tobin, whom Taube lauded for his cutting-edge research on such subjects as anti-Semitism, synagogue affiliation and Jewish philanthropy, received $100,000.

Tobin, who praised the Koret Foundation as being a "leader in creating change," found symmetry sharing the day's honors with Tien and Friedman. Tobin's son will attend U.C. Berkeley in the fall.

Choked with emotion, Tobin told the crowd — which included Mayor Willie Brown — that he and his wife, now the parents of five, will soon adopt a baby with the help of JFCS.