Another huge gift in Palo Alto &mdash $10 million for JCC

It was a better than average week for Steve Bauman.

For one, his son got married. But before the week ended, Bauman received a $10 million donation to the planned Palo Alto JCC.

Bauman, president of the yet-to-be-built JCC, received word of the gift from the family of Atherton’s Ken and Barbara Oshman.

The Oshman family has made frequent large-scale donations to Jewish and community endeavors before — but never this large, and never so publicly.

“To give a gift like this, $10 million, is unbelievable for one family to give. It’s extraordinary and it reflects their belief that what we’re building here is that important,” said a floored Bauman.

The new facility will now be known as the “Oshman Family Jewish Community Center on the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life.” In addition to the JCC, the campus will house a Jewish Home and a number of other Jewish organizations.

So far the campus project has garnered two of the largest — if not the largest — gifts that have ever been donated to a Jewish institution in the Bay Area.

While long in the works, the Oshman family gift comes on the heels of a combined $15 million grant from Tad Taube and the Koret Foundation.

The Oshmans are frequent donors to the Jewish Community Federation, Congregation Beth Am and the JCC as well as the San Jose Museum of Art and the San Francisco 49ers Academy, a middle school for at-risk students in East Palo Alto. This time they opted, quite literally, to put their name on this donation in the hopes of shaking the tree to unloose several more big donors.

“We’re trying to raise a lot of money and we want people to know there’s momentum behind this,” said Ken Oshman, the CEO of Eschelon Corporation, a networking company.

“We’re eager to see a wonderful JCC in Palo Alto for the Peninsula area and have been supporters of the JCC forever. We think it’s a great resource for the community.”

The Oshmans pledged to lend a considerable financial hand back in the 1990s, when renovations were needed for the Albert L. Schultz JCC at its site on the former Terman school campus. When that lease was lost, the couple said it would make a donation toward a new home. That home turned out to be part of the Campus for Jewish Life, a massive project with a budget exceeding $200 million. After years of finalizations, the gift — which was also made in the name of the Oshman’s sons, David and Peter, and daughters-in-law, Joanna and Stephanie — was announced this week.

“This is one of the larger gifts ever given to a Jewish organization, and not from the usual cast of characters, the Goldman Fund or Koret,” said Carol Saal, the campus’ fund-raising chair and vice president.

“It’s a real tribute.”

But for Barbara Oshman, a retired middle-school teacher who still bears a trace of a Texas accent, it was an easy call to make.

“Palo Alto has a large Jewish population and has really never had a first-rate Jewish Community Center facility, and this is our chance now. I think the population here really deserves a metropolitan-style, fabulous JCC.

“The JCC serves such a wide community, both age-wise and demographic-wise,” she said. “There are wonderful programs there from the preschool to young kids to teenagers as well as adults and Soviet émigrés.”

The JCC isn’t just a resource for the Jewish community, she added. The cardiovascular program aimed at heart-attack survivors is excellent, and she’d like to see it continue.

Ken Oshman has high hopes for the JCC that will bear his family’s name.

“I just hope it will be a wonderful facility for people to be able to express and experience their Jewish identities without having to be overly religious about it,” he said.

“Most major metropolitan areas greatly benefit from their JCCs. And we just don’t have such a thing here and we feel like we need it.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.