"Upon three things the world stands: On Torah, on (Divine) Service, and on Deeds of Lovingkindness." — Pirke Avot 1:2
Maurice Kornberg's life story reflected his personal commitment to all three of these tenets of the Jewish faith. The South Philadelphia native was a first-generation American, born to parents who left Eastern Europe to provide a better life for their children in a nation that would allow them to openly express their Judaism. The quiet, scholarly youth seized the many educational opportunities available to him and became the first in his family to attend college.
Kornberg put himself through dental school at Temple University, balancing classes and study sessions between jobs at the old Sun Shipyard and Philadelphia Transportation Company. He graduated in 1921, and dedicated himself to providing quality dental care to the men, women and children of his adopted homeland.
The doctor was in practice during the 1920s, '30s and '40s at a time when fillings cost just $2 a piece and dental insurance was not yet available to the average family. To serve those who could not otherwise afford to pay for dentistry, Kornberg volunteered to run the dental clinic at the former Mount Sinai Hospital at Fifth and Reed streets in Philadelphia. His only daughter, Madlyn Abramson, has vivid childhood memories of waiting for him to finish his work there.
"It was very important to my father to do something that was helping and healing," she said, adding that Kornberg also maintained practices in Center City and in South Philadelphia. She learned firsthand about the importance of honesty, independence, education and support of the State of Israel.
Her father's influence led to her decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her undergraduate and master's degrees in education to become a public-school teacher. Today, she is now emerita trustee of the university.
Unfortunately, Kornberg died young, at the age of 60, before getting to know his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
To honor his memory, Madlyn Abramson and her husband, Leonard, have given a landmark gift of $10 million to Kornberg's alma mater to support student scholarships.
"Leonard knew my father well, and both loved and respected him," said Madlyn Abramson, adding "My husband intended this gift as a wonderful present to me to honor the memory of this very special man."
The Abramsons derive great pleasure in knowing that all future dental-school graduates will be connected to a man who embodied the highest ideals of dentistry.
In recognition of this — the largest gift in the school's history — Temple's School of Dentistry has been named the Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry. This gesture is not only generous, but also historic; it marks the first time that an American dental school has been named in recognition of a philanthropic gift.
"It was a great accomplishment for my father to get through school; that's why we really wanted the money to go to scholarships for students in need," explained Madlyn Abramson. She believes that her father, who she describes as both generous and modest, would be proud — and probably incredulous — to see this school named in his honor.
Temple University president Ann Weaver Hart said: "We are extremely thankful for the Abramsons' incredible gift," adding that "it will make a big difference in the lives of future dental students."
Hart added that "the School of Dentistry fills a critical need in Philadelphia and the region, supplying highly qualified dentists throughout the Philadelphia region and providing dental care to our North Philadelphia community."
At the Root of Many Programs
Founded in 1863 as the Philadelphia Dental College, Temple's School of Dentistry is the second-oldest dental school in continuous operation in the United States. Its Hospital for Oral Surgery — the first hospital in the country devoted exclusively to oral and maxillofacial surgery — opened in 1878. The school became affiliated with Temple in 1907, and moved its location to the Health Sciences Center on North Broad Street in 1947.
The Temple gift is the latest act of philanthropy from the Abramson family to many worthy institutions. Through the Abramson Family Foundation, which is dedicated to health care, education, human services and the arts, Leonard and Madlyn Abramson have generously supported numerous organizations, including the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as other internationally renowned research centers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and at Johns Hopkins University.
The foundation is at the forefront of numerous programs benefiting Israel and the Jewish community. For example, it helped to found and remains one of the key philanthropic partners of Taglit-Birthright Israel, a unique partnership between the people of Israel through their government, local Jewish communities (North American Jewish Federations through the United Jewish Communities, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel), and the Birthright Israel Foundation. Taglit-Birthright Israel offers Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26 the opportunity to travel to Israel with their peers for a free, 10-day trip designed specifically for first-time visitors.
Locally, the foundation supports the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Horsham, which encompasses an assisted-living facility, a residence for older adults requiring skilled nursing care and a gerontological research center. The center's name recognizes a lead gift of $7 million by the Abramson Family Foundation, and Madlyn and Leonard Abramson.
The Abramson Family Foundation is now directed by daughter Judith Abramson Felgoise, a Temple alumna. Daughters Marcy Abramson Shoemaker, also an alumna, and Nancy Abramson Wolfson serve as trustees for the foundation. "My sisters and I are proud to carry on our late grandfather's dedication to his profession by providing scholarship assistance to those who wish to follow in his footsteps," said Felgoise.
Martin Tansy, dean of the dental school, noted that "our most recent graduating class left Temple with an average debt of more than $164,000 per student," adding that "the Abramson's gift will ease the burden that many of these promising students face."
"The gift," he concluded, "will benefit students for years to come and will enable us to become the dental school of tomorrow today. We are most appreciative of the Abramsons' generosity."