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Jane Morningstar

Community Leader, Philanthropist
1919 – 2008
by Betty Morningstar

Jane Nathanson Morningstar was born in Boston in 1919 to Ida (Alpert) and Edward Nathanson. From her parents she learned the importance of community, of education, and of Jewish identity and continuity. As she took their legacy and put her own stamp on it, she instilled those values and passions in her family by her steadfast example. Her late husband, Otto Morningstar, joined her and supported her in her community activities, but Jane always took the lead. Her vision and dedication were absolutely clear and unwavering.

Jane's warm and welcoming personality made her the consummate host. Whether delivering a speech, running a meeting, leading the local high school PTA, or schmoozing with visitors on a weekend at one of her summer retreats, she made people feel comfortable. Her openness to new people and to new ideas brought her into diverse communities. She and her family hosted exchange students, welcomed extended family members into their home for extended stays, integrated her daughters-in-law into the family, and heartily accepted the spouses of her grandchildren. Her newest daughter-in-law is the wife of her daughter, Betty, whose wedding she joyfully attended four years ago when same-sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts. Duly noting the excitement in the temple about its first ever same-sex wedding, Jane stated that, "if it weren't for walking with a cane, I would march in the Gay Pride parade!"

Over the course of her long, active, and deeply committed lifetime, Jane Morningstar was a pioneer in women's philanthropy and a pillar of the Jewish community in the greater Boston area. Generous of spirit and resources, intelligent, independent, and quietly elegant are among the adjectives heard over and over again in describing Jane. As a community leader, she displayed her caring and conviction about the Jewish community with wisdom, timing, humor, and a firm but gentle hand.

Whether the audience was her family or her "public," Jane delivered her insights and opinions eloquently. Her son Dick recalls that his mother could be less than subtle. Her involvement in his college application process earned her the title of "Pressure Cooker." Much to Jane's delight, her influence may have helped push him into achieving in academia and becoming an adjunct professor at Harvard's Kennedy School and a part-time faculty member at Stanford Law School. To her, his proudest achievement was his role as ambassador to the EU in the Clinton administration.

A bright and assertive child, Jane knew the value of education at a very early age. She told us that when she was four years old she decided she wanted to attend first grade in the local elementary school (there was no kindergarten or pre-k at the time). Accordingly, she walked herself to the school and went to the office of the principal – she was able to read the signs at this tender age. When asked why she was there, she told the principal that she wanted to register for school. When Jane revealed her age, however, the principal, unabashed, advised her to return in two years with a parent. Her passion for learning and for education at all levels propelled her to make them a central part of her life, both as a student, a mother, and a supporter of women's education over her lifetime.

A 1940 graduate of Smith College, Jane was an active member of the Alumnae Association and of the Smith College Clubs of Boston and Boca Raton, Fla. Her daughter, Betty, followed in her footsteps, graduating from Smith in 1974 and earning an MSW (1977) and Ph.D (1989).

One of Jane's great legacies, embodying her devotion to education and Judaism, was her endowment of a chair in the Jewish Studies department at Smith. She also endowed a chair in Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel in memory of her late husband, Otto Morningstar. Just prior to Otto's death, the couple created a professorship in Physics at MIT, his alma mater.

Jane's interest and commitment to the Jewish tradition began at home, though interestingly, her first "organized" religious experience took place in a Catholic church with her baby-sitter at the age of three. She related that when the baby-sitter got up to stand in the line for confession, Jane joined her and then made her own way to the confessional. The priest explained to her that little children were not expected to go to confession and she should go home and play!

Indeed, her most personal connection to a Jewish institution was to Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, Massachusetts. She followed in her mother's footsteps to become President of the Sisterhood. (She was later named Vice President of the synagogue and declined an invitation to become President). It was also through Jane's mother's involvement at Temple Ohabei Shalom that Jane met her husband of 59 years, Otto Morningstar. She and Otto were legendary in their temple community, as leaders, visionaries, and supporters. Jane often recalled her experiences as a member of the Temple Choir. A testament to her cheerful self-awareness, she would tell us about the Cantor's suggestion that she mouth the words when she had trouble hitting the high notes.

Jane's involvement with Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) began early in her adult life. She served on the Board of Directors of the organization, chaired the Women's Division, and sat on several committees. In the early days when she was the only woman on a committee, one of the male members remarked that she was the only committee member to which all of the others deferred. She argued forcefully that the Boston women's community should follow other cities in encouraging women to make large donations to CJP, independent of those that were made with their husbands. Despite the pessimism of local leaders, she led the way to creating a branch of the Lions of Judah in the Boston area that now has over 230 members, and which has raised over $2 million for the community.

Indeed, her counsel was often sought by leadership at CJP, as well as Jewish Family and Children's Service. Among other roles at JFCS, Jane was chair of the Women's Division and worked on numerous projects. She was as competent at running a meeting as she was helping newly arrived Russian Jews to find housing in the Boston area.

Jane Morningstar will be missed in the Jewish communities of Boston and Boca Raton. She remained active in these communities until her death in May, 2008. She died much as she lived – quietly, with dignity, and surrounded by her family.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember - Jane Morningstar, 1919 - 2008." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/morningstar-jane>.