Sylvia Hassenfeld

Sylvia Hassenfeld led the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) through the humanitarian crisis of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the massive airlift of Ethiopian Jews. Hassenfeld’s charitable work began with her marriage to Merrill Hassenfeld and her work as a board member for his family business, the toy company Hasbro. Along with the company’s policy of not creating play guns or other violent toys, Hasbro donates toys to hospitals and shelters, and supports direct service programs for children. Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence is also a leading center for treating childhood illnesses. Outside of her work with Hasbro, Hassenfeld served as vice chairman of United Jewish Appeal, a board member for the Jewish Agency for Israel and chair of its Rural Settlement Committee, and a board member of the Council of Jewish Federations, among many others. She was the first female president of the JDC from 1988–1992, overseeing the development of social service, religious, educational, and health programs throughout the Former Soviet Union. She also mobilized resources necessary to airlift Ethiopian Jews on transports to Israel. President Clinton appointed her to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. She continued her social justice work through various foundations and nonprofits.  She died in New York City on August 16, 2014.


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Sylvia Hassenfeld.

Courtesy of Brandeis University.

Date of Birth
Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Sylvia Hassenfeld." (Viewed on January 19, 2021) <>.


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