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Raya Cowan and May Mann may never have met, but the decisions they made during their lives are helping change the face of the Negev Desert after their deaths.
Bequests from both of these women will fund two important projects in Be'er Sheva - the capital of the Negev - and contribute to the revitalization of the city.
The inspiration for a $1 million bequest from Holocaust survivor Raya Cowan, a NY-area resident, started with her attorney Robert B. Levine, JNF's vice president of education.
Levine met Raya a few years ago to draft her will and showed her pictures of JNF projects. "She was very impressed," he said, "and made an initial gift of $10,000. She then had her last will and testament prepared to include major gifts to Israel-related charities such as JNF." Always concerned about anti-Semitism, Raya was a strong supporter of Israel as a refuge for Jews in need.
A Holocaust survivor who hid in tunnels in Vienna to escape capture by the Nazis, Raya came to the U.S. at the end of the war where she married William Cowan in 1946. Willie had arrived in the U.S. in 1934, and during the Holocaust, devoted himself to saving 400 Jewish lives. He opened The Babka Bakery using a special recipe he brought from Russia, and thanks to a few successful locations on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the Cowans were able to live comfortably and pass their wealth on to several charities.
Recognizing that the largest charitable gift she had made in her lifetime was to JNF, the executors of Raya's estate decided to follow her example. Upon her death, JNF CEO Russell Robinson and Levine met with co-executors Abraham Rubin and Jerome Weisberger. They agreed to earmark $500,000 from the estate for an endowment fund to support JNF's Israel Advocacy and Education Department and $500,000 toward the building of a pedestrian bridge at Nahal Be'er Sheva, part of a major JNF effort to improve the quality of life in this historic Negev city.
May Mann, a longtime Phoenix resident, recently bequeathed $1.3 million to JNF. The money will go towards two projects in Israel that will bear her name and that of her late husband Howard.
Approximately $1 million will go towards establishing a visitor's center at Abraham's Well, a historic site in the city of Be'er Sheva. The remaining $300,000 will go towards a dormitory, library or auditorium at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, a center for environmental leadership located on Kibbutz Ketura in the Southern Arava Valley.
Attorney and former JNF board member David Frazer represented May and was responsible for selecting the JNF projects and directing the funds. "I thought Abraham's Well would be a wonderful tribute to May and Howard," said Frazer. "May was a sweet and capable person. She liked people and was very outgoing." The visitor's center will include a museum and audiovisual presentation of the story of Abraham's relationship to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Thanks to May Mann and Raya Cowan, Be'er Sheva will continue to flourish. The growth of the city is key if the Negev is to thrive and become home for generations to come. Doubling the size of Be'er Sheva and revitalizing its tourism and recreational sites will drive dramatic change to the region, making a real difference to Israel and her residents.