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Foundation launched in 1940 by Haas siblings to close

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The Columbia Foundation — whose recent grantees include the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Congregation Emanu-El, the New Israel Fund and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival — announced this week that it will cease operations by the end of 2013 and split into three separate foundations.

Columbia is one of the earliest family foundations in the Bay Area, and the oldest of the extended Haas family foundations. Since its inception in 1940, it has granted approximately $85 million, much of it to the arts and human rights causes.

Madeleine (Haas) Russell and her brother, William Haas, founded Columbia when she was 25 and he 24. William Haas died three years later, leaving Russell to lead the foundation until her death in 1999.

Some of the Columbia Foundation’s first grants in the 1940s were seen as cutting-edge, such as helping provide birth-control education and supplies to migrant women. The foundation also supported the college education of Japanese-American youth from the internment camps during World War II.

According to a spokesperson for the foundation, the foundation is closing because Russell’s three children, who comprise the board of trustees, would rather continue their philanthropy through three separate foundations. The assets will be divided among family foundations headed by Alice Russell-Shapiro, Charles Russell and Christine Russell.

“My sister, brother and I have well-developed philanthropic interests that have complemented one another throughout our 35 years on the board,” Alice Russell-Shapiro said in a press release. “This transition will allow us to focus on each of our interests, and to involve our children, as our mother always hoped. Together with the next generation, our family’s tradition of philanthropy will continue.”

According to a spokesperson, Columbia gave $1 million to San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El in 1999, to endow the Madeleine Haas Russell Institute of Jewish Learning, and $330,000 to the Contemporary Jewish Museum since 2006. Over the years, it gave $1.9 million to Brandeis University, $722,00 to American Friends of Hebrew University and $275,000 to Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, according to the spokesperson. A list of Columbia Foundation grantees can be seen at


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