Philanthropist funds Brandeis peaceful coexistence program

Associated Press
Tuesday, April 2, 2002

WALTHAM - A Wall Street investor and circus enthusiast with an eye for social causes has funded a Brandeis University program tailored to promote peaceful coexistence in regions torn by conflict.

The Alan B. Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence will offer what the college says will be the first-ever master's degree in coexistence.

"What we have in the world today is factionalism. Within countries we have increasing tribalism," Slifka said. "There's nothing more important than young people graduating from institutions like Brandeis with both the skills and understanding of policy and what is needed to create a society that coexists better."

The $5 million Slifka program will replace the existing Brandeis Initiative in Intercommunal Coexistence, which Slifka also funded, and continues the school's grass-roots efforts in Sri Lanka, South Africa, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and other strife-riven areas.

An undergraduate component of the program will be implemented July 1, while the graduate program will take about two years to put into place, said Daniel Terris, who directs the affiliated International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis.

The program's creation comes at a low-point in the Middle East, where Slifka has long been active. On Monday, the sixth suicide bomber in as many days blew himself up at a checkpoint, killing himself and wounding a police officer.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday night that Israel was "at war" branding Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "an enemy of Israel" and blaming him for the bloody suicide bombings.

"Contemporary events in the Middle East suggest that efforts like this are all the more important, even though day to day there is certainly a lot of discouragement at the moment," Terris said.

Slifka's investment management company, Halcyon/Alan B. Slifka Management Company LLC, handles more than $2.5 billion in equity capital, according to a recent profile in the Harvard Business School Bulletin. Before founding the firm, he made his name on Wall Street as a partner with L.F. Rothschild & Co.

Slifka, 72, is also chairman and co-founder of The Abraham Fund, a not-for-profit venture which has donated millions of dollars to schools, summer camps, hospitals and charities that try to bring together Arabs and Israelis.

Political strife isn't Slifka's only area of interest. As a founder of The Big Apple Circus in New York, he has described cooperation in the circus ring as a metaphor for peace.

"The circus takes place in the round, and ... everybody watches in the ring what excellence, what joy, what collaboration is all about," he said. "It's a team that works because they're all individually superb, but also willing to collectively work together."

(The Daily News Tribune 04.02.02)