news-article
Alumni Profile

Tzedakah times two: Alumna gives back in the name of justice

Yoanna (Freedman) Rofeh '11 with her husband, Yeshivah University professor Rabbi Beny Rofeh
Yoanna (Freedman) Rofeh '11 with her husband, Yeshiva University professor Rabbi Beny Rofeh
By Brian Klotz

Every Brandeis graduate who gives back to support their alma mater has a story, a reason for doing so that speaks to their unique experience during their time on campus. For Yoanna (Freedman) Rofeh ’11, it centers on a concept rooted in the founding values of the university and its namesake: justice.

“For me, it comes from the concept of tzedakah,” she says, referring to a Jewish term for charity that is derived from a word that literally means “justice.”

“Giving tzedakah, based on the meaning of its root ‘tzedek,’ is more a matter of justice than a matter of kindness,” Rofeh explains. “Under my belief system, giving to others is a moral imperative.”

By taking advantage of her employer’s matching program, Rofeh has doubled the impact of her gifts to Brandeis and become one of the top donors in her class. Each month, her donation is automatically deducted from her paycheck and matched by KPMG – one of the “Big Four” accounting firms in the United States – where she works as a senior associate in Actuarial and Insurance Risk Advisory.

“Many companies offer a charitable gift matching program of some sort,” she notes. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of digging around on your benefits website or calling Human Resources.”

Rofeh grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan, attending Jewish day school from elementary through high school. She spent a year in Israel prior to matriculating at Brandeis, and once on campus quickly integrated herself into the campus’ vibrant Jewish life. “Coming from that background and living in a Sabbath-observant home, it was important for me to make sure I had space for religious observance and a strong Jewish community,” Rofeh says.

Rofeh became heavily involved in Hillel and the Brandeis Orthodox Organization (BOO), including as a beit midrash coordinator and a senior advisor for Hillel shabbatons, which brought together students from all Jewish denominations.

“It was such a great social scene, especially on Simchat Torah,” Rofeh says. “I always had friends from other schools asking me ‘Can I come over to Brandeis?’ An air mattress was a key furniture piece in my room.”

The communal feeling carried special meaning for many students because, as Rofeh observes, “For a lot of us leaving home, this is the first time you’re part of a community that is truly your own – not your parents’. When you go to synagogue at college, the people leading services are your friends and classmates.”

Beyond Jewish life, Rofeh took advantage of myriad opportunities to engage with the greater Brandeis campus. Naturally ambitious and outgoing, she worked at the Hiatt Career Center, served as a community advisor in residence halls, acted in theater productions and even performed stand-up comedy at Chum’s. “That was fun to do in front of a more forgiving crowd like a group of friends,” Rofeh says. “Although sometimes they’re also more willing to heckle you!”

Rofeh chose economics as a major after taking an introductory course with Professor Mike Coiner. With a mind for quantitative analysis, her interest lies not just in the numbers themselves, but the meaning they carry – something that is reflected in her current role. “That’s a lot of what insurance is,” Rofeh says. “You can tell a story based on what the numbers show.”

It’s not surprising that an alumna with a penchant for economics would see the value in doubling the size of her gifts to her alma mater through her employer’s matching program. By giving back, Rofeh benefits current and future Brandeisians while honoring her own personal religious philosophy.

“I figure since I already have this mitzvah, this commandment to give tzedakah, why not make it as impactful as it can be?” she says. “And why not give back to a place that has given to me? That’s not just an act of kindness, that’s a matter of justice.”

Date: September 17, 2018