September 18, 2019

Philanthropist Ruth Ziegler dies at 98

Screenshot from Facebook

Ruth Ziegler, for decades a leading philanthropist supporting Jewish institutions in the United States and Israel, died of natural causes on Feb. 4 at Saint John’s hospital in Santa Monica. She was 98.

A public service honoring her lifetime achievements was scheduled for Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. at the Mount Sinai Memorial Cemetery Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, followed by a private interment. On the same day at 5 p.m., American Jewish University (AJU) at 15600 Mulholland Drive was set to host a minyan service.

Ziegler grew up in St, Joseph, Mo., the only child of a Reform rabbi, but in her late teens she moved to Los Angeles, initially intent on an acting career and joining the Pasadena Playhouse. She subsequently enrolled and graduated from USC, where she met Allen Ziegler, then a USC law student.

After Allen’s Navy service during World War II, he and Ruth married. He became head of Westco Products baking supplies and set the family standard for open-handed philanthropy, continued and extended by his wife after his death.

Among the Zieglers notable beneficiaries are the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU, Sinai Temple, City of Hope, Venice Family Clinic, Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Center for Jewish Education at the University of Haifa in Israel. As word of Ruth Ziegler’s death spread, tributes to her personality and generosity arrived at the Jewish Journal.

Excerpts from some of the tributes include one by AJU President Robert Wexler. He recalled that in the mid-1990s, when trying to establish the university’s School of Rabbinic Studies, Ziegler called him on her own initiative and asked how much money would be needed to transform the vision into reality.

Wexler did some quick calculations and came up with a $19 million figure. A few days later, Ziegler called again to say that she didn’t have that sum on hand, but asked Wexler if he would agree to $22 million, spread over a 10-year period. The AJU president agreed. Sinai Temple Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe, currently traveling in Asia, sent an email, which read in part: “Yankee Stadium used to be called ‘The House that Ruth Built.’ Sinai Temple could be called the same — the house that Ruth built. She and Allen gave an immeasurable amount to our community. …  Ruth Ziegler loved dogs, the writer Brian Morton, the actress Frances McDormand, the theater, social justice, Judaism, her family and friends. She hated self-righteousness, unkindness and hypocrisy. … She gave so much to so many; she was
indeed a great lady with a great heart. May her memory be a blessing.”

Friends wishing to honor her memory through a donation to Sinai Temple
are asked to email

Spokesman Timothy Smith noted that “Ruth Ziegler was a central figure in the history of the Venice Family Clinic [VFC]. For more than 30 years, she expressed her love of helping people by saying ‘yes’ to nearly every request VFC made of her.

“This included funding for the clinic’s pediatric services, support for its Common Ground program for people living with HIV, and the Ruth Ziegler and Jack Skirball Dental Clinic, which has provided the first affordable dental service for many local families.”

Bailey London, the Allen & Ruth Ziegler Executive Director of the USC Hillel Foundation, wrote that “Ruth Ziegler’s impact on Jewish campus life … has touched thousands of students’ lives and will do so for generations to come.

“Her investment in the strengthening of our organization has resulted in the growth and flourishing community for Jewish students on our campus. Mrs. Ziegler stands as a model for community engagement and leaves a lasting impact on our Jewish Trojan community.