There’s just something appealing about an organization called “Righteous Persons Foundation,” don’t you think? Created in 1995 by director Steven Spielberg with his share of the profits from 1993’s Schindler’s List, RPF is a private nonprofit that funds programs dedicated to battling antipathy, bridging the divides between people of different backgrounds, and inspiring social activism.
Rachel Levin is RPF’s executive director. “When Steven made the film, it was clear he wanted the funds to go back into the community and build on the lessons of the movie,” Levin says. “Standing up against injustice. Being vigilant and fighting against bigotry and hatred. And even though it was founded 23 years ago, there’s still so much to be done.”
Levin considers it fate that she was in the right place at the right time (not to mention equipped with the background) to embark on this path, but you might say she was born for it. “My father is a rabbi, and the founding director of RPF knew that; having a father who cares deeply about Jewish life and who had fought for the rights of workers, immigrants, and others deeply influenced me. That’s the household I grew up in,” she explains. “I care about the world, and Steven and the foundation care about all those things, too.”
At the core of RPF is the promotion of relationships developed across lines of difference, and one of its ongoing grantees is Facing History and Ourselves, which gets funding to help teachers address hate speech, stereotyping, and questions about group identity in their classrooms. “FHAO gives me great hope for the future. It’s been around for several decades and is devoted to helping teachers teach history and to the notion of being an upstander, not just a bystander.”
True to that mission, FHAO updated its Schindler’s List study guide for the film’s 25th anniversary rerelease on December 7, working in partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation—which furthers the remembrance of the Shoah, or WWII Holocaust.
“Our partners will help ensure the film can spark conversations in schools and communities,” Levin adds.
Spielberg, of course, understands the power of media and storytelling in bringing people together. “RPF helped Sesame Workshop develop Israeli and Palestinian versions of Sesame Street,” Levin says.
The name “Righteous Persons” is from the Bible and based “on the notion that it’s so important to honor justice and people such as Oskar Schindler,” Levin says. “Over the years we’ve been lucky to find and invest in really incredible people who are doing righteous work in this world. Our focus these days includes continuing the work of humanizing ‘the other’—which, unfortunately, has taken on even more significance—and amplifying the moral voices of the day.” RPF funds the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which is a relaunch of Martin Luther King Jr.’s push for economic justice.
“We’re proud that we are still doing this work,” Levin says. “The work of social change is long. It’s not quick. And I strongly believe that philanthropy is a critical engine for social change. It’s a part of the ecosystem that connects grassroots activists to all the other moving parts. It also has a unique role as a place to test new ideas and try things out that can build for the greater good. I’m incredibly proud of the organizations we are supporting. They are what keep us going.”