Robert Aronson, Part I

Interviewed by Charlotte Dubin

July 28, 2005

Max M. Fisher Federation Building

Robert Aronson, Part I
Video 01:00:31


In this oral history interview, Robert Aronson talks about his upbringing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his family. While he didn’t have a very religious upbringing, he talks about being involved with Temple Youth Group, and Habonim and eventually becoming president of Temple Shalom Youth Group.  He speaks about organizing a moratorium during the Vietnam War at his high school.

Aronson mentions that after high school he spent time in Israel with his grandfather and talks about that experience. When he came back to the US, he studied painting and sculpture at Carnegie Mellon University, then transferred to University of Wisconsin to study American Literature but ended up with a BFA in print making from the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was the 1973 Yom Kippur War that inspired him to leave the art world and pursue a career within the Jewish community. He mentions that he eventually got a master’s degree in social work and became campaign director for the Milwaukee Federation.

Aronson talks about his move to New York and his work as a consultant for the Council of Jewish Federations.  Here, he speaks about fund-raising and how he has been able to be successful, along with some achievements that he is proud of.

Aronson talks about his involvement with the Detroit Legacy Fund and describes its function. He talks about moving to Detroit and his first impressions of the city.  He talks about the challenges Federation faced when he got involved.  One of the areas he talks about is the move of the Federation building from downtown to the building in Bloomfield Hills  This leads into a discussion about his relationship with Max Fisher.

Aronson talks about the qualities that make a person a leader and gives his opinions on what makes the Jewish community in Detroit different and special. He touches on the Federation’s relationships with other religious organizations.  He then talks about his thoughts and opinions on Jewish professionalism and his involvement with the Drachler Program at University of Michigan.   He mentions his involvement with Birthright Israel as acting president and advisor. The interview ends with some discussion about his children and the legacy he leaves them.

History of Narrator

Robert Aronson was born on October 9, 1951 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He attended Carnegie Mellon University, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and then the Art Institute of Chicago, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in print-making. The Yom Kippur war in 1973 changed his trajectory as it influenced him to pursue a career in the Jewish community.

Aronson was accepted into the Block Program at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University and received his master’s degree.  He worked at the Milwaukee Federation in various positions, including as executive director. He has also worked as a community consultant for the Council of Jewish Federations.

In 1989, Aronson was named executive vice president (later chief executive office) of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Often described as a visionary fundraiser, Aronson was instrumental in creating the Millennium Campaign to enrich Jewish family experience with a focus on renovation and renewal of the Jewish Community Center campus. Other major achievements include moving Federation’s offices from downtown Detroit to Bloomfield Hills, upgrading communal services to older adults, overseeing the largest mission to Israel undertaken by a Jewish community, and strengthening Detroit’s ties to Israel through Federation’s participation with its Partnership 2000 region of Central Galilee.

In 2009, Aronson transitioned to a senior fundraising adviser at Federation, a position he held until leaving in 2019.


Important Subjects

  • Birthright Israel
  • Council of Jewish Federations
  • Detroit Legacy Fund
  • Drachler Program
  • Israel
  • Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
  • Millennium Campaign
  • Milwaukee Jewish Federation
  • Professional Leaders Project

Important Names

  • Bill Davidson
  • David Hermelin
  • Max Fisher
  • Sol Drachler

Credit as: Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives. Robert Aronson Oral History Interview, July 28, 2005.