Supporting Her Alma Mater
and Her Heritage
“I just loved school and particularly loved Columbia. Now I want to reciprocate.”
Jacqueline Rosay’s story is a tale of languages. Her amazing ability to be fluent in six different tongues helped her: avoid the Nazis as a young girl by living in Switzerland; emigrate from France to the United States at the age of 12 knowing no English; earn a master’s degree in French and Romance Philology from Columbia University and, from Columbia’s Teachers College, a masters in applied linguistics and TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language); and teach languages at the college level for more than 30 years. Now retired for two decades at 81 years of age, she is giving back to Columbia through a meaningful gift of retirement funds.
Escaping danger in 1940s France
Jackie was born in Paris in 1938, just as Hitler was beginning his attempted world conquest. French and Yiddish were spoken in her Jewish home, and she quickly became fluent in both. By 1943, with France under Nazi control, her family had been in hiding for two years. Her parents knew they had to flee and on the second attempt, the family crossed the border into Switzerland. Her father Ezekiel got work in a hat factory, but 4-year-old Jackie and her mother Tyla were placed in a refugee camp where she picked up Italian. Jackie was to be moved to a children’s camp when she turned 5, but her mother convinced the Red Cross to find her a family placement instead—and Jackie went to live with a French-speaking Swiss couple whose adult children were out of the home. She learned German while in school in Switzerland, though her new “mom and dad” would not allow German to be spoken in their house. It would be more than three years before Jackie was reunited with her parents back in France after the war ended—after spending three months in an orphanage when she accidentally got caught up in a crowd of parentless kids when the train she was riding from Switzerland arrived in Paris.
After several years in war-devastated France, her parents were determined to move to the United States—where her uncles sponsored them to come to New York. Jackie was 12 and knew not a word of English, though at this point she spoke four other languages. Many of her junior high classmates in Brooklyn spoke Yiddish, and they helped her learn English quickly.
“They put me in charge of the French teacher, and he improved his French as much as I did my English,” Jackie observes.
The cousin with whom they were living saw how bright Jackie was and urged her parents to send her to a top high school, and they selected Forest Hills High School in Queens. There she began learning Spanish—her sixth language. She continued studying Spanish—along with literature and political science—at Queens College and then spent a year at the University of Mexico City to become fluent.
A love of learning and language leads to a career
Back in New York, she had several jobs where she could use her language skills—including translator and airlines reservation agent.
“I wanted to be a doctor, but my mother put the brakes on that idea, giving me three reasons: I was female, I was Jewish, and we didn’t have any money for my education,” Jackie recalls. “With the discrimination back then my options were kind of limited.”
She was determined to go back to school to find her career and was attracted to Columbia’s stellar reputation.
“I just loved school and particularly loved Columbia, and I kept going because of all the scholarships,” Jackie says. “One scholarship required me to teach a French class. It was for adults who were going to school after work. I had a wonderful time, and I decided I wanted to be a teacher.”
With two Columbia masters degrees, she taught at several colleges and then took a job at Westchester Community College where she spent 31 years teaching French, Spanish, and English as a Second Language, quickly rising to Chair of the Modern Languages Department.
Reciprocating through retirement
“When I was admitted to grad school at Columbia, I had no money; I borrowed from my parents to pay for my first semester,” recalls “Jackie.” “Thereafter, the University gave me scholarships. Because of those scholarships, I was able to get two master’s degrees and finish all the coursework for a doctorate with superb courses and instruction. Now I want to reciprocate.”
Her future gift to Columbia will provide general support to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as to the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She chose to fund the gift from her retirement account because that is her most significant asset. In addition, individuals receiving retirement funds have to pay income tax on them, while charities do not.
She still lives in Westchester County, occasionally drives to campus for Columbia alumni events, and has fond memories of the University and even of her somewhat chaotic childhood.
“I was a smart cookie as a child and very resilient,” Jackie says. “I decided at a young age that I had better adapt to the situation, whatever it was. That and my education have served me very, very well.”
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