July 13, 2021
When Abraham Epstein left his native Russia in 1906 for the United States, he spoke not a word of English and, yet, still managed to travel across the Atlantic Ocean by himself and eventually make his way to Chicago. Shortly after his arrival, he was accepted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1907 to study engineering, bringing along his trusty English-to-Russian dictionary to help him communicate with his peers and professors.
Although Abraham was a gifted student, finishing first in his class at Odessa’s prestigious Richelieu Gymnasia, and he absolutely loved being at UIUC, he was still disconnected from the shared “American” experiences and references of his classmates and looking for an on-campus community to call his own. He found such a place with the recently-formed Cosmopolitan Club, a group whose purpose was to, “cultivate social and intellectual relationships between persons of different nationalities though a variety of activities and services.”
In 1908, Abraham applied and was accepted to become a member as well as a resident of the Cosmopolitan Club’s on-campus house, located at 207 E. John Street, where foreigners and Americans could “share experiences and exchange ideas” about the school and life in general.
As an enthusiastic member of the Cosmopolitan Club, Abraham made a number of lifelong friends and was able to share his unique Russian experience to other members and UIUC students through special ethnic dinners, club parties and events as well as weekly open house coffee hours.
Abraham’s experience at the Cosmopolitan Club led to a lifetime of appreciation of different cultures and experiences, a character trait that was passed down to his sons, Raymond and Sidney, who were both active philanthropists and world travelers. Today, Abraham’s love and respect for understanding different cultures and perspectives can be seen in Epstein’s in-house charitable organization, the Epstein Community Foundation, as well as the employee-run Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative, a program that aims to “Build a culture which fosters inclusive behavior and diverse perspectives through education and awareness.” A program that very much sounds like the noble goals set forth by the Cosmopolitan Club.