Couple Makes Record-Breaking Gift to Fund UT Scholars in Israel Program


Category: Giving

Steve Frankel and Dan Ricketts

A love of travel and a personal interest in the Holocaust spurred Dan Ricketts (’85, ’92) and his husband, Steve Frankel, to create the Frankel–Ricketts Scholars in Israel Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Their contribution will be the largest single donation ever made to the university’s Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies. The endowment they created will be supported with annual gifts, and eventually a bequest, that will give students from all backgrounds the opportunity to immerse themselves in Israel’s rich and diverse culture.

Specific areas of support include travel scholarships for students to visit or study in Israel, undergraduate scholarships, and funding for visiting lecturers or faculty from Israel and departmental faculty awards.

“Israel is an amazing country to visit,” said Helene Sinnreich, director of the Judaic Studies program. “Seeing how it touches your life can change the way you see the world.”

Beginning in 2024 with a class of 15 students, the new program will support spring break trips to Israel led by Sinnreich and Erin Darby, UT’s inaugural faculty director for undergraduate research and fellowships.

Program scholarships will cover most of the students’ trip, during which participants will reside at Hebrew University. Highlights of the trip will include a visit to a Bedouin camp, visits to Kibbutzim (the communities instrumental in establishing Jewish settlements in Israel), and visits to UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Crusader tunnels at Akko.

Sinnreich has been to Israel many times, including a 2019 trip with UT System President Randy Boyd and other UT faculty members and deans. Ricketts accompanied the group to learn more about the university’s desire to forge academic collaborations in Israel, an experience that led in part to the birth of this new namesake program.

“It’s really important for people to travel outside of Tennessee, outside of the United States,” Ricketts said. “It really changes your perspective on the US and the world.”

Associate Vice Chancellor Marc Gibson, UT System President Randy Boyd and Dan Ricketts go for a job in Israel
Associate Vice Chancellor Marc Gibson, UT System President
Randy Boyd, and Dan Ricketts go for a jog in Israel

Everyone we meet has a story to tell and the more diverse those stories are, the more enriched we are.

– Dan Ricketts (’85, ’92)

Born and raised in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Ricketts did not travel outside of the country until after studying business, and later law, at UT. The interior design company he founded, DJR Design Group, serves the likes of Hollywood stars to wealthy businesspeople all around the world. He now revels in exploring new places and diverse cultures.

Frankel is a highly successful realtor specializing in luxury properties in Beverly Hills, California. He has sold more than $2 billion of residential property during his 25-year career and consistently ranks in the top 1 percent of real estate agents in the world.

Frankel’s parents, Rina Barth Frankel and the late Samuel M. Frankel, were Holocaust survivors.

“As young people, my parents endured unspeakable horrors and incredible personal loss,” said Frankel. “From an early age, my sisters, brother, and I were inspired by their resilience and understood our obligation to honor the memory of those murdered during the Holocaust.”

Ricketts and Frankel look for programs to support based on causes they care about deeply. This new Israeli travel program combines two of their passions, travel and Holocaust remembrance.

The couple wants students to learn about Israel’s religious and historical importance, as well as the thriving modern-day Israel. But even more than that, they hope students understand how travel can lessen prejudice and hatred and enhance understanding and tolerance.

“If you’ve been to a place, it gives you a whole different perspective,” said Ricketts. “Everyone we meet has a story to tell and the more diverse those stories are, the more enriched we are.”