Foundations Target Jewish Education
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Foundations Target Jewish Education

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At a time when day schools are having trouble making ends meet, a small but growing number of private foundations are underwriting a range of expenses.

The grants fund everything from building repair in one case to innovative programming in several others.

What follows is a list of the key foundations active in funding Jewish day schools and other forms of Jewish education.

Avi Chai Foundation: Founded in 1984 by investment banker Sanford “Zalman” Bernstein, who in 1992 moved to Israel and remains the foundation’s executive committee chairman. The Manhattan-based foundation has an endowment of $60 million and spends over $3 million a year on Jewish day schools.

Its key current projects include:

A $10,000 grant for up to five consecutive years to new Jewish high schools that open to enhance their marketing and recruitment efforts.

Preparatory tracks for 275 youth without day school backgrounds who attend 54 Jewish high schools across the country. The foundation provides a $2,500 per student grant, up to $20,000 per school per year.

A Jewish educational leadership development course that trains teachers and assistant principals to become principals. The course consists of one academic year of courses in an individual’s hometown and two summers at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Davidson School of Education.

Funding for 10 day-school educators to attend Harvard University’s Principals’ Institute.

Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education: Founded in 1990 and funded primarily by Morton Mandel, a Cleveland philanthropist. CIJE spends about $2 million a year working with day schools, supplementary schools and Jewish community centers on professional and program development.

Other major contributors to the council include Lester Pollack and the Bronfman family. Mandel earned his money, in partnership with his two brothers, distributing electronic parts.

The council’s projects include:

A Teacher-Educator Institute, involving 60 people in a professional development network that meets for retreats a dozen times over two years and gets them involved with mentoring.

A seminar that brings together top Jewish academics in the field of education twice a year, and sets some up as consultants to Jewish schools.

An Evaluators’ Institute that, starting this year, will train lay people from six communities to be able to evaluate the Jewish educational programs in their towns in a sophisticated way.

Best Practices Project — a central endeavor for several years, the project is intended to identify the best work being done in three communities. The project is currently on hold, according to CIJE officials, as it reassesses its priorities.

Covenant Foundation: Founded in 1990 by two third- generation members of the Crown family, cousins Susan Crown and Barbara Manilow, Covenant grants about $800,000 each year to programs in Jewish education that are innovative, creative and can be replicated in different Jewish communities.

The family’s wealth was earned by patriarch Henry Crown, initially by his building supply company, founded in 1919, which paved the streets of Chicago.

Its recent awards include:

$63,000 given in 1996 to the New York-based Association of Institutions of Higher Learning for Jewish Education to fund a professional development seminar for mid-career educators.

Nearly $200,000 granted to Me’ah On-Line, Boston Hebrew College’s highly successful adult education program.

The Theater Company of Jerusalem was awarded $90,000 for the expansion of its contemporary dramatic interpretations of Midrash.

The Kesher program, in Cambridge, Mass., was awarded $150,000 over two years for the development of a model four-year curriculum. Kesher is a Hebrew- intensive, independent daily supplementary program for public school students of all ages.

Covenant each year awards three individuals $20,000 prizes. This year Covenant Award winners are: Rabbi Yaacov Bender, who mainstreams handicapped children into his yeshiva in Queens, N.Y.; Michael Brooks, director of the University of Michigan’s Hillel for his outreach efforts; and Henny Lewin, a Holocaust survivor and Jewish educator.

Covenant’s 1997 grants will be announced in December.

Nathan Cummings Foundation: Based in Manhattan and established in 1949 by Nathan Cummings, who left most of his $200 million estate to the foundation when he died in 1985. Cummings earned his money acquiring and building wholesale grocery companies, eventually founding the conglomerate named the Sara Lee Corporation.

The foundation funds four key areas: the arts, environmental causes, health issues and Jewish life.

The Jewish life section, devoted to “nourishing Jewish spirituality, education and social justice,” granted a total of about $2.5 million in 1996. Its formal Jewish education grantees included:

Experiment in Congregational Education, a program of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institution of Religion, which received $180,000 over three years.

The Reform movement’s congregational arm, which received another $50,000 to replicate the Experiment’s project in synagogues nationwide.

The Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education, which was awarded $150,000 in 1996 for master teacher training.

The Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, in Rockville, Md., which received $40,000 for social justice instruction for Jewish high school students.

Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Life Monument Fund: Based in Manhattan, the foundation was established in 1989 with more than $100 million. The Grusses earned their money in a Wall Street investment firm focused on oil and gas exploration and arbitrage. The foundation:

Contributes $1.5 million per year to the Fund for Jewish Education, a joint venture with UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, which contributes $3 million per year.

The Fund reimburses medical expenses, life insurance and pension benefits for some 6,000 day school and high school teachers and administrators in the New York federation area.

Provides 1,400 scholarships a year to students in New York-area day schools. Each receives between $1,000 and $2,000.

Gives away $750,000 a year to schools to fund their renovation.

Provides interest-free loans to several dozen schools, enabling them to borrow up to $500,000 for capital expenses.

Jewish Life Network: Founded in 1996 by Wall Street hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt, the Manhattan-based foundation is spending about $5 million a year on non-capital philanthropy.

After earning $25 million a year in commissions, avowed atheist Steinhardt retired from managing investments in 1995 to create new ways in which Jews can connect with their identity.

Its primary projects have been:

A young professionals’ social and cultural center. The center, now under construction on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, will primarily target unaffiliated Jews ages 22 to 35.

Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. Launched by Steinhardt, who originally envisioned offering matching grants to 50 new day schools within five years, the quasi-independent project has now moved to Boston and is seeking other philanthropic partners to help create an as-yet undetermined number of new schools.

An effort to create a retreat center within commuting distance of New York City to provide adult, family and youth education has been unsuccessful and at the moment, shelved.

The underwriting of a proposal for a Jewish secular high school in New York, but the network decided not to fund its creation.

Righteous Persons Foundation: Funded by Steven Spielberg, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based foundation was founded in 1994 with the estimated $40-50 million in profits from the movie “Schindler’s List.”

The Foundation’s largest recipient is the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, but also commits between $3 million and $4 million a year to projects in the areas of the Jewish arts, social justice, rabbinic training and Jewish education. Among its Jewish education projects:

$250,000 for a teacher and principal’s post-graduate training program at the Hebrew Union College/Los Angeles School of Education.

$1.6 million over four years for Brandeis University’s Genesis Program, which recently completed its first session, bringing together 60 students from Jewish and public high schools, from a variety of Jewish backgrounds, for a summer institute combining Jewish and secular studies.

$150,000 over two years for B’nai B’rith Youth Organization to train youth educators in Jewish subjects and identity formation.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund