Jerusalem — Calling Jewish education the most important means of assuring the survival of American Jewry, philanthropist Michael Steinhardt challenged the Jewish establishment in North America and Israel to launch a Fund for the Jewish Future. He pledged to give $10 million, provided the sum would comprise no more than 10 percent of the total allocation.
Steinhardt told thousands of delegates to the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, meeting in Israel this week, that “Jewish education is the only way to pave this yellow brick road” of a much-needed renaissance in diaspora Jewish life.
He described a fund that would give parents of each Jewish newborn in the United States a voucher toward a Jewish preschool education and a birthright free trip to Israel when the child reaches the age of 18.
As one of the key funders of birthright israel, which has provided free trips to Israel to almost 50,000 young people from around the world in the last four years, Steinhardt bemoaned the fact that the program’s future is “tenuous” because of funding. Two of the three partners in the enterprise, the State of Israel and the Jewish federation movement, have not paid their expected share.
Asserting that “the surge of assimilation is outstripping our efforts in renewal,” Steinhardt said that young Jews today lack the emotional attachment their parents and grandparents have toward Israel and Jewish religious and cultural life.
Steinhardt called for a comprehensive improvement in all aspects of Jewish education and said teachers should be recruited from “the best and brightest” of young people and paid “exorbitantly.”
He said the federation system should be partners in the proposed Jewish fund and realize that the future of Jewish life in America outside the Orthodox community depends on its success. The cost may be in the billions of dollars, he said, but “nothing seems as urgent to me” to prevent the next generation of American Jews from losing touch with Jewish life.