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February 21, 2003 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-21

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Giving Day Schools A Needed Boost

Philanthropists, educators seek new funding strategies.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Los Angeles


ity" and 13 percent were motivated to give because
they had a personal connection, such as a child or
grandchild in day school.
But among donors, non-donors and experts, the
study found that:
• 81 percent believe that day schools ensure con-
• 78 percent supported day schools because of
the Jews' "collective future";
• 75 percent backed day schools because they

inancial wizard Michael Steinhardt is
blunt in assessing the future of North
American Jewry.
The next generation is "mostly Jewish
ignoramuses," Steinhardt says. "We haven't con-
vinced the general Jewish population of the value
of a Jewish education."
Steinhardt's bleak assessment was aimed
not at Jews in general, but at a select
group: those who have donated at least
$100,000 — and as much as several mil-
lion — to Jewish day schools.
There are only 1,800 such major sup-
porters of the country's approximately
700 Jewish day schools, however, and
that, Steinhardt says, is not enough."
"We need to double that number."
Steinhardt was addressing the third
annual Donor Assembly of the
Partnership for Excellence in Jewish
Education, the day-school advocacy
group he launched five years ago.
For the first time this week, those big
donors mingled with Jewish communal
and day school professionals in a leader-
ship assembly of more than 600 people,
aiming to hammer out a national strategy
to promote Jewish day schools.
The gathering comes at a time when
many day schools, viewed as solid foun-
dations for lifelong Jewish identity, are
strapped for funds. And many who want
to attend cannot afford the high cost of a
Jewish education.
Some 200,000 children attend Jewish
Michael Steinhardt
day schools in this country, 79 percent of
them Orthodox or fervently Orthodox.
Steinhardt is president of Jewish
"foster communities of committed Jews."
Renaissance Media, parent company of the Jewish
Of those who responded, 97 percent also gave
money to their synagogue; 92 percent aided their
local federation; 73 percent helped some kind of
Israel-focused program and 59 percent backed their
Surveying The Donors
local Jewish community center.
Among the top goals of the philanthropists was
The donors surveyed hailed from 29 states and
finding new sources of money.
were usually parents or grandparents of
To bolster their advocacy effort, the group,
students and sat on day school boards.
known as PEJE, offered the initial findings of a
donor at the conference was Claire
survey of 177 of those big day-school supporters.
Jolla, Calif., whose three children
They also released the results of interviews with 65
Diego Jewish Academy, a pluralis-
other donors, potential donors and day school
tic, 700-student school with students from kinder-
garten through 12th grade.
The survey, conducted in October and November
Ellman has just helped the school raise $33 mil-
by TDC Research of Boston, found that among cur-
toward a new building, the largest single effort
rent donors, 49 percent give to day schools because
in the city's Jewish community.
they see them as vehicles to "ensure Jewish continu-



Born in South Africa, Ellman says her grandfa-
ther started Cape Town's first Jewish day school
and infused her with a love for Jewish learning.
But she believes not all donors support education
for the same reasons.
"A lot of people are going to give to Jewish edu-
cation because they feel so strongly about continu-
ity," she says, "but also because of a guilt complex"
that they personally failed to teach their children
Jewish values.
The study did not reach that
conclusion, though it did find that
10 percent of donors said the most
important reason to back Jewish
day schools was to teach Jewish

Building Ties

Ellman is also vice chair of the
Continental Council for Jewish
Day School Education — a pro-
gram of the United Jewish
Communities and the Jewish
Education Service of North
America, which works to build ties
among the day schools, Jewish fed-
erations, religious institutions and
the general community. She wel-
comed the donor study.
"The study is critical, because for
the first time we've asked donors
and non-donors why they do or
don't fund Jewish education."
Many of those who don't support
Jewish schools said they either were
not aware of them or found them
too parochial, the study found.
But the study also recommends
against trying to win this group
Instead, it recommends spreading
the word to "neutral" Jews who may not have any
personal ties to the school, but who believe educa-
tion helps ensure a thriving Jewish community.
Meanwhile, Steinhardt pointed to statistics show-
ing that only 20 percent of philanthropy by North
American Jews goes to Jewish causes, down from
50 percent 50 years ago.
"What we lack is a sense of priority," he said.
But Michael Rosenzweig, a board member of the
New Atlanta Jewish Community High School, says
the fact that there are so few donors to Jewish day
schools is both good and bad news when it comes
to doubling their numbers.
"The good news" is that doubling their numbers
is easy to do, he said. "The bad news is, it's easy to
do because it's so small."

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