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November 28, 2003 - Image 19

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-28

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$100 Million For Education

Steinhardt proposal would open a gateway to Jewish learning.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

magine a world in which every
Jewish child receives a free
Jewish education, from day
school to camping to college
That's what mega-philanthropist
Michael Steinhardt asked 4,000 dele-
gates to the North American Jewish
federation system's General Assembly
to consider.
He then offered to contribute $10
million to such a project.
He stipulated only one condition to
his gift, that it represent no more than
10 percent of a $100 million Fund for
Our Jewish Futui-e. The former Wall
Street tycoon challenged the audience
to raise at least $90 million in a
broad-based national effort for Jewish
Many in the room found
Steinhardt's speech groundbreaking —
and highly relevant.
"Michael was inspirational and, like
he usually does, threw down the
gauntlet," said Harlene Appelman,
chief Jewish education officer of the
Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit. "A $100 million for Jewish
education is phenomenal. If we don't
put a model out there for pre-school
education, we lose not only those chil-
dren but also their families."
Chip Koplin of Macon, Ga., said
the speech gave him the chills. He said
that of all his experiences at this year's
_United Jewish Communities' G.A. —
his first time in Israel — Steinhardt's
speech "is going to have the most pro-
found effect on me."
As an American challenged with the
struggles of a small, Southern Jewish
community trying to sustain Jewish
identity, Koplin said he could relate to
the speech.
The speech came as federations
struggle to fund their local and over-
seas needs amid flat annual cam-
paigns. Still, federation leaders didn't
appear to worry that Steinhardt's
appeal would undermine their own
"He made the speech to a conven-
tion of North American federations,


so clearly he is looking to partner with
them," said Jacob Solomon, executive
vice president of the Greater Miami
Jewish Federation.
In fact, the federation system
encourages such visionary ideas,
Solomon said.
A New Yorker, Steinhardt is chair-
man of Jewish Renaissance Media,
parent company of the Detroit Jewish
News and Atlanta Jewish Times.
He said the proposed fund is a
response to decreasing Jewish identifi-
cation among non-Orthodox Jews in
the Diaspora.

Community In Crisis

Steinhardt mustered a litany of statis-
tics to prove his point. Some 49 per-
cent of American Jews identify as sec-
ular; only 20 percent give to Jewish
causes, down from a post-World War
II period when half the community
gave to Jewish causes; and the number
of American Jews is dwindling,
according to the 2000-01 National
Jewish Population Survey, Steinhardt
"This part of the Diaspora commu-
nity — its majority — is in crisis,"
Steinhardt said.
While most Jewish activists focus on
threats to Israel, in some respects the
Diaspora is "far more vulnerable," he
"Consider how little many of us
know about our history, our culture,
our language," Steinhardt said.
He bemoaned what he called a glar-
ing lack of Jewish leadership and
innovative ideas.
He praised the Orthodox communi-
ty, where nearly 100 percent of their
children attend a day school or a
"They marry largely amongst them-
selves and have high birthrates, and
thus experience substantial growth,"
Steinhardt said. "They do more out-
reach to the non-Orthodox than any-
one else. And we have become two
distinct peoples — so much so that,
tragically, we non-Orthodox marry far
more Christians than we marry
Orthodox Jews."
He said Judaism's other streams pro-
duce generation after generation of

Michael Steinhardt: A $10 million challenge offer.

under-educated Jews.
"Initially, these systems of belief
were relevant by showing us how to be
modern. But today, this focus does
not successfully transmit a vision of
the Jewish future. Those liberal rabbis
who are resonant, vibrant and inspira-
tional must be encouraged."

Birthright Israel Hurting

Steinhardt pointed to the success of
the Birthright Israel program, which.
offers free trips to 18- to 26-year-olds
who have never been on a peer trip to

Israel. The number of trip-goers is
49,000. Steinhardt is one of the pro-
gram's major funders.
"Birthright has been nothing less
than a transformation in Jewish life,"
he said.
However, he said, "the future of the
program is tenuous — not because
there are no young people who want
to partake of this venture," but "sim-
ply because there's not enough money
to pay for it."
"If we lose Birthright," he said, "we
shall lose more than free trips to Israel
$100 MILLION on page 20



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