Anyone in the field of formal and informal Jewish education knows of the Avi Chai Foundation. Unique among foundations oriented to Jewish life, Avi Chai, is singularly dedicated to supporting Jewish educational research and programming.
It will cease operation at the end of this calendar in accordance with the wishes of its founder, the late Zalman Bernstein, whose dream it was to ensure and enhance and even ennoble Jewish life around the world. A sunset clause – the end of 2019 – was incorporated into its operational design as a way of preventing “mission drift.”
An article about the Foundation and its legacy appeared recently in The New York Jewish Week.
In the 35 years of its existence, Avi Chai disbursed $1.2 billion in total grants across North America, Israel and the former Soviet Union and gave $158 million in interest-free loans to schools and camps for capital projects.
The reporter, Shira Hanau, noted that “the impact of Avi Chai’s investments in developing the education field through professional development programs, research on education and philanthropy and consolidating resources within the field will likely be felt for years to come.
The article points out however that despite the success of the Foundation in structurally strengthening the sinews of Jewish education, its members and decision-makers acknowledge with considerable regret and concern the overall negative impact of the lack of affordability of immersive Jewish educational experiences like day school and summer camp. “That’s an area where I wish we had been able to do more,” Yossi Prager, the executive director of the Foundation told the reporter.
Our Sage, Rabbi Tarfon, might have had Avi Chai in mind when he famously said:
“The day is short, the work is great…It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task,
but neither are you free to absolve yourself from taking up the task.”
We laud and thank the Avi Chai Foundation for its unparalleled dedication to Jewish education. That its mission was not entirely accomplished, as the article notes, is not to its discredit. It simply means that the rest of us must now try to complete the work. As Rabbi Tarfon reminded us, we must not absolve ourselves of the responsibility.
Together we can indeed make Jewish education affordable.
The full Jewish Week article is available at:https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/avi-chai-says-goodbye-but-not-mission-accomplished/
GAJE, November 22, 2019