Magerman Gives $250K to Jewish Federation, Continues to Bolster Day Schools

While the Kohelet Foundation and Jewish day schools are David Magerman’s passion — not to mention the recipients of what is believed to be more than $60 million of Magerman’s money in terms of grants for tuition reduction and other incentives for prospective parents — his commitment to the Jewish community goes beyond that.

Like any good chess player, David Magerman always plots several moves ahead.
Rather than look at things short term, he prefers the bigger picture. Only 47, presumably he’ll be able to see them through, although he’s quick to point out his father died at 52, so there’s no guarantees.
Regardless, having gone through a spiritual transformation only 10 years ago — which resulted in him dedicating his life to reconstructing the education system in a way that makes it clear that Jewish day schools are the future —  the founder of the Kohelet Foundation in Narberth has come to realize this is not the overnight fix he imagined.
“I guess I was overconfident,” said Magerman during lunch at The Dairy Café, one of two kosher restaurants he owns, directly across the street from C & R Kitchen, where they serve meat.
“I thought I’d have solved this problem by now. It’s been a good six or seven years. I thought, ‘What takes that long to solve?’ I was very naïve, uninformed and under-informed about the magnitude of the education problem.
“I thought I was working on a Jewish issue when, in fact, there is a widespread educational issue spanning the world, and the Jewish education piece of it is just a little more complicated. It’s worth working on. It’s just gonna take a lot longer than I expected.
“I don’t think I’m ever gonna solve it alone. I’ll do my piece, and the Foundation will do its piece. Hopefully, putting all our heads together, we’ll make a dent into the problem.”
While the Kohelet Foundation and Jewish day schools are his passion — not to mention the recipients of what is believed to be more than $60 million of Magerman’s money in terms of grants for tuition reduction and other incentives for prospective parents — his commitment to the Jewish community goes beyond that.
Magerman recently gave the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia a $250,000 donation.
“That was my wife, [Debra] and my personal gift to Federation,” explained Magerman, whose four children (Elijah, Zachary, Sydney and Lexie — ages 6 to 15) all attend Jewish day school. “Just being a member of the community, I think you have the obligation to support the infrastructure, and the Jewish Federation certainly is one of the main destinations for that that kind of money.
“There was a time I was more focused on giving most of my Jewish communal dollars to day school, but at this point I wanted to divert some to the Jewish Federation. I think Naomi Adler is doing a great job running the Jewish Federation.
“They’re a continuum. I always viewed myself as a partner of the Jewish Federation. … This seemed like an appropriate supplement.”
Still, the Kohelet Foundation is his prime focus — along with companion schools that have been created as a result of it.
Yeshiva Lab School offers kindergartners an entry into Jewish education. It’s somewhat revolutionary — at least in this county — in that it’s based on the concept, “What do we know about the way children learn?” according to Foundation director Holly Cohen, so that teachers structure their lessons accordingly.
Kohelet Yeshiva High, located at the former site of Akiba/Barrack Academy, hosts 108 boys and girls. Magerman bought the property when Barrack relocated to Bryn Mawr, built an extension for a midrash, then completely renovated the building.
It’s all part of his master plan to make Jewish day school education not only more affordable but preferable. Considering that there are only 2,200 students in all the Jewish day schools in Philadelphia and South Jersey, it’s quite an undertaking.
But Magerman is confident that if he pushes enough pawns around and moves some of his other pieces strategically, he can make it happen.
“Everyone knows the deep, dark, dirty secret is education doesn’t work,” said Magerman, who grew up in Miami, where he was admittedly unobservant until having his spiritual awakening. “The question is how do you fix it?
“Everyone is experimenting with different solutions. We’ve set up an environment where we can start from scratch and have people clamoring to take part in it.
“Giving our kids a good Jewish education as a parent was an issue that hit me pretty much in the face and ended up with me forming the Kohelet Foundation.”
According to Magerman it’s primarily through luck that he was able to accumulate such wealth. But with money comes responsibility.
“It’s a blessing from God,” said Magerman, who struck it rich as a hedge fund manager for Long Island-based Renaissance Technologies, whom he still works for out of his home. “[It’s] certainly a luxury, but also a responsibility, which I take very seriously.
“God gives you the resources you have to disperse appropriately and for the betterment of the Jewish community. But I work for a company that’s been very successful. I’d like to think I’ve contributed to that.”
And he’s done it at a relatively young age, meaning he theoretically should live to see the fruits of much of his philanthropy.
“My father died at 52 when I was 18,” said Magerman, who spent Passover in Israel with his family. “So, I learned at a young age not to take longevity for granted.
“I’m sure it influenced my aggressiveness to achieve things and not waste time. I do feel old, so I’m not waiting for my 60s or 70s to do these things. There’s no time like the present.”
This article is part of an occasional series of profiles on supporters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
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