Amid the excitement of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s 16th annual gala at the Philadelphia Hilton City Avenue, more than 450 attendees learned about a new fund at the school.
With the financial support of the Max and Bella Stein Foundation and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the fund will provide scholarship resources to help students participate in the school’s Israel study abroad program.
Juliet Stein, a 2007 alumna of Barrack, made the announcement at the March 14 gala.
For 35 years, Barrack has sent its 11th-graders to Israel for a semester. Since 1994, they have specifically sent students to JNF’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF) in Hod HaSharon near Tel Aviv. There, the students attend their normal courses, while learning about Israel in its land and getting to have an almost college-like, independent experience.
“We know that Jewish day school students have a stellar education and understanding of the significance of the land of Israel to the Jewish people,” said Shana Sisk, director of marketing and communication at AMHSI-JNF. “What we provide at Alexander Muss High School in Israel is a really unique, interactive study experience. It’s academic in nature, but our program uses the land as the classroom. We end up reenacting historical lessons literally on the sand where they took place.”
The fund’s goal is to ensure that all students who want to participate can do so without financial obstacles. Sending students to Israel makes them more likely to stay connected to Jewish communities and Israel, Sisk said, by joining synagogues, marrying Jewish spouses and donating to Jewish and Zionist organizations.
The Max and Bella Stein Foundation contributed $1 million to the fund, with a match from JNF. The goal is to fundraise an additional $4 million from other donors over the next five years, which JNF will match. If successful, that would bring the fund to $10 million, allowing every Barrack 11th-grader to attend the Israel study abroad program with little or no cost to families.
The fund money will be invested, and the proceeds from that will go toward scholarships. Barrack currently provides about $120,000 to $140,000 in scholarships for students to participate in the study abroad program.
The Stein family approached JNF about creating this fund and met with JNF CEO Russell Robinson. Joseph Wolfson, chairman and president of AMHSI-JNF’s board of directors, then got involved in the discussions.
As someone who had two children participate in Barrack’s Israel study abroad program, Wolfson has seen how it has strengthened his children’s connections to Israel.
“The Stein family deserves an incredible amount of credit for the foresight they demonstrated, thinking about the future of Zionism, thinking about the future of our children,” he said. “That’s what drove this, their desire to ensure that Barrack could continue to send children to the Muss school and try to alleviate any cost concerns.”
The Stein family then approached George Gordon, president of the board of Barrack, about the fund early this year, and the three groups worked to hash out the details.
“It’s really because of the passion for Jewish education and Muss in particular,” Gordon said. “The endowment really is a testament to the power of a generous donor with a passion, in this case for Muss and for the Israel education, to set up a vehicle to try to defray the cost of the Muss program, to work with JNF, who owns Muss, to come up with this visionary endowment program.”
Gordon’s four children participated in Barrack’s Israel study abroad program.
“They came back from Muss with a much more thoughtful understanding of the issues on the ground that Israel faces,” he said. “Our kids, and I think this is true for a lot of students at Barrack, went into Muss having already had a bond and a love for Israel. They came back with that bond being immeasurably enhanced. … They also come back — we noticed this with all four of our kids — they come back more independent and mature young adults.”
This is the first JNF scholarship program dedicated to an Israel study abroad program at a day school. Eventually, Sisk said, the goal would be to replicate this scholarship for students at other schools.
“The study abroad program already is replicated throughout the country, with schools from Australia as well,” Sisk said. “I’m confident that JNF is eager to build similar relationships with additional scholarship funds to serve the same purpose, in both existing school programs and new school programs that could come.”