Jewish Army veteran, real estate developer and lifelong Philadelphian Harold Slotnick did not leave any children behind when he died in 2020. So instead of bequeathing his money to descendants, he is spreading the wealth to fellow members of the tribe.
His estate left the Harold Slotnick Endowed Scholarship to the Jewish National Fund, a not-for-profit organization devoted to investing in Israel. Slotnick’s gift offers $1,000 to “young American Jewish women interested in attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel,” according to a JNF news release.
The Alexander Muss High School, run by JNF, offers programs of four weeks or longer that take American Jewish students to the holy land. Sixty percent of the institution’s enrollees are female, according to Stephanie Feit of JNF.
Slotnick, a lifelong bachelor, devoted his free time to ballroom dancing, traveling to Israel and contributing to Jewish causes. The news release calls him “a passionate Zionist” who “believed a strong Jewish education was the most effective way to ensure the future of the community.”
“We want to empower these women to feel they have the experience needed to become future Jewish leaders,” said Feit, a campaign associate for the school.
AMHSI offers immersive programs during the school year and over the summer. Students learn the history, culture, language and geography of Israel by exploring the country, according to descriptions on amhsi.org. For sessions during the academic year, kids also have time to complete their coursework from their schools back home.
As Feit explained, “AMHSI’s mission is to connect Jewish high school students to Israel and their Jewish identity.” That is why all of its programs are at least four weeks. It takes four weekends, according to Feit, to be able to listen to and experience enough in Israel to feel that deeper connection. Teenagers are also establishing friendships with peers who are going through the same experience.
The school has more than 50,000 alumni, at least 30,000 of whom are Jewish leaders, according to Feit. Some work at JNF. Others are rabbis, teachers and “leaders in all different types of fields,” she said. AMHSI helps women, in particular, gain the confidence to first speak up in the classroom and later become a synagogue president or some other important role in the community. But Judaism also starts in the home, so giving women — and men — the confidence to host a Shabbat dinner is just as important as any activity outside the home, Feit explained.
Slotnick agreed with that, according to his cousin Jeff Slotnick. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who spoke Yiddish, so he always cared about “Jewish continuity,” his cousin said. A $1 million donation to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was another one of his parting gifts. But as Harold Slotnick grew older, he watched as Jeff Slotnick put his five children through day school. Harold Slotnick and Jeff Slotnick’s family were close. Harold Slotnick would come over for holidays and lox and bagel brunches. He saw Jeff Slotnick’s kids grow into Jewish adults who built Jewish homes. And he watched his cousin’s two daughters as they maintained kosher households and sent their kids to day school. That last part led him to believe that women played an essential role in Jewish continuity, not only in establishing the household but in externalizing its values.
“He came to realize that he would like to support girls continuing Jewish education because he thought that the girls, more so as they grow older, would carry on the rich customs and traditions of Judaism,” Jeff Slotnick said. “The more pride a woman has in her Jewish identity that would help the family to continue their love for Israel and their pride in their Jewish history.”
But Slotnick is not just helping women. He is helping women with financial needs. This is crucial, according to Feit, because programs that take kids to Israel are often too expensive for lower-income families. But the Harold Slotnick Endowed Scholarship is endowed, which means that the principal amount makes money in the market, which then pays for the $1,000 gift “in perpetuity,” Jeff Slotnick said. The principal amount is never spent.
“These travel programs are extremely expensive,” Feit said. “And that’s why we’re so appreciative of donors like Harold Slotnick who understand this need and will put their money towards it.” ■