Primary Areas of Focus
Consistent with its efforts to revamp and revitalize the fields of Jewish, Hebrew and Israel education, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life participates in The Areivim Philanthropic Group, a unique entrepreneurial consortium of major North American philanthropists who are committed to developing and supporting broad-reaching transformational projects and ideas that will significantly impact the next generations in Jewish life. Focusing on both formal and experiential Jewish, Hebrew and Israel education, Areivim’s projects will be a resource and catalyst for the renaissance of Jewish life concomitant with the Foundation’s commitment to reaching out to all Jews, with an emphasis on those who are on the margins of Jewish life. Areivim’s projects also align with the Foundation’s commitment to bring Hebrew and Israel literacy to the general population.
Since its founding in 2005 under the leadership of William Davidson, z”l, and Michael Steinhardt, Areivim has viewed the collaboration and partnership of its members as being just as important as the financial impact of the Group. Areivim members support an ongoing process of research and development through working groups committed to fleshing out new breakthrough ideas in various educational areas. Its philanthropists aim to leverage their resources to impact the Jewish community by investing in a small number of new ventures that substantially upgrade the quality of education; stimulate, complement and support innovative educational institutions; and/or inspire and engage the philanthropic community to renew and support Jewish, Hebrew and Israel education.
Through its projects, Areivim hopes to inspire the re-prioritization of Jewish, Hebrew and Israel education as a central and urgent philanthropic value, leveraging additional donor, Foundation, Federation, community and public sector funds and engaging and mentoring new and next generation philanthropists with a sense of vision and responsibility.
Areivim-sponsored programs include:
- Hebrew Charter School Center (HCSC): a national initiative to create, support and grow a network of Hebrew language charter schools with rigorous goals for language acquisition and academic excellence (see below).
- Legacy Community Project: a national initiative to promote legacy giving toward endowment growth in five pilot communities.
Hebrew Language Charter Schools
Recognizing the importance of the Hebrew language and its potential as a vital force in the American public sphere, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life is at the forefront of the Hebrew language charter school movement.
Today, schools across the United States offer dual language programs in a wide range of languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic. These programs—which have grown largely in response to demands from local communities—are a proven method of making students more engaged in their studies, building literacy, raising academic achievement, and preparing children to live and thrive in a multicultural global environment. An intensive focus on foreign language acquisition in a school’s curriculum supports positive evidence-based learning and developmental outcomes among students.
In addition to the numerous benefits intrinsic to studying a second language, the study of Hebrew offers several particular advantages. Hebrew has gone through a profound revitalization over the past century and a half as it has been reborn from a classical into a living language. The modernization and secularization of the language and its transformation to a spoken, cultural medium has been central to the development of a secular Hebrew-speaking society and culture in modern-day Israel. This unique historical occurrence—the renaissance of a language and its role in the creation of culture and society—is deeply instructive, offering meaningful opportunities for students to explore the evolution and purposes of language and its function in building and sustaining communities worldwide.
Hebrew also powerfully exemplifies the capacity of language to unite people across time and space. Even prior to its revitalization, Hebrew served as a connector of communities around the world. The study of the Hebrew language, therefore, is a valuable vehicle for encouraging students’ development as global citizens and fostering students’ commitments to dialogue and understanding.
Through its support of the Hebrew Charter School Center and Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn, NY, as well Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life is working to promote Hebrew understanding and literacy in the general population.
The Hebrew Charter School Center
The Hebrew Charter School Center (HCSC) was created by the Areivim Philanthropic Group in 2009 to help advance the Hebrew language charter school movement. HCSC’s mission is to promote the development and sustainability of the Hebrew charter school movement by supporting a network of excellent schools that serve diverse populations of students, foster strong interpersonal relationships, advance overall academic and social/emotional well-being, and promote high levels of Hebrew language proficiency and understanding of the culture and history of Israel and its immigrant communities. Specifically, HCSC works with planning teams and existing charter schools across the country to:
- Build and increase the capacity for designing new, high quality Hebrew language charter schools;
- Provide resources for established schools;
- Grow a field of educators prepared to lead Hebrew language charter schools and the movement;
- Promote and support a network of high quality Hebrew language charter schools;
- Support local communities to develop Hebrew language charter schools and to maximally benefit from their impact on children and families.
HCSC joins a growing number of nonprofit organizations around the country whose purpose is to establish and foster public charter schools that deliver innovative and effective curricula and instruction capable of fulfilling the core goal of modern public education: providing every child with the resources, skills and opportunities necessary to succeed in our global community.
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life gives both financial and in-kind support to the Hebrew Charter School Center.
Hebrew Language Academy Charter School
Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (“HLA”) is a dual language public elementary charter school located in Brooklyn, New York. Founded in 2009, HLA’s mission is to provide a nurturing yet rigorous early childhood dual language program committed to fostering academic excellence and a high degree of Hebrew language proficiency. The school provides students with a sophisticated core curriculum in English Language Arts, mathematics, the sciences, social studies, art, music, technology and physical education. It incorporates Hebrew language instruction across the curriculum through a partial immersion proficiency model.
HLA recognizes that its students are growing up in an increasingly global community. Its entire educational program is geared towards providing students with a solid foundation to become ethical, productive citizens in this environment. HLA helps its students learn social and civic responsibility through the integration of community service and service learning into classroom studies. Diversity, tolerance and openness are emphasized throughout the curriculum and school life.
HLA currently serves 380 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. The school plans to add one grade level each school year until it ultimately serves grades K to 8 in the 2016‐2017 school year. HLA’s student population reflects the diversity of its surrounding community in Brooklyn, New York. Most of its students come from families with at least one foreign‐born parent, and a majority comes from homes in which languages other than English are spoken (Russian, Hebrew, Haitian Creole, Spanish, among others). In addition, more than half of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
HLA is a public school chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. As a charter school, HLA joins the ranks of more than 1,400 public schools in New York City that provide free and open educational opportunities to the city’s children and youth. Unlike a traditional public school, however, HLA is not governed by the local school district. Instead, the charter provides HLA with autonomy to create an innovative and rigorous curriculum and instructional program. In exchange for this autonomy, HLA has taken on greater levels of accountability than a traditional public school. It sets the bar high for its performance, and it intends to surpass the ambitious targets set in its charter.
HLA is working to demonstrate the value of providing an innovative education that focuses on Hebrew language acquisition, is open to all children, is free and is publicly accountable.
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life has given extensive support to HLA during its startup phase for its facility needs.
Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School
Opening in August 2013 with kindergarten and first grade, Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School is a new dual-language public school of academic excellence. It plans to add a grade each year, expanding in the future to an academically rigorous K-8 curriculum which includes intensive instruction in the Hebrew language through a partial immersion approach.
Harlem Hebrew will explore the culture and history of Israel and its immigrant communities to relate the Hebrew language to its natural context and to explore cultural diversity by studying those communities’ unique history of interaction with almost every world culture and people. It will feature a specialized social studies curriculum being developed in partnership with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture focusing on Harlem’s history as a focal point of migration and immigration. All students at Harlem Hebrew will participate in service learning and community service projects infused with values of social responsibility, citizenship, and respect for others.
In 1999, in an effort to enhance Jewish identity and to restore the centrality of Israel to the lives of young Diaspora Jews, Michael Steinhardt partnered with Charles Bronfman to create Birthright Israel, the revolutionary program to enable every young Jewish person between the ages of 18 to 26 to have a living and learning experience in Israel. The program makes a profound affirmation of the unity of clal yisrael by establishing, for the first time in history, a birthright for every Jew in the world of a free round-trip ticket and ten days of intensive Jewish educational experiences in Israel. To this day, Birthright Israel sends thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people.
More than 340,000 young adults from all over the world and from all Jewish religious backgrounds have been to Israel on Birthright trips. The program has made a trip to Israel one of the transformative milestones of modern Jewish identity. The goal has been to change the framework of Jewish life so that travel and study in Israel ranks with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah as a universal life-passage experience for non-Orthodox Jews. Birthright Israel trips spark a passion for Jewish life and Jewish education while strengthening the sense of solidarity between Israeli youth and Jewish communities around the world.
Birthright Israel Alumni
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life understands that the Birthright Israel experience should not end when the trip is over. Indeed, the program holds enormous potential to catalyze a lifetime of Jewish involvement and enrichment. The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life supports efforts to create and sustain a continuum in which the trip itself is part of a broad, comprehensive framework of Jewish identity formation.
To this end, we support Birthright Israel alumni programming to help transform the ten-day experience of Birthright Israel into an ongoing devotion to Jewish experience, learning and life. Birthright Israel alumni programming inspires all Birthright trip participants and their peers to expand their connections to the land and people of Israel, to deepen their personal commitments to Jewish life, and to find or form a community where Jewish responsibility, learning, and celebration thrive.
The Alumni Community in New York
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life supports The Alumni Community, New York’s primary provider of Birthright Israel Post Programming, to help previously unaffiliated young people gain the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to engage more competently and confidently in the Jewish community. As the central address for Birthright Israel trip participants when they return home to the Tri-State area, The Alumni Community seeks to reinforce, through education and community building, the central message of the Birthright Israel trip experience: that each participant is the inheritor of both a local and global Jewish identity and that Israel is central to Jewish life.
Recognizing that Birthright Israel alumni residing in the Tri-State area represent 30 percent of the total North American alumni cohort, The Alumni Community sponsors Jewish education and enrichment events that attract thousands of young men and women to its programming each year.
In order to strengthen the connections among Birthright Israel alumni to Israel and Jewish Peoplehood and to reinforce the ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities, Michael and Judy Steinhardt support Birthright Excel, an elite, year-long fellowship program beginning with a 10-week business internship in Israel. The program is designed for talented Jewish college sophomores, juniors and select seniors who are pursuing careers in business and/or technology. During the all-expense paid program, each Birthright Israel Excel Fellow is assigned an internship at a prominent Israeli company with global reach, in industries such as finance, venture capital, consulting, hi-tech, bio-tech and social media. The Fellows are guided by professional mentors, as well as Israeli student peers to acclimate them to Israeli society.