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.
- Areivim Hebrew at Camp Project: a nation-wide initiative in partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp to support Hebrew language immersion programs in Jewish summer day camps that surround elementary-school-age campers in a Hebrew language environment where they conduct the full range of camp activities surrounded by a supportive staff of Hebrew language speakers who gradually initiate them into Hebrew fluency.
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, Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn, NY, and 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 470 students in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade. 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
Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School opened in August 2013 and currently serves 216 students in Kindergarten through Second Grade. 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 explores 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 features 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 participate in service learning and community service projects infused with values of social responsibility, citizenship, and respect for others.
As part of its commitment to promote the Hebrew language as a key to Jewish identity and culture and to raise the profile and appreciation of Hebrew in the wider population, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life is proud to join the World Zionist Organization and the Israeli-American Council to sponsor Hagigah Ivrit. An initiative of The Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America, Hagigah Ivrit is the first-ever festival in North America celebrating the Hebrew language. The festival, which takes place in seven major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada in March 2015, presents a variety of artistic and academic events that engage a wide range of audiences in the beauty of the language and culture of Hebrew.
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 350,000 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.
Selected Ongoing Partnerships
American Hebrew Academy
The American Hebrew Academy (AHA) in Greensboro, NC is America’s only Jewish pluralistic college prep boarding school that accepts students from all over the world. Its mission is to provide a nurturing educational environment where students are challenged to prepare for college, explore their Jewish identity, and graduate with lifelong skills for learning and leadership. AHA honors the diversity of the Jewish people and embraces Jewish customs, practices and culture. The Jewish backgrounds of its students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents and friends are varied, but the school’s pioneering spirit connects them all. At the American Hebrew Academy, students discover what it means to be Jewish. For many, the school provides their first experience in a setting with other Jewish teenagers. Some are observant; others are just beginning to explore their Jewish identities.
AHA is modeled after the best boarding schools in the nation. Its classes are designed to prepare students for college and to expand their understanding of their Jewish heritage and religion. Students learn to think analytically and creatively, to write clearly and concisely, and to integrate facts into concepts. Above all, they acquire a passion for learning.
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. It provides opportunities for Jewish students at more than 500 colleges and universities to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity through its global network of regional centers, campus Foundations and Hillel student organizations. Hillel is working to provoke a renaissance of Jewish life.
Hillel’s mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. Hillel student leaders, professionals and lay leaders are dedicated to creating a pluralistic, welcoming and inclusive environment for Jewish college students, where they are encouraged to grow intellectually, spiritually and socially. Hillel helps students find a balance in being distinctively Jewish and universally human by encouraging them to pursue tzedek (social justice), tikkun olam (repairing the world) and Jewish learning, and to support Israel and global Jewish peoplehood. Hillel is committed to excellence, innovation, accountability and results.
Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania
In addition to supporting Hillel on a national scale, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life supports various programs to strengthen and enhance Jewish life at Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jewish Renaissance Project
The Jewish Renaissance Project at the University of Pennsylvania engages Jewish college students through a variety of outlets within the context of campus life. In order to involve students at all points of their college experience, programs are implemented in non-parochial campus facilities such as dormitories, fraternities and sororities. In partnership with Hillel, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life supports the Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn as a premier venue for training Hillel professionals nationwide in the work of engagement.
In order to support and augment Penn’s burgeoning Jewish culture, Judy and Michael Steinhardt gave the naming gift for Steinhardt Hall of Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania. Opened in October 2003, Steinhardt Hall is a 36,000 square foot facility that includes a large auditorium, kosher dining facilities, places of worship, lounges and meeting rooms. It is designed to be the nexus of Jewish life at Penn.
Jewish Journey Project
The Jewish Journey Project (JJP) is an initiative designed to dramatically re-invent the afternoon religious school experience to make children and their families more committed to Jewish life and community. It is the vision of Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of The JCC in Manhattan, and is being directed by Rabbi Lori Forman-Jacobi. Launched in the winter of 2011 with funding from seven different national and New York area Jewish foundations, JJP is working with prominent synagogues, JCCs and other educational partners in the Greater New York area to build a unique journey through the possibilities of Jewish life for students in Third through Seventh grades.
Over five years, students will fully integrate Jewish education into their lives by experiencing the vibrant resources of the New York Jewish community. They will come to understand that Jewish learning takes place in many settings, not just the traditional classroom. Upon celebrating their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, each child will have a Passport that documents the pathways they have traveled on their unique Jewish journey. This integrated experience of Jewish learning will encourage them to explore new pathways as they enter young adulthood.
As part of our continuing efforts to create points of engagement for unaffiliated Jews, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life partners with the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and others in supporting MyJewishLearning.com.
MyJewishLearning.com is a comprehensive, pluralistic website of Jewish information and education geared towards learners of all ages and educational backgrounds. As the central Internet site for learning about Judaism, it offers thousands of articles covering such topics as history, culture, holidays and texts. One of the distinguishing features of the site is its guided learning feature, which allows users of widely varying background to find information suited to their needs. Content on the site is packaged to invite and facilitate ever-deepening levels of learning. Its learning materials are representative of the wide range of trans-denominational perspectives within Judaism.
In addition, MyJewishLearning.com now operates a Jewish parenting site, www.kveller.com.
The PJ Library program supports families in their Jewish journeys by sending Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to children aged six months to five, six, seven or eight years, depending on the community. Created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is a national program implemented by local communities. With its commitment to engaging Jewish children and their parents in early childhood as an essential part of cultivating a strong Jewish identity and a lifelong involvement, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life is supporting the PJ Library program in the Greater New York metropolitan area in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University
In its continuing efforts to improve the quality of Jewish education, Michael and Judy Steinhardt support the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. As part of Michael Steinhardt’s naming gift, the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the NYU Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies have created a joint Ph.D. program in Education and Jewish Studies. Designed to develop leaders for a wide range of settings, this new program combines course work at the School of Education and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies with a two-year seminar on issues in Jewish education. Tracks are available in administration, curriculum, and academics/research. A competitive fellowship is available to selected students, providing up to three years of full-time tuition support and a living stipend.
Steinhardt Social Research Institute
As part of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life’s ongoing efforts to understand the full dimensions of American Jewish life, Michael Steinhardt established the Steinhardt Social Research Institute (SSRI) at Brandeis University. The Steinhardt Social Research Institute is dedicated to providing unbiased, high quality data about contemporary Jewry. The institute conducts socio-demographic research, studies the attitudes and behavior of U.S. Jews, and develops a variety of policy-focused analyses of issues such as intermarriage and the effectiveness of Jewish education. The institute’s work is characterized by the application of cutting-edge research methods to provide policy-relevant data. Steinhardt Social Research Institute researchers have been audacious in their application of new social scientific approaches and their willingness to tackle key societal challenges. Institute researchers have created new estimates of the size and characteristics of the United States’ Jewish population and conducted similar analyses of other religious minorities. SSRI research informs discourse about religious-ethnic identity and, in so doing, aids efforts to ensure a vibrant future for the American Jewish community.