By COLlive reporter
The Menachem Education Foundation (MEF) recently hosted a successful event in Crown Heights to raise funds for its growing Our Heritage program who enrolls Jewish from public schools to Jewish Day Schools.
Establishing a remarkable track record, Our Heritage offers a $25,000 matching grant to Chabad Day Schools for enrolling 10 students from public schools. This initiative, initiated in the summer of 2020, has resulted in a noteworthy 566 transfers with an impressive 80% retention rate.
This year’s fundraising event saw a tremendous achievement as it raised over $160,000, contributing to the support of 107 public school students transitioning to Jewish schools this academic year. A notable aspect of the fundraising effort is that a portion of the raised funds will be allocated towards assisting children coming from Israel due to the ongoing conflict, ensuring their enrollment in Jewish schools.
Alex Swieca, Vice Chairman of Our Heritage, shared the importance of Jewish education during these difficult times for the Jewish nation. “There are people who educate with hate, as we have seen how Hamas has been educating its youth, which resulted in the horrors of October 7th. The Our Heritage program is a counter to that. It focuses on Jewish education and teaches our Jewish youth the history of our nation, Hashem’s precious Torah, and arms them with the strength, knowledge, and pride they need to combat the challenges of this generation.”
Among the speakers at the event was Rabbi Yossi Wilhelm, who leads the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School in Knoxville, Tennessee. With a modest Jewish population of 2,300, Knoxville boasts the smallest Jewish community in North America with a day school.
Rabbi Wilhelm shared the impact of Our Heritage on his small school, enabling them to accept children with zero tuition for the first time. The heartwarming stories shared by Rabbi Wilhelm painted a vivid picture of the program’s tangible impact.
He recounted how he met an Israeli single mother living in Knoxville who was struggling to provide a Jewish education for her child due to financial constraints. Thanks to the Our Heritage program, the school was not only able to admit the child but did so without any tuition fees.
Another compelling story involved a kindergartener who, along with their family, fled war-torn Donetsk in Ukraine and ended up in Vienna, Austria. From there, a group of Christian missionaries sponsored them to move to Knoxville. After learning that their 3 children were enrolled in a Christian school, Rabbi Wilhelm quickly convinced the family to transfer the kindergartener’s enrollment to his Chabad day school. He also facilitated the transfer of the other two children from the Christian school to public schools.
“This year, we started with 55 students in grades K-5th, which represents over 50% of the local Jewish children in Knoxville that age,” Rabbi Wilhelm shared. “A few weeks ago, four students from Israel, escaping the war, joined our day school. Our Heritage allowed us to grow our school and bring in new families, breaking down financial barriers that would have otherwise prevented these children from receiving a Jewish education.”
JUSTIN AND HIS MOM
Bob Aronson, Chairman of the Our Heritage program, emphasized the program’s efficiency, calling it “the biggest bang for your buck in Jewish philanthropy.”
The event also featured Natalie Grishayeva, a parent who shared her personal experience benefiting from a Chabad school in Ukraine and now seeing her son, Justin, flourish in a Chabad STREAM school in Queens, New York thanks to Our Heritage’s sponsorship. Justin, too, expressed gratitude for his education, stating, “I feel very blessed to be part of such an amazing Jewish school.”
Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of STREAM Academy, where Justin attends, spoke passionately about the urgent need to enroll children in Jewish schools, especially given the rise in antisemitism. He noted that it is unfortunate to see young Jewish activists among the anti-Israel and antisemitic marches being held on college campuses, and the only way to combat this confusion of identity is to ensure that our Jewish youth receive a strong Jewish education.
Mrs. Esther Shifra Mahatuf of MEF’s Strategic Planning Division coordinated and arranged the event. It was generously hosted by Binyomin and Cherry Levin.
“The success of this event not only showcases the community’s dedication to Jewish education but also highlights the transformative impact of the Our Heritage program in shaping the lives of young Jewish students,” said Rabbi Zalman Shneur, MEF Founder and Executive Director.
The evening’s main highlight was a conversation with Mark Gerson and Alan Zekelman moderated by Chaim Piekarski. The two discussed challenges in business and philanthropy, providing valuable insights in light of recent events in Israel.
Gerson, an accomplished investor and philanthropist and Chairman of United Hatzalah, shared that an organization needs to have a mission with a clear focus and to keep refining that mission to continuously improve. He used the example of United Hatzalah, which identified success as when a Hatzalah volunteer can reach a patient within 90 seconds – that is what saves lives. Pinpointing a clear mission is what leads to success.
Zekelman, a noted philanthropist and business leader, and Chairman of the Menachem Education Foundation, discussed his journey in leading the family business, Atlas Tube, to become a major North American steel powerhouse. “In business, as hard as you may work and as much as you think you have control, the one thing you need to remember is that everything comes from Hashem.” He went on to share stories of how “a bit of Mazel” changed the trajectory of his business far beyond what he thought was possible. “Hashem is in control and we need to keep that front and center,” he said.
Our Heritage is dedicated to Shnuer Zalman Ben (YBCL”C) Gimpel Avrohom Hirsch, who inspired its commitment to fostering Jewish education and strengthening the future generation. To support the Our Heritage program visit Charidy.com/oh