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Making the Case
Inspiring our Prospective Donors
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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11/10/06
Seven years ago I attended an educational conference in Yerushalayim. A presenter at the conference related that as a young man in his twenties, he was a low-level employee in the Education Ministry. One evening at a social function, he was taken aback when Prime Minister Golda Meir suddenly approached him and asked him an intriguing question. "What would you do to further the cause of Jewish Education if I were to put $25 million dollars at your disposal tomorrow?" she asked him. Without a moment's hesitation, he immediately articulated some of the projects that he would initiate, should funding become available.
Mrs. Meir was impressed at his almost instantaneous response. She informed him that she had been posing this scenario all evening to every person she had spoken to - including the most senior and high-level officials in the Ministry of Education - and that his was by far the most thoughtful response. She asked him how he responded so quickly. He instantaneously answered in all sincerity, "Because I think about it all the time."

Some Tough Questions

As professional and lay leaders of our yeshivos explore the reasons for our lack of success in attracting funding for our schools, I think that we need to ask ourselves some challenging questions:

  • How would we spend 25 million dollars - or 25 thousand dollars - if we were given the opportunity?
  • Are we educating the public about the importance of investing in our schools?
  • Have we created the impression in the minds of our prospective donors and community members that our schools will dramatically improve with an infusion of funding?
  • Are we making the types of presentations to prospective donors that will inspire them to contribute to Jewish Education?
  • And finally (for now); sorry to be so blunt; but are we listening well enough? Are we truly open to the suggestions of our donors or are we pushing our critical agenda of 'covering payroll'?


If I am offending any of my colleagues by posing these questions, please accept my apologies. I only present them in this public arena because I strongly feel that this discussion must take place. Today.

Trust me, I fully understand how very difficult it is for you to 'cover payroll' and keep a yeshiva afloat. I, too, carry the incredibly challenging yoke of covering the bills of my growing school. I can honestly say that two consecutive waking hours never go by (and many nighttime ones as well) without these concerns occupying my thoughts. So I certainly do not wish to add to the plates of my beleaguered colleagues. At the same time, however, I feel that things will not improve unless all of us - community members and school leadership - address these matters in a non-judgmental but brutally honest manner.

Crunch Time

Let's face it; we are in the midst of a real crisis. Our yeshivos - and the children we serve - are in an existential struggle for survival. Our schools are under funded and our faculty members underpaid. We are having difficulty retaining the best and brightest educators. At the same time, we are burning out those who have devoted their lives to chinuch careers too quickly at they take two, three or more side jobs to pay their bills. Our faculty members - especially our Judaic Studies rebbeim and moros - do not have sufficient lesson-prep time. Nor do they have the luxury of remaining in school after their teaching hours to meet with a student who desperately needs some more individual attention. How can they when they are running off to their 'other' jobs?

To sum up; in our affluent society, with so many of our community members achieving unparalleled financial success, we are shortchanging our children terribly.

What is most frightening is that there are no simple solutions to this matter. We cannot continue to subject our overburdened school parents to spiraling tuition increases. We certainly cannot afford to cut back on the services that we offer our children. Every time we 'cut' a resource faculty member, we are 'cutting off' several children from the path to success and exponentially increasing the odds that he or she will join the swelling rolls of our at-risk teen population. (Ironically, it will cost many multiples of the 'cuts' to undo the effects of the inadequate services once a kid hits the streets.)

Passion and Vision

It is clear that we will need to inspire a new generation of donors to invest in our children if we are to have any hope of improving our schools - and our 'bottom line.' And perhaps as mechanchim and educators, we will need to view one of our primary roles as one of educating the Jewish community about the importance of investing in Jewish education.

But to do so we will need to inspire them with passion, not overwhelm them with guilt. We need to run our schools and meet our financial obligations. We need to fix our leaky roofs and pay the electric bills in our schools. But we also need to dream and think about initiatives that will enrich the lives of our children and improve our schools.

I do not accept the argument that there is insufficient funding in our community to allow for affordable and excellent education for our precious sons and daughters.

But to reach that noble goal, we in school leadership will need to answer the question, "What would we do if we were given 25 million dollars?" For if we cannot answer that question, how can we 'sell' our cause?

By now, you must be wondering what I would do if I were given that amount of money. Good question! Read these columns over the coming weeks if you want to examine my responses to that question. I do have some answers. Many, in fact.

You see, I think about it all the time.

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Related Articles:
Charity Begins at Home
Reflection – The Helpful ‘Blame Game’
Spending the Money
Target Audience


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