Avi Chai Says Goodbye, But Not ‘Mission Accomplished’

November 13, 2019

Source:   The Jewish Week


When 2019 turns into 2020, the Avi Chai Foundation will run out of money. On purpose. After 35 years supporting Jewish educational research and programming, it will phase out at the end of this year, after spending down the majority of its assets and ceasing its operations in North America. While the foundation will not completely zero out its bank accounts, leaving behind an endowment for its campus in Israel, the foundation will no longer make any grants. The sunset date, Dec. 31, 2019, has been set for more than 10 years and the process itself has been carefully planned by Avi Chai’s staff and trustees.

The impact of Avi Chai’s investments in developing the education field through professional development programs, research on education and philanthropy and consolidating resources within the field will likely be felt for years to come.

But Avi Chai’s disappearance may mark the end of an era when Jewish day schools and residential summer camps were placed at the very top of the list of communal educational priorities. At a time when pricey tuition continues to put day schools especially out of reach for many Jewish parents, and when price has become a major concern among the Orthodox, who are day schools’ most loyal constituency, other funders are investing more heavily in supplemental and adult education.

Of the $339 million in grants disbursed by Avi Chai in North America since 1984, $247 million went to day schools and $34 million went to camps. (The foundation disbursed $1.2 billion in total grants across North America, Israel and the former Soviet Union.) It also gave $158 million in interest-free loans to schools and camps for capital projects.

As the foundation entered its last 10 years and began to seek new supporters for its grantees, its approach to strengthening Jewish education shifted from going-it-alone to a more collaborative mindset. Yossi Prager, executive director of the foundation described a “field-building” approach, pointing to the 2016 merger of several day school associations, shepherded by Avi Chai, into a single association called Prizmah. He called it an example of consolidating resources to increase efficiency.

The foundation was an early supporter of blended learning, a teaching method that reduces the number of teachers in the classroom as a way to lower costs, but Prager said it has not yielded as much cost savings as anticipated. Avi Chai also supported initiatives to lobby for government funding for private schools, a politically sensitive issue that hangs on questions about church and state.

Read the entire article at The Jewish Week.

Updated: Dec. 05, 2019