Tribute to the AVI CHAI Foundation

Earlier this month I travelled to Atlanta, Georgia for the Prizmah Jewish Day School Conference. I found the conference enlightening and inspirational. I enjoyed presenting to my colleagues, learning from others and casually conversing with educators from around North America who, like me, are dreaming big for the Day School future.

What I didn’t expect was my participation in a tribute to the AVI CHAI Foundation. The AVI CHAI foundation, now in its 25th year, has done transformational work in the Jewish world, investing over 480 million dollars into North American Jewish institutions. Zalman Bernstein z”l, the founder of the fund, provided the donation with the stipulation that it be used within the lifetime of the trustees that he knew.

2019 is the ‘sunset year’ for the AVI CHAI Foundation. I have shared my personal reflection, written on Monday in Atlanta, as the AVI CHAI Foundation was honoured. Tonight at #Prizmah2019 we toasted The AVI CHAI Foundation. The pivotal moment of the presentation was when, in a room with over 1000 Jewish educators, we were asked to rise if we had personally been impacted by an AVI CHAI professional learning experience. Almost the entire room stood up. It was clear that, as AVI CHAI spends down and goes into the sunset, their legacy will live on through each of us who has been deeply and profoundly impacted, bettered and transformed by the learning experiences provided by The AVI CHAI Foundation.

An AVI CHAI program personally shaped my professional trajectory. It was at Harvard as a participant of the LEV program -- a gift from the AVI CHAI Foundation -- that I realized that I, too, could be a head of school. I left Cambridge armed with new tools and new ambitions. As I listened tonight to the impact that AVI CHAI had on our professional landscape, I felt one important nuance was missing. What AVI CHAI created was more than professional learning experiences; they provided opportunities for long-lasting learning and sustainable relationships. Perhaps we could count the number of school leaders who have participated in programs over the past two decades, but the number of connections that have been made and the impact that chance encounters and relationships formed have had is infinite.

I count the LEV experience as one of my most prized professional learning experiences. Yet it wasn't the experiential outdoor learning or the lecture by Dr. Howard Gardner or the introduction to the idea of school culture by Dr. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell that sparked my deep desire to seek out headship. It was the conversations I had with the people in my cohort. It was looking at them with awe and realizing that I too could do this work. It was the intangible moments over coffee, in our group text chat or delivering a d'var Torah on Shabbat that gave me the courage to dig deep into my soul and identify my own ambition to lead large and dream big.

So AVI CHAI, as you go into the sunset, know that the relationships your generosity facilitated have catalyzed our profession into the best of times. As my friend and colleague, Dr. Jonathan Cannon, said tonight, “Let’s help the moon and watch other suns rise.”

Thank you AVI CHAI Foundation for influencing my professional path and #Prizmah2019 for the opportunity to honour the impact. As I reflect on the generosity and impact of the AVI CHAI Foundation and look at our week ahead, it seems fitting that we will make our mark on Jewish Day Schools with the city-wide Day of Giving. In the spirit of accessibility, we will amplify our giving, commit ourselves to tuition subsidy support and plan strategically for a bright future for Jewish education, where many suns can rise, sparked by this sun’s set.