Graduating seniors don’t typically think about helping future students, especially after a final semester in which they sacrificed so much. Such forward-thinking philanthropy is usually left to parents, grandparents and wealthy donors. But a handful of students from The Weber School started a fund on their last day of classes that will be their legacy to future classes.
“Finishing their relationship with Jewish day schools, they recognized the need for Jewish continuity and meaningful Israel programs,” said Michal Ilai, Israel programs director at the school.
At last count, the Israel fund raised close to $7,000 from a few donors. “The school set the goal at $5,000, but within two days it was already at $6,600,” Ilai said. “When students heard, they immediately donated their own money even before going public. My hope is that this fund will continue to grow and benefit future Weber students.”
Ilai had taken a few of the students who started the fund to AIPAC policy conferences and events. On the last day of school, they told her in a Zoom call that they wanted to start a fund to help ensure students in future Weber classes could have the same opportunity regardless of whether they could afford it.
On Sunday, May 31, AIPAC canceled its 2021 conference nine months in advance of the event because of concerns about COVID-19. The last conference, in March, came before the virus began spreading in the U.S. At least six people who attended the conference tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Times of Israel.
Of the news, Ilai said, “We were saddened to hear that the Policy Conference has been canceled. But our work does not rely on one event per year. Especially now, during this pandemic, when our children cannot travel to Israel or attend Jewish summer camps, we must think of creative ways to teach our students about Israel and connect them to her people. This legacy gift secures our commitment to doing that.”
The money raised will also be used to fund Israel education programs and bring speakers to the school that promote ties to Israel, said Ilai, an Israeli who teaches Hebrew and Jewish studies at Weber.
“Usually students [raise money] for programs that benefit themselves. Teens don’t typically invest in those that will come after them,” she said. “This embodies a high level of giving according to Judaism: doing something meaningful for future generations. These kids will not be direct beneficiaries of this effort.”
Ilai said the initiative also is in keeping with Weber’s mission: to inspire students to have “a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish people and Israel, and a responsibility to serve our community and improve the world.”
Tiffany Salzberg is among the seniors who helped create the fund “to support programming with a connection to Israel,” she said. “This project is significant to me because Israel has a special place in my heart. I value my connection to Israel greatly, and throughout my life have put a lot of emphasis on this personal connection,” Salzberg said.
“At least once a year, I travel to Israel to visit family and explore the country further. Since I was a little girl, my frequent trips to Israel have been the basis of my love for everything the country has to offer.
“I also support the American-Israeli alliance through AIPAC year-round, especially at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, which I have attended each year with Weber. … I intend for my brother, who will be a freshman at Weber in the fall, among every other student at Weber, to benefit greatly from this legacy in that there will be no financial burden associated with their support for Israel. I wish that this fund was around while I was a student at Weber to facilitate more integration of Israeli culture to the community.”
Another senior who helped start the fund was Max Ripans. “I always loved Israel, but I did not realize all of the problems it faced on a daily basis. … Beginning of last year my friend Will Stanwick asked me to be co-presidents in his club, which was Action Israel. We got a lot of work done, but money was always an issue since we had a budget of $0. We were not able to get speakers or help students who couldn’t afford to go to the AIPAC Policy Conference in D.C. We knew this could not continue at a Jewish school, and for that reason we started the Rams for Israel Fund,” Ripans said.
“My biggest hope is that this fund enables students to hear powerful speakers and programs to become more informed on Israel. … There will always be haters of Israel, but if more students understand the problem going on, they can be better advocates.”
Head of School Rabbi Edward Harwitz said the fundraising effort was the first of its kind for student scholarships, unique for several reasons, including how it was “driven by students initiative with support from parents.”
He continued, “All of us at The Weber School are deeply moved and inspired by the initiative shown by the student leadership of this project. Their work is meaningful on so many accounts: First, in that our students have chosen to honor a beloved teacher who has inspired their love for and work on behalf of the land and people of Israel.
“Second, that the graduates of the class of 2020 would choose to leave a financial legacy in the area of Israel education and advocacy, enabling future students at The Weber School to access continuing and new opportunities in Israel related programming that some might otherwise be unable to afford. Given the central role that Israel plays in the mission of The Weber School, we could not be more proud that these graduates would direct their first alumni gift towards inspiring and enabling future Weber students to build their own, personal relationships with contemporary Israel and Israelis.”