Nearly a century ago, visionaries of Chicago’s Jewish community came together to meet our community’s Jewish educational needs by forming the Associated Talmud Torahs. And as our community has grown and educational standards have shifted, the ATT has evolved as well. Today, our leaders in Jewish education have risen to the challenge to create an educational environment that meets all children’s learning needs. It’s a vision that requires dedication, educational best practices and resources. Thanks to the generosity and leadership of this city, Chicago is rising to the challenge with REACH.
REACH is built upon nearly four decades of educational programming to support day school students with different learning needs. The Oscar A. & Bernice Novick Ptach program was founded nearly 40 years ago to help children who learn differently. The Broner and Sheinfeld families stepped in as the parent body advocating for more services for our students. They were the pioneers that began this journey. They were followed by the Elan Diagnostic center program, thanks to the Mermelstein and Kahn families. Then came the JUF, who was instrumental in starting REACH in a partnership with ATT, initially administered by JCFS to bring all these services under one banner. The JUF brought others to the table as well including the Crown family and MRHT to broaden the support of REACH. A few communal leaders stepped up as well, including the lead gifts of the Esformes and Walder families, along with the Rothners, Hartmans, Robinsons, Davis and Meystels, who all gave us the jump start we needed. Hundreds of other community donors allowed us to expand and grow. We are grateful to those families, individuals and organizations in our Jewish community who laid the foundations for REACH that brings us to today. Thank you for investing and believing in our children.
This leads to today and the future of REACH. Thanks to NWHA/Park Plaza, the future of REACH is more secure than ever. ATT was selected among Chicago-area education organizations to receive multi-year grants from NWHA and Park Plaza, whose board has embarked on a groundbreaking, cross generational effort totaling $11 million to support and sustain Jewish day school education across the Chicago Jewish community. This unprecedented multi-year gift builds on NWHA’s ethos of service to the Chicago Jewish community for more than 75 years and its mission of providing high quality housing for Jewish seniors. NWHA’s flagship facility is Park Plaza, an independent living community located on the far north side of Chicago.
The members of this committee stepped forward and approached the ATT because their goal was to impact as many children in the Jewish community as possible. Rabbi Mordechai Raizman, ATT’s Executive Director of Operations, tells the following story: “We were asked initially to put in a proposal for a 3.5 million dollar endowment. After much preparation and a highly anticipated meeting with the REACH leadership team led by Julie Gordon, we felt relieved and hopeful for a positive outcome.
That evening just a few hours after we met, I received a phone call. We got the grant, but it isn’t $3.5 million. Okay, I am thinking at least we got something. I was told that they were so impressed with the dedicated professionals of the REACH team, they pledged $5 million.
These are a special group of people that truly exhibit the middos of our forefather Avrohom, the paragon of chesed. In the end of shemoneh esrei we ask Hashem to bless us because He has given us Toras Chaim and Ahavas Chesed. What is the connection between the two? They seem to be two separate ideas, Torah as the guide for life and the love of chesed – yet they are lumped together?
The truth is they go hand in hand. Many people can give dollars, but most of the time it is after they are asked. I may add sometimes multiple times being asked until they come forward with a gift. To keep our values alive and have a Toras Chaim we need more than that. It needs to come with Ahavas Chesed. The love of chesed demands of us to come forward and give before even being asked. Stepping forward and recognizing the need and then going ahead to fill that need.
Not only did they look for us, asked us to aim high, they went even higher. I have asked other professionals in the field of fundraising and rarely have they heard a story like this. ‘They told you to ask for an amount and then gave you more?’ This is Ahavas chesed that keeps the Jewish people alive.”
Presenting the leadership of NWHA/Park Plaza with the Crain Maling Pillar of Education Award at the ATT dinner on December 8, Rabbi Raizman said, “We are forever grateful for this incredible generosity to impact the lives of hundreds and thousands of students for years to come. On behalf of the schools, administrations, educators, parents and students I thank you and applaud this committee for teaching us this valuable lesson.”
The ATT is one of three recipients to receive the NWHA board’s $11 million in funding over a five-year period. Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago (SSDS) and Chicago Jewish Day School (CJDS) also received endowment gifts. This funding will maximize each institution’s impact and ensure their long-term sustainability. It will also enable each institution to build further capacity from their respective base of supporters. Like Park Plaza itself, these institutions serve Jewish families across the broad spectrum of the Chicago Jewish community.
“The Hebrew words l’dor v’dor are literally inscribed into the doors at Park Plaza,” says Alan Caplan, president of Northwest Home for the Aged. “From generation to generation; that’s what we believe in, as individuals and as part of the Jewish community, and that’s exactly what this gift is: a gift that gives from one generation to the next, and the next after that. We at NWHA/Park Plaza are thrilled to make these gifts to support Jewish education in and around our communities.”
The NWHA/Park Plaza grant will have a far-reaching impact on ATT’s REACH program. Rusi Sukenik, REACH’s director of student services, says, “This endowment enables us to provide support to schools and teachers to teach struggling learners in a manner that best fits the student and addresses the needs and learning styles and needs of each student.”
Rabbi Raizman adds, “An endowment of this magnitude impacts our day school community in a profound manner. It ensures that no parent will worry that their child is falling through the cracks. This grant gives everyone a chance to succeed. Programs such as REACH are very costly to sustain. This grant is visionary in its nature and will allow us to provide for children for many years to come.”
The cross-generational aspects of Park Plaza are obvious the moment one enters. “Local schoolkids, grandkids, great-grandkids … they’re here all the time,” said Elly Bauman, Executive Director of Park Plaza. “Kids are here to celebrate Shabbat and holidays, to visit relatives, and to volunteer. It’s part of what helps us fulfill our mission of providing Jewish seniors with a life that’s not just comfortable, but which has dignity and meaning.”
“It’s just really what Park Plaza and Northwest Home for the Aged are all about,” says Alan Caplan. “We put l’dor v’dor front and center, the first thing you see when you enter the building, whether you’re a resident or a first-time visitor. It’s what grounds the Jewish community. Northwest Home for the Aged couldn’t be more pleased to put our primary principle into action with these gifts. They are investments in the future of our community.”
Thank you, NWHA/Park Plaza for invest in all of the future – in our children and the next generations to come.