Yael Foundation looks to boost Jewish education globally

March 7th, 2024

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we interview Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now conference, and feature an opinion piece by David Werdiger with strategies for proactively “stress testing” relationships with non-Jewish institutions in the wake of the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Also in this issue: Andrew Rehfeld, Charlene Seidle and Eve Rosenbaum. We’ll start with the Yael Foundation, which is looking to bolster Jewish education worldwide.

A relatively new organization has entered the field of Jewish education, backed by a Ukrainian-born, Cyprus-based Jewish philanthropist, which plans to serve as a lifeline for small and overlooked Jewish communities, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Founded some three years ago by Uri and Yael Poliavich, the Yael Foundation in recent months has developed a more focused strategic plan, brought on new leadership and doubled its grant fund as it looks to play a more significant role in Jewish education around the world, making Jewish schools — both day schools and extracurricular programs — better, cheaper and more available.

In the coming year, the foundation plans to issue $21.8 million in grants, at three different tiers, to dozens of schools around the world, but mostly in small European communities, the organization’s newly hired CEO, Chaya Yosovich, told eJP.

Last month, the foundation brought together dozens of school principals and community leaders — largely from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement — from 31 countries for its annual conference in Paphos, Cyprus, which featured speakers on a variety of education topics, as well as sessions on how to use the foundation as a resource and time for networking and general conversations.

“The conference is meant mostly to make connections and for networking between the school principals from all of these different places, many of which are relatively isolated,” Yosovich told eJP on the sidelines of the conference, which was held at a swanky seaside resort. “Here they can make connections, which gives them more tools as principals. It also gives them some recognition — we know that their work isn’t simple and isn’t easy, and there’s something that we can do for them.”

Uri Poliavich, who founded the online gambling company Soft2Bet, launched the Yael Foundation with the goal of making Jewish education accessible to everyone. “Our goal at the Yael Foundation is to make sure Jewish children and families worldwide have the opportunity to connect and to have meaningful Jewish experiences available, whether through schools, informal educational programs, summer camps, and more,” Poliavich told eJP after the conference.

In recent months, the foundation has brought on Yosovich as its new chief executive, replacing Eliezer Lesovoy, who is staying on with the organization as its director of education, and Naomi Kovitz as its new chief operations officer.

According to Yosovich, the foundation initially took a perhaps too broad approach to grantmaking, supporting lots of small initiatives all around the world. Now, the foundation, which is primarily based in Israel and Cyprus, is looking to refocus and concentrate the bulk of its attention on Europe, though it will retain some of its support for programs elsewhere.

“We want to get everywhere in the world, but at the moment we can’t really get to every Jew around the world. We need some focus to start from, so we decided to start with Europe,” Yosovich said.

In addition to limiting the focus of its operations primarily to Europe, Yosovich said the foundation is also establishing three tiers of grants: three or four multiyear “mega projects,” which will represent some 50% of the foundation’s annual grantmaking; a slightly larger number of “medium” grants, which will make up roughly 30% of its annual grantmaking; and the remainder will go toward “ongoing support” for institutions.

Many of the recipients of the foundation’s grants are from the Chabad movement — including at least two of its “mega projects” — as were most of the attendees of last month’s conference. Yet Poliavich stressed that the foundation is pluralistic and often supports Chabad programs in small communities because they are some of the only ones available.

“The Yael Foundation maintains an inclusive approach to supporting Jewish educational initiatives globally, especially in areas where such opportunities are limited,” he told eJP. “While we don’t have a formal relationship with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, we often find a Chabad shaliach leading programs in remote locations.”

Read the full report here.