The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches that there is “a time to reap and a time to sow.” For Gladwyne resident David Magerman, that lesson seemed especially relevant in 2004, when he began to question the meaning of his life. On the surface, it seemed like the 43-year-old had it all: a loving wife and two (of his now four) children, a large home on eastern Long Island and a very successful career as head of production for a hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, in which he had accumulated significant personal wealth. “And yet, I found it all to be pointless,” he reminisces. “I worried that one day my oldest son would ask me the meaning of life — and I would have no answer.”
So began a personal odyssey for Magerman that involved reinvesting himself in the study of his religion (“I grew up in a Conservative family but lost my connection to Judaism during college,” he says), moving his family to suburban Philadelphia and ultimately becoming one of the leading philanthropists on both the local and national Jewish day school scenes.
In 2008, Magerman founded The Kohelet Foundation (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes) to promote and support Jewish communal responsibility for day schools among parents, philanthropists and the greater Jewish community, in ways that are replicable and accessible to communities nationwide.
Among his first order of business was funding a series of tuition grants, hoping that by making day school more affordable, more families would sign up. He began with incentive grants for new students at the Perelman Jewish Day School. He expanded the offerings to other schools, became the benefactor for the new Kohelet Yeshiva High School and just recently announced a new round of grants for most of the day schools in the Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey communities.
The goal of the scholarships is to enable more children to realize the dream of an education rich in Jewish values and responsibility, where they achieve academically, all while connecting to the world through a Jewish lens. These students, believes Magerman, are our best hope for the future.
Another way in which The Kohelet Foundation is fulfilling this mission is through its Fellowships Program, a two-year Jewish learning experience for parents of students enrolled in Jewish day schools.
By committing themselves to learning and studying Jewish texts, either one-on-one with a study partner or in a classroom, parents of Jewish day school students earn tuition credits from their children’s schools. The concept, according to Magerman, reinforces the principle that studying Torah is a lifelong pursuit, which parents demonstrate to their children. “If you can make parents more knowledgeable about the value of Jewish learning, you can make them stronger and more devoted proponents of day school education,” he says.
A self-professed “systems guy,” Magerman describes his approach to solving some of the affordability issues related to Jewish day school education by looking at what was broken and trying to fix it. “We need more creative models for making Jewish day school affordable,” he says. “I truly believe that Torah education is necessary for a stable society. The alternative seems to be totally ineffective.”