By: Avi Hirsch  | 

Over $5.6 Million Raised at Hanukkah Dinner; $18 Million Donation by Azrieli Foundation Announced

Over $5.6 million was raised from the 95th Annual Yeshiva University Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation, which marks a 12% increase from last year’s dinner and the largest sum raised from the dinner in at least seven years. The Azrieli Foundation, honored at the dinner with the inaugural Legacy Award, announced a gift of $18 million to the university to support the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and to contribute to undergraduate scholarships.

This year’s dinner was held at the New York Hilton Midtown Hotel and hosted around 600 attendees. According to Adam Gerdts, VP of Institutional Advancement at YU, the $5.6 million raised at the dinner “will be used across the university including scholarships.”

Howard Jonas, founder and chairman of IDT Corporation, Genie Energy and IDW Media, was awarded an honorary doctorate at the dinner. He serves as chairman of the board of Rafael Pharmaceuticals, and he and his wife have contributed to a wide array of causes in the Jewish community.

This year’s dinner also marked the inauguration of the Legacy Award, presented to the Azrieli Foundation in celebration of “36 years of transformative partnership with Yeshiva University,” and in honor of the foundation’s 30 years of philanthropy, according to YU News. Dr. Naomi Azrieli, chair and CEO of the foundation, accepted the award.

The Yeshiva University Women’s Organization (YUWO) was recognized at the dinner as well. YUWO provides scholarships to YU students, sponsors educational Shabbatonim (shabbat programs) for YU undergraduate students, funds chesed (charity) programs and offers stipends for undergraduate students in need.

“We’ve crafted an educational vision that … capitalizes on the opportunities of our era by growing science, tech, innovation and entrepreneurship,” said President Ari Berman in his opening remarks. He continued by elaborating on the financial success that YU has seen in recent years. “But this does not speak directly to our fundamental purpose,” he added. “Why are we here?”

“Our goal and purpose is to transmit our positive Jewish values to our children, to fill their lives with meaning,” he explained. “Very simply put, this is the purpose of a Jewish university today … Our purpose is to educate our students to internalize our values and be successful role models and leaders in an ever-evolving world.”

According to YU News, the Azrieli Foundation’s donation is “one of the largest gifts focused on Jewish education that Yeshiva University has received.” It follows their $10 million donation in 2012, which was at the time the largest single donation ever made by the foundation.

“This historic gift to Jewish education and Jewish educators is transformative for the future of our communities,” said President Berman. “The Azrieli family is the gold seal in philanthropy, and this gift reflects their true partnership and commitment to the essential work of Yeshiva University.”

This year’s dinner was the first in five years to not feature a keynote address; the last such dinner was the 90th annual dinner in 2014. When reached for comment, Gerdts emphasized Dr. Azrieli’s address in response to the Azrieli Foundation’s acceptance of the Legacy Award. “[W]e were delighted for her to share the announcement of this transformative gift,” he said. “Featuring her in this way was aligned with the design of the dinner.”

Last year’s dinner took place on the heels of shakeups in the Office of Institutional Advancement that resulted in Julie Schreier’s appointment as Interim Vice President of Institutional Advancement. This year’s dinner is the first since Gerdts was appointed to fill the position in March. Since Seth Moskowitz resigned from the position the morning after the 92nd Annual Hanukkah Dinner in 2016, no individual has held the title of VP of Institutional Advancement for two years in a row.

“This was my first Hanukkah Dinner at YU,” said Gerdts. “I am excited to keep the momentum going and working together with my colleagues to continue to support the university’s efforts.”

According to Gerdts, “The Office of Institutional Advancement, the Marketing and Communications Office, the University Events Office, University Leadership, and lay leadership all had a role in organizing the dinner.”

Other than the annual Hanukkah dinner, the Office of Institutional Advancement is responsible for large-scale fundraising efforts such as the annual 24-hour Giving Day fundraising campaign. This year’s Giving Day, which raised over $5.7 million for student scholarships, brought in far fewer donors compared to previous years, and over $4 million of the $5.7 million raised was donated by 11 individuals.

Past honorees of the dinner include American politicians such as Adlai Stevenson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Jack Kemp, Colin Powell, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mike Bloomberg, Al Gore, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Jack Lew and Andrew Cuomo; Israeli politicians such as Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, Chaim Herzog and Nir Barkat; philanthropists such as Ghity Lindenbaum Stern (the widow of Max Stern), Sy Syms, Philip Belz, Ira Mitzner, Stanley Raskas and Laurie Tisch; as well as columnists such as David Brooks and Bret Stephens.

Photo Caption: (L-R) Dr. Rona Novick, Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; YU President Ari Berman; Dr. Sharon Azrieli; Dr. Naomi Azrieli, Chair of the Azrieli Foundation; Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, Vice President for University Affairs
Photo Credit: YU News