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Scholarships Passed Over

Scholarships Passed Over

With registration for the fall semester just days away and scholarship application deadlines long passed, five future Jewish leaders found themselves scrambling to replace the tens of thousands of tuition dollars a Jewish program had suddenly revoked.

But the day before Passover, Moishe House founder David Cygielman appeared with a strong hand, an outstretched arm — and a band of anonymous donors.

The group Cygielman convened agreed to pick up the $77,000 collective tuition tab of the Professional Leaders Project (PLP) Academic Fellows. After being notified by e-mail on March 23 that funding to cover their graduate school tuition would no longer be available, effective immediately, the cash-strapped students met together and collectively appealed to Cygielman and others for help.

(One of the students has not yet had her current semester paid for; the remaining students have one year of academic coursework left).

The graduate students are pursuing a doctorate in education, master’s in public administration and a master’s in business administration at NYU, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities.

“This is a great example of how 18 young professionals banded together to advocate on behalf of the five members who had yet to finish our schooling,” says Adam Gaynor, one of the affected PLP fellows who is pursuing a doctorate in education and Jewish studies at NYU and also serves as executive director of The Curriculum Initiative, which engages Jewish students and their friends at independent, non-Jewish high schools. “The PLP legacy lives on in our utilizing our networks and the tools PLP granted us to create a strategy.”

PLP, a five-year-old program that aimed to create a high-end talent pool of Jewish communal professionals in their 20s and 30s, shut down in August 2009 in the wake of the economic turmoil and following the death of co-founder and philanthropist William Davidson, whose estate is mired in dispute. (Other co-founders of the program include The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Eugene and Marcia Applebaum, Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Robert P. Aronson, a former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit who has served as a consultant to major Jewish philanthropists.)

In a closing e-mail sent by PLP’s founding executive director, Rhoda Weisman, back in August, the organization promised that, “PLP will fulfill its commitment to cover tuition for the seven current Academic Fellows.” (Two of the academic fellows will have graduated by the end of this academic year).

Yet that commitment was reversed only days ago in an e-mail sent by Aronson, who currently serves as president of Taglit-Birthright Israel.

“We appreciate your understanding that while we worked to avoid this scenario, we were unsuccessful in light of the economic climate,” he wrote. “We are proud of the investment that we have made in your education so far, and would appreciate your discretion concerning this delicate and difficult decision.”

Calls to Aronson for comment were not returned.

The lack of funding had left some students contemplating dropping out of school. “For all of us, it was a great distraction and a source of considerable worry,” Gaynor says.

Cygielman, who has been involved in PLP for many years, says he was happy to help resolve the issue. “We just wanted to make sure that these young Jewish professionals who are going to be shaping the Jewish world are given the best opportunities, and can go on to do the important work that they are doing,” he told The Jewish Week.

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