With a total of $21 million in gifts, The Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital will get the middle school its parents have always wanted.
“This is among the largest gifts to a Jewish day school in the country,” said Adina Kanefield, director of institutional advancement at JPDS.
The only Jewish day school in Washington currently teaches students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. By September 2018, the school will offer a seventh and eighth grade as well.
A ceremony Monday night in the school’s Gottesman Auditorium featured much fanfare and a little mystery. The 150 community members gathered were told ahead of the event only that a “major announcement” was forthcoming.
Attendees soon learned that Alfred Moses, a former ambassador to Romania, and The Gottesman Fund, will donate $10 million each for the new facility that will be built at the school’s north campus on 16th Street.
Another $1 million, plus an additional $500,000 if the school community matches that amount, was pledged by school parents Steven and Chani Laufer.
A third-floor addition will become a middle school and will be named the Moses Family Middle School. JDPS officially will become the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital. The north and south campus will continue as the Kay and Robert Schattner Center.
Construction is expected to begin in June 2017.
The announcement was a culmination of talks that began two years ago when Moses approached Milton Gottesman’s nephews for help in funding a middle school in Washington.
“We were not approached. We approached the school,” Moses said.
When school officials first learned of the $20 million gift, it was important to determine if a new set of parents, not yet active in the school, will be around to make sure JPDS has a future, said Greg Shron, president of the school’s board of trustees.
It was determined there was “a critical mass of new leaders and board members” willing to step up when the current board’s children begin attending high school and college, Shron said.
While there was a great deal of excitement following the announcement, Shron said there is much to be done before seventh and eighth graders can start class. Plans and actual construction loom large, he said. “There is a tremendous amount of work left to be done,” he said.
Most of the roughly 300 students who graduate from JPDS go on to public school or independent private schools, Kanefield said.
Moses, a member of Kesher Israel Congregation, said he is determined to stop the flow away from Jewish education.
Keeping students in Jewish day school for even two more years will make “a meaningful difference,” said Moses, a former partner in the Washington law firm Covington & Burling and cofounder of Promontory Financial Group.
“Without it, we are not going to have a Jewish community,” said Moses, who was a special presidential emissary for the Cyprus Conflict from 1999 to 2001 and a special advisor and counsel to President Jimmy Carter.
Moses was a lifelong friend of Milton Gottesman, who died 10 years ago.
Two of Gottesman’s nephews spoke at the official announcement, noting that JPDS teaches a well-rounded curriculum, which was what their uncle preferred.
They described their uncle as an intellect who spoke and wrote Hebrew, loved being Jewish and doing things for the community. He rode his bicycle to work every day, well into his 70s. He would not be interrupted when Masterpiece Theater came on television, played Gilbert and Sullivan on the piano and took up painting in his 80s, said nephews Robert and Bill Gottesman.
Bill Gottesman compared his uncle to the Star Wars movie character C3PO – both were tall, proper, finicky, hyper-educated and hyper-verbal. They even walked the same way.
Moses and The Gottesman Fund have donated to JPDS in the past. The Gottesman Fund also donates to numerous other Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Historical Society, Birthright Israel, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Beit Din of America and numerous synagogues, mostly in New York.
“They give to many causes in Israel and here, Jewishly,” Kanefield said.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, late to take the podium after mistakenly showing up at JPDS’ south campus, pronounced the new middle school not only an asset for Jewish education, but for the entire city.
“Great school choices” bring families here “who care about value-based education,” she said, prompting a standing ovation.
Also addressing the crowd was Steven Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. JPDS’s expansion at a time when other day schools are losing students “speaks volumes about the future of the Jewish community” in Washington, he said.