For most, birthdays are times for receiving gifts. For David J. Azrieli, however, a milestone birthday is the time to give a gift — a $10 million donation from the foundation he established to Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, he announced last Wednesday.
The gift, in honor of Azrieli’s 90th birthday, is the largest single donation ever made by the Azrieli Foundation. It will strengthen the Azrieli Graduate School, named in 1983 to train Jewish educators, specifically teachers and administrators at Jewish day schools and other organizations across North America. As an expression of gratitude to David J. Azrieli, YU dedicated its current issue of Prism, an Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators, in his honor to mark this special milestone.
The Azrieli Graduate School is now the country’s largest post-graduate institution for Jewish education and has 260 students enrolled in various programs of advanced study, training and research in pursuit of master’s and doctoral degrees. The Azrieli School’s Dean, Dr. David J. Schnall, recently announced that the school has received accreditation to award New York State Teacher Licenses in secular elementary, middle and high school subjects.
The $10 million will be used primarily to make available scholarships for the school and to help attract more men and women to the field of Jewish education.
Azrieli, a Yeshiva University Trustee since 1987, escaped the Nazis and landed in Israel in 1942, where he served in Israel’s Seventh Brigade in the War of Independence. He studied architecture at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology— before moving to New York, where he studied at Yeshiva University for a year. He ultimately moved to Montreal, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Montreal’s Thomas More Institute. Azrieli, a life-long learner, earned his Master’s Degree in Architecture from Carleton University in Ottawa at age 75.
Azrieli is well-known in Canada, the U.S. and Israel as a developer, architect and philanthropist. He revolutionized retail shopping in Israel, building the country’s first enclosed mall in 1985. Today, he owns 14 Israeli malls and coined the Hebrew word “canion” which combines the Hebrew words for “shopping and parking.”
As a philanthropist, Azrieli established the school of architecture at Tel Aviv University, a chair of architecture at Technion and the Azrieli Institute for Israel Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, where he lives.
He is a major donor to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and inspired the Azrieli Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, which collects, publishes and disseminates the written memoirs of Holocaust survivors, a project that was initiated and is managed by his daughter, Dr. Naomi Azrieli, who chairs the Azrieli Foundation.
“The entire Yeshiva University family is inspired and strengthened by this gift, especially during a time when Jewish education at North America’s more than 800 day schools is being challenged because of the economic downturn,” said Yeshiva University’s president, Richard M. Joel. “This historic gift will help graduate students pursue their career dreams and will strengthen the future of Judaism throughout hundreds of Jewish educational institutions.”
“The gift comes from a great personal friend and a truly heroic friend to Yeshiva University,” said Dr. Herbert C. Dobrinsky, YU’s vice president for university affairs, who encouraged David Azrieli to name the graduate school in 1983. “This and all of David’s gifts will help generations of Jewish children to know about their identity and their heritage.”
“My family and my father can think of no better way to celebrate a 90th birthday,” said Dr. Naomi Azrieli, who oversaw the gift. “Seeing young people graduate from this school and move on to teach Judaism to the next generation has been one of my father’s greatest joys.”