Before coming to UJA, I served for many years as president of my children’s day school. It was a wonderfully fulfilling volunteer experience, helping to support and improve a vital organization I hold dear. But there was one dimension I found heartbreaking: hearing from parents who desperately wanted a Jewish education for their children and did not have the means to afford it. Then and now, even solidly middle class families, often ineligible for financial scholarships, find tuition an extremely difficult reach. Grandparents are commonly called on to supplement what parents can’t afford. Outsized sacrifices are expected. And this isn’t the exception to the norm. It is the norm.

At the same time, Jewish day school education is proven to instill lifelong connectivity to Jewish life. It’s the place where children become Jewishly literate, where they have the opportunity to explore our rich and vibrant texts and traditions. In these classrooms, studying Torah and Talmud, the sciences and humanities, next-generation Jewish leaders are being nurtured.

Which all begs the question: Should we continue to regard day school education as solely the responsibility of individual parents and grandparents, or instead, should the community share the burden, investing together in the Jewish future?

It was this question that first led me to become seriously engaged in the work of UJA-Federation. I joined a UJA committee focused on the affordability of day schools, and one glaring challenge became obvious: virtually no day school in our community had an appropriate-sized endowment. Indeed, some of our largest day schools had almost no endowment at all, significantly restricting the dollars available for financial scholarships.

An idea started to take root: Could we bring together philanthropists to create a communitywide challenge fund that would incentivize day schools and yeshivot across our area to raise endowment money for themselves? And would the broader community rise to the challenge, donating to the schools and supporting the idea of Jewish education as a shared communal responsibility?

After years of effort, we amassed a $51 million challenge fund — $20 million from UJA’s own endowment, together with significant funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation and eight inspiringly philanthropic families. Under the program, for every dollar a school raises in new endowment funds, it receives a 50% matching distribution from UJA’s Day School Challenge Fund.

Since then, I’m delighted to say that 21 day schools and yeshivot from across our community have joined the initiative (with two more expected to join shortly), already raising more than $44 million in new endowment support. There are some incredible success stories, including one school that raised $12 million, receiving the benefit of an additional $6 million from the matching fund. This funding will dramatically benefit the school for years to come, allowing for significantly more financial aid scholarships and the ability to invest in academic excellence.

And now, the clock is ticking. The schools have until December 31, 2018, to continue securing gifts that are eligible for matching dollars. Please look at the list of participating schools and consider making a gift.

There’s money in the fund waiting to be spent. Let’s spend it — and give Jewish education the investment it so richly deserves.

Shabbat shalom