(April 20, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) In 1978, Sanford Bernstein was a brilliant investor leading a high-flying, largely secular New York life. That year his father died, and Bernstein began deeper inquiries into the faith of his parents with the help of a warm and learned rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.
Bernstein did nothing halfway. In the years that followed, he began introducing himself by his Hebrew name, Zalman, and committed himself to a life of observance. He would later make aliyah to Jerusalem, where he died in 1999.
Bernstein’s spiritual quest led him beyond personal Jewish renewal. He decided to devote the final chapter of his life to invigorating Jewish intellectual life and practice so that his people might survive and flourish. To that end, he created philanthropic organizations—the Avi Chai Foundation and the Tikvah Fund—that would be devoted to advancing Jewish and Israeli causes, organizations and ideas.
Founded in 1984, the Avi Chai Foundation has been devoted to strengthening the Jewish people and its attachment to the State of Israel, and to cultivating mutual understanding among Jews of different affiliations. It has invested more than $300 million in support of innovative projects, bringing Jews together around the world. Its work in the former Soviet Union has been particularly vital in giving the gift of Jewish and Zionist learning and practice to communities that had been deprived of these during Soviet times.
After Bernstein’s passing, his wife, Mem, continued his philanthropic legacy and expanded the organization as board chair.
The Tikvah Fund was founded in 1992. Since Bernstein’s death, its efforts have been guided by Bernstein’s friend, business partner and intellectual comrade Roger Hertog.
Hertog has been guided by the important insight that ideas matter for the future of the Jewish people and state.
As such, the Tikvah Fund has been a veritable incubator of profound Jewish thought. Tikvah-funded journals (both American and Israeli), including Azure, Mosaic, the Jewish Review of Books and Ha’Shiloach, have brilliantly expounded the most pressing questions facing Israel and the Jewish people. Educational programs in America and Israel have allowed thousands of students to deepen their intellectual engagement with Judaism and Zionism.
In 2017, Shalem, Israel’s first liberal-arts college, which has received generous support over the years from Tikvah, held its first graduation ceremony. Hertog was among its first recipients of an honorary doctorate for his devotion to the cause of humanistic education in Israel—a fitting valedictory culmination of the work that he and Bernstein set out to accomplish.