A Message from President Ronald S. Lauder
It was while serving as the United States Ambassador to Austria in 1987 that I accepted an invitation to visit a small Jewish kindergarten in a working class section of Vienna.
I found a dozen children, all of them recent émigrés from the Soviet Union. They were playing, laughing, and learning Hebrew songs. A young rabbi was running the kindergarten on what was obviously a shoestring budget. I decided to help out, at first just a little, and then more, as I saw what well placed funds could do.
Others at the time were skeptical, calling the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe “remnants,” or “last Jews.”
That was not my impression. I was meeting with impassioned young Jewish parents in Warsaw, Bucharest, Sofia and Prague, and each time I saw in front of me commitment, energy and a genuine desire to rebuild Jewish life.
Others asked what sort of long-term feasibility studies my foundation was carrying out. Still others were recommending extensive demographic research and sustainability modeling. I listened to them.
Then I listened to those parents, rabbis, and teachers — from Berlin, Cologne, Zagreb, Kiev, Lviv, Moscow, Perm, Tula, Samara, Bratislava, Leipzig, Minsk and other cities. And I voted with my heart.
Twenty five years later, the children I supported in that kindergarten in Vienna are now enjoying fully realized, successful, and very Jewish lives. Some of them teach in the Vienna school that bears my name and send their own children to it. And throughout our network of thirteen countries, we now enroll more than 3,000 children in our kindergartens, schools, youth centers, summer camps and institutions of higher education.
In the coming years, we will use cutting edge online tools and technology to reach even further, into small communities that cannot sustain Jewish schools or even youth centers, so that all Jewish children in Central and Eastern Europe can have the Jewish education they deserve.
Our mission statement is simple, clear and unwavering: We help to rebuild Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe, and we believe that education is the most effective means to achieve that goal.
Sometimes I wonder: whatever happened to all those “remnants,” those “last Jews”? Twenty five years later, some 35,000 of them have attended my institutions, are rejuvenating their communities, and are marrying and having Jewish children. And we have only just begun.
Ronald S. Lauder