At a time when Jewish college students face unprecedented challenges, grappling with rising instances of antisemitism, one pioneering program is taking a proactive stance in fortifying the foundation of Jewish identity.

The Our Heritage program, founded by the Menachem Education Foundation (MEF), tackles the urgent need for Jewish investment in education at its very core by welcoming Jewish public school students into the nurturing embrace of Chabad day schools.

The program is dedicated in the loving memory of R’ Shneur Zalman Hirsch OBM, founding sponsor of Our Heritage.

From its inception in the Summer of 2020 / 5780, Our Heritage has been a catalyst for change, empowering Chabad schools and welcoming students from public education into a world steeped in Jewish tradition, identity, and community. The program provides $25,000 in matching grants to participating Chabad day schools that enroll 10 or more students coming from public schools.

Since its founding, Our Heritage has awarded $1,200,000 in matching grants to over 30 Chabad day schools, enabling 566 Jewish students to receive a Jewish education worldwide. While the initial tuition grant may be a draw, the quality of the education is ensuring that the students are staying: schools note a nearly 80% retention rate.

This year, Our Heritage has partnered with 17 Chabad schools that have enrolled an additional 107 public school students for the 2023-2024 academic year. What sets the program apart isn’t just the numbers or financial support, but the remarkable stories that emerge from this transformative journey.

Gabriela from Mazel Day School, Brooklyn, shares that “my whole life has changed. I keep Shabbat. I go to synagogue. I am so happy to feel a part of my people.” Shelby Watkins of Bader Hillel High in Milwaukee says that transferring to a Jewish school has “brought me closer to Yiddishkeit, Hashem, and other Jews. It brought me a sense of community and belonging.”

And it’s not just about the students; transferring has a ripple effect that extends to families. Parents like Yelena Mordukhayev Zavulunov from Atlanta, Georgia, recounts the remarkable positive changes witnessed in their children’s overall academic and Judaic studies, highlighting the crucial sense of belonging that a Jewish education offers.

In an educational landscape where Jewish college students often face hostility, Our Heritage opts for a proactive, preventive approach. By instilling a strong sense of Jewish identity and community early on, it aims to equip these students with the resilience and pride essential to navigate the intricacies of higher education and the wider world.

Rabbi Zalman Shneur, Executive Director of MEF, expounds, “Protecting our heritage begins with investing in education, with building a foundation that celebrates our roots and empowers our youth. Our Heritage isn’t just about schooling; it’s about cultivating a legacy that thrives in a world where our youth can proudly embrace their Jewish identity.”

And the success stories continue to unfold. Seventh grader Leenor Davidov of Silverstein Hebrew Academy, Great Neck, emphasizes that transferring to a Jewish school “was the best decision of my life. Judaism means so much to me now.”

With 107 more students learning in Jewish classrooms this year, Our Heritage is securing a future where Jewish identity is not just safeguarded but celebrated.

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