Ivy's out

After ditching Penn, David Magerman gives $1 million to Israeli college, plans to give to more

The five-year grant to the religious Jerusalem College of Technology will go toward a program to teach Hebrew to English-speaking new immigrants with the goal of integrating them into Israeli society

Data scientist and venture capitalist David Magerman, who publicly halted donations to the University of Pennsylvania last year over its handling of campus antisemitism, gave $1 million to Israel’s Jerusalem College of Technology to help the school develop a program to integrate English speakers into its Hebrew programs with the goal of encouraging immigration from the United States to Israel, he told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Magerman added that he plans to issue similar grants to other Israeli colleges and universities. “We’re doing $1 million grants over five years to JCT, and we’re looking to do similar programs with four other universities,” he said, speaking over Zoom from his home outside of Philadelphia.

“I had originally had a multimillion-dollar gift that was supposed to go to Penn, and I’ve decided to halt that gift. So instead of just saving the money, I decided to reinvest it in Israeli colleges,” he said.

Magerman, who attended the University of Pennsylvania, as did two of his sons (one graduated from the school; the other transferred out), had been donating to the Ivy League school for several years, but decided to cut ties with the university in September after it hosted the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which included a number of speakers with a history of making antisemitic comments. 

“I protested the event from behind the scenes and actually had made a decision and announced my decision to stop giving to Penn after the Palestine Writes Literature Festival in September, before Oct. 7, but I did it somewhat quietly. At that point it was just my personal decision not to support the school,” Magerman said. 

After Oct. 7, as protests on college campuses grew, Magerman said he decided to go public with his decision, publishing an open letter to Penn leadership on Oct. 15. “The lack of defending the Jewish community and the protests that followed [Oct. 7] were decisive for me, and that’s why I made a public pronouncement about abandoning Penn and moving away from any pledges I’d made and deciding not to give anymore,” he said.

Magerman, who was in Jerusalem on Oct. 7, said he looked to find a way to help the Jewish community following the attacks, specifically around supporting aliyah.

“I’m not looking to support Israel as an exit strategy for America. I don’t think we should be trying to run away from or escape [the United States],” he said. “At the same time, I think that our place is in Israel.”

Recalling his own sons’ desire to stay in Israel after their gap year studying at a yeshiva but feeling compelled to return to the United States for college, Magerman decided to support efforts to make it easier for such gap-year students to remain in Israel for their studies.

This focus was a natural fit for Magerman, who with his wife, Debra, runs the Kohelet Foundation, which focuses on Jewish education issues in the United States and on helping new immigrants integrate into Israeli society through education. (So as not to be confused with the controversial Kohelet Forum, the organization is known in Israel as the Tzemach David Foundation.)

Magerman said he met with representatives from a number of Israeli colleges and universities, finding that most looked to attract English-speaking students by offering special English-language degree programs. But this wasn’t what he had in mind, seeing it as ultimately preventing English-speaking new immigrants from integrating into Hebrew-speaking Israeli society.

Doni Fogel, vice president of JCT, said the science-focused school, which caters to religious students with gender-separated classes and religious text study, had been developing a program that would slowly integrate English-speaking students into its Hebrew degree programs, but didn’t have funding for it.

“It was an idea we had not yet brought to fruition. It is really, very fortuitous, really a bracha [blessing], that we connected with the Magermans,” Fogel told eJP, referring to the couple as “not just donors but strategic investors, thought partners.”

The four-year program (one year longer than the standard Israeli bachelor’s program), which the Magermans will help fund, is divided into two sections: For the first two years, the participants study core classes as well as Hebrew; during the final two years, the students join the college’s standard Hebrew-language courses.

“So it wouldn’t just be one major that you could study English [as most universities currently offer] but it would be the full spectrum of majors that [JCT] offers,” Magerman said.

Magerman, who identifies himself as a “religious Jew” and has long maintained a relationship with Yeshiva University, said JCT, previously known as the Lev Institute, represented the “gold standard” for the type of higher education that he supports.

“I view JCT as like the Yeshiva University for the world. Anyone in the world who wants this dual curriculum [of religious and secular studies], which is gender-separated — education that supports Orthodox life — they should choose JCT,” he said.

Fogel said the program is due to launch in fall 2024 and that there is already “strong registration,” though he did not disclose the precise number of applicants.

“The American Jewish community is realizing that there are enormous opportunities to be had here in Israel, and we are looking to make those opportunities accessible to the English-speaking world,” Fogel said.