By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Seventeen years ago, members of the Dallas Jewish community decided something needed to be done about their key infrastructure – which was outdated, aged, and in great need of repair.
Buildings such as the Jewish Community Center, Akiba Academy, Ann and Nate Levine Academy(formerly known as Solomon Schechter), and Jewish Family Service buildings were in increasing need of reconstruction and rehabilitation.
“The buildings of this community were literally crumbling and old and had not been repaired in ages,” explained Meyer L. Bodoff, President/CEO of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation.
Community leaders Larry Schoenbrun and Donald Schaffer — life trustees of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation — helped devise a plan to modernize these community structures, Bodoff said.
This involved the successful rallying of community members to raise $60,000,000 and make the repairs possible.
“It was courageous and visionary,” Mona Allen, director of scholarships and programs for the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation said in an email. “It exhibited an understanding on their part of what role our Foundation should play in the support and well-being of this community.”
Schoenbrun said associated community organizations worked on capital campaigns to raise money toward this end.
“The foundation lent its balance sheet (to the effort) because none of the agencies had one that would have permitted this type of financing,” Schoenbrun said in a TJP interview.
At the time, the Dallas Jewish community needed to borrow $30,000,000 from banks in the form of bonds.
However, no one possessed the resources to provide collateral to issue the bonds.
At the behest of Schoenbrun and Schaffer, officials with the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation stepped in and pledged its assets in order for the building and construction to take place.
Beginning in 1999 and culminating in 2005, this Capital Campaign project helped build, expand and renovate facilities of agencies within the Dallas Jewish community – touching and supporting every phase of Jewish life, from the education of the young to the care of the elderly, according to Allen.
Other key agencies that participated in the capital campaign include Dallas Holocaust Center, Jewish Community Center of Dallas, The Wise Academy, Golden Acres, Dallas Jewish Historical Society, Yavneh, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and Jewish Family Services.
Recently, that $30 million debt was settled — the bond monies borrowed from that project all paid off.
This was made possible last year when, Dallas Jewish Community Foundation reached a major high point in its history with $184,000,000 under management.
As a result, a dozen years after incurring the debt, the community has paid it off 20 years early with a $30,000,000 drop in the Foundation’s assets under management, Allen said.
“Because of the change in the financial markets, it made sense to go ahead and pay it off,” Larry Schoenbrun said. “The choice was to do it next year or now, you would have to refinance the whole thing next year so it made sense to get it over with now.”
Assets under management now run at about $150,000,000.
Pam Kurtzman, who was chief financial officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas for five years (she is now program administrator and director of the Jewish Federations of North America National Jewish Federation Bond Program) was responsible for negotiating, documenting and financing for six agencies. She said paying the debt was the responsible thing to do.
“We were looking at settling the debt and because of the way the transaction was structured it was looking like it would make more sense to go pay off the debt,” she said.
After issuing bonds for the benefit of the agencies participating in the capital campaign, the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation was honored for the stellar performance in 2005 by United Jewish Communities (UJC) and which became known as Jewish Federations of North America in 2009. The prestigious Community Endowment Excellence Award subsequently was presented to Dallas members at the UJC General Assembly in Los Angeles.
Donald Schaffer – vice president of the board of trustees at the time – applauded everyone involved with the Dallas effort.
“This national recognition is the result of the selfless work of our staff, board and volunteers on behalf of our community,” Schaffer said. “The award validates how the Foundation has been able to grow and strengthen endowment commitments.”
Back when first set up, those involved with this capital campaign set out to raise $50,000,000 to meet capital needs of campus based programs, day schools, social services and geriatric facilities.
Due to the generosity of the community’s donors, the Capital Campaign raised $60 million, by 1,430 donors.
This total of all classes of gifts included cash, pledges, endowments, and in-kind gifts.
Was it worth it?
“Today, you see beautiful modern buildings because of the vision of this capital campaign,” Bodoff said.
Bodoff said it was the leadership and foresight of Larry Schoenbrun and Donald Schaffer that allowed this to happen.
“People need to thank them for that vision — it made our modern beautiful community what it is today,” he said. “Today we reap the benefits of these beautiful buildings and the foundation will work to create a new generation of philanthropy in Dallas.”