Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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David Portowicz

USA • Chairman and Co-Founder, the Jaffa Institute

PhD '80

The Impact of Heller Alumni around the World: Israel

David Portowicz, PhD '80, creates programs designed to combat the stumbling blocks in the path of educational success

Fall 2011

A rabbi born in Brooklyn, David Portowicz was inspired to found the Jaffa Institute, a child welfare organization in Israel, after 18 months of data gathering for his doctoral thesis at Heller.

"I was writing about underprivileged children and the reasons for their failure to achieve in school, and my research brought me to the most disadvantaged community in Israel -- Jaffa. I discovered so many causal factors that prevented children growing up in the slums from maximizing their potential. All these causes were soluble if only the right programs were offered."

Along with co-founder Col. Ze'ev Shaham, Portowicz started the institute with 16 children and an initial grant of $50,000 from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Back then he focused on keeping the kids gainfully occupied and out of the reach of drug peddlers, abusive family situations, gang lords and pimps. As the institute grew, Portowicz continued creating programs designed to combat the stumbling blocks in the path of educational success, starting a hot lunch program, a dental clinic, a tutoring program and a residential center. During the past 30 years, the institute has created 35 different programs. Its budget has grown from half a million in 1980 to $7.6 million in 2010, and the institute is now recognized as a national model. The Jaffa Institute received Israel's highest award for volunteerism and twice received the Ministry of Education's award for outstanding educational program.

"My two years in Heller were formative years," says Portowicz. "I had the good fortune of studying with the finest professors and advisers. Marshall Sklare and Leonard Fein taught me about responsibility toward our fellow man. Roland Warren gave me insight into the importance of community. Bob Perlman helped me to formulate my thoughts and translate them into words. David Gil helped me to understand what it means to be a child in need. All of these people and the atmosphere I absorbed helped me to decide to do something that would make a difference."

And it seems he is doing just that -- when the institute started giving out scholarships in 1992, only two students were college bound. Last year, that number rose to 311. The Jaffa Institute doesn't have a political stance, says Portowicz. Jews and Arabs alike accept it. Today, it serves more than 4,000 children from the poorest sector of the country and boasts more than 30,000 graduates. But Portowicz is not satisfied to rest and bask in his accomplishments.

"If it were only possible," he says, "I would reach out to all 20,000 children growing up in this community."

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