A Lunch with Yossi Vardi: Clear Vision for Students (and Funders Too)

By Lisa Hofheimer


On August 1, 2016, JFN member John Fishel, of The Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation, hosted a JFN member-to-member event at his office. We were there to meet with Yossi Vardi, a JFN Israel member and a founder of Tovanot B’Hinuch.

Founded in 2011 by Bronfman Laureate Karen Tal, of Bialik-Rogozin fame, Tovanot is a joint venture between professional educators and members of Israeli business and high tech communities who aim to create positive change in public schools in Israel's social and geographic periphery. Each principal works closely with action committees (from the business community and local municipalities) to transform schools into academic, social and emotional hubs within each community. Since 2011, Tovanot has grown from 4 schools in South Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh to 20 schools in 14 underserved communities in 2016. 

Yossi’s passion and approachability created space for a substantive conversation. He provided us with Tovanot’s history and offered appropriate metrics of their success, but it was his personal anecdotes about children, educators, and volunteers that resonated with me. Yossi told the story of a Tovanot principal who looked out into a crowd of students and noticed that only a handful wore eyeglasses. Knowing that roughly 20% of Israeli children are visually impaired, the principal requested vision screening for the student body. If a child can't see, how can he/she learn? Tovanot volunteers and members of the action committee mobilized their resources and organized (free) testing and eyeglass donations for the students.

It's this kind of narrative that underscores the need for diverse thinking and holistic approaches to problem solving. Educating at-risk youth requires a commitment to the whole child, and stories like Yossi’s take us out of our respective environments and into those of the children we serve. Compelling curricula and extraordinary educators are important, and basic social and therapeutic services underpin their success.

Thank you John, Yossi, and Tzivia Schwartz Getzug (Director of JFN West) for organizing the meeting. JFN’s member-to-member opportunities help us to exit our silos and see the issues with renewed clarity and perspective.

Lisa Hofheimer is the Los Angeles-based Finance Director for the Lee Liberman Foundation, a JFN member organization based in Australia.