Skip to main content

AVI CHAI Foundation Records

Identifier: I-604

Scope and Contents

The AVI CHAI Collection contains a breadth of files relating to the administrative and outreach activities of the organization, from its founding in 1984 through 2019.

The AVI CHAI records stored at the AJHS relate to the foundation's activities in North America. The records relating to the AVI CHAI's activities in Israel are stored at the archives of the National Library of Israel.

The records consist of correspondence, reports, minutes, financial documents, digital files, and printed materials that chronicle AVI CHAI’s administrative communication and outreach programming. The collection consists of physical paper records (see detailed breakdown below), born-digital files (including computer files), as well as audiovisual materials such as audiocassettes, microcassettes and DVDs. There are some 35mm slides, but otherwise very few photographic prints or negatives. Of note in the collection are materials that outline the foundation’s research on, and enthusiastic support of, Jewish day schools, camps, teacher training and libraries.

Administration files include by-laws, incorporation documents, and insurance policies, among others.

Board records are comprised of meeting materials, such as minutes and agendas. They document the philosophy, direction and activities of the organization.

Communications files consist primarily the files of Deena K. Fuchs. They include media kits, graphics, working files for annual reports, and other materials.

Files related to AVI CHAI finances include investment portfolio documentation as well as quarterly and annual reports.

The core of the foundation’s history can be found in its Programs files which document the various programs initiated or supported by AVI CHAI. They include detailed files on the foundation’s loans to schools (including building programs) and to summer camps. Also included in this series are files relating to AVI CHAI communications activities, such as media kits, graphics, working files for annual reports, and other materials.


  • Creation: 1984 - 2019


Conditions Governing Access

Due to the requests of the donor, there is a 10 year restriction on the majority of this collection. The two exceptions to this rule are the Publications series which is currently open to all researchers, and selected files throughout the collection that carry a 72 year restriction due to privacy considerations.

PROGRAMS: 10 years. Selected files in this series are subject to a longer period (72 years) of restriction.




DIGITAL FILES: 10 years.

PUBLICATIONS: Open to all researchers.

The collection will be open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society after their respective restrictions have elapsed.

This collection is housed at an off-site storage location, within a climate and humidity controlled environment. Please be advised: you will need to request this material at least two (2) business days in advance of your visit in order to use this material in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room. Boxes can be requested through the box and folder listings that accompany each series. For further information, please email:

Conditions Governing Use

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact: American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

For more information on this process, please e-mail

Biographical / Historical

In 1967, Sanford C. Bernstein founded Sanford C. Bernstein and Co. an investment research and management firm in New York. Over the next ten years, his firm flourished, solidifying his company’s place in the city’s investment management circles. In 1978, Bernstein’s father passed away. After seeking the guidance of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of the Lincoln Square Synagogue and taking a series of private lessons on basic Judaism with him, Bernstein decided to follow a more observant path, adopting the Hebrew name Zalman Chaim.

In 1984, Zalman C. Berstein, Rabbi Riskin, Samuel J. Silberman, and attorney George W. Kaufman of Shereff, Friedman, Hoffman and Goodman met to discuss pre-organizational activities for a new foundation they created, which they named the T’Shuva Foundation. The Foundation’s first and only project (until a name change the following year) was sponsoring a conference in Israel to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, who is famous for holding the role of Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. The initial goals of the foundation, until its evolution years later, was to cultivate an assemblage of rabbis and lay leaders focused on religious, philanthropic outreach to disaffected or unaffiliated American Jews to encourage them towards a path of deeper Jewish identity and observance.

The following year, after solidifying more of the foundation’s networking and outreach, Bernstein became concerned that the foundation’s name, T’Shuva (loosely translated as ‘repentance’), may carry unintended theological connotations for some audiences. It was decided amongst the founders to change the organization’s name to AVI CHAI, the Hebrew for ‘my father lives,' which Bernstein also felt held deep personal meaning.

Even at this early stage in the foundation’s history, Bernstein was anxious about any perception that the Foundation would be “simply writing checks.” He sought to distinguish projects of purely personal interest to him from projects that would further AVI CHAI’s core strategy. After discussing with the board how the foundation would proceed, an objectives agreement was made that the foundation would focus on two primary goals:

1. To encourage those of the Jewish faith towards greater commitment to Jewish observance and lifestyle by increasing their understanding, appreciation and practice of Jewish traditions, customs and laws.

2. To encourage mutual understanding and sensitivity among Jews of different religious backgrounds and commitments to observance.

AVI CHAI would later formulate several operational guidelines that would help achieve these objectives:

-Priority will be given to projects which further both objectives. In no case will a project be funded which furthers one objective at the expense of another.

-AVI CHAI will work within the full spectrum of the Jewish people in the interest of furthering its dual objectives.

-Support will only be given to programs or institutions which express a positive attitude towards the State of Israel and which do not reject the value of secular education.

-The Foundation will only sponsor projects which rely on teaching and enlightenment. Funding will be provided mainly to innovative programs which AVI CHAI develops itself or in concert with others.

-The Foundation will not fund deficits nor will it fund capital projects except through loans to Jewish day schools and Jewish summer camps.

-Grant requests will only be considered in response to a proposal submitted at our initiative.

-Allocations will be made as grants which conform with the guidelines for tax-exemption under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.

In 1987, AVI CHAI finally outgrew its offices at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. and moved out on its own. With this increased independence, AVI CHAI was able to grow its networking, outreach, and grant funding by supporting the activities of dozens of non-profit organizations including MAOR, Networking of Jewish Outreach Professionals, Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals (AJOP), and Jewish Community Centers—JCCA (formerly JWB), as well as dozens of Summer camp programs for children and various synagogue community projects including those at the Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Zalman C. Bernstein retired from Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in 1994 at age 65, in order to fulfill his personal goal of making Aliyah. After moving to Jerusalem, he moved the AVI CHAI headquarters to Israel but retained an office in New York led by Associate Director Yossi Prager. Later that year, Prager’s title changed to Director – North America and Robert Binder was promoted to Director – Israel. Zalman C. Bernstein passed away in 1999 in Israel and was buried in a cemetery on the Mount of Olives close to Rabbi Avraham Kook, the primary inspiration for many of his initial philanthropic endeavors.

By the early 2000s, the two AVI CHAI international offices tailored their philantropic focus to the differing needs of their respective communities. The North American office concentrated mainly on grants related to day schools and camping, while the Israel office focused more on broader efforts such as informal adult education, media productions, outreach to recent Russian immigrants and Mizrahi communities, and major advertising campaigns to promote mutual understanding between secular and religious Israelis.

AVI CHAI began a substantial reassessment of their funding structures, activities, and partnerships in 2008 and planned for their eventual fiscal sunsetting in 10 years time.

On January 6, 2020, AVI CHAI North America concluded its regular grandmaking activities and focused solely on supporting the programs and activities of Beit AVI CHAI in Jerusalem.


63 Linear Feet

Language of Materials




This collection is arranged by series, according to the file subject matter. In some cases items are organized by material type.

Separated Materials

Some documents were separated from this collection and returned to the office of AVI CHAI.

Processing Information

The paper materials in the AVI CHAI Collection were processed using MPLP at the folder level. Original folder titles were maintained as often as possible. Files were rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes. All boxes have been numbered, labeled, and barcoded, and will be stored in an off-site climate-controlled facility.

Duplicate records as well as petty cash receipts, fax cover sheets, etc. were deaccessioned according to archival standards and practices.

The following file group consolidations were made in order to provide more clarity and ease of use of the collection:

Communication Series: Files originally categorized as Communications were folded into the Programs Series, as all Communications materials existed in service of AVI CHAI’s grant-funded programming.

Programs Series: Several Programs subgroups have been incorporated into the larger series. The descriptions of these subgroups have been retained in their folder titles.

The born digital material was processed as though it were a separate component of the collection, based upon the processing plan for the collection. Original file structure was maintained. Some files were renamed in order to mitigate special characters in file names and to present a more coherent structure. All duplicates, temporary files, executable files, and database files were deaccessioned from the digital collection. Additionally, some specific folders were requested by AVI CHAI to be omitted, during processing. Both AJHS and Avi Chai have endeavored to remove Personally Identifiable Information from the archival materials, and have also imposed restrictions in order to protect the privacy of individuals. However, there may be Personally Identifiable Information in some of the collection materials, as well as material copyrighted to third parties. If found, researchers must omit personal details from any published materials, and researchers are also responsible for obtaining permissions to publish from the copyright holder in cases where Avi Chai is not the author.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States