October 19, 2019

Large gift will bring new name, tuition assistance to Sinai Akiba Academy

School officials at Sinai Akiba Academy in West Los Angeles are hailing a recently announced gift as “transformative,” something that will help ensure its future for years to come.

That future will feature a new name.

Beginning in the upcoming 2017-18 academic year, the school officially will be known as Alice and Nahum Lainer School in honor of the large donation — officials declined to disclose the exact amount — made by the Lainers, longtime supporters of the school who have sent three children, all now adults, as well as three grandchildren there.

“This is huge news,” said Head of School Sarah Shulkind. “I wrote to colleagues, other Jewish day school heads, that this is a win for all of us. It says that there’s a significant investment in Jewish schools being a critical part of Jewish continuity and Jewish sustainability in the future.”

Shulkind said the gift will help the school continue funding academic programs such as JSTEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math through a Jewish lens), as well as tuition assistance.

Nahum, a real estate developer, and his wife, Alice, live in Beverly Park. The Lainers were one of the first families to send their children to the school when it was still known as Akiba Academy. In the past, they’ve given generously to Jewish philanthropic causes such as the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 

In a joint public statement, the Lainers expressed their desire to encourage other families in the community to follow their lead.

“With this endowment gift, our goal is to ensure that more Jewish families have access to such a wonderful education,” they said. “We hope that our leadership will inspire our old friends, our new friends, the parents of today, and the whole community, to join us in donating to the financial stability and sustainability of a great and important place of learning and creativity, for generations to come.”

According to Shulkind, accessibility for Jewish families has been an issue of late in the world of private Jewish education, with many Jewish schools around the country experiencing dips in enrollment numbers or even shutting their doors after the 2008 recession. Shulkind said her school hasn’t seen a noticeable drop in enrollment, partly due to its widespread tuition assistance program.

“We give 30 percent of our kids tuition assistance,” Shulkind said. “I’m extremely proud of our commitment to our central mission: making the school accessible to any Jewish family seeking a quality Jewish education. In order to sustain that and to continue to grow the excellent academic programming we’re known for, we had to have this kind of endowment gift.”

The school, a Sinai Temple school that is a member of the Schechter Day School Network, opened in 1968. It now serves students from birth to eighth grade and has more than 600 students. Annual tuition for its lower school is $26,195; for the middle school, it is $29,480, according to its website.

In 2015, Shulkind and the school’s board passed a strategic financial plan to raise $40 million. When they thought about how to get there, the answer seemed obvious.

“We talked about families with a passion for Jewish education and philanthropy that had the interest and the capacity. The very first family on everyone’s mind was the Lainers,” she said.

Shulkind said the Lainers’ gift made up “a significant portion” of the school’s $40 million goal and that it already has helped raise interest in making contributions from other prominent philanthropic families tied to the school. She also referred to the Lainers’ donation as a “lead gift” in the school’s upcoming 50th anniversary fundraising campaign.

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple reacted to the gift by saying, “We are grateful and blessed — and strengthened in our resolve to inspire the souls of our students.”

Gary Lainer, board chair of the school, and his wife, Lisa, have sent three children there. But in this case, he’s more than a school leader — he’s a proud son.

“I am grateful that our school has received such a consequential gift, a lead gift to begin our celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary, and I am excited that this gift will help secure the school’s future.”

Similar to actions taken by deToledo High School officials after its renaming from New Community Jewish High School in 2014, Shulkind said her school has hired a marketing firm to help with rebranding. By this fall, the school’s website and campus signage will reflect the name change, but it still may take some getting used to.

“There will be a transition time. You can’t just flip a switch,” she said.