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Raelene Tradonsky – the powerhouse behind King David

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Having been a “subsidy kid” herself, Mann Made Community Service Award winner Raelene Tradonsky, the executive director of the King David Schools Foundation, was able to raise funds to ensure that all Jewish children could get a Jewish education because she knew just how important it was.

Rabbi Ricky Seeff, the general director of the South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE), said, “You can have a person who is a brilliant fundraiser, but if they don’t have the passion for our community and for King David, they never could have done what she has done. You can’t achieve what Raelene has unless you are driven by something bigger and more altruistic.”

Discovery Chief Executive Adrian Gore, in his role as chairperson of the King David Schools Foundation , agreed, saying, “To enable the school system to be excellent and well-funded at the same time – that combination is her legacy.”

“Raelene’s ferocious fundraising skills are unsurpassed,” said comedian Nik Rabinowitz.

About 13 years ago, Tradonsky left her corporate job at Dimension Data to join the King David Schools Foundation. The foundation has since raised more than R500 million, surpassing Tradonsky’s goal of an endowment fund of R100 million. There are more than 500 children on some form of subsidy across King David schools.

In her speech, Tradonsky quoted the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who famously said, “The Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheatres. And the Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country, you need an army. But to defend a civilisation, you need an education.

“History has shown over and over again that the one thing that has held Jewish communities together is a Jewish education and a strong Jewish identity,” said Tradonsky. “Our Jewish community in South Africa is unique, borne out of unique circumstances. We have one of the highest percentages of children in Jewish schools in any diaspora community. This ensures that Jewish knowledge, tradition, and connection to Israel are conveyed to subsequent generations.

“The foundation was formed in 2002, with the idea to connect with alumni all over the world, and it has transformed into a global village of alumni, connected by a single thread: their South African roots and King David education. I’ve had the privilege of visiting countries where many of our alumni live, and I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact our alumni have made,” she said.

“Our alumni are proud Jews, community leaders, and global icons in business, medicine, the arts, and in Torah learning – people who have changed the world for good.”

Today, King David is the largest Jewish school in the southern hemisphere. “We stand proud as a community school with a very special ethos,” said Tradonsky. “To offer all Jewish children access to a world-class education, regardless of their parents’ financial circumstances. But this requires huge funding, with a subsidy budget of almost R14 million.”

“I can testify to the lifelong impact a person can have by funding a Jewish education of excellence,” Tradonsky said.

“We walk a fine line between planning for the future and seeing to the school’s present needs,” she said, “investing millions of rands in our three campuses, while funding Jewish children whose parents cannot afford the fees, all while building an endowment fund for the sustainability of our schools.

“My late colleague, mentor, and dear friend, Elliot Wolf, was associated with King David for more than 50 years, and played a pivotal role in the foundation. He would have been so proud of its growth and the impact we have made.

“It’s a privilege to be part of this amazing Johannesburg Jewish community,” she said, “and I’m proud to have played a small part in its sustainability.”

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