Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Jewish Culture and Education Gives Jewish Austin New Home for Connection and Discovery
Bernard and Audre Rapoport were committed to promoting and helping people to have Jewish identity, especially in Central Texas. Courtesy: The Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation
$1 Million Generations Campaign Gift Enables Center Establishment, Appointment of Chief Learning and Engagement Officer
By Tonyia Cone and Daniel Septimus
Jewish Austinites are set to enjoy first-rate learning spaces and programming through the newly established Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Jewish Culture and Education at Shalom Austin, created through a $1 million gift from the Rapoport Family to the Generations Campaign.
The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center will have a transformative impact on Jewish life in Austin by enabling the construction of technology-rich learning spaces in the soon-to-be expanded Jewish Community Center. It is also providing seed money to hire Rachel Stern to serve as the center’s chief learning and engagement officer and grow creative, cutting-edge, collaborative Jewish learning and enrichment programming on the Dell Jewish Community Campus and throughout Central Texas.
Bernard and Audre Rapoport, of blessed memory, lived in Waco, Texas, where they were active in their local Jewish community as well national Jewish organizations. Though their son, Ronald and his wife Patricia lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, Bernard and Audre played a huge role in the lives of their granddaughters, Abby and Emily. Nearly every afternoon, at 4 p.m., Bernard would call the girls to get a full update about what they’d learned that day in school.
Education and Jewish identity were two key values that “B,” as he was known to friends, and Audre emphasized to their family. The Jewish community in Williamsburg was small and tight-knit, lacking many of the resources larger communities offer. When Abby was preparing to become bat mitzvah, B told her there was a place in Dallas where she could choose from different tallitot. The next time she visited her grandparents, the Jewish Community Center of Dallas was their first stop after they met at the airport.
“My jaw dropped. It was so big and there were so many people, I couldn’t get over it,” Abby said, adding that until then the Waco Jewish community was the biggest community she had experienced outside of Israel. “The feeling that you can have vibrant Jewish life everywhere was a great thing to learn.”
Bernard and Audre emphasized to their son and grandchildren the Jewish values of learning and education—Bernard woke up at 5 a.m. each day in order to read for two hours—and the importance of tzedakah. The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation, founded in 1986, has given more than $63 million in grants in the areas of education, social services and civic participation, focusing particularly programs in Texas and Israel.
When her grandfather became ill in 2009, Abby moved to Austin so she could spend more time with them. She did not know anyone else here, and knowing she would spend a lot of time working, called Shalom Austin’s engagement coordinator as soon as she had Wi-Fi and could look up the phone number. She soon became involved with the Young Adult Division, was invited to participate in the young leadership development program JLEAD, and went on to serve on the Shalom Austin Board and committees. She is now chair elect of the Shalom Austin Board and will be inducted as chair at Shalom Austin’s annual meeting Oct. 16.
When the Rapoport family—Bernard and Audre’s son, Ronald, their daughter-in-law, Patricia, and their granddaughters, Abby and Emily—wanted to honor Bernard and Audre with a gift, they turned to Shalom Austin to establish the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Jewish Culture and Education.
“As Austin becomes a center of Texas Jewry, we wanted there to be a corner to remember them because they were so committed to Central Texas Jewry,” Abby said.
Abby sees the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center as a hub where everyone—including those like young single adults and empty nesters, who might not be ready for congregation membership—can access the tools and resources that are meaningful to their Jewish journey.
“My hope is we can be a convener for education efforts and that it can then be a great resource to all the people in the community looking for ways to define Jewish living and be a community and find learning communities and resources—to have Jewish homes and lead Jewish lives but with the freedom to identify what that means to them. Sometimes figuring that out requires some education; it requires some help and support,” she said.
As Shalom Austin helped Abby to connect with others and find her place in Austin’s Jewish community, she said, “That’s the beauty of the JCC and Federation. It’s meeting you where you are and seeing how we can help.”
She also hopes that as a Jewish organization, the center serves as a source of institutional Jewish pride, and a welcoming, educative place to non-Jewish visitors.
“What spoke to all of us was the idea that we wanted my grandparents’ legacy to reflect their commitment to promoting and helping people to have Jewish identity, and Central Texas is where our family’s Jewish identity comes from,” Abby said. ■