Discovering the dream he had made real had excited my older daughter, then a high school student. He, Chico Sabbah, one of the richest men in America, had fulfilled his dream of creating a private school for Jewish students regardless of being reform, conservative, or orthodox…from anywhere in the world. Indeed, it was “the only pluralistic Jewish boarding school in the world.”
After buying 100 acres in Greensboro, NC, Sabbah built the American Hebrew Academy (AHA), a school my older daughter had read about on the Net.
When she told me she wanted to attend AHA, the two of us visited the school. She was interviewed and approved; I spoke to the administration about paying for admission. Thankfully, because she would be a member of one of the first few classes to be admitted after the school opened, and, because AHA was yet to be certified, my daughter received such a large scholarship that I was able to afford to send her there.
Most teachers had doctoral degrees; most classes had a dozen or fewer students. Advanced classes were readily available.
AHA was a boarding school with its own kosher cafeteria.
My daughter loved the school and its mandatory Hebrew classes; she was thrilled because one entire semester was spent studying at a high school in Israel.
Although I visited AHA often, I only met with its founder a few times. At one of those meetings, I mentioned the articles I wrote, short pieces I posted on a regular basis (almost daily) on the Net. To my surprise, he, Chico Sabbah, wanted to receive them too.
For a few years while my daughter was at AHA, I sent my pieces to Sabbah. Because he never responded, I wasn’t sure that he had read any of them.
What I did know was this: in my daughter’s senior year, her application to a college was rejected because AHA’s certification was pending, Sabbah found out and was outraged. He let me know that he was on the Board of that college and that, if my daughter wanted him to, he would make sure she was admitted.
At the time, Sabbah was never without his portable oxygen breathing device; he was terminally ill. Although everyone knew that, all of us remained hopeful that the end for Sabbah was not near. That’s why we weren’t surprised when Sabbah came to say goodbye each semester to students who were leaving for their stint in Israel.
When I explained to my daughter what Sabbah had said about getting her accepted, she balked. Independent as she was, she wanted to be accepted on her own merits. Both Sabbah and I reluctantly respected her decision. Even so, I was hopeful she would change her mind. I told her I felt that way.
When I asked her to reconsider Sabbah’s help, she said she would. We knew there was still time for her to be admitted.
But there wasn’t enough time for Sabbah. Less than a week later, he passed.
Along with thousands of others, we paid our respects at Chico Sabbah’s funeral. Together, my daughter and I joined the long line of mourners who walked to the site of the grave where Sabbah’s wife was standing.
Just as we were about to speak to her, she spoke to us.
“Chico always called me to see what you had sent him. He loved to read your pieces every day,” she said. She thanked me and she hugged my daughter.
“It was the vision of Maurice “Chico” Sabbah, a commercial aviation reinsurance tycoon who died in 2006. His dream was to build an elite Jewish school to shape the next generation of Jewish leaders, giving students a Jewish education and a connection to their heritage…..” – The life and death of a Jewish boarding school – Jessica Snouwaert
As well as I had known AHA, I never dreamt it would become a home for illegal alien children…