More than 1,000 people turned out Thursday night to hear former President Bill Clinton at a fundraiser for the Philip Berley Preschool of the Arts, a school run by the Chabad Center for Jewish Discovery, with five locations in Lower Manhattan that combines a solid foundation in both Judaism and the arts.

The “Founders Dinner” was held at the famed Cipriani Wall Street, which was turned strictly kosher for the night. This was the second time that Clinton has been a guest at a Preschool of the Arts fundraiser; the first was in 2011.

Noting that “we have not one child that we can waste,” the former president praised the school: “Preschool of the Arts is ahead of its time. If I needed to make a bet, in 10 years, many other schools will be doing what Preschool of the Arts is doing.”

Studies of children who are exposed to arts at an early age show they do better over the long term, added Clinton. “You do well supporting the arts,” he told the crowd, “and I urge you to continue.”

Sarah Rotenstreich, head of school at the Preschool of the Arts, which is set to open its fifth location this year, said Clinton has been a “pillar of support for the arts in education, forgoing the one-size-fits-all education, and honoring students’ individual strengths, multiple intelligences and creativity in the classroom.”

Along those lines, the school is known for its integrated mix of Judaism with secular studies, using all of the children’s senses at such a critical learning period in their young lives.

Clinton has great admiration for the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—having praised his wisdom, leadership and commitment to education for all age groups, but especially children.

In a March 24, 2000 proclamation to commemorate the Rebbe’s birthday—a day that has been set aside as “Education and Sharing Day U.S.A.,” Clinton called the Rebbe “an accomplished scholar in mathematics and science.”

The “Founders Dinner” was held at the famed Cipriani Wall Street, which was turned strictly kosher for the night. (Photo: Pako Dominguez)
The “Founders Dinner” was held at the famed Cipriani Wall Street, which was turned strictly kosher for the night. (Photo: Pako Dominguez)

“Understanding that both secular education and spiritual training contribute enormously to human development, he sought to provide young people with fresh opportunities for academic, social and moral enrichment through the more than 2,000 educational and social institutions he established throughout our country and around the world,” stated Clinton.

These words perhaps hit closer to home now that the former president has his first grandchild. Music and books, he noted, are already a daily part of his baby granddaughter’s life, and something he emphasizes when spending time with her.

‘Customs, Traditions, Values’

His support of the integration of arts and education dovetails exactly with what Preschool of the Arts does each day. The preschool has been widely recognized as providing a very strong Jewish and secular early-childhood education, and its students have gone on to some of New York’s most exclusive private elementary schools.

Clinton with head of school Sarah Rotenstreich and Rabbi Naftali Rotenstreich, executive director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Discovery (Photo: Pako Dominguez)
Clinton with head of school Sarah Rotenstreich and Rabbi Naftali Rotenstreich, executive director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Discovery (Photo: Pako Dominguez)

The school’s educational model focuses on allowing students to “think out of the box,” says its head of school. “We’re not looking for a cookie-cutter education, but for kids to go through a process … to take a journey, and question and think.”

“Children are naturally creative and derive much pleasure from involvement in the arts. They learn a host of skills and acquire tremendous self-esteem when given varied opportunities to create,” says Rotenstreich. “We believe artistic expression is a constant process that begins with our youngest learners and explorers, and is deepened and refined as they form relationships and connections with their world.”

They also gain a solid foundation of Judaism, thanks to a fully integrated curriculum.

“Our children learn the customs, traditions and moral values of Judaism,” explains Rotenstreich. “These lessons are woven naturally through all of our disciplines so that they become both a meaningful and treasured part of each child’s personal milieu.”

The former president takes time to meet and greet attendees. (Photo: Pako Dominguez)
The former president takes time to meet and greet attendees. (Photo: Pako Dominguez)
Inside the venue. This was the second time that Clinton has been a guest at a Preschool of the Arts fundraiser; the first was in 2011. (Photo: Pako Dominguez)
Inside the venue. This was the second time that Clinton has been a guest at a Preschool of the Arts fundraiser; the first was in 2011. (Photo: Pako Dominguez)