About Our Founder
Chico Sabbah z"l 2006
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Great Neck, New York, Chico gained a love for Judaism and ardent Zionism from his parents, Esther Kaplan Sabbah and Salomon Behor Sabbah. Chico’s deep attachment to Israel led him to make aliyah upon completion of his college education at the University of California at Davis.
After life on kibbutz and a tour in the Israeli army where he met his wife of nearly 54 years, they returned to the United States in 1954 and raised their family. At that time, Chico also served tours of duty in Korea with the United States Army. Residing in Great Neck and Greensboro, North Carolina for subsequent decades, Chico’s financial success as an international reinsurance executive allowed him to embark on years of quiet, anonymous and astounding philanthropy, passionately supporting health care and education programs, especially those for the mentally disabled in the United States and Israel. Always shunning the limelight, he was quick to give generously and immediately when he discovered a cause that stirred his heart. Just a few of the organizations he supported were Hadassah, Keren Or, Israel Elwyn, Elwyn Pennsylvania, Young Judaea Year Course, Ramah Darom, Chimes, B’nai Shalom Jewish Day School, Ne’ruim, Be’er Tuvia Cultural Center, Ruchama, and the Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
Chico felt a call to action, realizing that the future of the Jewish people was in jeopardy as a result of declining community affiliation, assimilation and growing intermarriage. In 1995, following the death of his parents, Chico regularly attended Shabbat services and daily minyan at Beth David Synagogue, where he developed a heartfelt connection to the children leading services. It was at this time that “Chico’s dream” and the grand plan for the American Hebrew Academy was created; his largest philanthropic endeavor.
Prior to his passing, Chico remarked that he considered himself a lucky man at the end of his days. He was able to witness his dream of the American Hebrew Academy come to fruition. Today, students of the American Hebrew Academy graduate with a love and respect for their Jewish heritage, the land of Israel and with the requisite skills to become the future Jewish leaders of the world. These students are Chico’s living legacy and gift to the Jewish people.
Chico Sabbah was an intensely private man who lived a remarkable life enriched by his generous giving to others. As founder of the American Hebrew Academy, his wish was to create an institution that would sustain the Jewish people for eternity.
Chico’s life proved that any single person can make a difference in this world, and each of us is capable of accomplishing anything with hard work and perseverance.
Chico was a modest man of few words, but greater deeds. Chico’s TOP 5 List for American Hebrew Academy students:
- Be a proud Jew.
- Love the land and the people of Israel.
- Take care of each other.
- Become the Jewish leaders of tomorrow and keep our heritage strong.
- Make friends for life at the Academy.
Follow his example – make your own mark on the world and leave it a better place than you found it. Your dreams will come true, as his did at the American Hebrew Academy. - Leeor Sabbah, Chair of Board of Trustees and daughter of Chico & Z'mira Sabbah