Bonnie Slavitt Moore, Phi - University of Wisconsin

‘Giving Up Was Never an Option’

Noted philanthropist, Jewish educator Bonnie Slavitt Moore fought hard her entire life for the success she now enjoys – and says Phi Sigma Sigma helped her become who she is today.

December 20, 2010

THERE’S THE BONNIE SLAVITT MOORE YOU THINK YOU KNOW – the nationally renowned philanthropist, world traveler and passionate Jewish-education advocate who is tirelessly devoted to promoting her religion and its rich culture. And then there’s the Bonnie Slavitt Moore almost no one knows outside her close-knit circle of family and friends – primarily because her story is so incredible, it would take hours to tell and do it justice.

In Bonnie’s view, she’s an average woman who feels blessed at age 64 by a “wonderful life,” one made extraordinary by the people she loves and serves.

To anyone other than Bonnie privileged to know her story, she herself is extraordinary – the epitome of what it means to be a Phi Sigma Sigma, and to Aim High and, in so doing, to achieve more in this lifetime than you ever dreamed possible.

Natural-born leader

Long before becoming a noted philanthropist skilled at raising millions for worthy causes, or even a young, hopeful undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the leader of our Phi Chapter there, Bonnie had a knack for winning hearts and minds.

The middle child of three in her family growing up in White Plains, N.Y., her values and exceptional social skills were heavily influenced by her parents. Her mother was a Hunter College graduate who earned her master’s degree from Columbia, worked as a history teacher and ultimately became a two-term president for New York state’s League of Women Voters. Her father, a New York University alumnus, became a certified public accountant and served as a statewide leader in his field, as well as within prominent philanthropic organizations such as the Lions and Kiwanis clubs.

From a very early age, I knew what public service and philanthropy truly meant,” Bonnie explains. “I practically grew up stuffing envelopes for the League of Women Voters.”

Considered extremely bright and affable, she was a natural-born young leader and speaker who could motivate others to perform school and community service. “These things were always very easy for me,” she explains. “Even so, I knew from my earliest school years that something was wrong…. Something big was hindering my success. I just didn’t know what it was.”

Moving forward

For years, Bonnie struggled to meet her family’s (and her own) high expectations for academic performance – a little-known fact that anyone remotely familiar with her extreme commitment to lifelong education would find difficult to believe.

“Outside of all the extracurricular activities I was involved in, and excelled in, school was very painful for me,” Bonnie admits. “Even as I entered college, there were times when I actually felt I didn’t have the capacity to learn. I could speak before crowds of people, I could lead groups! But I dreaded reading and writing, and tried to avoid it whenever possible. It was a major challenge, especially for someone like me whose family cared so deeply about learning.”

It wasn’t until years later – while she was pursuing her first master’s degree at Rutgers University, succeeding primarily through her superlative memory and verbal skills – that she discovered why tests were so hard for her, why reading and writing were obstacles: She had dyslexia, a learning disability affecting between 5-10% of the population, as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

With this knowledge, an enormous burden was lifted – and Bonnie began relearning how to learn. “Suddenly, I loved school. I loved to read and go to the library,” she recalls.

Though she still works harder at reading comprehension than many people (her brain moves words within sentences), she is nonetheless a voracious reader who has gone on to earn multiple master’s degrees and a lifetime teaching credential.

“Giving up was never an option,” she explains. “I kept moving forward, no matter what – and that made all the difference.”

A life well lived

As it turns out, those words form the mantra that best defines Bonnie – personally, philanthropically, professionally and even within our sisterhood. Consider various snapshots from her life:
  • A breast-cancer survivor for 11 years, Bonnie credits her continuing health to a daily regimen of exercise (intensive programs even younger sisters would find challenging, such as BodyCombat, BodyPump and Zumba). She has participated in high-profile events such as the Susan G. Komen 5K Walk and the “3 Day for the Cure” event in San Francisco – a 60-mile trek to raise awareness and funds to combat the disease (becoming one of the top 5 highest fundraisers there, contributing nearly $16,000 to the cause). Incredibly, she plans to repeat that performance in 2014, celebrating 15 years of remission as she nears age 70.
  • Though she grew up in a family that celebrated major Jewish holidays, she didn’t become truly steeped in her religion and culture until she began teaching Hebrew to children as a side job to her teaching career (which paid so little she could barely make ends meet). “I fell in love with teaching in a Jewish organization,” she says. “I fell in love with my religion, with the loyalty and love of the friends I made. I was hooked, and I never looked back.” Indeed, she has served as a Jewish educator for more than 40 years – founding programs and raising funds for educational facilities and, in the process, earning multiple, coveted awards in recent years.
  • Even with a severely ill daughter and a low-paying teaching job, she found a will and a way to earn yet two additional master’s degrees from the University of Judaism in southern California (now known as American Jewish University). During that time, she met her second husband, Jack – instilling in him a love for her faith that was so strong, he converted so they could marry. Together for nearly 30 years, and through their hard work in their careers and the community, they have become a formidable philanthropic force for good – devoting time and funds to countless organizations not just in the Silicon Valley where they reside, but nationwide and worldwide, as well.
  • Deeply immersed in non-profit work and fundraising, Bonnie and Jack still find time to travel – making up to two treks to Israel annually and visiting dozens of other countries. “It has increased my understanding of people – and how our differences are a strength, helping to unite us,” she says.
  • Although she initially planned a career in politics and international relations, it was a book published in 1967 about educating impoverished inner-city youth – “36 Children,” by Herbert Kohl – that made Bonnie want to be a teacher in spite of her learning disability. “I immediately applied for, and received, an emergency teaching accreditation after the 1969 riots in Newark (N.J.), and started my master’s at Rutgers…. In fact, I think Phi Sig gave me a $50 scholarship for books!”
  • Because of her dyslexia (unknown to her at the time) and her academic struggles, Bonnie couldn’t serve in an elected office for our Phi Chapter until her senior year – at which point, having worked hard to achieve the necessary GPA, organize philanthropic events and become an unofficial chapter leader since her freshman year, she was immediately elected Archon of the chapter of more than 100 women.
Again, these are but a few of the stories – and there are dozens more – that illustrate a pattern for good living and giving back (also called “repairing the world,” or “tikkun olam” in Hebrew) that have served this mother of four, and grandmother of four, very well – and which surely resonate with Phi Sigma Sigma sisters.

'Once a Phi Sigma Sigma...'

Recently, Bonnie participated in the installation celebration of our new Iota Xi Chapter at Sonoma State University in California, serving as one of the High Judges initiating the members of our newest large and high-profile chapter.

It was an opportunity to highlight and honor her service to Phi Sigma Sigma as an advisor to our historic Alpha Chapter at Hunter College in the late ’60s and as a member of Supreme Council in the ’70s (overseeing recruitment and sisterhood development).

“I loved – and continue to love – this organization for all it’s given to me,” Bonnie explains. “I have loved being part of a sisterhood that is different….
We’re not the ‘elite’ sorority; we’re the sorority that does cool things, fun things. It was true when I went to Wisconsin, and it’s true today.

“I knew joining this sisterhood could help me in life, and it did,” she adds. “I am who I am today – and have learned so much of what I know about organizational skills, the importance of lifelong learning, loyal friendships and even successful fundraising activities, because I am a Phi Sigma Sigma.”

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