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Why I Support Bar-Ilan: Harris Bak Hails
University's Commitment to Jewish Unity

Harris and Lolly Bak
Harris and Lolly Bak

With divisiveness growing between an increasing number of religious and secular Israelis, as well as those from different denominations, Harris Bak says he is prouder than ever of supporting Bar-Ilan University's proactive efforts to bring Israelis of all backgrounds together.

"It is important for a major Israeli university such as Bar-Ilan to focus on what we have in common. This is essential in order to make Israeli society and culture more cohesive. I applaud the University's focus to bring religious and secular Jews together in a learning environment that stresses mutual respect and understanding," said Bak, a Board member of the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University (AFBIU).

Keeping Israel and the organizations that support it strong has always been a priority in Harris Bak's life. It is the main reason he agreed to head the AFBIU Board's Audit Committee. Bak played a major role in making sure that the organization's governance procedures were further strengthened. "I decided to take on this project five years ago after the Madoff scandal broke. I wanted to ensure that Bar-Ilan University avoided the same fate that unfortunately devastated the finances of many Jewish non-profit organizations."

Bak has worked closely with other Audit Committee members and AFBIU Chief Executive Officer, Matthew Maryles, to make sure the organization's financial management is top-notch.

A resident of New Rochelle, NY, where he resides with his wife, Lolly, Bak said that education at all levels has always played a major role in his life, as well as the lives of his large family. Bak, who earned his BA at Yeshiva University (YU), is an actuary and financial analyst who has earned six professional certifications — FSA, MAAA, CFA, FRM, CERA and CAIA. Now with a private equity firm, Ortelius Ventures, he was a Partner with the consulting firm Milliman for over 20 years.

The Baks’ three sons, from left, Yoni, Phil and Aryeh.
The Baks' three sons, from left, Yoni, Phil and Aryeh.

It was at YU where he met Lolly, who went on to become the youngest teacher at that time in the New York City public school system. After many years of teaching, Lolly became an IT expert at Deloitte & Touche and Chief Information Officer at Veritext. The Baks have three sons — Aryeh who lives with his wife, Tzivi, and three daughters in Modi'in, Israel; Yoni who lives with his wife, Freda, and four children in New Jersey; and Phil who lives with his wife Erica and three children in Michigan.

Inspired by an ardently Zionist family, Phil took part in Bar-Ilan's one-year program in 1997. He went on to serve in the IDF. Yoni moved to Israel with his family in 2000 in order to be a project manager for the new Ben Gurion Airport. His wife, Freda, earned her MBA at Bar-Ilan at that time.

Seeing how much education has meant to his own children, Bak is a long-time supporter of Doctoral Fellows scholarships at Bar-Ilan. Among the Doctoral Fellows he has sponsored are Dr. Dotan Goren, who is a researcher at Bar-Ilan who specializes in Jewish efforts to lay claim to holy places and historical sites in Israel, and Dr. Meirav Alush Lavron, who now teaches at the BIU Department of Political Studies — Public Communications Program.

The Bak Family gathers in Modi’in, Israel.
The Bak Family gathers in Modi'in, Israel.

In addition, he has supported The Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies (The Machon), which is the flagship of Bar-Ilan's "Torah im Derekh Eretz" ideal. He supported the AFBIU's Ethiopian Exodus Student Program, and frequently provided his offices to host the organization's events in New York City.

It was during his childhood in Baltimore that his Zionism took root. His father, Benjamin, was a rabbi who stressed the importance of Israel in Jewish life. As a teenager, Harris went on the Yavneh summer program, where he first came into contact with Bar-Ilan University. He took a course there in Biblical Archaeology that further deepened his ties to the Jewish homeland. At that time, he remembers Bar-Ilan only having a few buildings.

"It's been exciting to see the tremendous expansion of the University over the years. I'm glad to be part of an American Friends organization that will help to continue its growth for years to come," he said.

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