Issie Rabinowitz is determined to spend the little time he believes he has left helping strangers, whether they reside in his hometown of Ottawa, Canada, or halfway around the globe in the third-world.
An active member of the Chabad-Lubavitch community in the Canadian capital, Rabinowitz has been fulfilling a dream he thought up about six years ago, long before the 48-year-old accountant and father of five was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig ’s disease. His free online school known as the NewStart Institute now counts students from the United States, Pakistan, Vietnam and locations in between – anyone needing a hand up in the quest for job skills.
Many people stricken with a devastating disease retreat inward; but in November, 2008, the Israeli-born Rabinowitz was already well underway getting his brainchild up and running. He decided to redouble his efforts in the wake of the diagnosis, creating an institute that offers a total of 16 courses and diplomas in either business administration or accounting. More than 300 people have signed up; a dozen have graduated.
The institute, located online at educationfree.org, is not accredited by the Ontario government, so it can’t confer certified degrees. Rabinowitz hopes to get all regulatory criteria satisfied soon, but in the interim, he’s just trying to cut the costs of education.
“Many people say, ‘I need to know a little bit more about [Microsoft] Word,’ so they take one course and that’s fine,” he says. “The beauty is that it’s on the Internet and automated.”
Rabinowitz funds the venture with his own money – about $8,000 annually. He calls it his way of being a “Righteous Jew,” his own version of a “Righteous Gentile,” the title bestowed on those non-Jews who rescued Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, often at great peril. For Rabinowitz, the experience helps answer a nagging question: If I had been a Pole in Europe, would I have saved others?
“I would want every Jew to be helped,” he explains. “So I have to do something for others.”