The Case for Birthright POLIN

By Lisa Pleskow Kassow On an alternative break trip to Poland last March with a group from Trinity College Hillel, one student expressed disappointment that we did not eat traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dishes - cholent, brisket and kugel. His image of Jewish life in Poland, like that of many North American Jews, was fixed in a fictional Yiddishland, a place of romanticized nostalgia. Just as Chagall painted a mythical imaginary shtetl, it is the sentimentalized version of Jewish life in Eastern Europe that many American Jews today recognize as the accurate depiction of Jewish history and culture. Younger North American Jews are even less knowledgeable not only about the Jewish past in Poland, but its vibrant present and implications for the future. … [Read more...]

Maya Bernstein: Not Resting on Her Laurels


By Abigail Pickus UpStart Bay Area has been supporting innovation in the Jewish community for almost a decade now. And Maya Bernstein has been there since its inception. As its first hire by founder Toby Rubin, Bernstein came on board to help put its ideas into practice and has since helped design and implement its goals. “In many ways, what I do with UpStart connects me to my upbringing,” said the 36-year-old. Growing up in Riverdale, New York, Bernstein went to Rabbi Avi Weiss’s shul and was very influenced by him. (A beloved and controversial figure, Weiss’s many accomplishments include founding the first yeshiva to ordain Orthodox women as “spiritual leaders” or Maharat, otherwise known as rabbis.) “His entire career has been about trying to create meaningful Jewish experiences in … [Read more...]

Natan Announces New Grant Committee Focused on the Russian-Speaking Jewish Community

The Natan Fund, a giving circle of young philanthropists in New York funding Jewish and Israeli social innovation around the world, has announced the creation of a groundbreaking new grant committee devoted to supporting innovative initiatives to strengthen the Jewish identity of Russian-Speaking Jews (RSJ) in North America. The new RSJ Committee consists of 14 individuals and couples who joined Natan this fall. Several of the new members are recent graduates of the Wexner Foundation’s first Wexner Heritage RSJ class. With the Genesis Philanthropy Group matching a portion of the new RSJ Natan members’ contributions, the committee will award around $150,000 in grants in 2015. “It’s vital that young Russian-speaking Jews begin to assume more philanthropic leadership roles,” said Jane Greyf, a … [Read more...]

#GivingTuesday and The Shmita Year

Kibbutz Lavi, near the Sea of Galilee, preparing for the shmita year. Photo courtesy Kibbutz Lavie.

By David Eisner We have reached an exciting time of the year. The air has turned crisp and the leaves vibrant shades of red and yellow. The holiday season, with its family gatherings and festive mood, is just around the corner. For many, the old song’s adage rings true: “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But in today’s busy world, with its onslaught of advertisements blaring messages of consumption from all corners, it can be all too easy to lose touch with the season’s deeper meanings. It is all too easy to forget to stop, truly give thanks and, most importantly, to give back. At Repair the World, we work to make giving back a defining part of American Jewish life. We aim to inspire people in the Jewish community and beyond to make service to others a priority in their lives. Our … [Read more...]

Torah Meets BuzzFeed in Fun New Email Blasts

Collaboration between Big Tent Judaism and Torah Topics for Today brings ancient wisdom to modern families “LifeHacks From My Grandparents” is a new website and email listserve that presents a modern spin on Jewish teachings, a toe in the water of Torah study to get at the essence of each portion for all who might benefit. The project, a collaboration between Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and Torah Topics for Today, reimagines the lessons of the Old Testament as modern life hacks that people can implement to improve their own lives. Each week’s Torah portion is presented as a BuzzFeed-style list, complete with animated GIFs, followed by a Life Hack of the Week based on the lessons of the Torah portion. Individuals can also sign up to receive the content as a weekly email, at … [Read more...]

The Ghosts of JFNA Past, Present and What Yet Might Be: A Call for Submissions

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), formerly the United Jewish Communities (UJC), is an umbrella organization representing over 150 Jewish Federations and 300 independent Jewish communities across North America. JFNA was formed over a decade ago by the merger of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), Council of Jewish Federations, and the United Israel Appeal. … [Read more...]

Balancing Tradition and Modernity, UK Masorti Judaism Allows Same-Sex Ceremonies

By Liam Hoare Since same-sex marriage became legal in the United Kingdom in March 2014, it has been up to each religious denomination to decide whether or not to they wished to hold ceremonies in their places of worship. Until recently, it was just the Liberal and Reform movements conducting same-sex marriages within Judaism. At the end of October, however, Masorti Judaism - the European sister movement to American Conservative Judaism - announced it would allow its synagogues to host partnership ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. Within the spectrum of Jewish movements in the UK, Masorti Judaism is comparatively small, with twelve synagogues catering to around 4,000 members. It did, however, double its membership between 1990 and 2010, at a time when affiliation with Orthodox synagogues … [Read more...]

Pears Foundation Funds University of Kent First UK Philanthropy Teaching Fellow

The UK’s first dedicated university philanthropy teaching post is to be established at the University of Kent following a £150,000 donation from the Pears Foundation. The post, to be based within the University’s Centre for Philanthropy, will be known as the Pears Philanthropy Fellow. The first cohort of philanthropic studies students will start in January 2016. They will make use of the latest technology to study via distance learning, as well as at study days on campus. Although established in the US since the 1970s, philanthropic studies is a new field of academic study in the UK. Students may go on to work in charities, often as CEOs or fundraisers, or go into a related field, such as grant-making or philanthropy advising. Some philanthropists also choose to take these courses to better … [Read more...]