Your Daily Phil: $150 million for Hillel’s centennial + Hebrew at summer camp

Good Monday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we interview Hillel International CEO Adam Lehman about a major fundraising campaign to mark the campus organization’s centennial, and feature an op-ed by Hunter Boyer on Hebrew language at Jewish summer camp. Also in this newsletter: UJA’s Eric GoldsteinMichael Siegal and Mayim Bialik. We’ll start with a look at the Z3 Conference, which gathered yesterday in the Bay Area.

The Z3 Conference, which brought 800 people to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Calif., yesterday, aimed to strengthen relationships between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry. As Zack Bodner, the JCC’s CEO, acknowledged, recent events may have made that a tall order.

“Here’s what we’re not going to do,” Bodner said in his speech at the conference’s morning plenary on Sunday. “We’re not going to spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of the new Bibi [Netanyahu] government or the new U.S. Congress, we’re not going to be spending a lot of time debating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’re not going to be spending a lot of time talking about the [Israeli] Chief Rabbinate and how they see Reform Jews, and we’re not going to be spending a lot of time wringing our hands and shrying gevalt and kvetching about antisemitism… That’s not the centerpiece of why we brought you here today.”

Subsequent speakers and sessions touched on nearly all of those subjects — including Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who acknowledged in a video address that “for many Jews around the world, the results of the recent elections in Israel have brought up real questions.” Amanda Berman, founder of Zioness, which aims to create space for Zionists in progressive movements, suggested that the Israeli elections, in which the right won a majority, posed a challenge for American Jews, who “overwhelmingly identify both with the political left and as Zionists.”

Later, Iranian-American journalist and activist Roya Hakakian described how her relatives found a safe haven in Israel after an antisemitic mob burned down their family store.

Still, although the conference did address the debates that tend to occupy the Israel-Diaspora relationship, it also hoped to go beyond them in order to explore how “the unfolding story in which we have a strong homeland, and vibrant communities worldwide, presents us with unique opportunities and responsibilities in shaping our future generations,” in the words of Rabbi Amitai Fraiman, director of the Z3 Project.

To that end, while some conference sessions concerned hot-button issues (including one on campus antisemitism, and another on the Diaspora reaction to the Israeli elections), others departed from the usual fare. Those included a class on Israeli music featuring Shaanan Streett, the frontman of Israeli hip hop group Hadag Nahash; a talk on psychedelic use and Judaism; and a session featuring Israeli chef Einat Admony.

Overall, Bodner said in his opening speech, the hope was to create a positive basis for a relationship between Diaspora and Israeli Jews, despite differences that felt unavoidable.

“We have to stop pretending that Jewish trauma is going to build collective Jewish identity for the next generation,” he said. “We have to stop focusing on each other’s imperfections.”

100 years

Adam Lehman, Hillel International's president and CEO
Adam Lehman, Hillel International’s president and CEO

When major nonprofits launch fundraising campaigns in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the target number is often tied to a capital project or a major new initiative. Not so with the $150 million campaign being announced today by Hillel International at the beginning of its Global Assembly in Dallas, marking the Jewish campus organization’s centennial, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Unrestricted funding: The campaign, conducted via local Hillel chapters, is targeted mainly at funding the operational expenses and growth of Hillels nationwide and globally. “It’s critical moving forward that Hillels on a campus level, and that the overall Hilel movement, have risk capital that can be deployed towards needs as they are being identified on campus,” Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International, told eJP in a wide-ranging interview last week in New York City.

Providing expertise: The $150 million campaign, which is slated to reach its goal by the end of next year, is aimed at supporting small Hillels as well as large ones that have sizable endowments and development departments. The fundraising will largely take place via local Hillels, 60 of which have signed up so far. Hillel International will provide resources to smaller Hillels that may not have their own fundraising professionals — including by making fundraising experts available and offering campaign management tools and research. So far, the four Hillels that have made their participation in the campaign public are on the larger end.

Focus on antisemitism: Lehman trumpets programs and approaches pioneered by Hillel at large scale. But much of the focus devoted to Jewish campus life in recent decades has surrounded the rise of antisemitism and whether Jewish students, particularly those who are vocally pro-Israel, can feel comfortable at their schools.

Read the full story here.

get lit(erate)

Rethinking Hebrew literacy at Jewish summer camp

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks during annual Jerusalem Post conference at Gotham Hall.

“Every Erev Shabbat at camp is a special time; staff and campers don more formal clothing, often in white, they sing ‘Shalom Aleichem, enjoy aruchat Shabbat (a Shabbat meal) together, and go to the Beit Knesset (synagogue) for tefillah (prayer). But the majority of the community relies on translation to understand tefillot (prayers) and other Hebrew terms and phrases. In fact, few Jewish summer camps incorporate Hebrew more than symbolically, in the form of what has been called ‘Camp Hebraized English’ (CHE),” Hunter Boyer, a first-year student at Brandeis’ Hornstein program for Jewish Professional Leadership, writes in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Minimal Hebrew use: “Camp Hebraized English refers to a collection of Jewish-American ‘life words’ that include traditional Jewish phrases like ‘shabbat shalom,’ as well as Hebrew words more specific to the camp setting such as ‘chadar ochel’ (dining hall). The term was coined by professors Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner and Sharon Avni, who argue that CHE is not Hebrew, but a vehicle to familiarize campers with certain terms and phrases through ‘Hebrew infusion.’ I have seen the usage of CHE in my own camp experience, spending three summers working for a URJ camp in Texas. There, many spaces had CHE names, such as the kikar, a gazebo in the middle of camp, but Hebrew use was otherwise only used by Israeli staff or during Jewish life rituals. In camps today, the Hebrew language takes on a symbolic role (used mostly in prayer, signage, activities and as names of spaces), and while this may infuse a Jewish flavor into camp, it does not instill campers with any form of Hebrew language proficiency.”

M’dabrim Ivrit? Lo?: “A recent AJC survey found that, of respondents, ‘42% cannot read or speak Hebrew, and 36% can read phonetically with minimal understanding.’ An overwhelming majority (78%) of American Jews have few to no Hebrew skills. Even as youth are taught the alef-bet in their Hebrew schools, and learn their Torah portions for their b’nei mitzvah, they end up not being able to string together even a simple Hebrew sentence. The Hebrew language is a critical component of Jewish identity formation, and has the potential to unlock several areas of Jewish life that otherwise aren’t accessible without Hebrew skills, such as text study using the original source and Israel engagement.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Digital Media Mindset: Digital fundraising is a trend to watch in 2023, Maria Clark writes in NonProfitPRO, noting that “people want to make donations right when and where they are — which is increasingly social media networks.” “If the donation process is too arduous or requires too many steps, you’re at a very high risk of losing fleeting interest. Besides shortening the donor journey, the surrounding social network context also provides nonprofits the opportunity to influence and educate people while they’re on the path to making a donation. I’ve seen this phenomena occur in other social settings — one reason social storefronts are so successful is that social media influences up to 71% of consumer buying decisions. Still, we see many nonprofits resisting the shift to digital-first social fundraising because it forces them to relinquish a certain amount of control. Not only are they at the whim of social networks’ ever-changing algorithms, but social media often affords comparatively little in terms of cultivating donor names and email addresses to add to a database.” [NonProfitPRO]

Boosting Big Gifts: 
When 30% of Unicef’s major-gift officers left in 2018, the organization addressed the isolation and burnout on its global development teams by adding a Major Gift Leadership Academy, a new professional development program for fundraisers, in 2019, Emily Haynes writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “[B]ig gifts are born out of the personal relationships fundraisers build with prospective donors, says Kieran O’Brien, chief of global philanthropy at Unicef. Whenever fundraisers leave, they put those relationships in jeopardy. At Unicef, leaders wrestled with daunting questions. Would major donors bristle at building relationships with new fundraisers who didn’t yet know their passions and preferences? Could the organization still count on those donors to give? And how long would it take to fill all the fundraiser vacancies with qualified talent?… Participants [in the leadership program], drawn from development teams across Unicef’s international offices, meet four times during the yearlong program, each gathering at a different location. The goals of the program are to teach fundraisers more sophisticated ways to raise money and to create a forum for fundraisers around the world to connect and learn from each other. ‘If you feel supported, if you’re part of a community, you’re more likely to stay in the role that you have,’ O’Brien says.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Trip Talk: 
Israel’s U.N. envoy is leading a delegation of ambassadors on a first-of-its-kind trip to the UAE and Israel, a portion of which was funded by UJA-Federation of New York, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports. “‘Many of these ambassadors are very close to their heads of state,’ [UJA CEO Eric] Goldstein explained. ‘Many of them, or at least some of them, will become heads of state. So this is not only about changing U.N. votes now. It’s really more over a period, what are the consequences of these kinds of experiences?’ The added benefit to bringing the envoys in small groups, he said, is that participants continue the conversation beyond the trip. ‘You create like a cohort experience. And these ambassadors talk with each other as these issues now arise, having had this common experience.’” [JI]

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Several organizations — including Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the French group Qualita — have partnered with the Israeli government to ease the Israeli immigration and integration process for people with disabilities. The initiative matches immigrants with their relevant welfare office before they move to Israel…

Pic of the Day

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (right) honored Michael Siegal, a former board chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, with the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor on Sunday…


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