Your Daily Phil: A Jewish org’s mission to Saudi Arabia + Contentious debates at rabbinical schools

Good Tuesday morning!

There are fewer than 10,000 Jews in the state of Alabama, and only a fraction of them live in the area surrounding the capital of Montgomery. But on Friday, the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade hit home for that community, as it triggered a complete ban on abortion in the state.

Now, the sole employee of the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama, Executive Director Philip Ensler, needs to figure out how to represent his community to the broader region in responding to a prohibition opposed by many Jews in the area. He stressed that Jewish law permits abortion in some cases.

“For some religious people, it’s a victory, but there are certainly people who are very much of faith, and their faith has different guidelines around what women should be able to do for their health,” Ensler told eJewishPhilanthropy. He added that in his deeply conservative area, “It’s not monolithic or overwhelming in the sense that necessarily the entire Jewish community is opposed to the decision.”

Ensler faces the same dilemma confronting organized Jewish communities in the nine states that enacted bans on abortion upon the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. Unlike larger Jewish communities on the coasts, the Jewish federations in those states can be small, sometimes with only one employee. In addition to the nine states, restrictions or bans in larger states like Texas and Florida, with much larger Jewish populations, are set to take effect soon.

Yesterday, eJP reached out to 13 federations and related groups across the nine states with bans in place. Of the seven that responded, most were cautious as they hash out a strategy. “We’re considering what we can do to attempt to be helpful given the challenging circumstances people find themselves in,” Alex Shapiro, executive director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, told eJP.

While a couple of Jewish organizations have pledged to fund out-of-state abortion care for employees, some of the smaller federations told eJP they didn’t expect the question to be relevant to them because they have such small staffs. “We’re certainly open to revising our personnel policies should we hire a woman, and need to have some accommodations around that,” Ensler said.

A few of the federations echoed statements published by major national Jewish groups opposing the Dobbs ruling. Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of one of the larger federations, in Louisville, Ky., told eJP that the ruling “has left many feeling confused and frightened.”

“We feel compelled to say that our Jewish Federation of Louisville supports a women’s right to the full spectrum of reproductive care and choice,” she told eJP. “We are actively working on specific details to best support our employees and the greater community.”

Some are considering a more aggressive approach. Community members in central Alabama, eJP has learned, are weighing suing the state on the grounds that the ban violates Jewish religious freedom, similar to a recently filed lawsuit challenging impending abortion restrictions in Florida.

Read the full story here.


In a first, UJA leaders visit Saudi Arabia for four days of dialogue

Courtesy of UJA-Federation

Against the backdrop of sweeping changes in Israel-Arab relations, a group of 13 American Jewish leaders organized by UJA-Federation of New York toured Saudi Arabia earlier this month to learn about Islam and teach the Saudis about Judaism, the first trip of its kind for federation leaders and clergy to the Arab kingdom, Jewish Insider’s Jacob Miller reports.

Details: The four-day trip, which ended on June 16 and was facilitated by American philanthropist Eli Epstein, comes weeks before President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, where he is expected to push for relations between the two countries in an attempt to expand the number of Arab nations that have normalized ties with Israel over the last two years as a result of the Abraham Accords. The visitors were hosted by the Muslim World League, a Saudi-funded nonprofit dedicated to promoting peace and tolerance.

Not discussed: The trip steered clear of discussion about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which has long been criticized and come under intense scrutiny, focusing instead on interfaith dialogue. “We didn’t talk about Israel, we didn’t talk about human rights and we didn’t talk about American politics,” Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, told JI. “So the focus was interfaith dialogue.”

Participant readout: Along with Goldstein, five other UJA-Federation leaders participated in the trip: Mark Medin, the group’s executive vice president; David Moore, its board chair; Amy Bressman, its president; and two of its campaign chairs. Also participating were Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, who leads Central Synagogue, a Reform congregation in New York; Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik; Epstein and his wife; Alex Peterfreund, a member of Dubai’s Jewish community; and two individuals from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Read the full story here and sign up for Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.


A message to our movements


“Each generation must come to its own views through a process of education and dialogue. This is no less true in rabbinical school, where students and teachers continue the great traditions of our sages through debate and exchange. But we have discerned a trend among a consequential number of rabbinical students that cannot be classed under the rubric of healthy debate: hostility to the State of Israel and the principles of Jewish peoplehood,” writes Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, founder of the Coalition of Zionist Rabbis for Israel, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Ahavat Yisrael: “The primary purpose and mission of a rabbinical school is to train individuals who will serve as leaders and educators of the Jewish people. Central to the ability to guide, inspire and lead our people is the principle of ahavat Yisrael (love for the Jewish People).”

Klal Yisrael: “We believe that one of the many roles of a rabbi is to support Jews and to bring them together, especially in times of division, polarization and external threats. Leaders and those who aspire to be future leaders of the Jewish people must possess and model empathy for their fellow Jews, which includes our brothers and sisters living in the State of Israel, and especially when they are attacked by a terrorist organization whose stated goal is to kill Jews and destroy the Jewish state. This is a foundational principle of Judaism, as expressed by Solomon Schechter, the founder of the Conservative movement, as klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish people.”

Read the full piece here.


Why LGBTQ Pride belongs in the synagogue

FG Trade

“There was that moment when my synagogue’s director of education and youth programming, Jackie Klein, and I looked at each other and we came to an interesting conclusion. A very large percentage of our synagogue teens are LGBTQ,” writes Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, rabbi of Temple Israel in West Palm Beach, Fla., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

New program: “Thus was born Temple Israel of West Palm Beach’s outreach program for Jewish LGBTQ kids, generously supported by the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. Our goal: to create a safe space for LGBTQ Jewish kids and their allies and to view this issue through a Jewish lens… I am proud to say kids are signing up — both affiliated and unaffiliated.”

The other: “But where did that idea really start, at least for me? … Let me tell you about my worst days as a kid. Those were the days in middle school and in high school when other kids would torment me with three slurs… ‘Hippie Jew f-word’ — a derogatory term for a male homosexual that starts with the letter f and ends with the letter t… This is what my adolescent tormentors were saying… You are the Other.”

The birth of my awareness: “They were following the playbook that the late German historian George Mosse had described. Mosse taught that every culture defines its own sense of what it means to be a man, and then uses that definition to portray those who are differently masculine as foreign, as the Other… Those experiences shaped me, more than I could have ever imagined. They pushed me into a lifelong journey through the meaning of masculinity, resulting in two books: Searching for My Brothers: Jewish Men in a Gentile World and The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary… But, more than that, those experiences inculcated a social awareness about LGBTQ life.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

AI Meets the Academy: In an exploration of “neologizing” — creating new Hebrew words — on the Hebrew at the Center website, Jeremy Benstein wonders if a computer could generate appropriate and meaningful new terms. “One of Eliezer Ben Yehudah’s central tasks in his journalistic and lexicographical work was indeed to enrich the contemporary vocabulary – either with ‘repurposed’ words from the sources, or with new coinages based on earlier roots, or borrowings from the closely related language of Arabic. Neologizing, or creating a new Hebrew word, requires several different skill sets and knowledge bases. A thorough grounding in general linguistics and the structure of the Hebrew language is essential. Familiarity with the different historical strata and classic texts of the language is up there too, but so is imagination and creativity, as well as a common touch, a more emotional intelligence about how words function in society, and what will actually ‘work.’ Given that, could this complex task be entrusted to a computer?”[HebrewattheCenter]

Community Comms

Rabbis: Take the next step on your educational journey. Explore Spertus Institute’s Doctor in Hebrew Letters. Nondenominational, flexible, under the guidance of leading scholars.

Be featured: Email us to inform the eJP readership of your upcoming event, job opening, or other communication.

Word on the Street

Israel’s Health Ministry announced a significant change to decades-old regulations that will see drug-induced early-term abortions made available at health care clinics rather than only at hospitals. Additionally, women seeking an abortion will no longer have to physically face a review committee that approves abortions, a change long demanded by activists …

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, a student at Yeshiva University alleged the administration conspired to cover up her accusation that she was raped by a varsity basketball player in January 2021…

Australia’s 2021 census shows that the country’s self-reported Jewish population is larger than 91,000, a 9.8% increase from the 2016 census…

The Orthodox Union’s Impact Accelerator awarded innovation grants to five Jewish communal organizations, which were chosen from a field of 71 applicants. Each will receive a $10,000 grant to facilitate further growth…

The Mordecai Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood named Jeffrey Schein its new executive director. Additionally, Jane Susswein has become president of the Center and Eric Caplan has returned to his position as vice president and academic advisor…

Brandeis University alumna and TV writer/producer (“Friends,” “Grace & Frankie”) Marta Kauffman pledged $4 million to endow a professorship in African and African American studies at the university…

Howard Buffet, the elder son of Warren Buffet, donated $2.7 million to the Spirit of America for its response to the war in Ukraine. The charity will deliver nine 50-passenger buses to the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces to evacuate refugees and provide 375 advanced trauma kits for Ukrainians on the front lines…

James McConnell, Jr., an heir to the DuPont family fortune, gave $5 million to Virginia Commonwealth University to endow three funds that will promote social justice through its theater department…

The Bezos Earth Fund announced grants totaling $50 million, donated by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in support of marine conservation and research in the Pacific Ocean…

The Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis awarded grants totaling $34 million to eight human service organizations to help strengthen their long-term financial sustainability plans…

“Ukraine: Answering the Call,” an education and fundraising special, will air on NBC on Sunday, July 3, and will feature performances by Kristen Bell and Alicia Keys; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address Americans during the special and ?NBC News will share reports on the stories of those who are impacted by the crisis…

Marina Smith, one of Britain’s most respected Holocaust educators who was honorerd by Queen Elizabath, died at 87…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy of Uncommon Giving

At a meeting arranged by the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum, Israel’s first lady, Michal Herzog (second from left), welcomed Uncommon Giving chief investment advisor Eric Rubin (left); Avi Solomon, a blind Ethiopian-born Israeli runner (third from left), who participated in the Abu Dhabi Marathon; and Justine Zwerling, co-founder of the forum, to the President’s House last week. The forum, a division of the UAE-Israel Business Council,  coordinated Solomon’s participation in the marathon with support from Uncommon Giving and others.


Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI

Emmy-, Grammy-, Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actor, movie director, composer and comedian, Mel Brooks (born Melvin James Kaminsky)…

Laguna Woods, Calif., resident, she is a retired hospital administrator, Saretta Platt Berlin… Owner of NYC’s United Equities Companies and retired chairman of Berkshire Bank, Moses M. Marx… Former member of Congress for 16 years and now a distinguished fellow and president emerita of the Wilson Center, Jane Harman… Political consultant, community organizer and author, he is married to Rep.  Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), Robert Creamer… Novelist, journalist, conservative commentator and senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, Mark Helprin… Author of crime fiction for both adults and children, Peter Abrahams… Documentary producer and adjunct associate professor at USC, James Ruxin… West Orange, N.J., resident, Saralee Rosen… Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, Kenneth Alan Ribet… Shareholder in the Tampa office of Carlton Fields, Nathaniel Doliner… Rabbi and historian, he is the author of a 2017 book Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to KaganDavid G. Dalin… Former member of the California state Senate, Martin Jeffrey “Marty” Block… Retired partner at Chicago-based accounting firm of Morrison & Morrison, Mark Zivin… Founding partner of NYC law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, Marc Kasowitz… Writer for HaaretzAmira Hass… Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation, Brian L. Roberts… Rabbi of the Har Bracha community, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed… U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues, Ellen J. Germain… Principal of GPS Investment Partners and chairman of Chiron Investment Management, Marc Spilker… Actress and singer, Jessica Hecht… Diplomatic correspondent for Al-Monitor based in Washington, D.C., Laura Rozen… Novelist and short story writer, Aimee Bender… Israeli actress residing in Los Angeles, Ayelet Zurer… Centibillionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk… Former member of Knesset for the Labor Party / Zionist Union, Michal Biran… Toltzy Kornbluh… and her twin sister, Chany Stark… UAE-based founder and CEO of N.Y. Koen Group, Naum Koen… Judicial law clerk for a federal judge in D.C., Molly Rosen… Founder of Goldenberg Solutions Group, former president of the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Jill Goldenberg… Mark Winkler…President and CEO of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, Doron Krakow

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