Your Daily Phil: A new collaboration for Seder + Rethinking Hebrew education
Good Monday morning,
Like several attention-grabbing Jewish nonprofits launched in the past couple of decades, OneTable, which facilitates and funds Shabbat dinners, has focused on a popular demographic: Jews in their 20s and 30s. But a new partnership signals that the group is expanding its reach beyond Shabbat, and beyond that age range.
Ahead of Passover, OneTable has helped design a feature on Haggadot[dot]com that lets people organize Seders online that the group will then fund up to $100. Users can then migrate to the rest of the site, which helps people curate their own Haggadah and associated holiday rituals. The two organizations are expecting 7,000 people to use the feature this year.
The initiative means OneTable is growing from Shabbat dinners into a ritual that’s perhaps the most commonly observed among American Jews. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 62% of American Jews participated in a Seder — more than the 39% who “mark Shabbat in [a] personally meaningful way.” Seders are also traditionally held with family, as opposed to the Shabbat dinners facilitated by OneTable, which are often shared with friends or peers.
While OneTable has offered resources for a Seder in previous years, the group has now started having conversations about expanding demographically. “While our materials are designed for folks in their 20s and 30s, everyone could use those materials, whether they’re hosting their friends or hosting their family,” MJ Kurs-Lasky, OneTable’s director of partnerships and Jewish learning, told eJewishPhilanthropy.
For Haggadot[dot]com, this partnership is a small portion of a vision the group is rolling out after having received a $3.8 million grant last year from the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF) to help people customize their own Jewish rituals across several areas of Jewish life. The site’s executive director, Eileen Levinson, told eJP that organizations need to widen their vision beyond the post-college years.
“We have put so much focus on those young generations as people who are on their own and seeking community,” she said. “But one thing we as a Jewish community realized from the pandemic is that we’re all seeking community. We’ve all had moments of loneliness and isolation, and as we go back into the world there’s a need for community and connection to support all of us.”
Art exhibit and panel of denominations’ first ordained women mark 50 years of U.S. women in the rabbinate
An event on Thursday marking 50 years of women in the American rabbinate was at once a celebration of pioneering women rabbis and a testament to the barriers they still face, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.
Four firsts: The event, held at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC) in New York City, paid tribute to Rabbi Sally Priesand, who became the first woman ordained by an American seminary — HUC’s branch in Cincinnati — nearly 50 years ago, on June 3, 1972. She sat on a panel with the first Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox women ordained as rabbis.
Tough choices: Priesand said that she chose not to marry or have children in order to focus on her rabbinic career. The Reconstructionist Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso called the experience “so lonely” at the beginning of her career. Conservative Rabbi Amy Eilberg added, “It becomes familiar that people project things onto us… I got a fair amount of ‘You’re destroying Judaism.’”
Twenty-four portraits: The event also showcased “Holy Sparks,” a collection of 24 artworks representing 24 pathbreaking women rabbis. Some of the works are traditional portraits — Priesand’s, by the artist Joan Roth, is a photograph of her with a dog. Others are more conceptual. The work representing Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of New York City’s Central Synagogue, created by Laurie Gross and including photo, dyed linen and embroidery, is a column made up of seven copies of the Hebrew letter shin, which can represent God, in front of a photograph of the blue tapestry on her synagogue’s Torah ark. That image is surrounded by Hebrew and Korean words, representing Buchdahl’s dual heritage.
This year in Orlando
Janet Zuckerman will not be spending Passover at home, but she has already thoroughly cleaned and kashered her kitchen, and done her cooking for the weeklong holiday. After freezing all the food, she will pack it into her car and drive with her husband from their home in Potomac, Md., to Orlando, Fla., where they will celebrate Passover with their children and grandchildren. Zuckerman has no relatives in Orlando or any particular connection to the city. But this year, she will join tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews making the pilgrimage to Central Florida for Passover, which begins Friday at sundown. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports on the one week a year the nation’s theme park capital becomes the country’s Jewish hotspot.
Destination Passover: “It’s become a real destination,” said Menachem Lubinsky, who operates a website called Kosher Today that reports on kosher food around the U.S. He estimates that some 55,000 Orthodox Jews will visit Orlando during Passover this year, which is more than Orlando’s year-round Jewish population of 51,000. (Messages circulating in WhatsApp groups for people going to Orlando have estimated the numbers will be even higher, somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 people.)
Place to be: In recent years, Orlando’s popularity as a Passover destination has exploded, even as there have been a number of highly publicized incidents of scams and double-bookings. Some families with young children or grandchildren will visit Disney World over the holiday, but the theme parks alone do not explain the massive growth of the city’s Passover scene. Orlando does not have a large Orthodox community; most of the people who go will form pop-up communities of their own, with makeshift minyans meeting in people’s rental homes.
Do it yourself: Unlike more established “Passover programs,” which are generally all-inclusive affairs at resorts, Orlando is more of a do-it-yourself experience. Central Florida is less built up and thus less expensive than cities further south like Boca Raton and Miami, so visitors can rent large homes (“villas,” as renters call them) for their entire extended family — villas with up to a dozen bedrooms, game rooms, swimming pools and other warm-weather amenities like backyard grills and hot tubs. But that doesn’t mean Passover in Orlando is cheap.
Nothing like it: “We’ve done a couple of programs before, but I had never seen anything like this in my life. It is such a racket,” said Zuckerman. She’s in a WhatsApp group with several hundred other people who are heading to Orlando for Passover, and the group is bombarded with ads for different culinary options, such as personal chefs for hire.
Festive food: For those who do not want to transport crates of food on long car rides, many Jewish caterers and kosher markets transport their food to Orlando. The food comes south from the New York tri-state area and north from Boca Raton and Miami. The Rebbe’s Choice, a direct-to-consumer kosher herring company based in Queens, is arranging a pick-up spot in Orlando this year for the first time. “We shipped many orders down there last year, and because of that volume, we decided it would be worthwhile for our customers to put together a pallet of goods that would be going down to Orlando, and have a central pickup point,” said Naftali Engel, who founded the company eight years ago while studying at a yeshiva in Israel.
Four decades of facing domestic violence in the Jewish community
“My first meeting as executive director of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis quickly took a contentious turn. It was 1988, and nearly 50 clergy were gathered to hear from Rabbi Julie Ringold Spitzer, one of the first rabbis to specialize in educating about domestic abuse within the Jewish community. Her message — that abuse was present in the Jewish community, and that we had not been properly trained to recognize or to respond to it — was challenging for many of the rabbis to accept…While many rabbis came away from this meeting with much-needed information about a rarely acknowledged issue, I suspect some others agreed with the colleague who asked, ‘Why did we devote a whole program to an issue that does not even exist?’” writes Rabbi Richard Hirsh, a longtime member of Jewish Women International’s Clergy Task Force on Domestic Abuse, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Clergy as resources: “This year, I participated in a very different meeting of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis. In our workshop, ‘Skills and Resources for Responding to Intimate-Partner Abuse,’ Deborah Rosenbloom, chief program officer of Jewish Women International, noted that clergy are now seen as resources, advocates and partners in addressing domestic violence.”
How best to respond: “Rather than debating whether abuse occurs in the Jewish community, we focused on how to best respond to it. Instead of isolating abuse in some imagined corner of our community, we now recognize that intimate-partner violence can occur in any and all parts of the Jewish community, and transcends distinctions of religious and secular, observant and non-observant.”
We need a paradigm shift in American Hebrew education
“For American Jews, Hebrew can offer a set of resources that strengthen aspects of Jewish identity, engagement and practice. While the same may be true for Israeli expats, Hebrew is a home language beyond or in addition to its more religious significance. Though the language is usually a central feature of their identities, many Israeli-American families aren’t banging down the doors of local day schools, supplementary schools and camps for backup. They typically prefer public schooling for reasons including affordability and opportunities for integration,” writes Hannah Z. Kober, a doctoral candidate in educational linguistics (with a concentration in Jewish studies) at Stanford Graduate School of Education, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Unease with religious institutions: “Secular Israeli expats also often have an aversion to religious institutions, based in their distaste for the coercive and exclusionary control the Israeli rabbinate has on public and personal life. But they typically find liberal Judaism to be quite foreign too. Additionally, the concept of paying for religious education may seem strange given the public funding of religious institutions in Israel. Studies show that Israelis generally feel some unease towards American Jewish institutions upon arrival. However, with longer stays in the U.S., they tend to either affiliate more strongly with organized religion or integrate into broader society.”
Israeli-American perspectives: “When we, as a community and as thought leaders, discuss the ‘Israel-Diaspora relationship,’ we frequently erase the border group in our midst: those for whom Israel is literally their homeland, but for whom America has become their home. Their perspectives on American Judaism, organized religion, cultural maintenance, security and more are likely to be channeled through their experiences within and in relation to Israeli society. We highlight their ties to Israel, but show a remarkable lack of curiosity when it comes to their triumphs and struggles here in the U.S. We’re grateful for the pipeline of educators and shlichim, who demonstrate a vibrant Jewish, Hebrew-speaking culture for our constituents. Yet the sizable representation of Israelis in Hebrew teaching roles leads us to believe that Israeli-Americans are and will be continuous producers of Hebrew-medium content. We forget that the children of Israeli expats are often consumers of Hebrew education as well. The expectation that Israeli-Americans will endlessly produce and perform ‘authentic’ Israeli Hebrew isn’t sustainable. This is just not how America works. We know this from our own complex migration histories and from those of our neighbors.”
New Era: The Circuit’s Ruth Marks Eglash talked to incoming UAE Ambassador to the Vatican Omar Ghobash on the sidelines of the Jewish Funders Network conference about the new opportunities for growth and collaboration between Israelis and Emiratis. “‘We know that life is short, and we have a remarkable opportunity in the Emirates to take the country to the next stage, we’ve got an ambitious leadership and a whole bunch of great kids,’ said Ghobash, author of the 2018 acclaimed book, Letters to a Young Muslim, which reflects on challenges of faith, culture and society through a series of letters. ‘The way I see it is that we’re allying and aligning ourselves with other nations that actually want to build and prosper,’ the ambassador continued. ‘While on the other side are negative players who are manipulative and destructive.’” [TheCircuit]
The Mysterious MacKenzie Scott: Despite the fact that MacKenzie Scott has announced $12 billion in grants that are “reshaping the nonprofit sector in the United States and beyond,” write Nicholas Kulish and Rebecca R. Ruiz in The New York Times, she remains a mystery. Because Scott did not respond to outreach by the writers, they drew from public records and interviews with more than two dozen friends, teachers, former colleagues and acquaintances from every chapter of Scott’s life. “She has built a philanthropic operation that is notable not just for the monumental size and speed of its gifts but also for its seemingly impenetrable secrecy. Unlike Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective or Ms. French Gates’s Pivotal Ventures, Ms. Scott avoided establishing a website or advertising any contact information. For some nonprofits, curiosity has curdled into fear, as leaders fret that when their peers receive grants from Ms. Scott and they are passed over, it could imply that they are mismanaged or ineffective. Her opaque methodology is the subject of regular hushed conversations in the nonprofit field. No one wants to offend her, but the choices can appear capricious. Why one chapter of the Y.M.C.A. and not another?” [NYTimes]
Making Moves: American Jewish University is selling its campus in Bel Air, Calif., to “find a physical space that suits our current needs,” its president, Jeffrey Herbst, writes in the Jewish Journal: “[W]e no longer believe that holding twenty-two acres in Bel Air is necessarily the best way to support our critical mission of promoting Jewish journeys, and strengthening the Jewish life of individuals, organizations, and our community…We may stay in Bel Air in a reduced footprint. We may also move. AJU already has a long history of offering in-person classes (including the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program and Hebrew) at other physical locations across the city, a practice we will continue. Families move and companies relocate all the time in response to opportunity. AJU is taking a bold step because that is what is required to address the problems that the Jewish community faces. Our track record demonstrates that the return on our new initiatives is very high, and we look forward to using all of our resources in service of the Jewish community in Los Angeles and across the country.” [JewishJournal]
Word on the Street
Moshe Kantor has resigned as president of the European Jewish Congress after being sanctioned last week by the United Kingdom for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kantor is also apparently no longer the chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Policy Council. On Friday, WJC said in a statement, “No one whose name is included on any list of sanctioned individuals by the European Union, the United Kingdom, or the United States in relation to the conflict in Ukraine can hold any position or play any role in” the group…
Boston will have its own Holocaust museum after the Holocaust Legacy Foundation purchased a 15,000-square-foot building in the city…
MedAccess, the Open Society Foundations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are together dedicating $200 million to global COVID-19 vaccine procurement…
Rabbi Sarah Bassin was named director of clergy and congregations at HIAS; she was formerly assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills…
Zack Ritter was named vice president of leadership development at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; he was formerly associate dean of students at California State University-Dominguez Hills…
Marisa Obuchowski was named director of relationships and business development at JPro; she was previously manager of North American community engagement at Vibe Israel USA…
Two Jewish men were critically injured on Friday in an antisemitic crime spree in Lakewood, N.J., for which the assailant was charged with attempted murder and bias crimes…
Pic of the Day
Israeli President Isaac Herzog (left) and others stand next to a nearly 20-foot-long, 13-pound matzah at the President’s Residence on Sunday. The matzah boasts 119,000 perforations, was produced from 15 pounds of flour and three quarts of water and took three hours to bake.
Head of fixed income sales at Citadel LLC, he was previously a Major League Soccer midfielder, Jordan Cila…
Actress who played the title character on the 325-episode soap opera satire “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Louise Lasser… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and syndicated columnist, Ellen Goodman… Founder of the USA Network and co-founder of Springboard Enterprises, Kay Koplovitz… West Bloomfield, Mich.-based inventor on more than forty patents, Barry Schwab… Actor, director and screenwriter, Peter Riegert… Sarita Dery… Former deputy director of WomenStrong International, Sydney Rubin… Managing partner and a founder of LA-based law firm Glass & Goldberg, Marshall F. Goldberg… Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 1999 from the Pittsburgh area, Dan B. Frankel… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, he is the director of the narrative medicine program at the Temple University medical school, Michael Vitez… Australian executive chairman of Visy Industries and Pratt Industries US, the world’s largest privately owned packaging company, Anthony Pratt (family name in Poland was Przecicki)… Executive chairman of The Estée Lauder Companies, William P. Lauder… Professor at Sarah Lawrence College, he is a scholar of Eastern European Jewry, with a focus on the social history of Hasidism, Glenn Dynner… Co-founder of Caracal Global Strategies and founder and CEO of Brigadoon, Marc A. Ross… Israeli-based angel investor and entrepreneur, he is a partner at Tel Aviv-based Accomplice Blockchain, David Galper… Lecturer of Talmud at Yeshiva University and a judge at the Beth Din of America, Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig…
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