Your Daily Phil: A new report on Jewish camps + Hillel Ukraine on the front lines

Good Thursday morning!

Two years ago, when nearly every Jewish overnight camp in North America announced that it would remain closed for summer 2020, observers could be forgiven for thinking that the pandemic would decimate the Jewish camp network.

Now, a new survey of Jewish camps has quantified the damage, and while it was substantial, it wasn’t as bad as camp directors feared. According to the survey, a copy of which eJewishPhilanthropy obtained prior to publication, attendance was down 16% and expenses were up 20% in 2021, relative to 2019. Staff recruitment continues to lag, and tuition has risen. 

But the attendance shortfall was smaller than expected — FJC had predicted a 25% to 30% drop — and was mostly due to pandemic-related capacity restrictions, said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, (FJC) which conducted the study.

“Last year, it was ‘Can we just get open?’” Fingerman told eJP. “This year, it’s about making it a fabulous experience for the campers and the staff.”

The additional staff and precautions necessitated by COVID meant that total camp expenses rose from $300 million to $375 million between 2019 and 2021. But camps brought in a total of $400 million in revenue, including $18 million in federal pandemic loans. Some of the increased costs were passed onto parents, who saw tuition jump 15% between 2019 and 2021. Fingerman said the surplus would help “cover the losses of previous years,” particularly the canceled 2020 summer.

Making sure there are enough staff for the campers has proven a challenge. The number of year-round staff was 34% lower than in 2019, the number of seasonal employees — the bulk of summer staff — was down 16% and counselor-in-training programs have also shrunk.

Some camps are raising salaries and offering bonuses, while others are improving the staff experience — shortening hours, having more staff programming or changing their job titles (to “child care specialist,” for example) to emphasize the skills they’re developing. “The problem is not that people don’t want to work at camp — we still have a very good product — they just have pressure to do other things” like internships, said Julie Finkelstein, FJC’s director of leadership development.

The FJC report’s cover features campers wearing masks, but one thing that’s almost certain to change is how camps handle COVID. Fingerman said that the virus is now not even one of the system’s top two concerns. This year, as pandemic restrictions lapse and almost all children can get vaccinated, camp will likely look a lot more like it did three years ago.

“Right now, I think if you asked camp directors they’d say the number one concern is inflation, and supply chain,” he said. “And then, I’d say, it’s COVID.”

Read the full story here.


A conversation with the head of Hillel in Ukraine

Iosif "Osik" Akselrud, the regional director of Hillel CASE, which includes Hillel in Ukraine.


As of late February, Iosif “Osik” Akselrud, the director of Hillel in Central Asia and Southeastern Europe, was planning a 25th anniversary celebration for Hillel in Ukraine, to be held in Kyiv in May. Now, he’s holed up with his family in a hotel room in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where, like many other internal Ukrainian refugees, he fled to escape the Russian invasion. But he still sees a future for Jews in Ukraine, he told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales

Feeling shock: Akselrud spoke with eJP on Wednesday about the war and what he’s doing to help the 4,000 students involved in the country’s six Hillel branches. “I am in shock. I am in shock. I could imagine everything except this kind of situation. They are like Nazis. They attack civilian populations. I’m in western Ukraine, waiting for — I don’t know what.”

Taking up arms: “Many [Hillel students] are on territorial defense. They fight [against] the enemy… One of our girls in Kyiv, she’s a future doctor [medical student]. She spent 24 hours on territorial defense. She’s a medic. She said to me she’s spending there as many hours as she can survive. I wish they spent time in a Jewish surrounding, celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat, helping the community, volunteering. But now they have to do this job.”

A Jewish future: “I think the Jewish community will [continue to] exist in Ukraine, and if the Jewish community will exist, it will need Hillel, because Hillel is the blood of the community. The Jewish community is very active. Young people were very active inside the Jewish community. They volunteered a lot, we provided them with educational training. It was a living body, and not small.” 

Read the full interview here.


A conspiracy of hope in San Francisco

Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

“Every Friday morning, a group of volunteers from The Kitchen (a congregation founded by my wife, Rabbi Noa Kushner) bakes 100-plus challahs in the Glide basement. Before we distribute this hot Jewish-Sabbath bread to a largely non-Jewish staff and hungry clientele, volunteers and staff gather in a circle in a small storage room. Before we recite the motzi in Hebrew and English (and occasionally Arabic), I invite all gathered (Jews and non-Jews) to reflect on the week that is ending and to share an idea about something that will bring them life over Shabbat/the weekend (think of it as an interfaith pre-shabbes ritual),” writes Michael Lezak, the rabbi at Glide in San Francisco, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A world away: “Before arriving at Glide in 2017, I worked as a rabbi at synagogues in Bay Area suburbs for 18 years. Most recently, I worked across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, an astoundingly beautiful, exorbitantly expensive, quiet and quaint place that, it should be noted, is 85% Caucasian. The first five weeks that I worked at Glide, I commuted from rich, white America to the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco. When I parked my minivan on Ellis Street, my sheltered soul was not prepared for what I would witness.”

Glide: “What exactly is Glide? And what is it like being an out and proud rabbi, a practicing Jew in this least traditional of rabbinic roles? Glide is two radically holy entities under one sacred canopy. Firstly, Glide is a historically Black church with a 50-member gospel ensemble and a seven-part funk band that collectively anchor stratospherically sacred worship (if you’ve been to Sunday Celebration, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about)… Glide is also a foundation which oversees a panoply of righteous, life-saving work. I work for the Glide Foundation, not the church…although I preach regularly in the church. Glide serves 800,000 hot meals to hungry humans every year. We distribute 1.5 million clean needles to people wrestling with addiction. Glide has a women’s center that helps women heal from trauma, an ‘alternative to incarceration’ program and a program that helps men and women unlearn violence.”

Read the full piece here.


The post-pandemic pivot to building relationships


“Having physical places to gather is fundamental to who we are as people. Our strength comes from our connections to one another. And yet, for many years, Jewish membership organizations have primarily focused on responding to individual requests as quickly as possible. This hub-and-spoke organizational model values transactions over community building. If you work for a communal organization, or sit on the board of one, and doubt this, just look at how time is spent. You might not want this to be true, but the math won’t lie. The structures, processes and cultures of communal organizations have created alliances of acquaintances,” write Allison Fine and Beth Kanter, authors of The Smart NonprofitStaying Human-Centered in an Automated World, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

We’re not alone: “Jewish communal organizations are not alone in this struggle. Membership in all American religious institutions precipitously declined this century. Over two-thirds of workers believe the pandemic has worsened burnout.”

Smart tech: “In our new book, The Smart Nonprofit, we present a solution to these problems.  We coined the phrase, ‘smart tech,’ to describe the universe of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its subsets and cousins such as machine learning and natural language processes, that make decisions for and instead of people.”

A tool to change organizational life: “Before you throw up your hands in disgust at the idea of more tech promising to make life better, this is not the digital tech you have known. Social media created cacophonies of complaints, outrage and noise. The commercial platforms like Facebook manipulated our attention and stole our data. Smart tech can change organizational life for the better, if it is used strategically and ethically.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Solving Homelessness: Foundations should use their endowment assets to fight homelessness, Daniel Heimpel writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Right now, far too few investment funds are focused on social challenges such as the homelessness crisis. But that will change if those who hold the wealth speak up for more such vehicles in which to park their endowment assets. The pandemic and racial-justice reckoning have forced the philanthropic world to rethink many long-held practices, including how it supports grantees and how it measures success. Now grant makers need to apply that same creative thinking to endowment assets. Foundation leaders need to recognize the power of those assets to both address an unacceptable national crisis — and produce a solid return on their investment dollars. Our communities, and those endowments, will be richer for it.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Best Manager: A survey of 5,000 managers from around the world in different functions revealed four main types of managers, Sari Wilde writes at CNBC: teacher managers, always-on managers, cheerleader managers and connector managers. The best type to work with is connector managers: “Connectors ask the right questions and make an effort to really get to know their employees at a deeper level — such as their motivations, interests, goals and development areas in ways that other managers don’t… Connector managers provide feedback in their area of expertise, while also connecting employees to others on the team or in the organization who are better suited at addressing specific needs.” [CNBC]

Sharing Power: Reimagining philanthropy’s commitment to racial equity begins with fostering authentic relationships with leaders and organizations, working in partnership with them, and making a commitment to racial equity that is “integrated into all that we do and the lens through which we make choices as funders,” Jim Canales writes in The Boston Globe. “Now is the time to redouble our commitments and to recognize that achieving racial equity and advancing racial justice does not result from a statement, a set of grants, or a funder initiative. It is the result of hard, sustained work across many areas in authentic partnership with others. Further, as part of this, we need to interrogate our own cultures with clarity and empathy. Our leadership, which includes our boards, must be willing to have difficult, even uncomfortable, conversations. Indeed, these same boards should consider how to share their power with leaders who bring a diversity of lived experiences and expertise to the table, pushing us past conventional wisdom.” [BostonGlobe]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Israel’s Finance Ministry has not approved funding for a planned Israeli field hospital in Ukraine and has no plans to do so. The Health Ministry had announced the initiative over the weekend…

The United Kingdom has sanctioned Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC, and six other Russians as part of its response to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions have halted Abramovich’s attempt to sell the soccer club.

The U.K.’s Community Security Trust surpassed its pre-campaign fundraising target, raising $5.2 million to fund services used to protect British Jews against antisemitism… 

The Ruderman Family Foundation is providing a $3 million grant to Massachusetts General Hospital to cultivate leadership in the healthcare sector by developing what it calls a transformative model of training…

The Ballmer Group donated $18 million to the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, the Community Based Public Safety Collective, Cities United and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform to jointly establish community-based solutions to gun violence… 

Villanova University received a $10 million gift from the H. Hovnanian Family Foundation in support of academic and capital initiatives… 

The Donors of Color Network, a cross-racial community of donors and movement leaders, announced the release of their report, “Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Worth Donors of Color.” According to the report, high-net-worth donors of color contribute a total of $56 million annually to charity, with a median annual gift of $87,500…

Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity has named Martin Volinsky regional director for the Florida region…

Jewish National Fund-USA has named Neuriel Shore director for greater Los Angeles; he was previously the associate director for West Los Angeles…

Pic of the Day

Haim Zach/GPO

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (left) met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after landing in Ankara for a landmark visit. Herzog’s trip marks the highest-level visit by an Israeli official since former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the trip in 2008.


Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Actor and director, Sawyer Avery Spielberg (left)… 

Long Beach, California, general surgeon, Dr. Leonard M. Lovitch… Author and publisher of the Phoenix Scottsdale Jewish Friendship Trail GuidebookMichael Alan Ross… Senior cryogenics engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona, Lawrence Sobel… Founder and CEO of Pegasystems, Alan N. Trefler… CEO at two Israeli companies, Strategy3i Ltd. and Fluenzy, Jeffrey Kahn… Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, Mitch Gaylord… Record producer, former co-president of Columbia Records and a co-founder of Def Jam Records, Rick Rubin… Peabody Award-winning financial journalist and market news analyst for CNBC and co-host of “Squawk on the Street,” David Faber… Executive director of the America Israel Friendship League, Wayne L. Firestone… Stage, screen and television actor, Stephen Mailer… Investigative reporter for The New York TimesDanny Hakim… Real estate agent on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing,” Josh Altman… VP of lending and exchanges at Celsius Network, Aliza Landes.. Executive director at The Vandenberg Coalition, Carrie Filipetti… Editor-at-large of Mishpacha MagazineBinyamin Rose

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