Your Daily Phil: A new tech-based charity Down Under + Outdoor learning at an early childhood center summer program

In 2009, Joshua Ross and Adam McCurdie – Australian Jews who became friends on a Birthright trip to Israel – made a pact while hiking in Sri Lanka: They’d work together to turn an idealistic vision of changing the world into reality.

When “all your friends are…getting their mortgages and having their kids, and you’re the one earning nothing because you’re working on some crazy idea, that’s mentally really tough,” Ross told eJewishPhilanthropy. “So we made a promise to each other on that trip…so at least loneliness wouldn’t be a limitation.”

After university, McCurdie was a management consultant and Ross worked at a hedge fund. But in 2016, they set aside those careers to found Humanitix, a tech charity and booking platform that donates the proceeds of booking fees to philanthropic causes. Now, the nonprofit is on track to donate $1 million to charity this year, and is expanding to the U.S. – a testament to the philanthropic support of the Australian Jewish community that helped incubate it.

In its first few years, Humanitix fundraised from parents of McCurdie’s and Ross’ Jewish day school friends, and received pro-bono legal and accounting support through Jewish connections. Through a program by the Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) of New South Wales called Jumpstart, which ran a “Shark Tank”-style event for Jewish entrepreneurs, Humanitix also won funding and free office space.

“That whole ideaof being a light upon the nations was the motivation; [Jumpstart] wasn’t just for ideas that affect the Jewish community,” Ross said. “The Jewish community seeded us to get to a point where we could really take off.”

Ross sees Humanitix as an essential part of Jewish philanthropy and values, even though the nonprofit isn’t solely serving the Jewish community (through reduced pricing for nonprofits, some Australian Jewish organizations are using Humanitix for event bookings).

“Going to a Jewish day school, you’re encouraged to volunteer, you’re encouraged to give, there’s a massive culture of philanthropy in the Jewish community,” Ross said. But if Jews aren’t helping the broader non-Jewish community, then “what the hell’s the point of being a light upon the nations? That’s not true if we’re not going to give outwards as well.”

Humanitix is also an example of the benefit that can come from philanthropists investing in technology solutions, Ross said. At the moment, most nonprofits don’t have the budget to build their own tech, and many philanthropists don’t like funding risky ideas.

“Technology is the biggest driver of change; it’s not good or bad inherently, it’s how we use it,” Ross said. “Most philanthropists aren’t open-minded when it comes to funding things that are outside the box…it’s much easier to give, you know, $1 equals two meals in this community, [or] this hospital needs a new wing. Very tangible, low risk, and technology is risky.”

Ross hopes Humanitix’s success can convince philanthropists in the Jewish community, and more broadly, that the risk of tech is worthwhile to addressing charitable causes they care about. “I don’t know what the right answer is, but we’re trying to prove a case study; that it can work,” he said.


The blessings of the summer slowdown

Courtesy Community Synagogue

“Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, we find ourselves at our Jewish early childhood center in Port Washington, N.Y., reaping the benefits of the ‘great outdoors,’” writes Jen Schiffer, director at The Community Synagogue L’Dor V’Dor Early Childhood Center, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Outdoor spaces: “Our seasoned teachers were creatures of habit, making magic in the classrooms and exploring our 12-acre property only sporadically outside of their regular playground time. Since the reopening of schools in September of 2020, however, our school structure was inverted and what was once inside, was reimagined outdoors. Tents were erected throughout the property and teachers and students alike adapted to a new learning environment rife with opportunities to learn outdoors and to appreciate nature on a whole new level. Since those early days, the ways in which our classes interact with our outdoor spaces has changed dramatically. Teachers have expanded their lessons to include outdoor time for play and exploration, separate and apart from the daily time they spend on the playground. Within the context of our outdoor education curriculum, the teachers have been masterful at weaving our core Jewish values into time spent outside.”

Weaving Jewish values with secular knowledge: “Our outdoor learning curriculum teaches our ‘littlest learners’ the value of shomrei adamah, that we are all ‘keepers of the earth,’ responsible for the protection and renewal of our world. We strive to help young children understand what this means by allowing them to participate in harvesting our outdoor garden… A garden is a wonderful place to weave in not only Jewish values, but also basic mathematical concepts like counting and sorting by size, shape and color. Our toddlers enjoy pointing out the differences between the red tomatoes and the green ones, and are able to identify which vegetables are larger or smaller than others.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

On the Menu: Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch interviews Tzurit Or, the Israeli founder of the Tatte bakery chain, which has close to two dozen storefronts around the U.S. “Before becoming the hottest spot for lunch meetings and afternoon coffees for Washington’s political set, Tatte (‘like latte,’ coffee cups and branded T-shirts remind customers), started as a farmers market stand in Boston’s Copley Square in 2007. But its true origin story can be found on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, at Kibbutz Kinneret, where Or grew up. ‘I didn’t learn to bake. It’s the way I was raised,’ Or said. Her mother baked all the time, including for the kibbutz dining room, and instilled in Or a deep-seated aversion to ever bringing a store-bought dessert to a party. ‘I didn’t eat any food out of a box until I got here,’ she said of the United States.” [JI]

Camp Retreat: An upcoming retreat for Jews of color at Camp Tawonga is expecting double the number of families who attended last year, according to event organizers, writes Andrew Esensten in J.: The Jewish News of Northern California. “For [retreat co-director Kiyomi] Gelber, who has both Japanese and Jewish heritage, organizing the weekend has been a labor of love. ‘I feel so passionate about creating this space that I didn’t have for a long time,’ she said, noting that she began working at Tawonga as a 19-year-old counselor. (Now, at 37, she is Tawonga’s associate director.) ‘It feels so inspiring to see young kids from the age of 2 onward getting to be in Jewish spaces where they look around and people are speaking Spanish and people are brown and Black.’ Staffed by Tawonga counselors who have undergone sensitivity training, the Jewish Families of Color Weekend grew out of the camp’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, which was launched in 2019.” [J.]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

United Way of Greater Cleveland announced a $10 million gift from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation to create the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Fund in support of Northeast Ohio’s largest private-sector funder of health and human services…

The University of Virginia received a $5.75 million anonymous gift in support of research aimed at accelerating development of new treatments for rare blood cancers and providing patients with access to cutting-edge clinical trials…

The United Jewish Israel Appeal, the leading British sponsor of Israel experience programs, is looking into how participants on tours it funds were taken on overnight trips this summer to a West Bank settlement. In its most recent financial statement, it noted that all funds it allocates “are restricted to projects within Israel’s internationally recognized borders”… 

Felix Kolmer, the former president of the International Auschwitz (survivors) Committee, died at 100…

Janice Bluestein Longone, who is credited with collecting thousands of items chronicling the culinary history of the United States, including cookbooks, menus, advertisements and diaries, died at 89…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy of Diller Teen Fellowship

Seven hundred Jewish teens from 32 communities in seven countries completed a three-week seminar in Israel as part of a yearlong Diller Teen Fellowship, an immersive leadership program for teenagers from across the world.


Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Actor and director, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1980 for “Kramer vs. Kramer” and in 1989 for “Rain Man,” Dustin Hoffman turns 85… 

Arlington Heights, Ill., resident, Elizabeth Gordon… Dutch diplomat and politician, he served as the speaker of the Dutch House of Representatives, Frans Weisglas… Greenwood Village, Colo., resident, Robert M. Schwartz… Tampa, Fla., resident, Roy D. Pulliam… Vancouver, Wash., resident, Juliana E. Miles Bagherpour… Former U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Melech Friedman… Former CEO of BusinessGhost, a ghostwriting firm that has written and published over 700 books, Michael Graubart Levin… Managing general partner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays, Stuart L. Sternberg… White House chief of staff, Ron Klain… Film director whose works include nine Disney films, Jon Turteltaub… Founder and former CEO of D.C.-based Connections Media, Jonah Seiger… Orthodox Jewish blogger (Torahmusings) who serves as the book editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine, Rabbi Gil Ofer Student… Former MLB pitcher and now assistant general manager for the Chicago Cubs, Craig Breslow… Director at Fundamental Advisors, Bara Lane… Senior director at West End Strategy Team, Sarah Garfinkel… Founder and managing partner at Avid Ventures, Addie Lerner… Director of development, operations and programs at JNF’s Illinois office, Zachary Pellish… Senior manager of creative strategy and content development at Omaze, Morgan Furlong… Internet celebrity and fitness model, Jennifer Leigh “Jen” Selter… Jack Baum… Rob Schwartz…

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