Your Daily Phil: A primer on Jewish poverty + PJ Library and Bernie mitten-maker collab
Good Friday morning!
Ed note: In celebration of Passover, the next edition of Your Daily Phil will be on Monday, April 5. Chag Sameach!
The German government has made a grant of $13.5 million to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to help identify Holocaust survivors worldwide who aren’t being reached by vaccination programs — including about 45% of the survivor population in the United States. “We are going to reach out to survivors and say, ‘We are here for you,’” Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the conference, told eJewishPhilanthropy.
Israel has the most effective vaccination program, yet even there the Claims Conference noticed one group that was not receiving their shots: homebound survivors who do not live in an old age or other kind of group home. They initiated a program that involved calling each member of this group — which numbers about 20,000 people, Schneider said — offering to help them get them vaccinated.
The grant from the German government will fund the work internationally, but in countries like Brazil, the conference and its local partners will need to wait until the official vaccination rollout begins. In the United States, where about 50,000 survivors live, as many as 22,500 have not been vaccinated, and the conference will start trying to contact them after Passover.
EXPLAINED BY EJP
As Passover begins, a primer on Jewish poverty
“Let all who are hungry, come and eat.”
The Passover Seder famously includes an invitation to those who have less to partake in the bounty of those who have the ability to share, but many conversations around poverty ignore those in the American Jewish community. In 2018, the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation initiated an effort to name, understand and mitigate the problem. “Jewish poverty mirrors poverty within the broader United States. It’s single mothers. It’s older people. It’s people with disabilities. It’s people who lost their jobs in the pandemic,” Jon Hornstein, the Weinberg Foundation program officer for Israel and the Jewish community, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “We still don’t have great data, and we’re working on that.”
The problem of Jewish poverty is plagued by a lack of hard data, and misinformation that has flourished in the vacuum.
About three years ago, Rachel Garbow Monroe, the president and CEO of the Weinberg Foundation, emailed her counterparts at about 40 Jewish federations and foundations. She told them she was trying to gather all the information available about Jewish poverty, and asked them to give her any research that was statistically reliable. The foundation has learned that Jewish poverty is not concentrated in any one group, but in a long list of groups: “older adults, Hasidic Jews, individuals with lower levels of educational attainment, individuals who are employed part-time, individuals with disabilities, single women, immigrants, and those who identify as ‘Just Jewish,’ secular, or have no Jewish denomination.”
The pandemic has fueled a surge of both need and giving.
“When we see six million jobless claims, everyone understands that poverty affects the entire Jewish nonprofit sector,” Hornstein said. Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim, a philanthropy researcher who is also a deputy director at the Ruderman Family Foundation, wrote in InsidePhilanthropy in February that Jewish giving accounted for about 5% of the total $22.7 billion in pandemic-related philanthropy. Of the $1.09 billion given by Jewish foundations, federations and nonprofit organizations, $367 million went to Jewish causes and organizations.
Bernie mitten-maker and PJ Library fit hand in glove
When she became an internet sensation as the woman behind Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) viral mittens, Jen Ellis, a 43-year-old Vermont schoolteacher and craft hobbyist, decided that, rather than profit from her newfound celebrity, she would use her platform to promote charitable causes. She has since auctioned off select pairs of mittens while partnering with companies like Vermont Teddy Bears and Darn Tough Vermont to raise money for local nonprofits. “It has been a crazy few months!” Ellis told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel on Thursday.
Glove story: On Wednesday, Ellis participated in what she characterized as one of the most meaningful, though unexpected, experiences to have resulted from her recent success. In a virtual interview filmed by PJ Library, the popular free subscription service for Jewish-themed children’s books, Ellis spoke with a former student, Owen, about the Jewish concept of bal tashchit — which discourages wastefulness. Alli Thresher, PJ Library’s director of digital content, reached out to Ellis after Sanders wore her mittens at the presidential inauguration. Thresher was impressed that the mittens were made from repurposed wool sweaters and recycled plastic — and asked if she would discuss her process with a child participant.
Background: Ellis, who isn’t Jewish, was nevertheless enthusiastic about the request — and suggested bringing in Owen, now a third-grader who subscribes to PJ Library, for a Zoom discussion. “His mother came in a couple times to teach us about Jewish traditions and read books to us when he was in my class in first and second grade,” recalled Ellis, who said that Owen is one of just two Jewish students she has taught throughout her 15-year career in public education. “I have been intentional to give them a platform to talk about being Jewish if they want to,” Ellis emphasized, “and both of them have.”
Lively discussion: In conversation with JI on Thursday, Ellis said the interview with Owen, who is 9, had exceeded her expectations. “He came prepared with all kinds of great questions,” Ellis remarked, “which he had numbered and written on note cards and clearly practiced.” They discussed, among other things, why Ellis believes it is important to use materials that would otherwise go into a landfill — and she briefly demonstrated how to salvage old sweaters to make her mittens, which she describes as “swittens,” a portmanteau of sweater and mittens. “We talked about how when you reuse something you give it a second life,” she said.
Stories of Women
Crossing the sea and journeying through the wilderness: Embracing women’s history through the lens of Passover
“There’s no doubt that something powerful happens when we focus on women’s lives as a distinct, worthy, and relevant topic, moving them ‘from margin to center’” as feminists have long advocated.The problem is that focusing on women for a dedicated month doesn’t necessarily move women’s history to the center; it moves it to March. Women’s history remains in a ghetto of sorts, still segregated from what we call ‘History’ the rest of the year,” writes Dr. Judith Rosenbaum in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Path forward: “This year, the arrival of the Jewish month of Nissan and the holiday of Passover within March suggests a different approach to Women’s History Month. Nissan, with its themes of springtime renewal and new beginnings, and Passover, with its focus on the journey toward liberation… speaks of the urgent necessity for change, setting us on a path that extends far beyond the month of March or the holiday of Passover.”
Unchartered territory: “For too long, during Women’s History Month, we have exclaimed over the new perspectives and opportunities that the figurative parting of the sea offers, only to watch from the Egyptian shore and return to life as usual as the walls of water release and the sea refills over that path to a new vision of history. Perhaps the message of Dayenu is that we cannot rely only on the miracles of God to take us each step of the way. If the path is open before us, it is our responsibility to walk on it. True, that path takes us into unchartered territory, wilderness. But that vast, open space on the other side of the sea creates the possibility to write a new story.”
As we leave Egypt and COVID, we cannot simply ‘go back’ to the past (Passover 5781)
“For Judaism, time is not only cyclical; it also moves upwards. It’s more an ascending spiral than a circle. Freedom, therefore, is not simply ‘going back’ to the time before slavery. Freedom is a springboard for transformation; it’s the beginning of a new project for the people,” writes Andrés Spokoiny in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Out of bondage: “Passover is a careful dance between return and renewal, between restoration and change. Yes, we renew the alliance of the Patriarchs, but we also establish a new pact with God and with each other. After liberation, we don’t just seek to go back to a mythological idyllic past, but to create a new society informed by our experience of bondage.”
Transformation: “As we start this spring, we are starting to imagine the end of our long pandemic winter. We are justified in celebrating ‘Chag Ha’aviv,’ the Festival of Spring, and, as this season brings back flowers and songbirds, we seek to return to many of our pre-COVID routines. We see the value of simple things: meeting with friends, hugging our family, going to the movies, and eating out. But we are also called to celebrate ‘Chag HaPesach,’ which is not just the holiday of freedom, but of transformation. The one that gives birth to a new project, to a new and better society.”
Big Matchers: Wendy and Eric Schmidt are giving $150 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to start a research center whose mission will be to improve human health by combining biology and computer science into a new discipline, writes Maria di Mento in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Eli and Edythe Broad are matching the donation to the institute, which they helped start in 2003 and endowed with a $400 million gift in 2008. The Broads’ newest gift brings their total donations to the institute to $1 billion, all of which has been unrestricted. [ChroniclePhilanthropy]
Philanthropic Mindset: Philanthropists feel overwhelmed like everyone else, and also in some ways that are specific to their role, reflects Kris Putnam-Walkerly, a philanthropy advisor and the author of Delusional Altruism, in Forbes. Specifically, philanthropists feel a responsibility to help solve the world’s problems, and also actually have the ability to do so — that’s a lot of pressure. “As odd as it seems, overwhelm comes more from our minds than from the physical world … Our thoughts tip the boat in one direction or the other,” Putnam-Walkerly concludes. [Forbes]
Course Correction: John A. Tures, a professor of political science at LaGrange College, reports in The Conversation that even though most people believe civics education — learning about how government works, and how to participate in it — will help students become better citizens, his research shows that it doesn’t usually have the hoped-for outcomes. States that require civics courses do not have higher rates of youth voting or volunteerism, he found after analyzing data from the latest study by the Center for American Progress. “Reform efforts … are under way in several states to help replace memorizing facts and figures with active learning designed to engage students in real-life problems in and out of the classroom,” Tures states. [Conversation]
New Day: U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is calling for Jewish life to change in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Simon Rocker on the website of The Jewish Chronicle. COVID created a rupture, the chief rabbi acknowledges, but it’s also an opportunity to create and embrace salutary changes, such as smaller physical gatherings, more modest celebrations and even shorter services. “In our quest to reconceptualize our vision of community and the nature of Jewish engagement, as well as to strengthen our communal infrastructure, we ignore our pandemic experiences at our peril,” Mirvis said. [JC]
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Word on the Street
World ORT is leading an innovative STEM training project in Ghana that will promote computer courses led by women for young girls… Tamim Academy, a network of new Jewish day schools, successfully launched their first four schools in Burlington, Greenwich, Boca Raton and New York City… Jewish community donors have created a fund to offer up to 50% tuition reduction to Atlanta Jewish professionals, clergy, & educators…
Pic of the Day
In 1916, Ephraim Deinard, a Russian-born, American-Jewish publisher, antiquarian and polemicist, gave a Haggadah to the United States Library of Congress. Created by Joel ben Simeon in 1478, it is now known as the Washington Haggadah, in honor of the city.
Actress Carly Chaikin celebrates her birthday today…
FRIDAY: President of the Palestinian Authority since 2005, Mahmoud Abbas… Argentine-born, Israeli clarinetist, Giora Feidman… Actor who has appeared in more than 60 films since 1964, including as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” James Caan… Award-winning novelist and poet, Erica Jong… Retired ENT surgeon and former medical correspondent at ABC News and NBC News, Nancy Lynn Snyderman, MD… President and CEO of the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum, Edward Greenspon… Actress Jennifer Grey… Patent attorney from Detroit and former Michigan State Rep, Ellen Cogen Lipton… Co-founder of Google, Larry Page… Founder and CEO of Waxman Strategies, Michael Waxman… Talk show host and founder of Israel Sports Radio, Ari Louis… Israeli judoka who won a gold medal in the Montreal Grand Prix 2019, Gefen Primo…
SATURDAY: Music executive and chairman emeritus of Warner Brothers Records, Mo Ostin… Founder of Business Wire, Lorry I. Lokey… Composer and violinist, Malcolm Goldstein… Founder of Thomas H. Lee Partners, Thomas H. Lee (family name was Leibowitz)… Former longtime technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Walter S. Mossberg… Executive director at Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue Club, Rachel Forman… Chairman and CEO of First International Resources, Zev Furst… Sports agent, Leigh Steinberg… Host of the “Matty in the Morning Show” in Massachusetts, Matt Siegel… Deputy director of leadership giving at Baruch College, Linda Altshuler… Member of the Knesset, Yisrael Eichler turns… Director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany, Susan Neiman… Economist and banker in Latvia, Valerijs Kargins… Smooth jazz saxophonist, Dave Koz… COO of the Maimonides Fund, Daniel Gamulka… CEO of BBYO, Matthew Grossman… President of NYC’s Tenement Museum, Dr. Annie Polland… Founder and CEO of the Movement Vision Lab, Sally Kohn… Associate professor at Columbia University School of the Arts, Dorothea Lasky… Correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, Jacob Hirsch Soboroff … Baseball outfielder for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, he starred for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Blake Shane Gailen… Business partner for global strategic alliances and partnerships at Yext, Adam B. Engel.. Producer at ABC’s The View, Daniella Greenbaum Davis… Theodore James Kushner…
SUNDAY: Professor emeritus of physics at MIT and winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jerome Isaac Friedman… Chairman and CEO of the Hartz Group and Hartz Mountain Corporation, Leonard Norman Stern… Founder and first general manager of Intel Israel and the inventor of the EPROM chip, Dov Frohman… Expert on the healthcare industry and supporter of women’s health issues, Hadassah Lieberman… Glenview, Illinois resident, Genie Kutchins… CEO of Los Angeles-based toy company MGA Entertainment, Isaac Larian… Former member of the Knesset, Shelly Yachimovich… Presidential historian and former Jewish Liaison and Deputy HHS Secretary in the Bush 43 administration, Tevi Troy… President and CEO of Hillel, Adam Lehman… Film producer, Brett Ratner… Journalist, crime writer and blogger in Japan, Jake Adelstein… Israeli journalist and radio presenter for Reshet Bet, Keren Neubach… Author of seven best-selling novels, Lauren Weisberger… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Makhlouf “Miki” Zohar… Los Angeles-based, Israeli-born fashion designer, Yotam Solomon… Retired MLB outfielder, Ryan Kalish… Project manager at Tradepoint Atlantic, Michael Hurwitz… VP of asset management at Hackman Capital Partners, Zachary David Sokoloff…