Your Daily Phil: AI coming to Sefaria’s library

Good Monday morning.

Join us today at noon ET for our latest “Get Your Phil” webcast, as eJewishPhilanthropy News Reporter Haley Cohen interviews Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation President Sharon Nazarian about hate on campus as well as her foundation’s work in the wake of Oct. 7. Register here.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on Sefaria’s plans to integrate artificial intelligence into its online library, and feature an opinion piece by Naama Klar about the need to reimagine how we teach the Jewish people’s story in the wake of the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Also in this newsletter: Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. WashingtonRobin Cohen and Shari Redstone. We’ll start with Elie Wiesel’s collection being donated to the Florida Holocaust Museum.

The Elie Wiesel Foundation donated the iconic Holocaust survivor and author’s entire collection to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, including his Nobel Peace Prize, the contents of his personal office and library, unfinished manuscripts, missives from world leaders and a variety of other documents, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Parts of the collection will form the “cornerstone of the permanent exhibition” at the museum and others will be used to create a traveling exhibit that can be sent around the world.

“This treasure trove of artifacts is a game-changer for the museum, St. Petersburg and our entire region,” said Michael Igel, board chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum.

The documents from Wiesel’s library will be kept at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus and will serve as the “anchor” of the university’s new Elie Wiesel Center for Humanitarian Ethics, according to a statement from the Wiesel Foundation.

“Together, we will build a center of intellectual activity that reflects Wiesel’s own life and learning,” Rhea Law, president of the University of South Florida, said in a statement. “We are grateful for the trust placed in our university and stand ready to turn this vision into a reality.”

Wiesel’s son, Elisha, noted his father’s personal connection to St. Petersburg, having taught at the city’s Eckerd College for almost 30 years. “He and my mother fell in love with St. Petersburg and the surrounding community, which is why I’m honored to be a part of solidifying the importance of this location to my father with the permanent exhibit of his collection,” he said in a statement.

“I’m excited the Florida Holocaust Museum will be home to my father’s entire archive, including a re-creation of his office, honoring his unwavering dedication to truth, humanity and remembrance,” Wiesel said.

CHAI TECH

Sefaria to integrate AI into its text library by mid-year

Illustrative. A woman reads a Jewish text on a tablet.
Illustrative. A woman reads a Jewish text on a tablet. Getty Images

The high-tech Jewish text repository Sefaria hopes to integrate artificial intelligence into its system by the middle of this year to allow users to have a trustworthy source to answer their textual and halachic questions, Rabbi Lev Israel, the organization’s chief product officer told Jay Deitcher for eJewishPhilanthropy.

AI’s inevitability: The inclusion of AI into religious text study is a potentially fraught issue, yet Sefaria understood that as the technology bounds forward in all facets of our lives, Torah study will undoubtedly be part of it as well. “There’s no world where forcing people to use a book is the right decision for the future of Torah,” Israel said. “People’s brains shift as media shifts, and people who are now 20 years old are much more likely to be learning on their phones, learning with an audio device, learning from video, learning from TikTok, just a different wash of media. And it’s important to me that Torah make that turn.”

You are what you eat: But one of the main dangers of people depending on AI to educate themselves is that it depends on the knowledge base that it sources from: often the entire internet, which has a lot that is inaccurate and antisemitic, Yehuda Hausman, a Los Angeles-based rabbi who has taught at the Academy of Jewish Religion California, American Jewish University and the Melton School of Jewish Learning, told eJP. “One thing that Judaism stands for is truth,” Hausman said. “As much as [AI]’s a tool for learning… It’s also a tool for learning the wrong things, learning things that aren’t true, learning things which are hateful.” Sefaria aims to negate these concerns by fencing in users’ searches within related documents in its trusted database, offering users a safe space to learn. “We want the citations that it gives you to be real citations,” Israel says. “We want it to be based on facts.”

Read the full report here.

MOVING FORWARD

Mending a broken Jewish story

Participants in a Feb. 2024 solidarity trip to Israel for leaders in Jewish education, organized by The Koret Center for Jewish Civilization, UnitEd, the World Zionist Organization and the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education. Courtesy

“Last week I had the privilege of hosting and participating in a special solidarity mission. The Koret Center for Jewish Civilization, UnitEd, World Zionist Organization and the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education partnered in bringing senior leaders in Jewish education from 22 countries to Israel to understand what the post-Oct. 7 world means for us as educators,” writes Naama Klar, director of the Koret International School for Jewish Peoplehood, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The big questions: “To those of us on the solidarity mission, it was clear that now is a moment of global Jewish crisis, and as such our response must be global in nature. How can we, as educators, help mend the broken Jewish narrative for the next generation? How can we ensure that young people are hopeful about the future, and that they possess a sense of self that can withstand external attacks on their identity?”

Real talk: “The erosion of Jewish belonging has emerged as a source of weakness inside and outside of Israel.  The Jewish people have survived a long and difficult history; but for most Jewish youth, our story and the tools that it has furnished us with remain inaccessible. They do not see themselves within the broad and ancient Jewish story, and they are not oriented toward learning about it or identifying with it. This is particularly true in Israel. The Israeli identity, rooted in the Zionist narrative, skipped over large segments of the Jewish timeline but has failed to replace them with anything equally compelling… Educators cannot do it on their own. The most important educators are the parents, and the home is the incubator.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

An Ounce of Prevention: In The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Kay Dervishi reports on the need for nonprofits to take cybersecurity seriously. “Joy O’Neal discovered her Alabama-based nonprofit, the Red Barn, had been hacked when her brother called her on an early morning in April 2015. Instead of displaying information about its equine-therapy programs for youth or its upcoming fundraising event, the nonprofit’s website showed an image of a man holding a large gun. Alongside it was text from ‘Islamic State Hackers’ calling for ‘Freedom For Palestine And All Muslims’… Cybersecurity experts say nonprofits are just as vulnerable to attacks as for-profit companies and government institutions, particularly because many nonprofits don’t dedicate resources to cybersecurity… Ultimately, O’Neal says, the hack cost her nonprofit thousands of dollars. She had to pay for a new website, and online donations plummeted because donors feared their information would be stolen. The fundraising event also attracted far fewer attendees compared with the number of tickets sold… ‘We didn’t think the cost of the high-level security was worth it, but now we do.’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Of Babies and Bathwater: In Inside Philanthropy, Wendy Paris defends philanthropists from knee-jerk vilification in a (sometimes rightfully) jaded world. “A friend of mine went so far as to tell me she found it ‘disgusting’ that a billionaire philanthropist I once interviewed enjoys the experience of giving away money to help working people fill financial gaps. She didn’t want to know anything about him specifically — his background, giving approach, or how he made his money. Instead, her anger at our ever-more-rapacious system of capitalism led her to blame any individual who succeeded in it… Certainly, there are valid reasons to express concern about the philanthropic sector as a whole. Some foundations take a top-down approach, continuing a version of the unequal power dynamics that contributed to the amassing of private wealth in the first place. Many foundations lack diversity. All are free to invest the 95% of their unspent endowments in any way they wish, including in companies that perpetuate the very problems philanthropy seeks to solve. Philanthropy also lets private, unelected individuals pay for policy-level impact of their own choosing… Yet the backlash against philanthropy conflates system-level problems with individual good works. It confuses global crises with attempts to solve them. It mixes up the challenges facing the sector with the often-essential support it provides, not to mention the successful interventions and programs it seeds. Viewing individual giving strictly through a lens of national income inequality suggests that none of us can be good actors while living in a flawed system.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

The Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation donated a historical marker to the Texas African American Museum to commemorate the 17 “Rosenwald Schools” — institutions created by Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and Black author and educator Booker T. Washington after the Civil War — in the state’s Smith County…

Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. paid tribute to the victims of the Oct. 7 Nova music festival massacre in southern Israel during last night’s Grammy Awards. TikTok star Montana Tucker wore a large gold ribbon emblazoned with the words “Bring them home” in honor of the hostages still held in Gaza…

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Ways and Means Committee called on the federal government to investigate alleged links between Hamas and U.S.-based tax-exempt charities…

The Jerusalem Post did a deep dive into a long-running dispute between the Israeli Tax Authority and UJA-Federation of New York over a major donation made posthumously to the organization by Albert Benin

Tree of Life Inc., the nonprofit behind the memorial at the site of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, hired Robin Cohen as its inaugural chief financial and operations officer. Cohen previously served as the chief financial and operations officer at Moving Traditions

Rep. David Trone (D-MD), who is mounting a Senate bid, called on Qatar to push harder on Hamas to release the hostages held in Gaza at a rally outside the Qatari Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Friday that was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington — its second such event in recent days…

Columbia University Law School’s student senate rejected the request for official recognition by Law Students Against Antisemitism, which the group’s president believes is at least in part because the members adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. The group plans to reapply, however, as dozens more students have since expressed an interest in joining…

The candidates for the Harvard Board of Overseers, one of the university’s two governing bodies, backed by investor Bill Ackman and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg failed to gather the signatures needed to make it onto the ballot…

Bloomberg speaks to Jewish high schoolers, parents and college advisors about how rising antisemitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses are affecting where they apply…

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency examines how TikTok’s Jewish investors — Arthur Dantchik and Jeffrey Yass — are responding to growing calls for the social media platform to combat users’ antisemitism…

Pope Francis sent a letter to the Jews of Israel, reaffirming his church’s relationship with Jews and decrying rising antisemitism around the world…

CNBC speculates that one of the reasons why Shari Redstone may be looking to sell her media empire, Paramount Global, is that she is looking to donate more heavily to Jewish causes…

AIPAC‘s United Democracy Project super PAC raised some $35 million in the second half of 2023, meaning it will have $40 million cash-on-hand going into primary season…

Irving M. Levine, a longtime executive at the American Jewish Committee and civil rights activist, died last month at 94…

Lawrence L. Langer, an iconoclastic scholar of World War II who rejected the notion that moral lessons could be learned from the pure evil of the Holocaust, died last week at 94…

Pic of the Day



Over 50,000 people attend the traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City today, during Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days) of Sukkot.
Courtesy/Shmulie Grossbaum

Some 4,000 female Chabad emissaries — shluchos — gather yesterday in front of Chabad’s headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn during the annual International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Women Emissaries, or Kinus HaShluchos in the movement’s parlance.

Birthdays

Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/The Associated/Facebook

Past chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, she was also national campaign chair for JFNA, Linda Adler Hurwitz

Member of the Virginia Senate for 44 years until last month, Richard Lawrence (Dick) Saslaw… Director, screenwriter and producer, Michael Kenneth Mann… Israeli engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, he’s the founding partner of Rainbow Medical, Yossi Gross… Actor, singer, puppeteer and comedian, best known as the voice of Jafar in Disney’s “Aladdin” franchise, Jonathan Freeman… Professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Randy E. Barnett… Ellen Braun… Actress, writer, producer and director, Jennifer Jason Leigh… Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley, Niles Elliot Goldstein… Member of the New York State Assembly representing the east side of Manhattan, Harvey David Epstein… Canadian environmental activist, Tzeporah Berman… Educator, writer, and public speaker, Rabbi Pesach Wolicki… Baltimore-area sommelier, he curates kosher food and wine events and researches synagogue history, Dr. Kenneth S. Friedman… Former member of the New York City Council, now a White House digital service expert, Benjamin Kallos… President and COO of American Signature, Jonathan Schottenstein… Israeli swimmer, she competed in the 2000 Olympics, Adi Maia Bichman… CEO at the American Journalism Project, Sarabeth Berman… Partner for political and strategic communications at Number 10 Strategies, Joshua Hantman… Olympic sprinter, born in Los Angeles and now an Israeli citizen, specializing in the 400-meter dash, Donald Sanford… Actor and singer, best known for his work in musical theatre, Alex Brightman… Director of communications and intergovernmental affairs at NYC’s Correctional Health Services, Nicole A. Levy… Israeli golfer who is an LPGA Tour member, Laetitia Beck.. Team USA ice dancer until 2019, now an assistant clinical research coordinator at Stanford Medicine, Eliana Gropman