Your Daily Phil: American Jewish leaders at Poland-Ukraine border + Celebrating Shabbat at SXSW

Good Monday morning!

For the first time since 2019, the blockbuster South By Southwest (SXSW) festival has returned in-person to Austin, Texas, where hundreds of thousands of people will attend concerts, films and a gamut of panels. But on Friday night, at the Hilton Downtown Austin, one of the hottest tickets for the Jewish crowd was to #openShabbat, a March 11 event where 400 people gathered, unplugged from the tech-centered festival and celebrated Shabbat together. The event was planned by Tech Tribe, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Chabad organization led by Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone and his wife, Chana.

The first #openShabbat was held in 2011, Lightstone told eJewishPhilanthropy. In previous years, attendance had reached 300, and this year’s larger crowd was a mix of returning SXSW participants and new faces. On Sunday, the Lightstones ran a meetup focused on a new Chabad initiative known as ARK (which stands for “acts of routine kindness”). Lightstone said that the initiative distributes what is essentially a tzedakah box, shaped like Noah’s ark, “to teach people how creating a practice of giving every day allows you to create a foundation of goodness upon which to build the rest of your daily experience.”

The festival also includes panels discussing antisemitism as well as Judaism and psychedelics. “SXSW is a unique venue for engaging a wide audience far beyond the communal Jewish world and talking about issues that matter,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who is speaking at the conference about antisemitism and political polarization, told eJP. “There’s so much energy here in Austin this week around the latest trends in tech, like blockchain, NFTs, AR/VR and other topics, so I find it very encouraging that SXSW is prioritizing the fight against anti-Jewish hate and creating space for this critical conversation.”

Second-time SXSW attendee Rachel Sumekh, the Persian Jewish founder of Swipe Out Hunger, which combats food insecurity among college students, returned to the conference to join a panel on that topic. “Food and pursuing higher education feel like two very Jewish things to me,” she told eJP. “It’s also Texas, so I met lots of people who don’t spend much time with Jews, or Persian Jews, at that. It’s such an open-minded place so it was a great chance to share firsthand about my religion and identity, because everyone really comes with a learning mindset.”

Read the full story here.


Inside two delegations of Jewish leaders at the Ukrainian border

Rabbis on a UJA-Federation of New York trip meet with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw on Sunday, March 13.

Courtesy of Menachem Creditor

During the first day of a trip to Poland and its border with Ukraine, Rabbi Menachem Creditor was talking with a woman who fled Ukraine with her 14-year-old daughter when he realized that the girl had the same shoes — black Converse sneakers — as his own daughter of the same age. Bearing witness to such moments is one of the goals of a pair of American Jewish delegations that departed this past weekend for the Ukrainian border, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Two similar missions: Creditor is on a delegation run by the UJA-Federation of New York, where he serves as scholar-in-residence. That trip left Saturday night and will fly back Tuesday. Another delegation of 24 lay leaders and professionals from 11 communities, organized by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), left Sunday night and returns on Wednesday.

Aid and moral support: The rabbis each brought duffel bags full of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the refugees. Beyond that, both trips aim to give participants firsthand knowledge of conditions on the ground and the work of aid groups — information participants are expected to relay to their communities to encourage further giving. Across North America, Jewish federations have raised more than $25 million, including $5 million from the New York federation.

Sustaining attention: “At the most simple level, I’m just physically bringing things that will help people,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue in Brooklyn. Timoner brought six duffels full of supplies for babies as well as feminine hygiene products. Timoner hopes the experience will help her “keep people’s attention on this tragedy that is happening in front of our eyes.”

Read the full story here.


A Purim fast for Ukraine


“With Purim this coming Wednesday night, Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther — the dawn-to-dusk fast the day preceding Purim — is an opportunity for Jewish unity and inclusion in support of Ukraine refugees,” write Don Abramson and Joe Kanfer, respectively past chairs of American Jewish World Service and The Jewish Federations of North America, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A physical act matters: “Its uniqueness emphasizes the importance of the occasion and the connection to others who are suffering. Most Jews are concerned and need an outlet to express that concern. How might this be done? Anyone in the Jewish world could participate either through an actual fast or by making a commitment to give, to a nonprofit helping refugees, an amount equal to what is or would have been spent on food for that day.”

Teaching opportunity: “Jewish organizational work needs to connect our current lives and challenges with Jewish wisdom and tradition. This is a teaching opportunity to invoke our collective memory and for Jews to understand the significance of Purim in a way that they likely have not in their lifetimes.”

Outward behavior vs. feeling inside: “Purim is supposed to be a festive holiday. We have an obligation to celebrate, but a festive tone won’t ring true for so many. How can the celebration of Purim square with the reality of the suffering of over two million refugees? Observing the Taanit might well be a more authentic experience in that one’s outward behavior can mirror what one is feeling inside.”

Read the full piece here.


The bat mitzvah at 100: An ongoing revolution


“These days, the bat mitzvah is the quintessential Jewish ritual in the life of a teen girl. It’s so ubiquitous that it has become almost banal. But it was only 100 years ago, on March 18, 1922, that 12-year-old Judith Kaplan — daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism — became the first American girl to mark her bat mitzvah publicly during synagogue worship, at the recently established Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ),” writes the Jewish Women’s Archives in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Expanding across all streams: “It took time for the bat mitzvah to take hold, even in non-Orthodox congregations. In the 1920s, only SAJ adopted the ritual; even in the 1930s, only a handful of Conservative synagogues held b’not mitzvah for their girls. Reform congregations, which had largely replaced the bar mitzvah with confirmation, were even slower to take up the new practice. By the 1940s and 1950s, however, the number of bat mitzvah ceremonies began to rise and the education required to prepare for them strengthened. Over the decades, the nature of the bat mitzvah edged closer to parity with the bar mitzvah in the liberal denominations; while the bat mitzvah is still not identical to the bar mitzvah in many Orthodox synagogues today, some version of it has become mainstream even in Orthodox congregations.”

A beginning, not a culmination: “The widespread adoption of the bat mitzvah was not just an end in itself. In congregations around the country and across the denominational spectrum, growing numbers of young women who had benefited from access to the bat mitzvah and robust Jewish education began to push for other new Jewish roles as well. Many wanted their bat mitzvah to be not the culmination but rather the beginning of their public Jewish lives and leadership.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Refugee to Role Model: Dame Stephanie Shirley came to London from Austria via the Kindertransport and became a pioneer of Britain’s computing industry and a feminist role model, Madhumita Murgia writes in an interview with Shirley in the Financial Times. “Shirley made her money — about £150mn — from the software programming company she founded in 1962, at the age of 29. It started, like all her ventures, at her kitchen table in Chesham, in a rundown old cottage she’d bought with her husband Derek, a former colleague at the Post Office Research Station. It was that compulsive need for a challenge that drove her to quit her safe job, when she discovered she would always be limited by her gender. And just to be contrarian, she decided that her company, which she called Freelance Programmers, would hire others just like herself. The company’s first 300 staff were almost exclusively women who worked from home, many while caring for their children.” [FT]

Grass isn’t Greener: 
On the whole, nonprofits are not any more dysfunctional than anything else, writes Vu Le in NonprofitAF: “If you’re fed up with nonprofit or philanthropy, then by all means, leave. But if you think there’s a sector that’s not problematic in some way, you will be disappointed. Those of us who are staying here, we need to stop thinking the grass is greener outside nonprofit. The more we have this attitude, the more people crap on nonprofits, and we already have enough challenges to deal with. We can, and should, criticize ourselves and our many flaws and work constantly to improve, and we can do that without comparing the nonprofit sector unfavorably with, and romanticizing, other sectors.” [NonprofitAF]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

In light of various sanctions placed on Roman Abramovich, the Anti-Defamation League has put all programming with Chelsea FC and Foundation on hold, including a joint campaign against antisemitism…

The national environmental nonprofit Sierra Club, headquartered in Oakland, Calif., has canceled two upcoming scheduled trips to Israel in response to pressure from progressive and anti-Israel groups…

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in Vancouver, Wash., named Romanita Hairston CEO and executive director, effective in July…

Barnard College in New York City received a $55 million gift from P. Roy and Diana T. Vagelos to help young women develop careers in the STEM fields…

The Frederick Gunn School, a coed boarding and day school in Washington, Conn., announced a $25 million gift from alumnus Jonathan M. Tischand his wife, Lizzie, to fund construction of the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship…

A $10 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to Fugees Family, Inc., an educational justice organization dedicated to serving refugees and immigrants, will help expand the Fugees’ nationally recognized school model to 50 U.S. school districts over the next five years…

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation pledged $250,000 to UNICEF in support of Ukraine relief efforts…

The Carnegie Corporation of New York is providing a $1 million donation to the International Rescue Committee(IRC) to assist those fleeing their homes in Ukraine…

The Ford Foundation announced commitments of $1 million to the IRC’s Ukraine Emergency Response Fund and $1 million to the Open Society Foundations’ Ukraine Democracy Fund

The Geneva-based Oak Foundation committed $10.75 million to organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Ukrainians, with a focus on groups operating in the embattled country…

Brent Renaud, an award-winning American filmmaker and journalist, was killed in Ukraine on Sunday while reporting in a suburb of Kyiv…

Longtime Wall Street executive Wally Stern, a former Hudson Institute board chair who reshaped the think tank, died at 93.

Pic of the Day

JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly 400 people protested against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in favor of more Israeli support for the embattled country and refugees fleeing the war at a demonstration Saturday night in central Tel Aviv. Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including 100 tons of medical and cold-weather equipment.


Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Heiress to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, philanthropist, former child actress, Liesel Pritzker Simmons

Professor emeritus of chemistry at Tel Aviv University, winner of the 1982 Israel Prize, Joshua Jortner… Founder and retired president of Los Angeles-based Skirball Cultural Center, Rabbi Dr. Uri Herscher… Dean of Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman… Canadian criminal defense attorney, Brian Greenspan… Actor, producer, director and comedian, he has hosted the Academy Awards nine times, Billy Crystal… Member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1995, Shane Elizabeth Pendergrass… One-half of the eponymous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Jerry Greenfield… Retired Hebrew teacher, Eliezer Cohen Barak… President of Stand By Me, an organization that supports cancer patients, Gila Milstein… Partner at Hefter, Leshem, Margolis Capital Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Highland Park, Ill., Steven Hefter… Founder and leader of ChangeCommunications, Jo-Ann Mort… NYC-based restaurateur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer… Professor at Tel Aviv University and head of the Bet Midrash program at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Menachem Lorberbaum… Of counsel in the Minneapolis office of Maslon LLP, Jonathan S. Parritz… Past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Denise Davida Eger… Owner of Baltimore’s Tov Pizza which he founded in 1984, Ronnie Rosenbluth… Owner and COO of EJM Development Company, Jon Monkarsh… Microgrid architect at Urban Ingenuity, Shalom Flank… Film and television actress, Meredith Salenger… Canadian fashion stylist and publicist, Jessica Brownstein Mulroney… Former NASCAR driver, he is the sole inductee into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in the “Auto Racing” category, now a credit trader at TD Securities, Jon Denning… Former point guard at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of a basketball camp, Zack Rosen… Product quality specialist at The Topps Company, Philip Liebman… Four-time Israeli national champion in the skeleton event, currently general manager of the Israel bobsled and skeleton team, Adam Edelman… Emotional fitness coach, Sophie Galant… Director of campus initiatives for Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, Danielle Kranjec