Your Daily Phil: Amnesty USA head apologizes to Congress + An (almost) post-COVID donor gala

Good Friday morning!

One of the last Jewish donor galas to take place in 2020 was the Generosity Signature Event, UJA-Federation of New York’s annual swanky soiree for the 20s and 30s set, which snuck in under the wire on Feb. 27 of that year. And at this year’s Generosity event held last night, had it not been for the venue staff in masks and the vaccine card check at the door, it would have been hard to know that the pandemic had happened at all.

The event’s lighthearted atmosphere is a sign of how much things have changed at Jewish gatherings in just a few months. At UJA-Federation’s Wall Street Dinner, which took place in early December on the cusp of the Omicron surge and drew an intergenerational crowd, some masks were scattered around the room. Not so at the event last night, which was held at Capitale, a self-described “lavish” venue housed in a former bank on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Some 600 people uninhibitedly mobbed together on a dance floor in a sea of slim-cut navy suits and evening wear while a band played a set of songs dating from the crowd’s childhood from the mid-aughts to the mid-2010s (at one point, the frontman transitioned between 2014’s “Uptown Funk” into “Hot In Herre,” released in 2002).

Unlike other UJA-Federation events, this one placed philanthropy in the background. There was no fundraising goal for the night and no expectation that attendees would open their wallets. There was a raffle, and the event tickets ranged from $195 to $275, but a note on the registration page cautioned that the first $175 of the ticket was not tax deductible because it went to the cost of the event.

The idea, a spokesperson explained, was to introduce UJA-Federation to young professionals and get them involved. Screens around the room displayed short messages about the organization’s work, such that people danced, drank cocktails and ate finger food underneath a video header reading “UKRAINE CRISIS,” and posed for photographs not far from a sign about combating antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

About an hour into the night, a five-minute video highlighted UJA-Federation’s work on COVID-19 aid, Ukraine relief, combating antisemitism and more. “No one could have imagined, two years ago, what would happen domestically, nationally or globally,” Peri Mendelsohn, one of the event’s co-chairs, said in a recorded message. “We’re here because we set the standard for the next generation of philanthropy, here in New York City and beyond.” Then it was back to partying, (almost) like it was February 2020.

delayed response

Amnesty’s O’Brien responds to Jewish Dems: ‘I regret representing the views of the Jewish people’


In a letter to Jewish House Democrats, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Paul O’Brien apologized for “representing the views of the Jewish people,” responding to the members’ unanimous condemnation of his recent remarks that his “gut” tells him American Jews want “a safe Jewish space” rather than a Jewish state, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.

Walkback: In his response letter, dated March 25 and obtained by Jewish Insider on Thursday, O’Brien wrote, “I regret representing the views of the Jewish people. What I should have said is that my understanding from having visited Israel often and listened to many Jewish American and Israeli human rights activists is that I share a commitment to human rights and social justice for all with Jewish Americans and Israelis.”

Going further: In the letter, O’Brien says he wants to “provide context” to comments he made to a JI reporter after the event. In those comments, O’Brien said Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.” He claims his comments were in reference to Amnesty’s concerns about Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law. O’Brien made no reference to the Nation-State Law in the conversation with the reporter, but had mentioned it in an earlier part of the event. “During the course of the event, and at a number of times during the presentation, I stated that Amnesty takes no position on the legitimacy or existence of any state, including Israel,” O’Brien wrote.

Follow-up: O’Brien’s response was accompanied on March 25 by a separate letter, also obtained by JI, from Amnesty International Secretary General Agnés Callamard to 11 Jewish House Democrats who wrote separately to Callamard to express further concerns about O’Brien’s remarks. “I write to reaffirm that Amnesty International recognises the right of Jewish people to self-determination. We do not take a position on the international political or legal arrangements that might be adopted to implement this right,” she wrote. “We have reaffirmed, including in the context of the launch of our report on Apartheid, that there is nothing under international law to prevent the state of Israel identifying itself as Jewish, as long as the government does not discriminate between its citizens on the grounds of religion or race.”

Read the full story here.


Identifying and treating malignancies, reconnecting the infected and disconnected

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This week, instead of a thought leader exploring the Torah portion, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz presents some questions that we hope will aid your own consideration of Tazria, and provoke stimulating and relevant discussion in your social, professional and familial circles. 

In most years, the Torah portion Tazria (Leviticus 12-14) is connected to Metzora, the subsequent portion.

But given the chance to tell its own story, Tazria has priestly medical consultations and diagnoses. It dictates who is ritually impure and what rituals will purify them. Some of those rituals meant to end isolation and disconnection are known as korbanot, sacrifices, from the Hebrew root that means “to draw close to.” Those who are infected with malignant eruptions affecting body, house or clothing require different kinds of disconnection, isolation, quarantine and purification. The end leaves us hanging; the sequel parsha, with even more infections, will arrive next week, with Metzora.

We’ve all had enough isolation and quarantine; while leprosy itself seems archaic and irrelevant, identifying malignancies in our lives and the larger culture is very much part of our daily work in 2022. So how would you apply the concept of philanthropy — giving monetary donations or giving time and effort for the “love of humanity” — to the things we learn in this week’s parsha?

  1. What kinds of giving does this week’s Torah portion inspire in us? What modes of philanthropic leadership are visible in the text?
  2. Why are post-birth rituals and brit milah in the same parsha as leprosy? What is the function of ritual impurity, isolation or quarantine in the biblical account concerning these incidents, and/or in our contemporary era?
  3. What does it mean to have our metaphorical clothing or house become afflicted or infected? How do we support someone who is infected, either through isolation or sacrifices?
  4. Tazria is often paired with Metzora — in a year when they’re separated, what kinds of analytical opportunities do we have to spend with just Tazria, independent of its usual parsha-mate?
  5. What is the role of the Kohen in assessing whether or not a person or garment is leprotic? Who plays that metaphorical role today? Rabbis? Doctors? Thought leaders? And who gives them the authority to determine who is and isn’t afflicted?

We’ll be back with more Parsha Phil next week for Metzora.

rabbinic joy

The blessings and opportunities of working with interfaith couples


“Working with interfaith couples is one of the great joys of my rabbinate. Each conversation with an interfaith couple — and at this point, I’ve probably worked with well over a thousand — reminds me that Judaism should be a proactive, spiritually growthful, human-oriented practice and not just the flotsam and jetsam of family history and communal memory,” writes Rabbi Shira Stutman, founding rabbi of Sixth & I in Washington, D.C., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Root causes: “Even as interfaith couples can be a blessing to the Jewish people, however, there often are religious and/or cultural conflicts. The longer I have worked with these couples, the more I noticed some patterns emerging from their specific concerns. ‘On the surface, this conflict seems to be about X,’ I’d find myself saying, year after year, ‘but I think what you’re really talking about is Y.’ Over time, I’ve come to see how just about every conflict I’ve encountered with interfaith couples is an outgrowth of one or more of a short list of underlying problems. Let’s call them the four root causes of conflict. Identify what’s going on underneath a supposed argument about Easter egg hunts or arrangements for a baby naming helps couples have new insight into how they want to approach the life they are building together, and can help them find compromises or solutions that address those underlying issues — or begin to see that they’re truly incompatible.”

A benefit for the Jewish people: “Gaining insight into what each partner needs is messy and time-consuming, and many young couples already feel tired and overwhelmed. But if they care about truly understanding their partner — in  other words, actually being a partner, and not just a roommate — they need to figure it out. Doing so will be to the benefit of the couple, of course. But it also will benefit the Jewish people as a whole, as issues that might have been blamed on religious differences will now be revealed as something else entirely.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Detoxing Philanthropy: Nonprofit professionals may be especially prone to toxic polarization dynamics because they care deeply about making an impact on the world and may hold strong, moralistic views about how to achieve that impact, Suzette Brooks Masters writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Grant-making processes and the mindsets that undergird them should facilitate the pursuit of societal transformation in a way that strengthens our democratic foundation and fosters greater social cohesion, rather than potentially amplifying our divisions in unhealthy ways. This ensures that when we do have wins, they will be more resilient and durable. Over time, these approaches should ideally lead to personal transformation, providing a greater capacity to critically examine assumptions and biases about who is on the other side of an issue and what motivates them — and to forge creative, pragmatic solutions to perniciously divisive problems.” [ChronicleOfPhilanthropy]

Asynchronous Productivity: 
While many professionals may feel that “being on the same page” requires them to be available and work at the same time as their colleagues, in fact, asynchronous communication may help entrepreneurs get more done, Jodie Cook writes in Forbes: “Especially for companies with a global workforce, choosing async over sync means no aligning of schedules or intrusive, attention-grabbing requests to “jump on a call.’ Professionals can work at their own pace and according to their personal working patterns, whilst also better managing time zone discrepancies. Making asynchronous communication the norm means work is always on your terms. Knowing that no messages will require an immediate response, and colleagues won’t expect one, clears the way for uninterrupted periods of flow.” [Forbes]

Prison Time: Nachman Helbrans, the leader of Lev Tahor, the Hasidic sect often described as a cult, was sentenced in federal district court in White Plains, N.Y., which JI listened to, on Thursday to 12 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping two children with the intent of returning one of them to an adult man for the purpose of a sexual relationship, Ben Sales reports in Jewish Insider. During the sentencing hearing, which Jewish Insider listened to via conference call, Judge Nelson S. Roman accused supporters of Helbrans of illegally practicing law without a license by attempting to send the court legal documents. The hearing also included a tearful speech by the mother of the abducted children — pleading for mercy for the man who kidnapped them. [JI]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Seth Cohen has joined Forbes as head of communities & philanthropic partnerships…

Rachel Sumekh will step down as CEO of SwipeOut Hunger, effective July 29…

Migdal Emunah, a U.K. charity that supports victims of violence and sexual abuse, has named Erica Marks as CEO, effective next week. She replaces Yehudis Goldsobel, who founded the organization in 2013…

The 70th Annual Israel Folk Dance Festivaland Festival of the Arts will take place Sunday at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater in New York City…

Through a new initiative, made possible by a $1.6 million grant, Jewish National Fund-USA’s Boruchin Center will provide a $500-per-participant subsidy for all approved congregational missions to Israel…

A recent survey from the National Council of Nonprofits found that 26% of nonprofit organizations reported job-vacancy rates of 20% to 29%. As of December 2021, 450,000 fewer employees were working at nonprofits than before the pandemic…

Pic of the Day


Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (left), in conversation with Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first ordained woman rabbi, at the CCAR’s 133rd annual convention. More than 300 rabbis came together in San Diego this week, with several hundred more participating online, for its first in-person gathering since 2019.



Criminal court judge in Brooklyn, she is the founder of Ezras Nashim, the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in NYC, Rachel “Ruchie” Freier celebrates her birthday on Saturday…

Friday: Physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Claude Cohen-Tannoudji… Psychotherapist in South Florida, Annie Schlachet Garfield, LCSW… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Uzi Dayan… Research associate and lecturer at Harvard University, Irene Maxine Pepperberg… Former CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, Gilda Z. Jacobs… Singer-songwriter, Henry Gross… Producer and director, Barry Sonnenfeld… Retired NYC-based attorney, Freddie Berg… Lecturer at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, Jonathan P. Friedman… Former member of Congress from Florida (1993-2005), he is the founder of the Ben Gamla Charter School network in Florida and now lives in Ra’anana, Israel, Peter Deutsch… President of Baltimore-based HealthSource Distributors, Jerry L. Wolasky… Author of over 150 children’s books, Mark Shulman… Former member of the Knesset for the Kadima party, Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich… VP of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and a leader of the Jewish community of Kyiv, Ukraine, Alexander Aaron Levin… Lawyer, turned political thriller novelist, Brad Meltzer… Principal deputy director in HHS’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Jessica Smith… Four-year star basketball player at the University of Maryland, she was drafted into the WNBA but played mostly in Israel, Shay Doron… Associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, Noah L. Schwartz… Former deputy White House communications director in the Trump administration, now on the staff of Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Julia Aviva Hahn… Ronald Lippman…

Saturday: Olympian, holder of the world record in the 50-mile walk which stood since 1972, he is a concentration camp survivor via the Kastner train and a professor emeritus at Ben-Gurion University, Shaul Paul Ladany… Former national security advisor under President Clinton, later executive director of UNICEF, he converted to Judaism in 2005, William Anthony Kirsopp Lake, best known as Tony Lake… Israeli businessman, with a portfolio in diamond mining and real estate, Beny Steinmetz… Former deputy U.S. attorney general and later acting AG, now a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Jeffrey A. Rosen… Academy Award-winning film director, screenwriter and producer, David Frankel… On-air ice hockey analyst for NESN during pre-game, post-game and intermissions of the Boston Bruins, Billy Jaffe… Singer-songwriter, guitarist and composer, Duvid Swirsky… Producer and screenwriter, Adam F. Goldberg… Actress, producer and singer, she and her husband, Guy Nattiv, won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2019, Jaime Ray Newman… NYT’s metro reporter, Dana Rubinstein… Director for international economics at the White House’s National Security Council, Brian Janovitz… Ph.D. candidate at NYU, Isaac Roszler… Deputy national field director at the Israel on Campus Coalition, Elisabeth Rosenfeld… Rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Evan Lerner Traylor… Officer of both the annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival, Magda Strehlau… Attorney and strategic counsel at Medtronic, Rhona Shwaid… Miriam Rosen… Judith Berman…

Sunday: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Max Frankel… Democratic political strategist, founder of GenderAvenger, Gina Glantz… Member of the Los Angeles City Council since 2009, Paul Koretz… Dean at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies ofthe Johns Hopkins University and a contributing editor of The AtlanticEliot A. Cohen… Singer, songwriter and music producer, Craig Reid Taubman… Jazz pianist, arranger and composer, James Gelfand… Rabbi, author and dean at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Bradley Shavit Artson… CEO of Phase 2 Media, Sandy Grushow… Member of the Knesset for New Hope, Ze’ev Elkin… Executive director of public affairs at Jewish United Fund-Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Daniel Goldwin… Award-winning Israeli classical pianist who currently lives in NYC, Ran Dank… NYC-based independent filmmaker, Joshua Safdie… Television and film actress, Amanda Bynes… Actress, comedian, singer-songwriter, Rachel Bloom… Professional tennis player currently on the WTA Tour, she defeated Serena Williams at the Auckland Classic in 2017, Madison Brengle… Marketing advisor at Argyle, Eva Sasson… Harry Zieve Cohen… Freelance director and journalist, Daniel Lombroso… JI Ambassador and sophomore at Emory, Zach Pearlstone… Washington correspondent for Israel’s public broadcasting corporation, Nathan Guttman

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