Your Daily Phil: An interview with Charles Bronfman + Felicia Herman pens piece on ‘Jews With Money’

Good Monday morning!

At The Well, which is building a network of women’s groups that celebrate the new moon, is in its “infrastructure year,” Sarah Waxman, its founder told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Ten “moons” ago — that’s Wellspeak for “months” — the group hired a chief operating officer; it’s also hired a program director and is seeking a development director. Waxman started the group as a volunteer in 2015 with the aim of helping other women reclaim the tradition of “Rosh Chodesh,” the ritual marking of a new month on the Hebrew calendar. At The Well provides peer coaching and resources.

“We’re moving into growth and expansion,” Waxman said. “American institutional Jewish practice has not yet realized the potential of this way of marking time, and we’re here to disrupt that.”

At The Well is reviewing the results of a year-long research project into its work by Tobin Belzer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California.

The Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the Jim Joseph Foundation are At The Well’s biggest institutional supporters and comprise about a quarter of the group’s revenue; the rest comes from individual donors and earned income. Materials, including support packets and art prints, are available for purchase on its website.


Charles Bronfman on the prize named for him, and the birth of Birthright


At 90 years old, Charles Bronfman has a long resume: co-chair of Seagram Company Ltd.; majority owner of the former Montreal Expos baseball team; co-founder of Taglit Birthright; first chairman of the United Jewish Communities, now called the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA); and the namesake of the Charles Bronfman Prize, which is open for nominations now for the 2022 awards. Bronfman spoke with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff about the prize and the broader landscape of Jewish communal life that he worked to shape.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Helen Chernikoff: Why, given the various forms of philanthropy you’ve worked with over the years, did a prize appeal to you?

Charles Bronfman: I actually had nothing to do with the prize. My children surprised me with it for my 70th birthday. The prize was the most wonderful present that I’ve ever had in my life, and every time I think of it, I’m in tears.

All the recipients have to be under the age of 50, and you might wonder if people have really accomplished something worth a prize before they turn 50. But that’s the genius of it. We find people who are in the middle of their career who have already achieved in this way, and we help them do even more. They get a lot of funding from supporters of the prize. And there’s one thing that makes this unique. The prize created a family. Recipients are in touch with each other. They’re in touch with us. There was only one laureate who didn’t work out. That was Eric Greitens [the former governor of Missouri who resigned amid scandal but had created a veterans support organization], but at the time, he deserved the prize.

HC: You were a founder of Birthright. How does it feel looking back on the early days, now that it’s become this major force in the Jewish world?

CB: We didn’t know it had this kind of potential, me and Michael Steinhardt [one of the co-founders]. The Jewish media thought, “These two don’t know what they’re talking about.” We thought the funding would be a third from philanthropists, a third from the government of Israel and a third from the federations. The federations thought we were invading their territory and the Jewish Agency got very upset for the same reason. We, on the other hand, did a lot of research, and we decided that it had to be a very small, professional group running this, which could make decisions on the spot and didn’t have to go through a whole board to come to a decision.

HC: So the board was more hands-off? Under what circumstances did it weigh in?

CB: Our first leader, Shimshon Shoshani, was incredible. If there had not been a Shimshon and his colleagues, there would not have been a Birthright. In the Second Intifada [the resurgence of violence between Arabs and Israelis in 2000], the Reform movement cancelled their trips and there was a big brouhaha about that. But they were right to do it. They didn’t have the infrastructure that we had, the connections to the government. I asked Shimshon if we should continue our trips, and he said yes, and he explained why. But I said, “This is an important thing. We should have a meeting of all our funders.” We were taking the load off his shoulders and putting it on ours. We had a conference call and I called a vote. Every person agreed we should keep doing the trips. I started to cry at the end of it. That was the only time we met as a board. And now we do have the support of the federations and the Jewish Agency that we envisioned at the beginning.

Read the full interview here.


An insider’s take on Lila Corwin Berman’s book on Jewish philanthropy


In a Tablet piece published this morning titled ‘Jews With Money,’ Felicia Herman, who heads the Natan Fund and the Aligned Grant Program of the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, offersa scathing review of Lila Corwin Berman’s recently published book, The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex: The History of a Multibillion-Dollar Institution, which Herman says omits key factors and players and “??distorts the extraordinarily complex and diverse story of American Jewish philanthropy.” 

Single focus: “Rather than tell this broad, complicated, rich story of 350 years of Jewish philanthropy in America with the enormous, interconnected web of initiatives and institutions it has built, Berman indicts the entire system through a narrow and manipulative lens, crafting a crude narrative of powerful people, institutions, and agendas—the ‘complex’—that have a pernicious influence not only on Jewish communities, but also on America itself. While American Jews serve merely as the designated stand-in for her real targets—American capitalism and right-leaning politics (real or perceived)—Berman trains her lens solely on the Jews, without context or comparison to any other Americans, leading to the understandable conclusion that Jewish philanthropy poses a unique, or at least disproportionate, threat to America.”

Unrealistic worldview: “The basis for Berman’s position that philanthropic and nonprofit entities ought not to use capitalist tools to build their financial stability is unclear. Nonprofits and foundations have never purported to operate ‘outside of the world of profit and finance,’ as she asserts. Rather, their proposition is that all ‘profits’ are utilized exclusively for charitable purposes. The more their investments earn, the more they can give away. Not every problem can be solved immediately (or at all)—hence the need for stable, ongoing sources of funding. Nor does Berman offer a plausible sketch for what the world might look like if endowments didn’t exist and all philanthropic donations had to be raised every year and entirely and immediately put to use. (Anyone in the nonprofit world could tell you what that would look like: a complete disaster.)”

On Birthright: “Instead of exploring, for example, any of the reasons why more than 750,000 young adults from 68 countries have opted into free Birthright Israel trips over the past 20 years, and instead of analyzing the extraordinarily large and diverse set of donors of all sizes, including tens of thousands of trip alumni and their families who have chosen to support the program over this period, Berman focuses only on a tiny group of young, progressive critics who have castigated the program for a variety of perceived sins over the years, especially that it doesn’t go to the West Bank, and that it has a Republican major donor who, naturally, must be using the program to promote his right-wing agenda.”

Summing it up: ??”Writing about topics like Jews and money is always a challenge, and I agree with Berman’s assertion, early in the book, that Jewish historians ought not to shy away from studying and writing about challenging topics that might be interpreted negatively by ill-intentioned readers. It’s somewhat shocking, then, to read a book that at every turn seems to take the path most likely to lead readers in the direction of antisemitic interpretation.”

Read the full piece here.


Volunteer-led security is crucial to protect the Jewish community

CST U.K. / eJP Archives

“It seems ambitious, but it’s a proven approach that has significantly helped to safeguard Jewish communities across the globe: a volunteer-led security model that empowers community members to receive professional training and to take on a significant role in the protection of their institutions,” writes Richard Priem, deputy national director of Community Security Service (CSS), in an opinion piece foreJewishPhilanthropy. 

Growing threats: “During the latest round of conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas, anti-Jewish animus reared its ugly head from coast to coast. Community institutions and individuals were targeted and singled out for violence in a number of troubling incidents that ranged from assaults in broad daylight and the vandalism of synagogues, to the harassment and intimidation of restaurant diners and passersby on the street.”

The problem at hand: “Although Jewish communities across the United States continue to enjoy uninterrupted communal life, the recent spate and scope of antisemitic incidents — together with the recent terrorist attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, and Monsey in which Jews were brutally murdered — loom in the community’s collective consciousness.”

Paradigm shift: “The goal of this ‘paradigm shift’ in thinking about communal security is to mitigate and prevent future incidents and stems from tangible examples of how Jewish communities across Europe and Latin America employ a volunteer-led model to protect institutions. The model, which provides high level training and programs, puts community members in the best possible position to protect their own facilities at no cost to institutions. It was first adopted in the United States by CSS in 2007 when the nonprofit organization was established after the realization that American Jewish community needed to measurably improve its security.”

Read the full piece here.


More on the rabbinic and cantorial students’ letter


Rabbi Daniel Zemel’s response to the ‘Appeal to the Heart of the Jewish Community’ signed by the 70 rabbinic and cantorial students earlier this spring was thoughtful, insightful and hit on all the right points… but omitted one important item,” writes Sherwin Pomerantz, immediate past chair of the Israel board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Future implications: “While I agree 100% that the core issue here is the lack of understanding that Jewish peoplehood trumps all other concerns, for me the letter was disappointing and of concern on another level entirely. Specifically that clearly the signers of the letter did not seem to consider the implications that their actions might have on their future careers as rabbis and cantors or on the institutions at which they are enrolled. Alternatively, if they did so and decided to proceed anyway, that may give us some idea about their ability to make logical decisions.”

Financial reality: “The reality is that in most Jewish educational circles, a significant percentage of students at whatever level are only able to pursue their academic and career goals because they are the recipients of scholarships of some sort. In addition, the colleges themselves function based on the largesse of donors who provide general support to the institutions. Had these men and women not given thought to the effect their actions might have on the donor base that makes it possible for them to be at these schools in the first place?”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Direct Distribution: Writing in Inside Philanthropy, Philip Rojc analyzes Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy in the wake of his gift of $100 million each to Van Jones, a special advisor to former President Barack Obama, and Jose Andres, whose World Central Kitchen charity provides food relief in disaster zones. The substance of these gifts is in keeping with Bezos’ centrist track record, especially in the selection of Jones, who has worked with former President Donald Trump and Meghan McCain, but the distribution mechanism is striking, Rojc states: “Here are two individuals who have been given complete autonomy over where to direct sums that rival the grantmaking budgets of all but the largest of foundations.” [InsidePhilanthropy]  

Pennies From Heaven: Lisa Phillips, a 57-year-old mom who gets a sharp look at the ground when walking her dogs, has developed a knack for finding lost change — about $800 in the past two years — and used it to draw attention to the cause of debt elimination by donating it to RIP Medical Debt, a Rye, N.Y.-based nonprofit, reportsMichaela Winberg in Billy Penn, a blog about Philadelphia. Because collectors buy unpaid debt at a penny on the dollar, she has eliminated $80,000 worth of debt, in addition to finding and returning wallets, phones and pairs of glasses. “It all starts with one penny. That’s the whole thing,” Phillips said. “Everybody’s got a jar of pennies somewhere. Why throw them out when they could be put to use?”[BillyPenn]

Both/And: The choice between creating a donor advised fund (DAF) or a private foundation is a false dichotomy, writes Mary Ann Stover in a blog post on PhilanTopic that suggests donors consider using both vehicles. A private foundation offers more control over grants, including the ability to structure a legally binding agreement that can include such features as naming rights, while a donor advised fund offers convenience and anonymity. “While private foundations can be funded with and hold a wide array of assets, DAFs provide a higher tax deduction for contributions as well as a higher total limit for combined annual contributions. Combining the two can return the best possible financial outcome for the donor,” Stover notes. [PhilanTopic]

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Word on the Street

Tel-Aviv based Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center announced that its organization has registered a company with the Israeli registry of companies under the name “Judea and Samaria’s Finest Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream” to manufacture and sell ice cream under the Ben & Jerry’s name in the areas deliberately abandoned by the Vermont ice cream company… A letter signed by 55 national nonprofits urges President Joe Biden and congressional leadership to recognize and invest in the nonprofit sector’s critical role in rebuilding the economy… The Citi Foundation announced investments totaling $25 million in support of fifty nonprofits across the country providing technical assistance to minority-owned businesses as they navigate the continued economic impacts of COVID-19… New York Life announced a $50 million investment in IMPACT Community Capital in support of efforts to preserve affordable housing across the country… the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Australia is establishing a national Orthodox female speaker’s bureau… Federal authorities in New York seized 17 items from Kestenbaum and Company, a Brooklyn auction house, that they suspect were looted from their rightful owners during the Holocaust… The Jewish Museum of Oporto in Portugal opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to “Operation Thunderbolt,” Israel’s 1976 hostage-rescue raid in Entebbe…

Pic of the Day


Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of Andre Spitzer and Yossef Romano, who were murdered in the 1972 Munich massacre, take part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony on July 23, 2021, during which a moment of silence was held for Israel’s 1972 Olympic massacre victims.


Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

Israeli born classical music composer, Gilad Hochman… 
Photographer and documentary filmmaker, Elliott Erwitt… Retired member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Sally Oppenheim-Barnes… Former mayor of Las Vegas (1999-2011), Oscar Goodman… Former administrator at the University of Illinois and the University of Houston, chancellor of the California State University system and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Barry Munitz… Author, podcaster, columnist and rabbi, Shammai Engelmayer… Former member of the Florida House of Representatives, Richard Stark… Sports columnist, author, television and radio personality, he works for ESPN’s Charlotte-based SEC Network, Paul Finebaum… Health care consultant, Alan H. Spiro, MD, MBA… Film and television director, she is best known for her work on the Showtime drama series Homeland, Lesli Linka Glatter… Venture capitalist, he is a brother-in-law of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, James W. Breyer… Actor, comedian and producer, Jeremy Samuel Piven… Correspondent for ABC News, an anchor for Nightline and co-anchor the weekend edition of Good Morning America, Daniel B. “Dan” Harris… Founder of Stonington Global, Nicholas Muzin… Actress best known for her role in the Spider-Man trilogy, Mageina Tovah Begtrup… Israeli born R&B singer and songwriter, Hila Bronstein… Associate director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit, Lauren Garfield-Herrin… Actress and filmmaker, Hallie Meyers-Shyer… Member of the comedy quartet “The Try Guys,” with over two billion social media views, Zachary Andrew “Zach” Kornfeld… Intern at DC-based Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, Drew Gerber… Running back for the NFL’s Chicago Bears, Tarik Cohen… Pitcher on the Israeli Women’s National Softball Team, she was an Academic All-American standout player at the University of Arizona, Tamara “T” Statman Schoen… Political correspondent at Israel’s Walla News, Tal Shalev… Texas-based editor at Sports IllustratedTomer Barazani… Regional sales manager for Lacework, Ari Rassler