Your Daily Phil: An ‘uplifting’ VR tour of Auschwitz + An OU mission to Rwanda

Good Tuesday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a virtual reality documentary about Auschwitz that was created by Haredi filmmakers and feature an op-ed from Kate Warach. We’ll start with a new pilot program from the Orthodox Union, sending college students to Rwanda.

When Matan Schwartz decided to spend his summer break on a relief mission half a world away from his East Coast home, he felt it important to help a broad community rather than pigeonhole himself into only helping fellow Jews, he told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Schwartz, 19, an incoming freshman at Brandeis University from Philadelphia, spent a week in June with over 500 teens at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a Rwandan orphanage in Colline Nawe, 37 miles from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. ASYV is modeled after Yemin Orde, an Israeli youth village established in 1953 to care for orphans of the Holocaust.

The mission was run by the Orthodox Union – the first such mission organized by the organization – and it brought seven undergraduate and graduate students to Rwanda. Students paid $1,000 plus airfare to participate. They slept at the village and engaged with residents over various art, music and sports activities.

While non-Orthodox groups have for decades organized humanitarian missions to developing nations and locations hit by natural disasters, often citing the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, Orthodox institutions have been slower to follow suit.

According to Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, Orthodox groups started getting involved in 2007 when he founded Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice group that runs service trips specifically to help non-Jewish populations.

The OU’s Relief Missions director, Rabbi Ethan Katz, who led the group of American students to Rwanda, has coordinated all of the NCSY missions since they started as a response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “We came across the village of Rwanda as a way to attract and motivate smart kids who care about social justice and want to get involved,” he said. “It quickly evolved to kids of all walks of life; religious and non-religious. The program we do in Rwanda is really about making future leaders in Rwanda, helping them come out of the village and get started in businesses while also engaging our Jewish students in a meaningful way.”

Read the full story here.

never forget

Filmmakers Miriam Cohen, Chani Kopilowitz and Yuti Neiman film Holocaust researcher Yisrael Goldwasser to make their virtual reality documentary, ‘Triumph of the Spirit,’ in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in May 2020. (Courtesy)

Only Pope Francis had ever walked through Auschwitz alone before. Not even Steven Spielberg – at the height of his powers in the mid-1990s – was allowed to film inside the Nazi concentration camp for his film “Schindler’s List.” But that’s what Haredi filmmakers Miriam Cohen, Chani Kopilowitz and Yuti Neiman wanted to do – to film a 50-minute, 360-degree, virtual reality guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, titled “Triumph of the Spirit,” reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Going it alone: “Everyone told us it was a mistake,” Cohen told eJP. “They said, ‘No one is going to sit there with those glasses on their heads for an hour. You can’t make a full-length documentary with VR. VR is for gaming, applications, avatars. Maybe you should make a “Catch the Nazi” app.’ When we heard that, we realized that no one understood our vision.”

The funding problem: In addition to developing the concept of the VR film by themselves, Cohen and Kopilowitz also funded the project almost entirely on their own, putting in their savings and getting loans from friends and family. (The Maimonides Fund, whose logo appears at the beginning of the film, helped fund the screening in the U.K., Cohen said.) “People think that the Holocaust is something that there’s always funding for, but what happened was we got permission to film [in Auschwitz] so suddenly that we just had to take loans from cousins, friends, parents and family. And then once we did it, we just wanted to get the movie out, so we took more loans,” she said. “Now we are looking to return that money.”

Full of hope: The documentary is not a value-neutral, factual recounting of the events of the Holocaust. Cohen said the movie is geared toward religious Jews, considers their sensitivities and needs, and has a hopeful religious message. “It’s not graphic at all. There are no difficult images,” she said. “There are no stories that don’t have a light at the end of the tunnel. Our goal was not to destroy the viewer – the opposite. Our goal was to tell the story, with all the pain in it, but in a way that is uplifting and full of spirit. That’s why we called it, ‘Triumph of the Spirit.’”

Read the full story here.

Pay your teachers well

New study shows we must support early childhood educators

Getty Images

“As a new round of young children is about to begin their Jewish early childhood experience, it is time, once again, to acknowledge that the educators who give these children the strong starts they need for successful transitions to kindergarten are some of the lowest-paid educational professionals,” writes Kate Warach, director of early childhood collaborative at the Jewish United Fund in Chicago, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy. “Speaking to [eJP] last year about the state of child care in the United States, my colleague Lisa Samick, president of the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ), said, ‘We recognize, universally, that there’s a crisis here and that there needs to be more attention paid to it.’”

A sine qua non: “The study, ‘Compensation and Credentialing in American Jewish Early Childhood Centers’, reveals that early childhood educators in Jewish centers earn half the amount of their peers in public K-12 teaching positions and that action is needed to create a profession in which educators can earn a living wage… As research has shown, the Jewish community cannot engage future generations without Jewish early childhood centers, and likewise America itself cannot run without child care.”

Get to work: “This report is meant to be a launch pad for action. It is not meant for passive spectators. Without meaningful changes, including higher-quality job opportunities and appropriate compensation, the sector will struggle to return to its pre-pandemic size, leaving many families vying for few openings.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Mame-Loshn Down Under: In The New York Times, Natasha Frost reports on the Yiddish history of Australia, as well as the current prevalence of the language in the country. “Today, Yiddish is most commonly used in ultra-Orthodox communities in places like Brooklyn or Jerusalem. But in Melbourne, snatches of it can be heard on certain streets, around multigenerational dinner tables, on stages and in classrooms. And one weekend a year, Australian speakers of Yiddish come together at Sof-Vokh Oystralye, or Weekend Australia, for 48 hours of total immersion in the language of a thousand years of Jewish life and culture that, before the Holocaust, was spoken by 13 million people, mostly in Eastern Europe. For some of the singers at this year’s retreat, in late May, Yiddish is the hard-fought language of everyday life. For others, it evokes a long-ago childhood in an immigrant neighborhood in Melbourne. For many of the tiniest participants, including some who had already been dispatched to bed, it is the language of the classroom, sitting easily alongside Hebrew and English at the world’s only secular primary school where it is a compulsory daily subject.” [NYT]

Around the Web

Israeli President Isaac Herzog will arrive in the U.S. today for a three-day mission with stops in Washington, D.C., and New York City for meetings with the Biden administration, Congress, local politicians and Jewish communal leaders

The Israeli startup accelerator nonprofit MassChallenge ILannounced the nine winners of its 2023 Early-Stage Accelerator Program. The companies will get a free trip to the U.S. to meet with “investors, customers, partners, officials, and business leaders”…

The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning in New York added four new members to its board: Bruce Segal, Harman Avery Grossman, Rochelle Friedman and Carolyn Bass

The Rabbi Sacks Legacy, which is dedicated to preserving and spreading the memory and teachings of former British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, launched a new program with 18 Jewish day schools from the U.S., Canada and Mexico to develop curricula based on his thoughts and values…

The U.K.’s Charity Commission watchdog closed its investigation into the Jewish National Fund-UK, which had been opened over comments and social media activity from some of its current and former leaders that were seen as Islamophobic…

Pic of the Day

Screenshot/World Zionist Organization

A video about the history of Zionism was projected last night onto the World Zionist Organization’s headquarters in Jerusalem.

The film, which was produced as part of the WZO’s 125th anniversary of the first World Zionist Congress, will be shown on the building at 8:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday through the month of August.


Tim Smith/Getty Images

Former three-term mayor of Edmonton, Alberta, Stephen Mandel

Israeli nuclear physicist and professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, Jonas Alster… Theoretical chemist who won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, he has also published plays and poetry, Roald Hoffmann… Founding partner of NYC-based law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, Sidney Davidoff… President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County, Jan Meisels Allen… Executive director of the MLB Players Association for 26 years and then the same post at the NHL Players Association for 12 additional years, Donald Fehr… Beverly Hills resident, Felisa Bluwal Pivko… Businessman Leonard Grunstein… Former Prime Minister of Peru, Yehude Simon Munaro… Managing editor of eJewishPhilanthropy‘s sister publication The Circuit, Jonathan Ferziger… COO of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, Mark Weitzman… Former Israeli Police spokesman, he is now a senior national radio broadcaster in Israel and an international talk-show host, Elihu Ben-Onn… Seattle area consultant, Elihu Rubin… Former deputy finance chairman of the RNC, Elliott B. Broidy… Former minister for congressional affairs at the Embassy of Israel to the U.S., he was previously the Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Martin Peled-Flax… Partner at Clifford Chance, Philip Wagman… CEO and co-founder at Let’s Bench, a publisher of customized keepsake prayer books and benchers, Yitz Woolf… Associate professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy and formerly an attorney at Covington & Burling, Jeffrey Michael Kosseff… Deputy director of the White House National Economic Council until last year, now a professor at NYU law school, David Kamin… Co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Alexander Ryvchin… Reporter for NBC Nightly News and Today, Gadi Schwartz… Editor of Alma, Molly Tolsky… Deputy editor of The Times of Israel, Elie Leshem… Senior creative strategist at MissionWired, Lauren Friedlander… CEO of Moving Traditions, Shuli Karkowsky… Former senior spokesperson at the U.S. Treasury, now the policy communications lead at Coinbase, Julia Krieger… Editorial content director at Gemini, Philip Rosenstein… Foil fencer who competed for the U.S. at the 2020 Olympics, she is now training for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games, Jacqueline DubrovichYosef TarshishIzi Doenyas… Ted Rosenberg…