Your Daily Phil: At-risk Haredi youth surf through their troubles

Good Friday morning.

Ed. note: In observance of Passover, the next Your Daily Phil will arrive in your inbox on Thursday, April 25. Chag kasher v’sameach!

For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent eJewishPhilanthropy and Jewish Insider stories, including: New Haggadot, supplemental readings and initiatives look to bring the global state of affairs into this year’s Passover Seder; Relief group SmartAid providing thousands of tents to Gazans, says it’s the only Israeli NGO operating in the Strip; United flight cancellations stymie Passover travel plansPrint the latest edition here.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on last night’s episode of “Get Your Phil” with Rob Derdiger, the CEO of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and feature a Passover-themed opinion piece by Andrés Spokoiny about leadership lessons from Moses. Also in this newsletter: Ariel ZwangMichael Bloomberg and Ilan Amit. We’ll start with Waves of Hope helping at-risk Haredi youth through surfing. Shabbat shalom!

The waves were a bit strong and the breeze still chilly on the official opening day of the Shirat HaYam gender-segregated beach in Bat Yam, Israel, last week as Waves of Hope began the first lesson of its therapeutic surfing course for a new group of at-risk girls from the Haredi community, reports Judith Sudilovsky for eJewishPhilanthropy from the coast.

Exhilarated from her first foray into the sea with a surfboard, Elisheva David, 17, from the mainly Haredi city of Elad, was still wearing a wetsuit while a few of the other girls had already changed into their ankle-length skirts and long-sleeved shirts. “I was afraid I would be cold, and that I would get water in my eyes, or that I would be stiff afterwards,” said David, who had come to the course for the first time at the suggestion of Elad’s educational and youth counselor, Odelia Levi. “It was freezing, but I am proud of myself. I for sure will come back next week.”

For Eliyahu Ben Zion, founder and director of the nonprofit, those words make his efforts worthwhile. A former Israeli surfing champion who became religious when he was 19, Ben Zion brought the sport of surfing into the world of religious at-risk youth to help change the course of their lives. His goal now, he said, is to “return them to the path of being human.”

While using sea sports as a tool to help treat such youth is a widely used therapeutic form of treatment worldwide, the Waves of Hope program specifically for at-risk religious youth is the only one of its kind in the world, said Ben Zion, 46. Every year the nonprofit provides classes to 1,500 at-risk youth. All participants must already know how to swim.

Ben Zion initiated the program that eventually grew into Waves of Hope in 2016 when the mayor of Elad approached him with the idea of using surfing to help a group of 10 at-risk boys. Knowing the surfing world from up close since he was 6, Ben Zion said he was initially hesitant to introduce it into the religious community. But then as he created the specially tailored therapeutic program for the disaffected youth who left school and the community, he saw it as a unique way of helping these young people.

As long as he rustles up enough funding, Ben Zion says he is able to open a 10-session course for a new group of 14 youth — separate for boys and girls. It costs NIS 25,000 ($6,600) to open a course, he said, and the nonprofit receives funds from religious municipalities as well as private donations. There is always a waiting list, he added.

Recently the Good People Fund provided Waves of Hope with a matching grant for a new class of girls from the southern towns of Ofakim and Netivot who have experienced war-related trauma from the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, and he is working to raise his end of the funding. It is the second year the fund has supported the program.

“Clearly we fund organizations, but we also focus on the founder, and that was really what drew us in,” said Naomi Eisenberger, executive director of the Good People Fund. “Our focus is on individuals who have found creative ways to solve problems. Using surfing is a very creative way of dealing with the issue of at-risk youth in the religious community. And Eliyahu’s path to doing this is itself a very interesting path, he was a champion surfer before he became religious and he is clearly very passionate and committed to this work as is his wife. He is charming and he is very committed to these kids. He represents for us individuals who have found creative ways to do tikkun olam with this pretty unusual program.”

Read the full report here.


‘Get Your Phil’ with Rob Derdiger

As one of the more prominent Jewish institutions on a college campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity houses have often been targets for antisemitic activities, even before Oct. 7. But this has given them deep, friendly connections to campus administrators, which have become particularly useful, AEPi CEO Rob Derdiger told eJewishPhilanthropy Managing Editor Judah Ari Gross in the latest installment of “Get Your Phil.” Below are some of Werdiger’s responses from the hour-long conversation.

On engaging Jewish students: “Many, many of our brothers kind of come into AEPi because the barriers to entry are very low, but they feel the the pull of Jewish community. And then through their involvement in AEPi, they do connect with Hillel. They do connect with Chabad. They do work through other Jewish organizations and become far more engaged in the Jewish community… If you think about it as a 1 to 10 scale, we are successful even if we take a kid who’s at a ‘1’ in the level of interest in their Jewish identity and get them to be a 4, or [from a] a 3 to a 6.”

Post-Oct. 7 campus life: “AEPi has responded to over 235 individual incident reports related to antisemitism and anti-Israel activity aimed at our chapters [since Oct. 7]. That ranges from threatening protest activity to physical assault to vandalism and everything in between. And it’s an incredibly challenging environment. But I don’t like to be completely negative. Eighty-one of our chapters participated in a day of strength on Oct. 15. Since Oct. 7, we’ve tracked over a thousand pro-Israel events on campus that our chapters have participated in and our chapters have raised over a quarter of a million dollars for Israeli causes. So they are rising to the occasion.”

A friendly option: “Sometimes if AEPi or Hillel can’t get in front of a college president, the [Anti-Defamation League] can. It’s a big name and sometimes they pick up the phone. There are other times when the ADL or [American Jewish Committee] is a scary name and a campus administrator who’s in a DEI office or a conduct office or a Greek life office is remiss to pick up the phone for those individuals. But when AEPi calls, we know each other. And there are so many conversations that we’ve been able to have since Oct. 7 because we say to our colleagues on the campus side, ‘Hey, this is off the record and you’re safe talking to us here. What do you need?’… There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there and there’s a lot of fear to engage because of the idea that there could be a Title VI investigation or a public outcry.”

On the ADL’s ‘report card’ for colleges: “First, I’ll say that schools have a lot of work to do… With that said, there were a lot of calls within the Jewish community for these objective metrics on universities… And I respect the ADL for at least giving it an attempt and using a pretty robust process to gather the data… On the flip side, I definitely join in some concern that in the next 11-12 days, most students who are heading to college will be making their decisions. And I hope that this does not become kind of the singular guide or singular point of information for the decision-making process on where you’re going to go to school. And I think that [Hillel CEO] Adam [Lehman] was correct in saying that it doesn’t really represent the totality of Jewish life and Jewish experiences on campus. And that’s an important point to be made.”

Watch the full episode here.


Leadership isn’t a position — it’s an attitude

Generated by Alexander Flyax using ChatGPT

“‘I belong nowhere,’ said my client, expressing how she felt when her liberal friends did not call her to express sympathy after Oct. 7. ‘I no longer feel comfortable in my progressive network, but the organized Jewish community, which I have weak ties with anyway, feels very alien to me,’” writes educator and life coach Rabbi David Levin-Kruss in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The need revealed: “It all started when a former colleague told me a friend of his was experiencing personal, political and identity issues post-Oct. 7, and suggested that Jews like him were ripe for life-coaching. So, I sent a simple WhatsApp message to some people who fit this demographic or who know those who do. I went to make a cup of tea, and when I came back to my phone it was vibrating incessantly: ‘That’s me!’ ‘That’s my cousin.’ ‘I’m not in the group you mention but I am in touch with these people. What can you teach me?’… Almost everybody I have spoken to is looking for a stronger connection with the Jewish community, which they either left or were never really part of, but they are having trouble connecting.”

Show respect and acceptance: “Though their Jewish identity may be tenuous, their exploration of it is serious. However, approaching these people as ‘once lost but now found’ is not an effective way to connect with them. They cannot be reduced to statistics to be shifted or fresh meat to be turned into committed Jews; some will choose not to go this route, and anything that smacks of conversion will be counterproductive… Rather than wringing our hands about how we ‘lost’ these people, their ‘return’ is a reminder that there is a wellspring of Jewishness out there that can be tapped, and hopefully by means more positive than Oct. 7.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

From Generation to Generation: Writing for USA Today, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee CEO Ariel Zwang reflects on her recent trips to Ukraine and Israel and the significance of the Passover Seder today. “Jews are instructed to experience Passover every year as if we too were taken out of slavery. This highlights the genius of the codifiers of these rituals — that alongside moments of great triumph there is too often adversity. The response must be to choose life — to act to support those who have no other lifeline and share in our tradition of hope. Reuven R., an 88-year old Bergen Belsen survivor, is one of those people. He was a founder and builder of Kfar Maimon, a moshav near Gaza. After his village was devastated on Oct. 7, Reuven was evacuated and received social and mental health support from JDC. It was not the first time — we also helped him in DP camps after World War II. Reuven has plenty of reasons to be bitter. But instead of ruminating on life’s horrors, he volunteers to help other evacuees and support them as they adjust to a new reality. Built into him is one of Passover’s most empowering messages for all of us: lift those up who are most battered and bruised, generation after generation.” [USAToday]

How Do You Move On?: In Haaretz, Liza Rozovsky interviews the survivors of the massacre at Kibbutz Be’eri about the future of their decimated community. “After making countless concessions, each kibbutz member and each family is trying to chart their course for the future. Half a year after the October 7 disaster, the routes of the individuals sometimes diverge from the route of the community, and it’s not always clear what the destination will be. The future of the kibbutz – as well as the path of its members – is still up in the air… The original plan was for the Be’eri survivors to move to Hatzerim in June, but construction on the area where they are meant to live has only just begun, so the move will have to be postponed until July or August, possibly even September… Living on Hatzerim is meant to be an interim solution, after which the community will return to Be’eri, but in order for that to happen, the kibbutz must be rebuilt – specifically, the 120 houses that were completely burned or destroyed. This construction is supposed to take two years, but the start has been delayed: A decision to return to Be’eri, with all its economic implications, is a major gamble, and the longer the community hesitates over that decision, the farther away the potential return date gets.” [Haaretz]

Around the Web

Businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg visited Israel earlier this week, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned, meeting with U.S. Ambassador Jack Lew and a number of mayors of Israeli cities and towns in connection with an initiative by his Bloomberg Philanthropies to make Israeli municipalities more innovative… 

Richard J. Kurtz donated $5 million to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, N.J. To recognize the gift, the JCC will rename its New Jersey Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for the Kurtz family…

The main sanctuary of the United Orthodox Synagogues in Houston will reopen this weekend after an extensive $15 million renovation following a flood almost seven years ago…

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the Simcha School in Kyiv this week for the Jewish school’s mock Passover Seder…

Noa Girls, a British Jewish charity that supports girls and young women going through mental health struggles, created new guidebooks to help those suffering from eating disorders navigate the food-focused Passover holiday…

The National Library of Israel acquired the personal archive of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, comprising some 50 cartons of files, notes, sermons, lectures, correspondence and books. The Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe supported the acquisition…

The New York Times looks at how colleges are cracking down on disruptive behavior after a series of high-profile incidents around the country tied to the Israel-Hamas war… 

More than 100 people were arrested at Columbia University when police broke up an unauthorized anti-Israel encampment a day after the school’s administrators testified before Congress about antisemitism… 

A new poll of 18-29-year-olds by the Harvard Kennedy School found that 17% of those surveyed expressed sympathy toward Hamas…

Ethan Helfand was hired as executive director of the Kansas University Hillel

In an opinion piece in The Jerusalem PostIlan Amit, the co-CEO of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Economic Development, argues that Israel’s neglect of Bedouin communities in the Negev desert leaves them open to attack and makes them a national security vulnerability…

A new memoir by former U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss includes a fabricated quote attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild by an antisemitic author in the 1930s about Jewish “control” over “the money of a nation.” The quote has been removed from the digital version and from all future print editions…

Fox News interviewed football player Julian Edelman about what he called the “hurtful” rise in antisemitism…

Student leaders selected by Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism will announce the New England Patriots’ third-round draft pick next week.

The New York Times examines how the relationship between Japanese American and Jewish American organizations are faring in the aftermath of Oct. 7…

A new project by USA Today tracks antisemitism across all 50 states…

National Geographic spotlights an archaeological dig uncovering an unprecedented, ornate ancient synagogue in the Galilee in northern Israel…

Israeli President Isaac Herzog donated a copy of the Babylonian Talmud that survived the Holocaust, which had come into his grandfather’s possession, to Yad Vashem

Tom Weiss, an active member of New York’s Upper West Side Jewish community, died last week at 61…

Nicholas Lane, a mainstay of the Pittsburgh Jewish community who campaigned for Soviet Jewry and a “champion of the Jewish people,” per the former CEO of the American Jewish Committeedied last week at 84…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Jewish Agency for Israel

“Lone soldier” reservists in the Israel Defense Forces and their relatives reunite yesterday alongside Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog (center) and Jewish Agency CEO Amira Ahronoviz (back right) at the organization’s headquarters in Jerusalem.

The reunion was the result of what the Jewish Agency called a “complex cross-continental operation” that it coordinated with the Merage Foundation Israel and the Israeli Immigration and Absorption Ministry, as part of its program Wings for foreign-born lone soldiers, troops who do not have immediate family in the country.

“Being a lone soldier comes with its own set of challenges, and we are incredibly inspired by their strength and resilience in the face of adversity, David Merage, president of Merage Foundation Israel, said in a statement. “Their commitment to serving our country is truly remarkable, their courage and sacrifice are an inspiration, and we are privileged to support these lone soldiers.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/Jewish Review of Books

Philanthropist and head of strategic human resources at Elliott Management Corporation, she is also on the board of The Paul E. Singer Foundation, OneTable, Tikvah and the Jewish Food Society, Terry Kassel… 

FRIDAY: Elaine’s husband, Robert Brotman…Legal scholar and public intellectual, now a visiting professor at Cardozo School of Law, Stanley Fish… Prominent Israeli criminal defense attorney who also served as the attorney general of Israel, Yehuda Weinstein… Rebbi of the Vizhnitz hasidic dynasty based in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Yisroel Hager… Comedian, actress and mental health campaigner in the U.K., Ruby Wax… Investor and hedge fund manager, Jacob Ezra Merkin… VP of GEM Commercial Flooring Company in Kansas, Gloria Elyachar… Angel investment fund manager, he won three Super Bowls during his 12-year NFL career, Harris Barton… Law professor at Arizona State University and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Orde Félix Kittrie… Historian, author, screenwriter, political commentator and senior lecturer at the Hebrew University, Gadi Taub… Israeli entrepreneur who was the founder and former CEO of Better Place, Shai Agassi… Attorney general of Michigan, Dana Nessel… French stand-up comedian and actor, during 2019 he starred in “Huge in France,” an American comedy series on Netflix, Gad Elmaleh… Author of five books and a frequent columnist in The New YorkerRivka Galchen… Award-winning, film, television and theater actor, his bar mitzvah ceremony was in 2015 at age 37, James Franco… Toronto-based entrepreneur, philanthropist, CEO and co-founder of Klick Health, Leerom Segal… Actress, author and fashion entrepreneur, she co-founded Fabletics, Kate Hudson… Managing director of development at NYC’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, Brian Tregerman… Rabbi, philosopher, poet, coach and entrepreneur, he writes a weekly Torah commentary on Substack, Zohar Atkins… Executive director of Honest Reporting, Gil Hoffman… Consultant at Boston Consulting Group, Seffi Kogen… Jake Gerber

SATURDAY: Stanford University professor and 2020 Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Paul Robert Milgrom… Chairman of the media networks division of Activision Blizzard, Steve Bornstein… Immigrants’ rights activist and professor at Salem State University, Aviva Chomsky… Television and radio host, Steve Malzberg… President and founder of the Center for AI and Digital Policy, Marc Rotenberg… Executive producer and host at “The Femsplainers Podcast,” Danielle Crittenden Frum… Semi-professional race car driver and restaurateur, Alan Wilzig… Television personality and game show host, known professionally as J.D. Roth, James David Weinroth… Israeli jazz bassist, composer, singer and arranger, Avishai Cohen… British film director, Sarah Gavron… Member of the Florida House of Representatives from southern Brevard County, Randy Fine… VP of government and public affairs at Cleveland-based GBX Group, Seth Foster Unger… Director of speechwriting for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael C. Frohlich… Director of development at Democratic Majority for Israel, Elliott G. Mendes… President and CEO at the Los Angeles-based Skirball Cultural Center, Jessie Kornberg… Author and former general manager of Bird in Israel, Yaniv Rivlin… Sportscaster on Fox Sports and NFL Network, Peter Schrager… New York-based human rights lawyer, Irina Tsukerman… Writer for The Free Press, she wrote a weekly newsletter, “Chosen By Choice” to chronicle her journey converting to Judaism, Nellie Bowles… Evening breaking news editor at CNN Politics, Kyle Feldscher… Policy advisor and counsel to Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Zachary L. Baum… Systems engineer at Google X, Joseph Gettinger… Facilitator, coach and workshop organizer, Daniela Kate Plattner… Research analyst at the U.S. Department of State, David Mariutto… VP at Cedar Capital Partners, Alex Berman… CEO of Social Lite Creative, Emily K. Schrader… Israeli scientist, engineer and artificial intelligence researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Maor Farid… Israeli model and swimwear designer, Neta Alchimister… Advertising platforms at Apple, McKenna Klein… Venture scout at LvlUp Ventures, Andrew J. Hirsh… R&B, soul, pop singer and teen actress, at 13 years old she was the runner-up on the second season of “The X Factor,” Carly Rose Sonenclar… Diane Kahan…

SUNDAY: Comedian, screenwriter, film director and actress, she returned to Broadway in 2018 after a 60-year hiatus, Elaine May… President of the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation, Howard Rosenbloom… British chemist and emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, Sir Alan Roy Fersht… Award winning folklorist, author, poet and editor of dozens of books, Howard Schwartz… Former lieutenant governor of Connecticut, Nancy S. Wyman… Southern California-based interior designer, Marilyn Weiss… Emergency physician in Panorama City, Calif., Joseph Edward Beezy… UCSB mathematician, an early winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship, Michael Hartley Freedman… Rabbi, psychologist, writer and editor, Susan Schnur… Professor emeritus at George Mason University Law School, Michael Ian Krauss… Australian barrister who is a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly following 31 years as mayor of Botany Bay, Ron Hoenig… Rabbi at Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, Calif., Michael Barclay… Co-founder of the Genesis Prize and the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Mikhail Fridman… Chicago-based lobbyist and attorney, Scott D. Yonover… Art collector and dealer, Alberto “Tico” Mugrabi… Washington correspondent for NYT’s DealBook, Ephrat Livni… Founder of I Was Supposed to Have a Baby (IWSTHAB), an online community geared toward Jewish women experiencing infertility, Aimee Friedman Baron… Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and best-selling author, Jodi Kantor… Head of business development and innovation at Birthright North America and CEO of Unistream, Ifat Bechor… Co-founder and chief innovation officer at Zivvy Media, Eric Weisbrod… Actress and voice actress, Shayna Bracha Fox… Investor relations officer at Linse Capital, Robert J. Kaufman… Once the top-ranked collegiate female tennis player in the U.S. and currently the head women’s tennis coach at the University of Oklahoma, Audra Marie Cohen… Salesforce marketing and cloud consultant at Jackson Family Wines, Joshua Gibbs… Outfielder for MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks, he is a two-time World Series champion and a two-time All Star, he played for Team Israel in the 2013 and 2023 World Baseball Classics, Joc Pederson… Writer, magazine editor and actress, Tavi Gevinson