Your Daily Phil: Birthright Israel and Onward complete merger + Civil marriages in Abu Dhabi

Good Wednesday morning!

Birthright Israel and Onward Israel announced the completion of the merger between the two organizations, which collectively brought thousands of young Jews to Israel prior to the pandemic.

The merger, initially announced last year, was part of a series of mergers within the Jewish community as the COVID-19 pandemic shifted resources and organizations reassessed their needs and goals. Funders of Israel-travel programs, along with Birthright, had approached Onward Israel about expanding the offerings available to short-term trip participants looking to extend their time in Israel.

“Our primary goal has always been to give every Jewish young adult around the world a trip to Israel in order to help strengthen identity and connection with Israel,” Gidi Mark, who will continue as international CEO of Birthright, said. “The pandemic has been the greatest challenge we have faced on the road to achieving that goal, but by merging with Onward we take the next great step forward, ensuring that more young people have the opportunity to experience and develop a deeper relationship with Israel and its people.”

Birthright also announced it was planning to resume trips this spring, and will require participants to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to have received a booster shot.


Abu Dhabi grants first civil marriage in move to modernize legal system

Rustam Azmi/Getty Images

On Dec. 27, 2021, Abu Dhabi’s newly opened Non-Muslim Personal Status Court issued its first civil marriage contract to a Canadian couple — the first to marry under a new law on the personal status of non-Muslims in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, according to WAM, the country’s official state news agency. Under the new law, which contains 20 articles divided into several chapters, non-Muslims are allowed to marry, divorce and get joint child custody under civil law in Abu Dhabi. It also covers alimony, proof of paternity and inheritance. After a divorce, the law says that joint and equal custody of children will automatically be granted to parents, with procedures set in place to settle disputes, Rebecca Anne Proctor reports for Jewish Insider.

New law: In early November, UAE President and Emir of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan made history for the federation of seven emirates when he issued a law to regulate personal status matters for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi; the law provided an advanced judicial mechanism for the determination of personal status disputes for non-Muslims. Previously, all personal-status laws regarding marriage and divorce in Abu Dhabi were based on Islamic Sharia principles, as in other Gulf states.

Showing tolerance: Rabbi Levi Duchman, the first resident rabbi of the United Arab Emirates and head of the Jewish Community Center of the UAE, says the move is a reflection of the “tolerance and coexistence” that he sees in the country. “We have been licensed since 2020 to conduct Jewish marriages in Abu Dhabi, and our marriages were always recognized,” Duchman told JI. “Our marriages were always recognized by the UAE government, by the royal court and by the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs.”

Building community: “I am from the United States and New York City and as the first resident rabbi to reside in the UAE, from the day I landed seven years ago, I have seen the amazing openness, respect and tolerance of the government, not just in the media but in actions,” added Duchman. “What we have here is amazing. We are so lucky to have the community we have here and we are proud of the Emirati leadership.”

Read the full story here.


Climate change is here: It’s time for Jews to take action


“Now is the time to make climate action a central moral priority of the Jewish community. It is not enough to dedicate one Tu B’Shevat sermon to this topic. Now it’s time to turn good intentions into meaningful action,” write Rabbi Jennie Rosenn and Jakir Manela, respectively of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action and Hazon: The Jewish Lab for Sustainability, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Communal priority: “Last year we collaborated to produce the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest as a call to make climate action a central moral priority of the Jewish community. Over 6,000 people responded and came to be inspired, learn and act. In the last 12 months, more than a third of Americans have experienced climate impacts, whether from fires, storms, flooding, drought or other threats to our communities. While the crisis seems overwhelming, the groundswell of awareness is encouraging.” 

Read the full piece here.


Shmitah and organizational change


“What would it look like for employees to have individualized or intentionally chosen professional development every six months, with the purpose of supporting growth in the areas they need? How would it impact the retention of employees to offer bonuses or benefits of some kind at the three-, six- and seven-year marks with an organization? How is our pattern and practice of salary review grounded in Jewish practice? How are we acculturating our organizations in the wisdom that Jewish texts, history and traditions steep us in? What does Shmitah mean outside of a traditional agricultural context? These questions are to be considered for impactful and tangible changes relating to ‘Shmitah,’ to ‘release,’” writes Elyssa Hurwitz, a master’s degree student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Pushing boundaries: “We know that individuals benefit from taking the time they need to release what holds them down in their day-to-day life, to transform their spirit and excitement about the work they do, and to reassess or re-sanctify the rituals they perform that have become habits. When we offer opportunities to individuals to deliberately take that time, we see organizational benefits as well. Educators come back from sabbaticals and professional development opportunities sharing new ideas, connections and energy that impact everything from the challenges brought up between colleagues to the experience of students who learn from these educators in their rejuvenated state.” 

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Potter Problems: In a recent episode of his podcast, “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” the former Daily Show host noted the resemblance of Harry Potter’s bank-controlling goblins to characters in the antisemitic screed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Samantha Ibrahim observed in the New York Post. “‘I just want to show you a caricature. And they’re like, “Oh, look at that, that’s from ‘Harry Potter’!” And you’re like, “No, that’s a caricature of a Jew from an anti-Semitic piece of literature.” J.K. Rowling was like, “Can we get these guys to run our bank?”’ Stewart said. He added that in the magical, make-believe world of ‘Harry Potter,’ people ‘can ride dragons’ and someone can own a ‘pet owl,’ yet he wondered: ‘Who should run the bank? Jews.’” [NYPost]

Finding Family: After taking a genetic test, a U.K. woman whose mother had been born in Auschwitz learned she had two previously unknown aunts living in the United States, writes Mathilde Frot in the Jewish Chronicle. “Nitay Elboym, a researcher in Israel who worked closely with the family, said: ‘The Holocaust is considered a ‘black hole’ for many when it comes to researching their family history.’ He added the platform’s technologies and tools mean that ‘people all around the world have the opportunity to overcome what was once a critical lack of information.’” [TheJC]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

The Tenement Museum, located on New York’s Lower East Side, has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. The funds will support the redevelopment of the museum’s “Your Story, Our Story” digital personal storytelling initiative, bringing educational resources to museums and historic sites throughout Long Island and New York City addressing the role of race and American identity…

Berkeley Moshav, an intentional Jewish co-housing community planned for Berkeley, Calif., submitted plans to the city and groundbreaking should begin in 18 months…

Registration is open for the Jewish Funders Network’s first fully in-person international conference since 2019, to be held in Palm Beach, Fla., in March…

Marc Swatez has been named CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, effective Jan. 10…

Sarit Wishnevski joined Kavod v’Nichum as executive director. The organization provides technical support to synagogue bereavement committees and shields bereaved families from exploitation…

The Wexner Foundation, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundationannounced Class 6 of the Wexner Field Fellowship…

A survey, commissioned by World Likud, found that 58% of Israelis feel that Israel’s relations with the Diaspora have been harmed by the current government policy not to allow Diaspora Jews to enter the country due to COVID…

Network for Good has been acquired by the social good software platform backed by Apax Partners… 

Blackbaud announced it has acquired global social impact technology company EVERFI …

As of Dec. 31, the Institute for Nonprofit News raised $12 million in support of nonprofit news organizations across North America…

Jerusalem resident, New York native and former Moment Magazine editor, Suzanne Singerdied at 86…

Pic of the Day

Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua via GETTY IMAGES

An estimated 20,000 Israelis received their fourth dose of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine Monday, the first available day for both people over 59 and medical staff. One hundred thousand more scheduled appointments. Israel reported a record 11,978 cases diagnosed yesterday, the most new infections reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic.


Anatoliy Medved/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Israeli tennis player, Yshai Oliel

Former speaker of the Knesset, Dan Tichon… Sports journalist and author, Robert Lipsyte… NBA superfan who attends over 100 basketball games a season, James F. Goldstein… Former Philadelphia mayor (1992-2000) and Pennsylvania governor (2003-2011), currently a special counsel at Ballard Spahr, Ed Rendell… Retired attorney for Latham & Watkins, Paul Israel Meyer… San Diego-based attorney, former member of Congress (1993-1995) and later chief of staff for then-California Gov. Gray Davis (1998-2003), Lynn Alice Schenk… Former attorney general of the U.K., now London co-managing partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, Lord Peter Goldsmith… CEO of Legacy Interactive / Legacy Games and president of HitPoint Studios, Ariella Lehrer…. Founder and principal of DC-based Mager & Associates, Mimi Mager… Recently retired chairman of the Jewish National Fund and former member of Knesset, Danny Atar… Contributor to Fox News since October, John F. Solomon… Actress and television personality, Heather Paige Kent Dubrow… Co-founder and partner of Davis Goldberg & Galper PLLC and the PR firm Trident DMG, Joshua P. Galper… Professional poker player who won the 2010, 2012 and 2018 World Series of Poker Players Championship, Michael Mizrachi… Producer at Madison Square Garden and creative director at ALSALL Studio, Alexandra Lauren Sall

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