Your Daily Phil: Birthright Israel prepares for a scaled-down summer

Good Wednesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the activities of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for Victims of Terror and on President Joe Biden’s Holocaust Remembrance Day speech yesterday. We feature an opinion piece by Cantor Rosalie Will about the importance of song at Jewish summer camps. Also in this newsletter: Eden GolanHarris Rosen and Sam SalzWe’ll start with Birthright Israel’s preparations for its summer season.

Zoe Wolf isn’t scared that her first trip to Israel will be during a war. After all, she’s just made it through her first year on a college campus.

Wolf, who is slated to participate in Birthright Israel’s 10-day trip this summer, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen that her experiences during her freshman year at Florida State University made her more determined to visit Israel.

“Since the war started, people constantly said to me, ‘Oh, Zoe, I know you had wanted to go to Israel but maybe you should wait,’” the international affairs and linguistics major told eJP. “But for some reason, I’ve never felt more of a want to go than during this harsh time. I don’t think Israel will feel like an unsafe, scary place. I’m expecting to feel connected. Most importantly, I expect to feel a closeness to the land.”

Wolf is among the 9,000 North American 18-26-year-olds registered for Birthright’s standard 10-day trip — undeterred by Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza and the ongoing fighting along Israel’s northern border. The number of participants is considered low for Birthright, the largest educational-tourism organization in the world. Last summer, 12,000 people participated in Birthright’s original 10-day program.

Still, the turnout is large compared to other types of tourism to Israel, particularly teen trips, some of which are expected to see a 90% decrease this summer.

In total, some 13,500 people will participate in a Birthright Israel program this summer, with 3,000 registered for the Birthright Israel Onward Volunteer Program; 1,400 for the Onward internships and fellowships; and 64 for the Birthright Israel Excel fellowship program.

Some participants are apprehensive about the trip — but are pushing themselves to go.

“I’m a little nervous to go to Israel,” said Marlene Volovitz, who just completed her second year at University of Miami and is slated to go on Birthright through her school’s Hillel. “But my thought process of choosing now to go is that this is a moment where Israel needs support. So there’s no better time to go than right now,” Volovitz told eJP. “This will make me more connected to my community.”

“We want them to visit the must-see sites, engage in open dialogues about the global surge in antisemitism within a secure environment, interact with Israelis and witness firsthand our society’s resilience amidst adversity, and having come to Israel with questions, they will leave with a deeper understanding,” the group’s CEO, Gidi Mark, said in a statement.

Noa Bauer, Birthright’s vice president of global marketing, told eJP that the group has “been working on recruitment for a long time.” She noted that the volunteer program in particular has seen increased interest “because people see this as their time to give back.”

Bauer noted that several tweaks to the itinerary have been made. Because of the security situation in northern Israel, programming in Safed and the Golan Heights have been canceled. She said Birthright is also adjusting to the uncertainty around airlines.

For instance, after Air Canada suspended direct flights to Israel because of Iran’s missile attack last month, one Birthright group recently found itself spending a 10-hour layover in Europe. “So we did a Jewish heritage module there,” Bauer said. “We are flexible and find ways to get people to Israel in any way.”

Read the full report here.


Fund for Victims of Terror prepares to support some 10,000 Israeli families affected by Oct. 7 war, including dozens of orphans

Courtesy/Jewish Agency for Israel

Nearly 340 children in Israel have lost at least one parent in either the Oct. 7 terror attacks or the ensuing war, and 52 of them have been orphaned, according to a new tally by the Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror ahead of next week’s Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Seven-month tally: Since Oct. 7, the organization, which is funded by Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, the Spirit of Israel and other donors, has provided NIS 36 million ($9.71 million) in grants and assistance to 8,439 families — nearly the same amount as in the prior 20 years of its existence combined — and the fund said it expects to eventually provide support to approximately 10,000 families in connection to the current war. This includes 118 families who had more than two members killed, injured or kidnapped.

Next steps: The Fund for Victims of Terror, which gives an immediate grant of NIS 4,000 ($1,080) to terror victims, is now looking ahead as it prepares to respond to requests for up to NIS 25,000 ($6,747) in additional grants for the next three years. “The fund will also offer programs to accompany the families, not only with grants but also with group and personal therapy,” the organization said.

‘A great honor’: “It has been a great honor for us to provide such critical help to thousands of families, particularly the 30 boys and 22 girls who lost both parents in the war, to the 118 families with multiple victims and to the families of the kidnapped,” Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, the CEO of the fund, said in a statement. 


Biden condemns violent campus protests, Oct. 7 denialism and defenders in Holocaust remembrance speech

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Mike Johnson hold images of Holocaust victims during the annual Days of Remembrance ceremony for Holocaust survivors at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 7, 2024. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In a forceful speech on Tuesday at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Capitol Hill, President Joe Biden delivered strong remarks denouncing violent anti-Israel protests on college campuses, harassment and violence targeting the American Jewish community and ongoing efforts to deny, downplay or move past the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The remarks, one of Biden’s clearest denunciations of antisemitism and Hamas in months, came amid surging anti-Israel protests on college campuses around the country and growing domestic and international pressure on Israel, reports Marc Rod for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Presidential acknowledgment: “I see your fear, your hurt and your pain, let me reassure you as your president you are not alone, you belong, you always have and you always will,” Biden said. “My commitment to the safety of the Jewish people, the security of Israel, and its right to exist as an independent Jewish people and Israel is ironclad, even when we disagree.” The president said that the right to hold strong beliefs about world events and to “debate, disagree, protest peacefully” is fundamental to America, but that there is “no place on any campus in America, any place in America for antisemitism, hate speech or threats of violence of any kind.”

Never forget: Biden also condemned those who have already moved past the Hamas attack on Israel, and the “too many people” who are “denying, downplaying, rationalizing, ignoring the horrors of the Holocaust and Oct. 7, including Hamas’ appalling use of sexual violence to torture and terrorize Jews.” “Now, here we are, not 75 years later, but just seven and a half months later,” Biden said. “People are already forgetting that Hamas unleashed this terror. It was Hamas that brutalized Israelis, it was Hamas that took and that continues to hold hostages. I have not forgotten and neither have you. And we will not forget.”

Taking action: In connection with Biden’s speech, the administration announced on Tuesday a series of additional steps to combat antisemitism: The Department of Education issued new guidance to all school districts and universities that provides “examples of Antisemitic discrimination, as well as other forms of hate,” which could prompt civil rights investigations, according to a White House announcement. The Department of Homeland Security will create a new “campus safety resources guide,” will disseminate guidance on “community-based targeted violence and terrorism prevention” and ensure that targeted communities are aware of the federal resources available to them. And the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism will bring together technology companies to discuss procedures for combating antisemitism online.

Read the full report here and sign up for Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.

Communal reactions: Jewish groups, including the Orthodox Union, the Anti-Defamation League and the Union for Reform Judaism, hailed Biden’s speech and the administration’s efforts to combat antisemitism, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross. “I commend President Biden for not only standing up against rising antisemitism in word but for reminding the world of the realities of the Holocaust and October 7,” American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch said in a statement. Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, lauded Biden’s “clear moral leadership” and called for Congress to “quickly move the Countering Antisemitism Act forward for a vote, support robust implementation of the National Strategy, and significantly increase funding for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate fully and address acts of antisemitism – and all civil rights violations – on campus.”


Reinvest in the sounds of summer

The author (back row, first from left) worked with Jewish teens on the art of leading their community in song during a leadership event at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Ga., in Oct. 2023. URJ Camp Coleman/Facebook

“Thanks to Rob and Elisa Bildner’s critical work with the Foundation for Jewish Camp, we know that participation in Jewish camp is one of the most significant predictors of Jewish engagement as an adult. We also know this: Singing together makes the summer,”  writes Cantor Rosalie Will, founder and executive director of Sing Unto God, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

More than a pastime: “‘[T]he role of song at camp cannot be overstated,’ observe Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe in their seminal book on the enduring impact of Jewish summer camp, How Goodly Are Thy Tents. ‘Song is used to bring order to chaos in the dining hall, to build community, to create spiritual moments. The songleaders are the heroes at camp. Sharing those tunes unites members of the camp community — like a secret society — both at camp and back home.’”

In short supply: “And yet, the robust integration of music at Jewish summer camps led by specially trained songleaders is disappearing. At Sing Unto God, a two-year-old startup organization that trains and supports songleaders, we are currently working with three camps on the long-term rebuilding of their singing culture. For multiple consecutive springs, we have had far more requests from overnight and day camps searching for songleaders than we have songleaders to recommend… As someone whose career as a cantor was inspired by the community of great songleaders in Jewish camps, I am compelled to ask: Where have all the songleaders gone, and why has no significant funding been provided to address this communal need? I see three discrete but overlapping challenges.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Maintaining Neutrality: In The Wall Street Journal, University of Chicago President  Paul Alivisatos writes that he shut down the protest encampment on his campus yesterday morning due to student demands that the administration side against Israel. “When the encampment formed on our campus, I said I would uphold the university’s principles and resist the forces tearing at the fabric of higher education. I didn’t direct immediate action against the encampment. I authorized discussions with the protesters regarding an end to the encampment in response to some of their demands. But when I concluded that the essential goals that animated those demands were incompatible with deep principles of the university, I decided to end the encampment with intervention… [S]trict adherence to every policy — the suppression of discord to promote harmony — comes at a cost. Discord is almost required for the truth-seeking function of a university to be genuine… Why then didn’t we reach a resolution? Because at the core of the demands was what I believe is a deep disagreement about a principle, one that can’t be papered over with carefully crafted words, creative adjustments to programming, or any other negotiable remedy… Faculty members and students are more than free to engage in advocacy on one side or the other. But if the university did so as an institution, it would no longer be much of a university.” [WSJ]

When Every Second Counts: In Inside Philanthropy, Martha Ramirez reports on the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust’s effort to improve access to critical care in rural America by funding specially outfitted trucks with a life-saving technology usually only accessible in a hospital setting. “According to data from the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, since 2005, 191 rural hospitals have either closed completely or no longer provide inpatient services. As a result, many rural Americans have to travel long distances to access critical care. Coupled with limited transportation in emergency situations — many rural areas lack ambulatory services and public transportation — that could mean death… ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation] is administered to critical patients whose hearts and lungs cannot function on their own, ensuring that a patient’s blood remains oxygenated. The ECMO machine can provide long-term support to give the patient’s organs time to heal on their own or for doctors to address the issue. It can be used by patients suffering from conditions like heart attacks, acute respiratory distress, pulmonary embolisms, respiratory failure and COVID-19, among others… ‘It just seems like a very good risk for the Helmsley Charitable Trust to make and to invest in something where nobody’s ever really done this successfully to that level,’ [trustee Walter] Panzirer said… ‘These patients that Mobile ECMO is responding to — 100% of these patients would have been declared dead in the field or dead in the hospital.’” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

A new survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that the majority of Israelis believe Israel should prioritize a hostage deal over a Rafah offensive…

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announced that the city had decided — in coordination with LGBT groups — not to host its usual Pride Parade, which is often one of the city’s largest events, saying this is “not the time for celebrations.” Huldai said Tel Aviv would instead host “a rally marking pride, hope and freedom”…

Jerusalem’s Pride and Tolerance March announced that it too would be held in a “special format” this year in “the spirit of the time”…

Former hostages Chen Goldstein-Almog, Meirav Tal and Luis Har shared their experiences onstage at a screening of testimonies from other former captives in the Israeli Government Press Office in Jerusalem…

The Times of Israel spotlights a new initiative, “Remember with Letters,” which collects stories about fallen IDF soldiers from their comrades and distributes them to their children…

United Airlines has suspended sales of all flights to and from Tel Aviv for the entire month of May, likely indicating that the airline will not resume flights until next month at the earliest…

The Forward profiles Eden Golan, Israel’s entrant into the Eurovision Song Contest, which began yesterday in Malmö, Sweden…

Orlando-based hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen provided college tuition scholarships to 30 students at a local high school. Rosen’s foundation also just made a $35,000 donation to the Gainesville, Fla., Empowerment Zone Family Learning Center

Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism will air a commercial during this week’s NBA playoffs denouncing the antisemitism seen at recent anti-Israel protests on college campuses…

In The Wall Street JournalNathan Lewin, who was born in Lodz, reflects on calls from antisemitic demonstrators that Jews should “Go back to Poland”…

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens pens a letter to campus anti-Israel protesters, saying that their activism is a “daily reminder of what my Zionism is for, about and against”…

A new survey of American college students found that the Israel-Hamas war ranks below more than half a dozen other issues as a top concern, and that 8% of college students have engaged in protests or demonstrations related to the war…

The Athletic profiles Sam Salz, a running back on Texas A&M’s football team, who is believed to be the only Orthodox player in college football…

Aaron Petersal was appointed the next executive director of Ohio’s Maltz Museum, which focuses on the Jewish history of northeast Ohio…

Dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Schenectady, N.Y., were desecrated in recent weeks…

More than 100 people cleaned up the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in Brooklyn, Ohio, this week…

Cincy Jewfolk dives deep into the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s decision to close its Cincinnati campus…

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement was the answer to a question (technically the question to an answer) on a recent episode of “Jeopardy!”…

Axios reports on the launch of a new technology-focused nonprofit advisory firm, Renaissance Philanthropy, that was started by Tom Kalil, who has until now served as chief innovation officer Schmidt Futures

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill allocating $400,000 over a two-year period to Milwaukee’s Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center to train educators across the state…

Joan Klein Jacobs, a prominent San Diego-based philanthropist who gave widely to local and Jewish causes, died on Monday at 91…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Yaakov Nachum

Matisyahu Grossinger, chairman of the board of the Kiddush Hashem Archive, a Haredi Holocaust museum in Bnei Brak, Israel, lights a memorial candle yesterday during a Yom HaShoah ceremony at the institution.

The ceremony was attended by some 20 European diplomats, including the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev, who said in a speech at the event that the EU was stepping up its efforts to combat antisemitism on the continent.


Birthright Israel participants take a selfie in Tel Aviv.
Birthright Israel participants take a selfie in Tel Aviv.

Israeli journalist, anchorwoman and attorney, she is the host of the investigative program “Uvda” (“Fact”) on Israeli television, Ilana Dayan-Orbach

Retired senior British judge, Baron Leonard Hubert “Lennie” Hoffmann… Immediate past chairman of the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Stanley A. Rabin… International chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Irwin Cotler… MIT biologist and 2002 Nobel Prize laureate in medicine, H. Robert Horvitz… Former MLB pitcher who played for the Angels, Rangers and White Sox, Lloyd Allen… CFO for The Manischewitz Company for 13 years until earlier this year, Thomas E. Keogh… Rabbi in Dusseldorf, Germany, until moving to Israel in 2021, Rabbi Raphael Evers… Retired USDOJ official, for many years he was the director of the Office of Special Investigations focused on deporting Nazi war criminals, Eli M. Rosenbaum… Past president of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, Ga., Janice Perlis Ellin… Third generation furniture retailer in Springfield, Ill., Barry Seidman… President of Clayton, Mo.-based JurisTemps, Andrew J. Koshner, J.D., Ph.D…. CEO and founder of NSG/SWAT, Richard Kirshenbaum… Novelist, author of If I Could Tell You and movie critic for The Jerusalem PostHannah Brown… Co-founder of the disability advocacy nonprofit RespectAbility, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi… Long-time litigator and political fundraiser in Florida, now serving as a mediator and arbitrator, Benjamin W. Newman… Canadian social activist and documentary filmmaker, Naomi Klein… Member of Knesset and chairman of the World Likud, he served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador Danny Danon… Stand-up comedian, writer, actress and author, Jodi Miller… Novelist and memoirist, Joanna Rakoff… Senior adviser at West End Strategy Team, Ari Geller… Director of strategic initiatives at J Street, Josh Lockman… Ice hockey player, now the assistant coach of the New Hampshire Wildcats women’s ice hockey program, Samantha Faber… Founder and CEO at Axion Ray, Daniel First… Canadian Olympic beach volleyball player, Sam Schachter… Former White House senior policy adviser in the Biden administration, Amiel Fields-Meyer