Your Daily Phil: Celebrating Sigd in the U.S. + Allying against antisemitism

? Good Tuesday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil we report on a new effort to promote an old Jewish holiday, and feature an op-ed by Josh Kraft and Colette A.M. Phillips about a Black-Jewish alliance against antisemitism. Also in this newsletter: Taffy Brodesser-Akner and Pope Francis. We’ll start with a teen delegation to Puerto Rico.

Birthright Israel officials are scrambling to make up a fundraising shortfall after the Adelson family — the single largest donor supporting Birthright Israel trips — reduced its annual gift from $35-$40 million to $20 million in 2022 and to $10 million in 2023, according to Haaretz.

The reduction is one reason Birthright is decreasing the number of participants it will bring to Israel next year by up to one-third. Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark said the organization is in need of “a major immediate increase in fundraising” to make up for the smaller donations.

Last night, Romy Timem was hanging out with her friends in an ice cream parlor in New Jersey, eating a scoop of cookies-and-cream. Twelve days ago, she was hanging out with her friends in Puerto Rico, wearing a hazmat suit as she dumped rotten plywood from a street into a garbage van.

Timem was one of 15 Jewish public high school students who went on a short service-learning trip to the island, which sustained widespread damage from Hurricane Fiona in September. The trip was organized by Jewish Student Union, an arm of the Orthodox Union’s NCSY youth group, and funded by the real estate investment firm Urban Edge Properties.

The trip lasted from the night of Wednesday, Nov. 9 to early Sunday morning. Its goal was to help Puerto Ricans, like the 90-year-old man whose home Timem and her friends helped clear of trash. The group also packed school backpacks with supplies for more than 500 students. NCSY has run nearly 200 such trips across the United States since 2005.

But like many such trips, the goal was also to teach the students themselves about poverty and disaster relief. “The main goal is to let the kids leave their New Jersey bubble and get out of their comfort zone and do acts of kindness, specifically there, in a place like Puerto Rico,” Rabbi Reuven Lebovitz, the New Jersey JSU director, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “It’s really eye-opening for the teens to see what poverty is, and also to get out and to help the world.”

The students also spent time at the beach, and on Shabbat, discussed the importance of kindness and charity. “We were always talking about how grateful we were,” Timem, a junior at Glen Rock High School, told eJP, saying she appreciated “just learning to appreciate the things I have around me, even if it’s just the little things.”

add to calendar

Ethiopian Israelis celebrate Sigd in Jerusalem in 2019.
Ethiopian Israelis celebrate Sigd in Jerusalem in 2019.

Many Jews may not know it, but tonight marks the beginning of a Jewish holiday called Sigd, which has been observed in Ethiopia for centuries. Now, some Ethiopian Jews across the United States are helping their communities celebrate it as well, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Biblical roots: Sigd, which means “prostration,” stems from verses in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, falls 50 days after Yom Kippur and is centered on the themes of acceptance of the Torah, connection to God, community gathering and yearning for a return to Jerusalem. Traditionally, the day begins with a fast, during which the community ascends a mountain together. There, they pray and listen to a reading of the Torah in Ge’ez, an Ethiopian liturgical language. After the service, they descend to a festive meal replete with singing and dancing.

Adding an age-old holiday: Ethiopian leaders and their partners who are bringing Sigd to a wider audience are doing something that is at once obvious and radical. On one hand, nothing could be more straightforward than teaching Jews about a Jewish holiday whose traditions and rituals have been kept for time immemorial. On the other hand, for the vast majority of American Jews, and many Israelis, who don’t know about Sigd or have never celebrated it, the effort to spread its observance has the effect of adding a holiday to a Jewish calendar that appeared fixed. Moreover, it takes place in the Jewish month of Cheshvan, also known as Marcheshvan, which many Jews (erroneously) believe has no holidays.

Ethiopian heritage: “We are celebrating it because it comes from the Torah… which is for all Jewish people,” said Bezawit Abebe, a research fellow at Be’chol Lashon, an organization that raises awareness of Jewish diversity. “The fact that you talk about Ethiopians preserving a Jewish holiday all these years, [which] kept them together while they faced antisemitism in Ethiopia, is a good thing to teach kids so they for sure know these people are Jewish and they kept themselves as Jews.”

Read the full story here.

fates entangled

Antisemitism is everybody’s problem

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks during annual Jerusalem Post conference at Gotham Hall.

“Antisemitism is spreading across America like an unforgiving wildfire, fueled by harmful tropes against Jewish people by misinformed celebrities, prejudiced politicians and bigoted neighbors in our community. Just days ago, an antisemitic slur was carved into someone’s car in Stow, Mass. This brand of hate isn’t just spreading — it’s going mainstream,” Josh Kraft, president of Kraft Family Philanthropies, and Colette A.M. Phillips, president and CEO of Colette Phillips Communications, Inc., a Boston-based communications and Diversity Equity and Inclusion consulting firm, write in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.    

The blurred lines of hate: “As a white Jewish man and a Black woman, we believe if there were ever a time for Blacks and Jews to stand together, that time is now…Antisemitism and racism often move in tandem. According to the American Jewish Committee, while Jews make up no more than 2% of the U.S. population, they are the targets of nearly 60% of religious bias crimes. Hate crimes against Black people generally involve personal assaults, while hate crimes against Jews overwhelmingly involve attacks on property. However, the mass shooting of Black grocery shoppers in a Buffalo supermarket earlier this year, and the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, both motivated by racist beliefs, show that the lines have blurred.”

Strong bond, shared history: “For more than a century, Blacks and Jews have had a strong bond and shared history, dating back as far as the co-founding in 1909 of the NAACP, the oldest Black civil rights organization in the country. When the U.S. failed to resettle Jewish refugees, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) stepped up and offered teaching jobs to Jewish academics fleeing Nazi Germany and Europe. During the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, Jews made up the largest number of white people involved in the Freedom Summer in 1964, registering Black voters, joining bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins. About half of the those who participated in Freedom Summer were Jews; two of them, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were among the three young civil rights workers — along with James Chaney — murdered in Mississippi. Like it or not, our fates are entangled. Black people must speak out and stand up against the growing antisemitism within the Black community and across America.”

Read more here.

Worthy Reads

Book to Screen: Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss interviews writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner about the TV adaptation of her 2019 novel Fleishman Is in Trouble. “In the first minutes of the series, you are transported to his apartment, a bachelor pad with broken blinds in a building with grim, fluorescent-lit hallways… A mezuzah is posted outside his front door, but at no point does Toby draw attention to it. It’s one of several subtle references to the characters’ Jewish backgrounds — flashbacks to a family Shabbat dinner and preparations for Toby’s daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah serve as vehicles to move the story forward, but don’t draw outsized attention. Brodesser-Akner is quick to point out that although the characters are Jewish, Fleishman isn’t a Jewish book. ‘I think about you know, The Corrections, right, or Crossroads, the Jonathan Franzen novels. Crossroads is literally about a youth minister, and nobody ever called it a Christian novel,’ she explained. ‘And yet this is called a Jewish book. And to me, what that says, when people think that — even you, even me, even my mother, even people on the street, even the fact that you guys are interested in interviewing me — it says to me that…Jews, I always thought we had finally integrated into being American. And to me, these questions sort of indicate that we haven’t.’” [JI]

Remembering the Past: 
Neishlos Capital, an investment house that specializes in fintech and payment solutions, is also a funder of Holocaust education and restoration projects, including restoring an exhibit of children’s shoes at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Alan Rosenbaum writes in The Jerusalem Post. Eitan Neishlos, president and founder of the company and its philanthropic arm, the Neishlos Foundation, discussed the synergy between philanthropy and business at the Jerusalem Post Global Investment forum 2022 in Marrakech, Morocco. “Most recently, the Neishlos Foundation has become involved in commemorative events surrounding the Holocaust. Neishlos participated in last year’s March of the Living and lit the Torch of Hope at a special ceremony held on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz-Birkenau, together with Dr. Ahmed Obaid AlMansoori, founder of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in the United Arab Emirates. In November, the Neishlos Foundation helped support an event in Dubai commemorating the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht.” [JPost]

Around the Web

Jewish leaders from more than 50 countries were received by Pope Francis today in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. The delegation was at the Holy See for a World Jewish Congress Executive Committee meeting. According to the WJC, it was the first event held by a Jewish organization at the Vatican since the founding of the Catholic Church. Kosher food was served at the event, which marked the launch of “Kishreinu,” Hebrew for “our bond,” an initiative to strengthen Jewish-Catholic relations…

Journalist Susan Goldberg, currently a vice dean at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, was hired as the next president and CEO of the GBH Educational Foundation

The United Arab Emirates will begin teaching about the Holocaust in its school curriculum…

At its Honoring Jewish Difference Makers event next month, The Cleveland Jewish News will honor 18 people who made a difference in the local Jewish community…

Pic of the Day

The annual Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women parade across Horse Guards Parade London. Picture date: Sunday November 20, 2022. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Members of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women parade across the Horse Guards Parade in London on Sunday.


NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 13: Owner Fred Wilpon (R) of the New York Mets talks with Michael Cuddyer #23 prior to game four of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on October 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Former majority owner of MLB’s New York Mets for 33 years, he was a high school teammate of Sandy Koufax and went on to a successful career as a real estate developer, Fred Wilpon

Polish-born Holocaust survivor, he became a British champion weightlifter and competed in the Olympics (Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960), Sir Ben Helfgott… Professor at NYU Law School, Sally Katzen… Novelist and screenwriter, Roger Lichtenberg Simon… Born to a Jewish family in Tunisia, he served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons, Jacques Saada… Former president of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, now a senior fellow at the Economic Security Project, Andy Stern… SVP of development for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Tim R. Cohen… Television personality with past shows on MSNBC, CNN and Bloomberg TV, Donny Deutsch… IT specialist at the IRS, Martin Robinson… Ukrainian oligarch, best known for being the chairman of Dynamo Kyiv (Kyiv’s soccer team) since 2002, Ihor Surkis… Author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, Peggy Orenstein… Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, Brian Robbins… Israeli film and television actor, Ishai Golan… Senior editor at The City and columnist and editorial writer for the New York Daily NewsHarry Siegel… Israeli rapper, blogger and political activist, his stage name is The Shadow, Yoav Eliasi… Actress, her box office success is the greatest of all time, Scarlett Johansson… VP of communications and media relations for theSkimm, Jessica Sara (Turtletaub) Pepper… Actor Alden Ehrenreich… Actor and comedian, he was on the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” Jon Rudnitsky… Social media personality known as Baby Ariel, she has 36.1 million followers on TikTok, Ariel Rebecca Martin… Director of public affairs and communications at Energix Renewables, Yarden Golan

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