Your Daily Phil: Changing of the guard at Conference of Presidents + Birthright restarting

Good Tuesday morning!

After two years of repeated cancellations and postponements, Birthright trips to Israel are restarting once again. And this time, the organization is optimistic that they’ll keep running, Noa Bauer, Birthright’s vice president of global marketing, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Birthright groups began arriving in Israel this week, and in total, the organization expects 2,000 North American participants to come on the free, 10-day trips in February and March. Another 1,000 are slated to arrive from countries around the world. All participants must be vaccinated and boosted, and test negative twice before beginning the trips.

Birthright hopes that these trips mark the end of what has been a rocky pandemic. Birthright first canceled its trips on March 5, 2020, in the pandemic’s earliest days, then restarted them more than a year later, in May 2021, only to cancel them again due to the Delta variant, and then again when Omicron hit and Israel shut its borders to foreigners. Now, with Omicron receding in the United States and Israel, the trips are back on.

In 2022, Birthright expects to reach at least 40% of its numbers in 2019, when more than 45,000 participants went on the trips. In 2023, Bauer said, the group hopes to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“It has been ridiculously insane,” Bauer told eJP. “We have changed things on a daily basis, and at a certain point, we said we can’t drive people crazy anymore.” Bauer told eJP that Birthright “tried to get a clear understanding” from the government about how to let groups into Israel, and that the entry restrictions during the pandemic have “been our biggest challenge” — even more difficult than dealing with the threat of terrorism and war.

Now, Bauer hopes vaccinations, boosters and testing guidelines from the government will minimize the likelihood of another long-term suspension of trips. Birthright has also figured out how to give participants PCR tests with a quick turnaround to limit the time they have to wait in Israel before commencing their itinerary, and has nearly everyone come on a direct flight to avoid layovers. Once in Israel, she said, the trips’ itineraries — which take participants to a range of historical, religious and cultural sites in Israel — are largely unchanged.

She also feels that everyone involved, especially participants, are anxious to begin traveling again and put the era of closures behind them.

“If things go bad we know [the government] can make any decision,” she said, but added, “The government really wants tourism to come back. I think organized tourism and Zionist tourism is at a high priority… People are ready to travel.”


After 50 years of leadership, Malcolm Hoenlein ready to hand over the reins


Malcolm Hoenlein, whose tenure in the organized Jewish community has spanned the effort to free Soviet Jews, two intifadas, the debate over the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and a spike in domestic antisemitism, told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash on Monday in Jerusalem that he is ready to hand over the reins of leadership to the next generation of Jewish leaders, while at the same time remaining available whenever needed.

Still on hand: “After 50 years of serving the Jewish community, I have full confidence in the next generation,” said Hoenlein, who is currently executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, working alongside CEO William Daroff. “William and I are working on this transition in a model way,” Hoenlein told JI, adding, “I am already working on other projects, but I will also be on hand to provide assistance as needed.”

Leadership trip: Hoenlein and Daroff are currently in Israel ahead of the umbrella group’s first in-person National Leadership Mission since the pandemic, set to take place Feb. 20-24. The 50-person delegation, which includes top leaders from the Conference’s 50-member organizations and its National Leadership Council, will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

Smooth transition: “Working with Malcolm has been an amazing experience,” Daroff told JI. “I’ve known him since 1996 and worked closely with him when I was at the [Jewish] Federations [of North America]. Obviously, over the past two years, he has become an amazing mentor and someone who is committed to ensuring that the transition of leadership within the Conference is smooth and steady.” 

New initiatives: “This is a message to our members, and to the community at large,” Hoenlein stated. “I feel very confident about this decision, which I initiated to move away from being CEO, but I didn’t want a situation where there would be a crisis transition, where it wouldn’t be thought out and done in the right way.” “William has done a great job taking over the leadership of the conference and I’ll be there to support him, but at the same time, I’m working on some other initiatives,” he said.

Read more here.

Worthy Reads

Two Communities: Georgetown University professors Terrence Johnson and Jacques Berlinerblau, who co-teach a course exploring the relationship between African Americans and Jewish Americansshare reflections on their class in The Daily Beast. Berlinerblau writes: “I think the lack of Jewish exposure to Black compatriots is a function of class, and that, of course, intersects with race. As the Jewish community grew more affluent, Jewish children were increasingly likely to attend expensive private schools.” Johnson writes, “Black kids and white Jewish kids don’t often cross paths in the real world. Yes, they may rub shoulders in the locker room or on the soccer field, but that’s it. Jewish kids are more likely to peer into Black life through rap music and popular culture than to engage a Black kid over lunch or dinner. The same can’t be said of African Americans. I can’t think of any corresponding medium through which Black kids might peer into the lives of white Jewish kids.” [DailyBeast]

European Jewish Identity: According to a new poll of European Jews by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, levels of religious belief among Western Jewry are “strikingly low,” Simon Rocker writes in the Jewish Chronicle: “Euro-Jews fall into three main blocs, they find. Traditional religious, who belong to exclusive Jewish communities that ‘emphasize religious leadership’: those bound by ties of peoplehood who belong to Jewish associations that may include synagogues but without the cultural exclusivity of the traditional religious: and cultural Jews who feel connected to Jewish history and heritage but without necessarily affiliating to communal institutions. This diversity, the authors argue, is important not only for Jewish community planning to recognize but also for external policy-makers, because the groups may differ in their responses to contemporary issues — for example, more religious Jews are likelier to regard criticism of Israel as antisemitic.” [JewishChronicle]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

UJA-Federation of New York announced the creation of an initial $250,000 fund to implement a program for providing security enhancement packages to at least 50 small synagogues — also known as shtiebels — in Brooklyn. The synagogues, in Midwood, Kensington, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Borough Park and Flatbush, have a capacity of fewer than 200 people and little or no staff…, one of the largest Israeli employers in Ukraine, has evacuated 1,000 Ukrainian employees and their families to Turkey and Poland on a temporary basis…

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is providing a $1 million emergency aid package for the Jewish community of Ukraine… 

Shira Efron has been named director of research at the Israel Policy Forum… 

Barry Shrage, former president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, and currently a faculty member in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, has joined the American Society of the University of Haifa in a part-time capacity to raise the university’s profile among current and prospective supporters…

The president of Tufts University, Anthony Monacosaid that he will step down in summer 2023… 

Following confirmation by the U.S. Senate as ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, stepped down as president of the University of Pennsylvania last week. Gutmann, the longest-serving president in the university’s history, is credited with raising over $9 billion through various campaigns…

Alumnus Leonard A. Lauder donated $125 million to the University of Pennsylvania to create a tuition-free nurse practitioner program, the largest gift ever to an American nursing school…

Matan, The Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, is launching the Kitvuni Fellowship, a new program to support female scholars and educators to write and publish books of Torah scholarship in the fields of Tanach, Talmud, halacha and Jewish thought, in English or Hebrew……

Northwestern Medicine received a $45 million gift from Neil G. Bluhm and the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation to expand its cardiac care capacity… 

The Guttmacher Institute, a New York City-based think tank dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, is the beneficary of a $15 million gift from MacKenzie Scott

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Mass., received a $600,000 pledge from John and Elizabeth Armstrongtoward its goal of raising $3.5 million for major renovations and improvements…

Pic of the Day

Haim Zach/GPO

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) met with the Jewish community of Bahrain this morning, and presented a shofar from Israel for the community’s synagogue in Manama, the capital city. Bennett’s trip marks the first visit to the Gulf nation by an Israeli prime minister.


Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images

Cartoonist and teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and a longtime contributing artist for The New YorkerArt Spiegelman (born Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev)… 

Professor emeritus of American Jewish history at Columbia University, Arthur A. Goren… British actress, Claire Bloom… Professor emeritus of Jewish studies at Arizona State University and a scholar of Jewish philosophy, Norbert M. Samuelson… Professor of cognitive science at Indiana University and a Pulitzer Prize-winner, Douglas Hofstadter… Former Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, Elliott Naishtat… Founder of 11 companies and pioneer of Israel’s tech industry, Zohar Zisapel… Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Melissa Manchester… Host of the radio program “Jewish Moments in the Morning” since 1983, Nachum Segal… Principal at Catalyzing Philanthropy, Karen Paul… Senior advisor at CARE, the global poverty fighting organization, Beth Solomon… Founder of “Talking Points Memo,” Josh Marshall… Actress, writer, producer and comedian, she won two Primetime Emmy Awards for playing Susie Myerson in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Alexandrea Borstein… Director of business development at Treetop Companies, Eric Distenfeld… Director of education at the Orthodox Union’s NCSY and host of the “18Forty” podcast, David Bashevkin… Deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Alex Siegel… Offensive lineman for three NFL teams, he is a co-founder of Dallas-based Boxer Dynamics, Ben Gottschalk… Beauty pageant titleholder who represented Israel at the Miss Universe pageant in 2016, Yam Kaspers Anshel… Australian racewalker, she ran in the women’s 20-kilometer walk at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Jemima Montag… Yogi Sanders…

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