Your Daily Phil: David Wolpe retiring from Sinai Temple + A synagogue trip to the Ukraine border
Good Friday Morning,
It is perhaps symbolic that Rabbi David Wolpe chose to announce his retirement from Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple, after 25 years in the pulpit, by posting his letter to Facebook and Twitter, where he has more than 87,000 combined followers.
Wolpe announced on Thursday that he will become emeritus rabbi Sinai Temple, one of L.A.’s largest synagogues, at the end of June 2023. He will assume a yearlong fellowship at Harvard Divinity School a few months later.
In addition to his pulpit, Wolpe, 63, has cultivated one of the most prominent rabbinic voices in the United States — appearing on lists of influential rabbis, staging debates against other public intellectuals and forming relationships with politicians and celebrities. And even though he has proven adept at social media, Wolpe told eJewishPhilanthropy in a brief exit interview that he’s concerned about the influence of the news feed, and worries that younger rabbis are too tied to the daily news cycle.
“People are fashioning their views by looking at the second hand on the watch rather than by looking at the calendar — it’s just what’s happening at the moment. I feel like part of my task and ambition is to give a longer, broader view,” he told eJP. When it comes to Facebook and Twitter, he added, “I both see them as useful tools and things that have considerable peril.”
Wolpe has been no stranger to the news cycle himself — commenting on U.S.-Israel relations, domestic politics and more. In 2012, he sparked protest from some quarters by giving the benediction at the Democratic National Convention, though he said it wasn’t an endorsement of then-President Barack Obama. When told about a recent terror attack in Israel at the start of the interview, he mentioned that he had already posted about it to Facebook and Twitter. He’s also written opinion pieces for national publications, as well as eight books — one of which, a biography of King David, has been optioned for a movie by Warner Bros.
In this next stage of his career, though, Wolpe says he plans to focus on “Judaism and Jewish life, more than speak about political stuff… I want to talk about religion and society.” Wolpe cited two rabbis as role models: Rabbi Milton Steinberg, the 20th-century scholar and author, and Wolpe’s father, Gerald I. Wolpe, a longtime Philadelphia-area pulpit rabbi.
During his own time at the pulpit, he said, he’s proud to have advanced the message that “not everything in the Jewish tradition has to be taken literally and absolutely, and it can still be deep and life-changing.” That was perhaps an allusion to one of the more famous sermons Wolpe delivered, on Passover 2001, in which he said, “The way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” Orthodox rabbis protested, while Wolpe countered that he was trying to honestly convey the research of archaeologists to his congregants.
Wolpe said he fears what he sees as a decline of Jewish education and commitment: “The greatest threat to Jewry is within Jewry,” he said. But he also said that there may have been no better time in history than the present to be a Jew: “In another way, this is the golden age of the Jewish people,” he said. “There are more safe, productive, excelling, able Jews in the world today than probably at any time in history, and I think that that’s an incredible and wonderful achievement.”
A large NYC synagogue will be visiting the Ukrainian border
When news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine broke out, the congregants of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (SFWS) in Manhattan had the same reflex as many people across the world: They opened their wallets, collectively donating $150,000 for humanitarian relief. Now, more than six weeks later, the congregation is doing what perhaps no other synagogue in the United States has yet done: organizing a congregational mission to the Ukrainian border, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.
A familiar playbook: It’s at once an indication of the Jewish community’s sustained, and even escalating, commitment to Ukraine, and another sign that Jewish groups that are focused on the issue are following the playbook they use for another country beset by violence: Israel. Like Jews have done for decades during conflicts in Israel, communities are raising money, sending leadership delegations and now organizing congregational missions.
Sustaining commitment: The synagogue’s rabbi, Ammiel Hirsch, said the goal of the trip was to bring “your warmth, your compassion, your humanity to Ukrainians who have lost everything” — in addition to duffle bags full of supplies. Like previous Jewish delegations, they’ll travel to Poland’s border with Ukraine, and visit relief sites. The four-day trip during the last week of April will bring around 35 people and cost almost $3,000 a person. Hirsh is not concerned that that money isn’t all being spent directly on aid: He hopes the trip persuades people to “sustain their willingness to provide some kind of financial and other support.”
Metzora: Rebuilding rotten structures
“Not everyone who works in the changemaking business is necessarily involved in continually highlighting their own vulnerability, but for those of us whose work is rooted in the marginalization of our own bodies, asking for and receiving support with this work can be particularly challenging. Personally, I owe a debt of gratitude especially to the Black and/or disabled Jewish folks who have shared their wisdom with me on working for change within a community that continues to reveal not only its resistance to change, but also its ongoing biases against the people highlighting the need for that change,” writes Rabbi Minna Bromberg, founder and president of Fat Torah, an organization dedicated to confronting weight stigma in Jewish communal life and deploying Jewish tradition in ways that liberate all bodies, in eJewishPhilanthropy‘s weekly Parsha Phil column.
Avoiding tokenism: “Too often, attempts to help end up recreating the very marginalization and stigmatization that we know needs to be dismantled. Too often, we are better intentioned than we are actually beneficial. Seeking diversity, we end up with tokenism, or our attempts at inclusion only highlight the ‘otherness’ of those we seek to include. How can we help rebuild rotten structures of belonging from the ground up?”
Examining tzara’at: “This week’s Torah portion knows a thing or two about rotten structures. Parshat Metzora begins in the middle of a continued conversation about what to do about ’tzara’at’ — an affliction that is usually translated as “leprosy,” though it has nothing to do with the bacterial infection once called “leprosy” (now known as Hansen’s disease). This kind of tzara’at can affect a person’s skin as well as their clothing and even their house. The Torah lays out elaborate rituals for purifying the person, or cloth, or home impacted by tzara’at.”
Coming of age
Planning a vision-driven bar mitzvah
“My son Ethan is an optimistic, fun-loving, deeply caring person. He is also autistic. He is my youngest child, and as a Jewish mother of three boys, I’ve had the privilege of planning two prior bar mitzvahs. While the planning for each child followed a similar pattern, each child is unique so each planning process is unique. This was all the truer for Ethan’s bar mitzvah. As a professional in the nonprofit sector for over two decades, I approached Ethan’s bar mitzvah as I do in my work with clients — by asking questions. Questions like: What is our vision? What is our mission? What outcomes are we hoping to achieve? And, what is our strategy to achieve our vision, mission and outcomes?” writes Linda Simansky in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Community commitment: “Our vision for Ethan’s bar mitzvah was informed by our family’s deep commitment to the Jewish community. We developed a picture of how having a bar mitzvah would enable Ethan to engage in the Jewish community five, 10, 20 years from now. Knowing certain prayers and being able to be called to the Torah for an aliyah (a special blessing before and after the Torah reading), would equip Ethan with knowledge and skills to be included in the Jewish community as an adult.”
Careful crafting: “Given Ethan’s needs, we used our “mission statement” to determine who we would invite to the bar mitzvah: our closest friends and family who completely understand Ethan, and teachers and therapists who love Ethan as much as we do and are equally invested in his success. We considered other questions. What would his invitation look like? How do we reflect Ethan’s contagious love of life and celebrations? What setting, location and timing would allow Ethan to maximize his potential for success? How do we craft a party that would be celebratory and enjoyable for Ethan?”
The Giving Ecosystem: The GivingTuesday Data Commons survey of people in seven countries — Brazil, Canada, India, Kenya, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States — about their philanthropic behaviors yielded interesting data and takeaways, the organization posted on its website. The data provided information specifically about how and what people give — including money, time, goods and advocacy — and through which channels (structured or informal): “Not that one form of giving is preferable over another—on the contrary, encouraging all types of giving begets more giving across the board. Our goal is to develop a deeper understanding of the various creative, meaningful ways people support their communities—through neighborhood events, mutual aid networks, and other acts of community care that help form a grassroots safety net, even as other systems are disrupted or overwhelmed. By better understanding and embracing this rich, expansive generosity ecosystem, we have an opportunity to open the conversation to a wider array of voices and experiences and encourage new ideas, collaboration, and innovation among various actors and organizations, regardless of structure or status.” [GivingTuesday]
Funding Faith: Faith communities improve lives and play a leading role in civil society in the areas of giving, volunteering and community impact, Esther Larson writes in Philanthropy Roundtable, making the case for funders to support faith-based organizations: “Though faith-inspired nonprofits provide 40% of social safety net services, funding to these groups makes up only 12% of total safety net funding from the 15 largest private foundations. According to the Bridgespan report, ‘Faith-inspired organizations represent only 2% of all grant dollars provided by those top-15 institutional philanthropies… The stark divide raises questions about the lack of attention from institutional philanthropists, advisors and intermediaries in the social sector.’ Of this data, one foundation leader says, ‘There are numerous faith actors doing critical things that – but for them – would not be accomplished. We need to demystify faith-based organizations and close the funding gap, because they can be innovative, high performing and have a tremendous impact.’” [PhilanthropyRoundtable]
Diversity Takes the Stage: Theaters are exploring diversity; with a Black actor playing Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” and “an array of innovative ventures tied to the portrayal of Jews in modern life, and in drama,” specifically aiming to enlighten theatergoers about the range of people across racial lines who call themselves Jewish, writesPeter Marks in The Washington Post: “At Washington’s Theater J, for instance, artistic director Adam Immerwahr recently launched Expanding the Canon, a program awarding $10,000 commissions plus $5,000 production grants to seven playwrights across North America who identify as Jews of color. That category includes multiethnic and multiracial Jews, as well as Mizrahi Jews from North Africa and western and central Asia. In an entirely unscientific indication of how rich this line of inquiry is, Theater J, one of the nation’s leading Jewish theaters, has already received 70 submissions for the project. ‘In the last few years, with the racial reckoning in this country, we’ve been thinking about what Theater J’s obligations are to telling the accurate story of the multiethnic, multiracial tapestry of Judaism….There are just not enough plays that are by and about the experience of racially and ethnically diverse Jews,’ Immerwahr added.” [WashPost]
Word on the Street
Eytam Magini and Tomer Morad, both 27, were identified by Israeli officials this morning as the two individuals who were killed in the terror attack in central Tel Aviv on Thursday night. Magini was a developer at Wix, which released a statement this morning that said the recently engaged Magini was “smart, full of charisma and had a million dollar smile.” The assailant, identified as coming from the West Bank town of Jenin, was killed in a firefight with Israeli forces after an hours-long manhunt that saw police go door-to-door looking for the attacker.
The S. Mark Taper Foundation has awarded $1.5 million to support the expansion of Holocaust Museum LA, doubling the Los Angeles museum’s existing footprint and enabling the museum to increase visitor capacity, expand educational programs, present a wider range of community and cultural events and incorporate cutting-edge technology to preserve Holocaust survivor testimonies…
OneTable President and CEO Aliza Kline was named incoming board chair of JPro, a network for Jewish professionals…
Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz was named senior rabbi of Valley Beth Sholom, a congregation in Encino, Calif…
Arthur W. Fried, the former managing director and CFO of Lehman Brothers, then the CEO of The Rothschild Foundation, has died. In his later years, he served as chairman and CEO of The AVI CHAI Foundation, funded by the Estate of Zalman C. Bernstein…
Pic of the Day
The Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., took first place at KoHack 2022, the first North American yeshiva high school coding hackathon, held this week at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Pennsylvania. tktktk
Comedian Shecky Greene (born Fred Sheldon Greenfield) celebrates his birthday today…
FRIDAY: Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and political writer, Seymour Myron “Sy” Hersh… French actor, Jean Benguigui… Socialite and political fundraiser, Joy Silverman… Bassist for the rock band Grand Funk Railroad, Melvin George “Mel” Schacher… Longtime college and NBA basketball coach, Larry Shyatt… Russian-born businessman, president of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities of Russia, Arcadi Gaydamak… U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson(R-WI)… Member of the National Assembly of Quebec, David Birnbaum… Leading U.K. pensions expert and a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Rosalind Miriam Altmann… President of Wesleyan University, Michael S. Roth… Member of Knesset for the Likud party, David Bitan… Beverly Hills resident, Shahnaz Mossazadeh… Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, Judge Jonathan Biran… Financial advisor in the Cedarhurst, N.Y., office of Citigroup Global Markets, Jeffrey Kramer… Author of the national bestselling book 24/6: Giving up Screens One Day a Week, Tiffany Shlain… Partner at consulting firm Democracy Partners, Joel M. Rubin… Television journalist, political director for NBC News and moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Charles David “Chuck” Todd… Professional baseball pitcher who played briefly for the Milwaukee Brewers and currently works as a coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Matt Ford… Israeli actor, entertainer, model and TV host, Ofer Shechter… NYC-based head of investor relations for the Israeli Ministry of Finance, Jason Reinin… Television personality and entertainer, Richard Rubin… Deputy business editor of The Washington Post, Zachary A. Goldfarb… Lead vocalist and guitarist of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend, Ezra Michael Koenig… Associate at Talpion LP, Daniel E. Smith… Film, television and voice actress, Shelby Young… Associate professor of pediatric anesthesia and intensive care at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Albert Gyllencreutz Castellheim… Janet Goldstein…
SATURDAY: Retired singer-songwriter, satirist and mathematician, Tom Lehrer… Board-certified internist and a consultant at the Disney Family Cancer Center at St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank, Calif., Dr. Lester S. Garfinkel… President emeritus of the Duberstein Group,Michael S. Berman… Retired fighter pilot and brigadier general in the Israeli Air Force, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest-ever and longest-serving combat pilot, Uri Gil… EVP at nationwide homebuilder KB Home, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Albert Zane Praw… CEO of the Yale Brokerage Corporation, Jeffrey Rosenberg… Gail Kritz… Rabbi, author and co-founder of the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights, Nina Beth Cardin… Fashion designer, Marc Jacobs… Longtime president of CNN Worldwide until earlier this year, Jeff Zucker… Artist and co-founder of Processional Arts Workshop, Alex Kahn… Attorney, author and commentator, Debbie Schlussel… Clinical psychologist in Boca Raton, Fla., Dr. Lori Gutmann Fineman… Senior program manager in marketing operations at Freddie Mac, Jill Gershenson-Cohen… Founder and CEO at NYC-based Wall to Wall Communications, Ross M. Wallenstein… Actress and writer, Rachel Sarah Specter… Israeli actress Moran Atias… Former associate at White & Case, now the owner of D.C.’s Baked by Yael, Yael Krigman… Actress Lili Mirojnick… VP at Susquehanna Private Capital, Soraya Hoberman… Figure skater, she competed for Israel at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea in pairs skating and a team event, Paige Conners… Zurich resident, Jonathan Bollag… Herbert Levine…
SUNDAY: Born in Czechoslovakia, imprisoned in a Hungarian slave labor camp during WWII, he became a successful tailor in NYC for U.S. presidents and titans of business, Steven Salen… Past president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Alan Rothenberg… Author and former senior editor at The New Yorker and Tthe Washington Post, Jeffrey Frank… Author of 265 books including 56 books in the Cam Jansen series, 68 biographies and books for youth on the Holocaust, David Abraham Adler… Former member of the Knesset and chairman of the soccer club Hapoel Tel Aviv, Haim Ramon… Founder of Gantman Communications, Howard Gantman… Scarsdale, N.Y., resident, Robin Samot… Soviet-born Israeli-American pianist, Yefim “Fima” Bronfman… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Yuval Steinitz… Author and chief national correspondent at Yahoo News, Lisa Belkin… Dana B. Fishman… Tom Kohn… Author of five best-selling memoirs and five novels, she has also written for magazines such as The New Yorker, The Oprah Magazine, Vogue and Elle, Dani Shapiro… Co-host of the NPR show “Invisibilia,” Hanna Rosin… Former governor of Missouri, now running for the U.S. Senate, Eric Greitens… President of NJI Media and co-founder of FamousDC blog, Josh Shultz… Movie producer best known for the 2016 musical romantic-drama film “La La Land,” Jordan Horowitz… Director of communications at RespectAbilityUSA, Lauren Appelbaum… Litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Yishai Schwartz… Senior partnerships manager in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department, Shelley Greenspan… Associate at Eversheds Sutherland, Daniel E. Wolman… Basketball player for the Beijing Royal Fighters of the Chinese Basketball Association, he played in Israel from 2010 to 2017, Sylven Landesberg… Naomi Atlani… Phil Hayes… Susie Diamond…
Email Editor@eJewishPhilanthropy.com to have your birthday included.