Your Daily Phil: Elie Wiesel Foundation brings focus to Uyghur genocide

Good Wednesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a revelatory meeting between Secretary of State Tony Blinken and American Jewish leaders, as well as Hillel International surpassing its fundraising goal for its 100th anniversary and frustrations over canceled flights to Israel just before Passover. We feature an opinion piece by Lily Messing about her journey as a Jewish teen philanthropist and founder. Also in this newsletter: Minouche ShafikJory Hanselman Mayschak and Oren Kessler. We’ll start with the opening of the Elie Wiesel Foundation’s conference on the Uyghur genocide.

From an early age, Elisha Wiesel watched how his father approached “living Jewish values on the world stage whenever they’re needed,” he recalled in an interview this week with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

So when Wiesel became chairman of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity two years agohe felt it crucial that the best way to honor the memory of his father, the Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace laureate and writer, would be for the foundation to devote itself to a crisis half a world away from Auschwitz — advocating for the Muslim Uyghur community in China.

Beginning today, the foundation, in collaboration with World Uyghur Congress and several other groups, is slated to hold a two-day conference called “Disrupting Uyghur Genocide” at the 92 Street Y in New York, with the goal of bringing awareness to the largest mass detention based on ethnic and religious identity since World War II, while also calling for immediate international action. The conference is the largest-ever interfaith gathering of its kind, and first to be run with a Jewish organization, according to Wiesel, who told eJP that the “intent is to bring members of the community into this fight.”

“The reason that I was inspired, and that we as a board were inspired, to tackle the Uyghur question is that right now the biggest bully on the planet is the Chinese Communist Party,” Wiesel told eJP ahead of the conference.” They are the ones who in an industrialized fashion, supported by technology and the bureaucracy of [the] state, are pursuing the persecution of the Uyghur people,” who are mostly Muslim.

In July, the foundation, which was founded in 1986, announced the first beneficiaries of its inaugural grant-making cycle, selected based on their commitment to advocating for the Uyghur community. The grantees in Uyghur advocacy included the World Uyghur Congress, Uyghur Human Rights Project, World Jewish Watch and Ana Care & Education.

In addition to Wiesel, several notable leaders across the Uyghur, Jewish, Muslim and political realms are expected to participate in the conference, including Dolkun Isa, president of World Uyghur Congress; Eric Dinowitz, New York City Councilmember; Laura Murphy, policy adviser on the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act at the Department of Homeland Security; Nury Turkel, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and author of No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs; and Mihrigul Tursun, Uyghur camp survivor.

“Elie Wiesel, a global humanitarian, is an inspiration to all of us. Seven years into the slow genocide of the Uyghurs, just when it feels that headlines are fading, it is a godsend for the Elie Wiesel Foundation to launch a new grantmaking program, and help make it possible for Uyghur groups to carry on our struggle to end the atrocities,” Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, one of the event’s partners, told eJP.

Wiesel said that while he’s hopeful the conference will “bring together thinkers and in particular interfaith voices” and “start this conversation in the U.S.,” he believes that the organizers are facing an uphill battle. “It’s very easy to get celebrities to speak up for Darfur or Sudan, because they’re not making their next movie in Darfur or Sudan. They’re not going to sell their next million pairs of sneakers in Darfur or Sudan, it’s China. China is a huge market for American goods. It’s hard to get celebrities on board when their dollars are at risk,” he said.

Read the full report here.


Jewish communal rifts on Gaza, Iran on display in Blinken meeting

Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Days after the U.S. helped defeat an Iranian missile attack launched against Israel, Secretary of State Tony Blinken met at the State Department on Tuesday morning with roughly a dozen Jewish leaders, in an hour-long conversation that exposed growing fault lines between the Biden administration and some in the Jewish community, reports Gabby Deutch for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Up to Israel: Blinken shared the sentiment of the Biden administration that it is not in America’s interests or Israel’s interests for the situation with Iran to escalate, one person who attended the meeting told JI. (Attendees requested anonymity to discuss the off-the-record meeting.) But Blinken also reiterated that the matter of how or whether to respond to Iran is for Israel to decide alone. The meeting at Foggy Bottom was attended by representatives from organizations across the ideological and religious spectrum within the Jewish community. Participants did not present a unified vision about how the U.S. should deal with Iran, or whether the U.S. should support an Israeli counterattack, according to those in attendance.

Drifting apart: Discussion also centered on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Some attendees used the meeting — described as more of a listening session — to offer criticism of what one attendee called the “daylight” that has emerged between the U.S. and Israel as a result of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Several people in the room expressed concern about the divergence between U.S. and Israeli public messaging on the war, worried that it signifies a “rift,” one person told JI. “He heard the point and acknowledged that it’s a concern,” that attendee said of Blinken.

Thanks for helping: Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, told JI after the meeting that everyone in the room thanked Blinken for what transpired over the weekend. “Even across disagreements or differences of opinion among Jewish leaders as to the exact details of how we navigate the situation in Gaza, there’s universal gratitude and agreement that the administration’s unfailing commitment to Israel and its defense this weekend was real and deeply appreciated,” Spitalnick said.

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


Hillel raises $184 million in fundraising drive marking 100th anniversary

Hillel International’s centennial gala took place at New York’s Museum of Heritage on April 15, 2024. Courtesy/Hillel International

Hillel International and its campus affiliates raised $184 million over the past 15 months through the Promise of a New Generation campaign, which marked the organization’s 100th anniversary. The group celebrated its centennial and the fundraising achievement with a gala event on Monday at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Beats fundraising goal: The $184 million surpassed its stated goal of $150 million, and includes donations to both Hillel International and individual Hillels on campus. “Our work at Hillel has never been more relevant,” Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International, said at the centennial gala. “Hillel is the answer to so many of the needs of young Jews today — the need for belonging, the need for a safe and inclusive community, the need for meaning and purpose, the need for insight, and the need for a platform that enables their personal growth and thriving. We are that platform.”

‘A rock and a foundation’: “Over the course of the past century, Hillel has been there as a rock and a foundation for Jewish students, continuing to innovate to meet the needs of each generation,” Matthew Bronfman, chair of Hillel International’s Board of Governors, said at the event. “Hillel ensures that Jewish life on campus can thrive and Jewish life beyond campus has the needed pipeline of talent and leadership to create a stronger Jewish future for all of us.”


United flight cancellations to Israel stymie Passover travel plans

Beata Zawrzel/Nurphoto via Getty Images

In the moments after Iran fired a barrage of hundreds of missiles at Israel on Saturday night, Rabbi Marc Israel sat in his rented apartment in Jerusalem, panicking. His parents were about to board a plane at Ben Gurion Airport. Would it be safe for them? Their plane back to the United States departed just after midnight, one of the last planes to leave Tel Aviv before Israeli airspace was closed to allow Israel and its allies to take down the Iranian missiles. But while Ben Gurion Airport has since reopened, the sole U.S. carrier that had been operating in Israel — United Airlines — has canceled all flights until further notice. Its decision has upended travel plans for thousands of people who had flights booked to Israel ahead of Passover next week, report Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch and Emily Jacobs.

New normal: It’s a familiar quandary for anyone who has traveled, or attempted to travel, from the U.S. to Israel or vice versa since the Hamas terror attacks on Oct. 7. For months afterward, the only airline flying direct flights between North America and Israel was El Al, Israel’s national carrier. Flights were empty for weeks, and prices skyrocketed. Airlines cited safety concerns and limits of their insurance policies as reasons for keeping service to Israel suspended.

No Capitol campaign: Lawmakers were skeptical that there was anything Congress could do to support the airline industry to encourage concerned companies to fly their aircrafts into Tel Aviv. “There may well be [a way], but I doubt we’re gonna get cooperation,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said. “Passing a bill would be the longest way home, it would be easier to get the cooperation of the Biden administration and implement some sort of executive order. But I don’t think that is likely to happen.”

Read the full report here.


The power of a teen’s $25 to change a community

Lily Messing (second from left) with fellow Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winners during a Shabbaton retreat in California in August 2023. Courtesy/Diller Tikkun Olam Awards

“Growing up in the Jewish community, I learned about the importance of tikkun olam, repairing the world. I was also taught that mitzvot, good deeds, were not only the responsibility of adults. And yet, there are so few opportunities focused on mobilizing teens to make a significant impact in our community, particularly through philanthropy,” writes high school senior and Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award winner Lily Messing in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Eager to participate: “At 15, I launched 100+ Teens Who Care to empower individual high school students to make a collective impact in their community by each donating $25 at quarterly meetings and then deciding together on a charity or charities to support. I started this effort hoping to give teens from across Tucson, Ariz., the opportunity to engage in collective philanthropy. When more than 100 students participated in our first meeting, I knew that we were tapping into an underutilized resource…??[O]ur organization has grown into an international movement, with teens around the world having a real impact on so many communities. With 25 chapters worldwide, teens have donated more than $120,000 to their local communities, from Treasure Valley, Idaho, to Paris.”

Message to the field: “If you are a philanthropist or nonprofit leader, empower the teens around you; and if you, like me, are a Jewish teen looking to impact your community for the better, know that your opportunities are limitless. Especially now, when our collective Jewish community faces a unique set of challenges both new and old, robust philanthropy is integral to the solution.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Beyond Free Speech: In The Wall Street Journal, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik shares a preview of what she plans to say in her testimony today before Congress. “Trying to reconcile the speech rights of one part of our community with the rights of another part of our community to live in a supportive environment or at least an environment free of fear, harassment and discrimination, has been the central challenge at our university and on campuses across the country. This challenge raised unprecedented questions: Who could demonstrate? Where? When? What kinds of speech were protected and what kinds were not?… Calling for the genocide of a people — whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, Jews, Muslims or anyone else — has no place in a university community. Such words are outside the bounds of legitimate debate and unimaginably harmful… Despite the intense upheaval of the last six months, this larger truth should not be lost. Antisemitism has been with us for thousands of years, and we must forcefully and relentlessly reject its current resurgence. Not only is this bias intolerable in its own right, but as the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks warned, ‘Antisemitism is always an early warning sign of a dangerous dysfunction within a culture because the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.’” [WSJ]

More Than Just a Number: In an opinion piece for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Maoz (Michael) Brown and Aaron Horvath reflect on the flaws they see in Charity Navigator’s new rating system. “The latest iteration of Charity Navigator’s rating system aspires to bring social impact evaluation to the masses, using percentage- and star-based scores to help potential donors understand the effects of nonprofit programs… Unfortunately, the system is inherently flawed: Charity Navigator’s impact rating system subjects the nuanced and complex nature of social-impact work to an overly simplistic process of quantification and cost-effectiveness… If oversimplification results when trying to show impact on a large scale, one clear remedy is to incorporate the nuance of nonprofit work into evaluations. To do this, we propose a simple solution: Charity Navigator should give the nonprofits it evaluates as much voice as possible on its platform… Given that nonprofit staff frequently dedicate their lives to improving communities — and often face strong headwinds in the process — they deserve at least the chance to contest their ratings and provide an explanation.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Around the Web

Jory Hanselman Mayschak, the founding CEO of BaMidbar, is stepping down on July 1 (but will stay on as an adviser until October) after eight years at the helm of the outdoor-mental health organization. Emily Heeren, who was just promoted to chief program officer, will serve as interim CEO until a permanent successor is found…

Jewish Federations of North America hailed Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) for introducing the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which would codify in law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism for the Department of Education

The Skoll Foundation awarded its 2024 Skoll Award for Social Innovation to four recipients: IllumiNative and Meedan in the United States; Food for Education in Kenya; and the SaveLIFE Foundation in India. The winners receive $2 million in “unrestricted funding to scale efforts that advance transformational social change”…

Oren Kessler was awarded the Sami Rohr Prize in nonfiction for his book Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict

Starbucks and the Kuwait-based AlShaya Group, which operates the coffee chain’s franchises in the Middle East, pledged $3 million to World Central Kitchen to provide 1 million meals to Palestinians in Gaza…

At least 150 paid “premium” accounts on X and thousands of unpaid ones have posted or amplified pro-Nazi content on the social media platform in recent months, often in apparent violation of its rules but without repercussions…

George Soros’ Fund for Policy Reform donated $60 million to the Democracy public action committee, which supports Democratic candidates and progressive organizations, in the first quarter of this year…

Soros’ Open Society Foundations said it was closing its offices in Kyrgyzstan after the country passed a “foreign representatives” law, which curtailed the activities of local groups that have international funding…

The German news outlet DW spotlights La Benevolencija, a Bosnian cultural, educational and humanitarian organization run by the local Sarajevo Jewish community

El Al is launching twice-weekly direct flights between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Tel Aviv…

The Jewish Vegan Life movement is calling on Jews to “[embrace] a vegan lifestyle during Passover and/or Earth Day” as part of a new campaign…

The American Jewish Committee launched a new campaign, “Voices Against Antisemitism,” featuring Jewish celebrities and influencers discussing the impact the Oct. 7 terror attacks have had on American Jews…

The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation denied having a direct connection to Asna Tabassum, the school’s valedictorian who earned a minor in “resistance to genocide,” whose Israel-focused commencement address was canceled by the university…

Josh Harris’ Washington Commanders hired Kirtan Mehta, the chief of staff to Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), as Harris looks to potentially relocate the team within the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia region…

Stanley M. Grossman, an active member in the national and New Jersey Jewish community and a former president of Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May, N.J., died last Wednesday at 94…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Met Council

Elliot Gibber (center), the founder of the egg producer Deb El foods, hands a donation of products to David Greenfield (second from left), the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, last week as part of the agency’s annual food drive ahead of Passover.

The Gibber family donated some 3.5 million eggs to the Met Council, which operates the country’s largest kosher food bank and pantry network. In addition to providing food directly, Met Council has also distributed nearly $500,000 worth of emergency food cards to help thousands of low-income families in the New York area for the holiday.

“Our Passover distributions come at a time when the community needs our support more than ever,” Jessica Chait, the managing director of Met Council’s food programs and policy, said in a statement. “By providing essential provisions to hundreds of thousands of households, we’re enabling access to nutritious foods and ensuring that individuals and families don’t have to sacrifice tradition to meet their basic needs.”


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/B’nai Birth International

CEO of B’nai B’rith International, Daniel S. Mariaschin

Short story writer, novelist and essayist, Cynthia Ozick… Retired Los Angeles cardiologist and active Yiddish enthusiast, Martin Bobrowsky, MD… NYU professor and noted legal scholar, he spent 38 years on the faculty of University of Chicago Law School, Richard Allen Epstein… Affiliate of Tel Aviv law firm Guy, Bachar & Co., Barry Schreiber… Official historian for Major League Baseball since 2011, he was born in a DP camp in Germany following WWII, John Abraham Thorn… Talk radio host best known for his work on NYC’s sports radio station WFAN, his nickname is “The Schmoozer,” Steve Somers… Rebbe and leader of the Pupa Hasidic group, Rabbi Yaakov Yechezkiya Greenwald… Dean of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., one of the largest yeshivas in the world, Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler… French billionaire, based in Geneva, he and his brother own the House of Chanel perfume company as well as holdings in vineyards and a thoroughbred horse racing stable, Gérard Wertheimer… Member of the Rhode Island Senate since 2007, Joshua Miller… Elizabeth H. Scheuer… Israeli journalist for the daily Yedioth AhronothBen-Dror Yemini… Rabbi of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, Wis., since 1985, her brother is a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, Dena Feingold… Co-founder and CEO of United Talent Agency (UTA), Jeremy Zimmer… Actress, screenwriter and film director, Daphna Kastner… Winner of two Super Bowl rings during his career with the San Francisco 49ers, he is now a physician and an inductee in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Dr. John E. Frank… Director of Rutgers University Press since 2016, following 15 years at Temple University Press, Micah Kleit… Professor of politics at NYU and longtime co-author of The Monkey CageJoshua A. Tucker… Congressional editor for The New York Times, she is also a political analyst for CNN, Julie Hirschfeld Davis… Member of the Alaska Legislature, first in the Assembly and then in the state Senate, Jesse Kiehl… Israeli actor, musician, director and television presenter, Ido Mosseri… Executive director at Morgan Stanley, Nadya Belenkiy… Managing editor of global business at Bloomberg NewsShelly Banjo… Southern California-based regional director at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Miri Katz Belsky… Press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Angelo Roefaro… Wikipedia editor since 2004, having made at least one edit to one-third of all English Wikipedia articles, Steven Pruitt… Senior communications manager at the Center for Responsible Lending, Matt Kravitz… Managing director at Bully Pulpit Interactive, Alex Kellner… Deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting for VPOTUS Kamala Harris, Dean Lieberman… Member of the Baltimore City Council, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer… Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Avriel “Avi” Benjamin Kaplan… Deputy general counsel at the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Brian T. Earll… Offensive lineman for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers for seven seasons, he retired in 2022 and is now pursuing a doctorate in psychology, Alexander “Ali” Marpet