Your Daily Phil: Elisha Wiesel on fighting antisemitism + An interview with the Houston federation’s new CEO

Good Wednesday morning!

Elisha Wiesel, son of Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Marion Wiesel, participated last night in the seventh episode of the Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JFN-USA) video series, “Conversations on Zionism.”

Wiesel talked with JNF-USA CEO Russell Robinson about his Jewish upbringing by his famous father, internationally recognized as a moral authority and voice of conscience, and about the “No Fear” rally he organized in July to stand in solidarity on the National Mall with Israel during the May conflict with Hamas.

“Even I, at ages 16 to 22, wanted nothing to do with Judaism,” Wiesel confessed, noting that he’d attended an Orthodox yeshiva. “So what an incredible challenge the world has today in terms of Jewish youth.”

Wiesel and Robinson compared the July event to 1987’s Freedom Sunday, when 250,000 American Jews rallied on the National Mall on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The more recent march was much smaller, but Freedom Sunday was also the culmination of a 25-year movement, Wiesel pointed out. “You have to try,” he said. “If you don’t try, you’ve failed right out of the gate.”


The Houston federation’s new CEO helped raise $100 million in Hurricane Harvey relief

Jewish Federation of Greater Houston

Some of Renee Wizig-Barrios’s earliest memories involve her attending Hadassah fundraising luncheons with her grandmother, a leader in Houston’s Jewish community when Wizig-Barrios was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s. Now, Wizig-Barrios is CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, where one of the items at the top of her to-do list is a plan to expand the fundraising operation by adding programs that focus on families and high-net-worth individuals, she told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff.

Local roots: “We have a loyal donor base that has been with us for a long time, but we have a lot of people we aren’t reaching,” she said. Starting with those long-ago luncheons, Wizig-Barrios has accumulated a range of professional and personal experiences that equip her for the CEO post, she said. She was active as a teen in BBYO, the pluralistic youth movement, where she had her first experiences of mentorship by adults who saw potential in her. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis, she worked for eight years as a community organizer at the Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a nonpartisan social justice group that counts many synagogues and other houses of worship among its membership. 

From community foundation federation: In 2010, she took a job at the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF), where she served as chief philanthropy officer before accepting the CEO position at the federation. “I’m an institution-builder,” Wizig-Barrios said. “Wherever I go, I don’t stay a short time. So I’m excited to invest my time and energy here.” Her predecessors, Kari Dunn Saratovsky and Avital Ingber, each held the job for about two years. Ingber started as CEO just two months after Hurricane Harvey — a very challenging time, said Debra G. Cohen, a federation board member. Saratovsky left Houston because her husband was offered a professional opportunity in Washington, D.C., but Wizig-Barrios will build on her vision, Cohen said. Wizig-Barrios helped transform GHCF from a collection of donor-advised funds serving individuals to an organization that became a leader in the Houston community, said Nancy McGregor, a GHCF board member. 

The power of connected donors: Wizig-Barrios did this by offering various donor services, such as advisors and family philanthropy departments, which help multiple generations engage in giving together. These, in turn, facilitated cooperation among individual donors who were focused on certain causes, from domestic trafficking to COVID relief, McGregor said. “Renee was either the outright catalyst and leader or central to whatever we did,” McGregor said, noting that when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, GHCF raised more than $100 million under Wizig-Barrios’s leadership. Now Wizig-Barrios will create those same mechanisms at the federation in what she calls “a model of total philanthropy.” At the federation, the family philanthropy division will help ensure that Jewish wealth, in a generational sense, continues to help the community, she said. “There are some major trends in philanthropy that are just non-negotiable. One of them is a big transfer of wealth. We have to engage the next generation,” she said.

Read the full article here.


Exploring the Jewish educational practices of well-being

Olivia McGiff / M²

“Our children and teens are in crisis; all you have to do is Google ‘children and mental health news’ to see the sobering studies on the impact of the pandemic, social media and the general state of the world on our young people. And frankly, the situation is not that much better for adults. As educators, we see how so many of the students who learn with us, regardless of their age or educational context, are really struggling,” writes Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, a facilitator of M² Pedagogies of Wellbeing Research Fellowship, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Gifts from our sages: “But this is not the first time that students have struggled. In fact, it is possible to argue that Jewish education, going all the way back to the sages, is itself a response to challenging and even traumatic circumstances. This is good news; it means our ancestors have left us a treasure chest of wisdom and insight that helped them survive and even flourish over the ages in the many lands in which they lived.”

Goodness and blessing: “Among other things, our ancestors left us with a beautiful definition of what a life of well-being looks like, tucked away into the ‘Blessing for the New Month.’ This blessing is traditionally recited during the Torah service on the last Shabbat morning of the month. It reminds the congregation when the new month will begin, the new moon being notoriously difficult to see on one’s own. It also asks God to renew us for a life of ‘goodness and blessing,’ which is, perhaps, a more authentically Jewish way to express our contemporary concept of ‘well-being.’”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Bad Deal: Transactions made by businessman and philanthropist Ron Perelman’s private foundation are under scrutiny over mysterious loans and questionable credit deals, Tom Maloney writes in Bloomberg. “How billionaires use their private foundations has become a growing source of public and political consternation in recent years. While some become powerhouses of philanthropic giving, examples of abuse by prominent figures, such as former President Donald Trump, are driving a debate in the Democrat-led Congress over whether the ultra-wealthy are gaming the system to benefit themselves or avoid paying their fair share in taxes.” [Bloomberg]

Embracing Change: Economic inequality, political polarization and climate emergency are among the factors that will spur philanthropy to share power and experiment with new structures in the next decade, predict Jennifer Holk, Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcous in a Chronicle of Philanthropy special project that includes interviews with professionals, funders, grantees and experts about what the future holds for donors. While philanthropy is insulated from change by permanent endowments, rising asset levels and relatively low regulatory pressure, the past 18 months have shown that the sector isn’t immune to the forces that are shaping society broadly: “To be sure, there’s value in commitment and consistency amid dynamism. But grant makers that aren’t open to adapting their practices… may, at best, be leaving the potential to achieve greater impact on the table and, at worst, be at risk of losing relevance and influence.” [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Financial Planning: The activists behind Divest-Invest Philanthropy, which calls on foundations and individuals to divest from fossil fuels and make “climate-friendly” investments instead, say that their movement has reached a tipping point with the decision by The Ford Foundation and The MacArthur Foundation to join them, reports Haleluya Hadero in the Associated Press. Coming in the days leading up to the United Nations’ climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the move by Ford and MacArthur sends the message that foundations must be careful not to let the financial goals of their endowments contradict their missions as expressed in their grantmaking. “I’m glad that we were able to finally reconcile our financial imperative with our moral imperative as a foundation,” said Darren Walker, president of The Ford Foundation. [AP]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Sigd, an Ethiopian Jewish holiday, begins at sundown today… Stamps used by Nazi Germany to tattoo numbers on Jewish prisoners’ arms are being offered for sale by Tzolman Auction House in Jerusalem… New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation yesterday that bans the selling or displaying of hate symbols on public property and taxpayer-funded equipment… The Bezos Earth Fund pledged $2 billion to help restore nature and transform food systems as part of its $10 billion commitment to fight climate change… The U.K., Norway, Germany, the U.S. and the Netherlands, in partnership with 17 funders, are investing $1.7 billion to help Indigenous and local communities protect tropical forests… Grant Verstandig and the Verstandig Foundation gifted MedStar Georgetown University Hospital $50 million to support the medical/surgical pavilion currently under construction at the hospital… The University of Pennsylvania Libraries received a gift from collector William H. Miller III of rare photographic plates by photographer Edward S. Curtis appraised at $4.2 million… Holocaust survivor and rights activist Dara Roth, 92, died yesterday…

Pic of the Day

Haim Zach/GPO

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Bill Gates met yesterday at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, and agreed that Israel and the Gates Foundation would set up a joint working group on climate change.


Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Executive director of the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association, Yael Averbuch West… 
Chancellor emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where he also served as a professor of Jewish history, Ismar Schorsch,… Major League Baseball pitcher with more career victories (174) than any other Jewish pitcher, Ken Holtzman… U.S. senator (D-Hawaii), Mazie K. Hirono… Resident of Great Barrington, Mass., and a part-time researcher at UC Berkeley, Barbara Zheutlin… Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine and a professor at Yale University, James Rothman… Rabbi emeritus at Temple Anshe Sholom in Olympia Fields, Ill., Paul Caplan… Actress, comedian, writer and television producer, Roseanne Barr… Comedian and commentator, Dennis Miller… Manuscript editor, lecturer and author, Elliot Jager…. Award-winning Israeli photographer, Naomi Leshem… Regional director of development for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeanne Epstein… Entrepreneur in residence at Loeb Enterprises II, Edward Stelzer… VP for federal affairs at CVS Health, she was the White House director of legislative affairs in the Obama administration, Amy Rosenbaum… Founder of AKM Consulting, Amie Kershner… Partner at political consulting firm GDA Wins, Gabby Adler… Agent at Creative Artists Agency, Rachel Elizabeth Adler… Actress who won three Daytime Emmy Awards for her role on ABC’s “General Hospital,” Julie Berman… Director of external communications at Southern Company Gas, Robin Levy Gray… Managing director at Guggenheim Partners, Rowan Morris… Former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, he is a co-founder of D.C.-based Compass Coffee, Michael Haft… New York State senator from the 46th district, Michelle Hinchey… Director for China on the National Security Council, Julian Baird Gewirtz… Applied data scientist lead at Civis Analytics, Ben Kirshner… Account director at Group SJR, Caroline Michelman… Director of media outreach at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, Noy Assraf… Actress and model, Diana Silvers… Stu Rosenberg…
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