Your Daily Phil: Ethan Daniel Davidson’s new book on Jewish text study + The ‘Chavruta’ relationship

Good Monday morning!

The Jewish Funders Network (JFN) will publish a guide to impact investing as part of a broader effort to encourage the practice on Wednesday, JFN CEO Andres Spokoiny told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“We see impact investing as an important tool to supplement more traditional grant-making – while it can’t and shouldn’t replace traditional philanthropy, it can be more effective and more financially sustainable in certain cases,” Spokoiny said.

Authored by Michael Lustig, a JFN member who spent most of his career as a manager at BlackRock and is now an impact investor and an adjunct professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, the report defines impact investing as an approach favoring businesses that seek profitability while also consciously incorporating social or environmental goals as part of their core mission.

The guide is the product of a JFN task force dedicated to the subject, which also voted to invest in networking sessions, introductory seminars and research that tracks members’ involvement in the sector.


Ethan Daniel Davidson’s new book draws on his Jewish study sessions

Leigha Bianchi

Ethan Daniel Davidson was a touring musician who never wanted to work for his father, the industrialist and sports team owner Bill Davidson — until, that is, his dad suggested in 2005 that he help set up the family’s foundation. Today, he’s combining philanthropy with his artistic interests, including the publication on Tuesday of a book, These are the Developments of the Human, based primarily on the Jewish text study he’s done since his father died in 2009, Davidson told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff.

A spiritual quest: Davidson’s interest in holiness — writing and singing about it, and trying to fund it — is the tissue that connects his giving and his art, he said. “The foundation is building a space for the transcendent, and that’s the Jewish mission,” he said. In the Jewish world, the William Davidson Foundation is known for its emphasis on education. The elder Davidson, who was the owner of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, endowed the graduate school of education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, now named for him, and made a bequest to support it in perpetuity. The foundation also funded the digitization by Sefaria, the nonprofit that is putting the Jewish cannon online, of Koren Publisher’s modern Hebrew and English translations of the Babylonian Talmud. “We pursue the transcendent through Jewish knowledge,” Davidson said. “I don’t care if someone lights candles or if they don’t, they need knowledge.”

Freedom to fail: The foundation also supports organizations working in southeast Michigan and in Israel; about half its grantmaking, historically, has gone to seven Michigan counties in that part of the state. While Davidson’s life passion had been music — he serves on the boards of the Motown Museum and as chairman of the Michigan Opera Theatre — he was feeling burnt out by touring when his father raised the idea of starting a foundation. His father had a very hands-off management style, which was a mixed blessing, Davidson said — liberating, but also a bit scary, in that it gave him the full burden of responsibility. “He didn’t give me any direction and I was like, ‘What do I do?’” Davidson recalled. “Eventually, I went to him and said, ‘I’m going to write a mission statement.’ He was against it. He said, ‘Just do what I do.’ I sweated it for a year, and looked at his giving history, and tried to find some common themes, and he said, ‘Meh.’”

Studying the book: Davidson does believe that his father would be content with what the foundation has done, even if he might not himself have made the exact same decisions: “If we could have a conversation with him, and he couldn’t find any fault with our thought process, he would have been fine with it.” The “meh” exchange happened about a month before his father died. Bill Davidson’s death set Davidson out on the course of text study that eventually produced These are the Developments of the Human. For a year, he prayed every day, ultimately studying, chavruta-style, with locals in Detroit and with such noted rabbis as Arnie Eisen, former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Amichau Lau-Lavie, founder of LabShul in Lower Manhattan.

Read the full story here.


To help teens navigate antisemitism, we must teach compassionate disagreement


“As a third-generation Holocaust survivor and Jewish educator with years of experience learning about and designing resources for teens around antisemitism, I’ve found it possible to talk about antisemitism in America without addressing Israel. But that has recently shifted,” writes Jennifer Anolik in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy

Current events: “Now, alongside antisemitism fueled by white supremacy and ethno-nationalism, one increasingly prominent form of Jew-hatred is expressed through anger and violence directed at American Jews in response to events occurring in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.” 

Either x or y: “American Jews face pressure to choose between false binaries: Am I pro-Israel or against-Israel; do I support Palestinians’ lives or do I support Israel’s right to do whatever it deems necessary to defend itself? Nuanced opinions are often volleyed to one side. Some Jewish young people feel pressure to disconnect from Israel to prove Jews are not Israelis, or to show that they disapprove of Israel’s actions. Others move to embrace Israel more fervently, and to blame Palestinians, Arabs, Iran, or Islam for what is happening.” 

Read the full piece here.


Partnerships in love and learning

Havruta learning; illustrative. Courtesy Pardes / eJP Archives

“At first glance, while chavruta and romantic partnerships, in particular marriage, both involve commitment of time and effort, the differences between them stand out,” write Dr. Michelle Friedman and Rabbi Dr. Jon Kelsen in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Chavruta and romantic partnerships: “Marriage is supposed to be life-long and exclusive. Today, marriage partners are meant to encompass multiple intimate roles, such as a confidant, roommate, friend, lover, co-parent, and financial co-planner, to name but a few. On the other hand, a chavruta occupies a more circumscribed role. In a chavruta, two students partner to grapple with Jewish sacred texts in a beit midrash, or center of learning.”

Commonalities: “And yet, the two relationships bear salient commonalities. A serious chavruta occupies many hours and primary status in an intensive project of intellectual and religious development. The learning couple reckons with challenging ideas and divergent interpretations. They share bright mornings and dark days and through these many, many hours together forge a rich emotional dynamic. The concepts in the text can conjure up powerful feelings towards each other–feelings of affection and competition, superiority and inferiority, love and anger. As a study pair reaches towards the text, eros, the universal dynamic of longing and connecting, is undeniable.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Legacy Organization: Unrealistic goals create a culture of desperation and high job turnover in development departments that force fundraisers to choose between near-term success and their organization’s long-term security, writes Carter Skeel in Philanthropy Daily. One way to address this problem: by incorporating legacy giving goals, which often sit in their own silo, into the development team’s targets by counting them toward annual revenue. “Legacy giving programs offer an opportunity for fundraisers and donors to together dream about the future of the organization and mission that they love. These programs also reinforce confidence among staff, donors, and other key stakeholders,” Skeel writes. [PhilanthropyDaily]

Constructive Criticism: In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, David Campbell explores the debate over the tax payments of billionaire philanthropists such as Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Elon Musk, in the wake of a revelation that they paid very low federal income taxes from 2014 to 2018. Those with concerns about the role that level of wealth plays in philanthropy mainly focus on its potential to undermine democracy by giving outsized political power to certain citizens, especially in the case that conflicts of interest arise in the case of causes that might endanger billionaires’ bottom lines. Yet many consider this critique overstated: “Defenders of philanthropy are likely to admit some reforms are necessary, but they see more good than bad,” Campbell writes. “They want to see elite philanthropy improved and expanded, not restrained.” [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Serving The Right: Founded in 1999, DonorsTrust is a relatively young donor advised fund (DAF), but it’s given out $1.5 billion since its inception, making it one of the biggest and highest-profile institutions serving right-leaning philanthropists, reports Philip Rojc in an Inside Philanthropy profile of a DAF that calls itself “the community foundation for liberty.” A large proportion of DonorsTrust’s DAF holders direct their grants to nonprofits that operate in the policy arena, including relatively mainstream conservative organizations such as the Federalist Society and the Heartland Institute and others such as the VDARE Foundation and Project Veritas. “The fact that Fidelity Charitable (and some community foundations) [are] refusing to honor grant recommendations to various ‘conservative policy’ groups has resulted in a noticeable uptick of account rollovers from these groups,” said DonorsTrust’s CEO, Lawson Bader. [InsidePhilanthropy]

Inconvenient Groups: In City Journal, Kenny Xu argues against Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions process, in which Asian-American applicants don’t fit into the university’s notions of a minority that needs help. The flaw in the thinking, Xu writes, is that it not only penalizes Asian-Americans on the basis of race, but it does so by invalidating their hard work and talent: “Racial discrimination should not be tolerated at any professional level. Yet a vast network of racial discrimination exists at the university level against Asian-American students simply because they don’t fit into a category of favored minority that other races and ethnicities enjoy.” [CityJournal]

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Word on the Street

British philanthropist David Dangoor was among several Jewish recipients of the Queen’s Birthday Honours… The University of California, Berkeley announced a $5.3 million gift from alumnus Jon Stryker for social justice fellowships… The Citi Foundation announced a $25 million investment in its Community Progress Makers initiative in support of nonprofits working to connect communities of color to greater social and economic opportunity…. StandWithUs announced it is expanding its education center in Jerusalem… Seventy JewQ champions from 93 cities across the world gathered in Bushkill, Pa., to compete in Torah-study finals… Israelhas become the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur for fashion… A Microsoft survey found that hybrid work, keeping meetings short, taking numerous breaks, and encouraging flexibility in work schedules makes employees more productive…

Pic of the Day


People lined up for hours yesterday to pray at the Queens, N.Y., grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Scheneerson, on the 27th anniversary of his death.


Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company

Russian-born businessman and philanthropist, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017, Sir Leonard “Len” Blavatnik… 

Civil rights activist, June Shagaloff Alexander… Retired Soviet nuclear scientist, now writing from Skokie on Jewish intellectual spirituality, Vladimir Minkov, Ph.D…. Member of Knesset (1988-2003) and twice Israel’s Minister of Finance, he is the son-in-law of former Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol, Avraham “Beiga” Shochat… Retied U.S. District Judge for the District of Maryland, Marvin Joseph Garbis… Dr. Beryl Geber… Senior fellow at Project HOPE, she directed the Medicare and Medicaid programs in the Bush 41 administration, Gail R. Wilensky… 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump… Former French UN Ambassador and Ambassador to the USA, Jean-David Levitte… CEO at M+R Strategic Services, William Benjamin “Bill” Wasserman… President of Blue Diamond HR LLC, Michelle “Shel” Grossman… President of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, Maud S. Mandel… Head of news partnerships at Facebook, Campbell Brown… SVP at Weber Shandwick until last month, Daniel M. Gaynor… Australian fashion model, author, and philanthropist, Kathryn Eisman… NYC-based businessman, Pavel Khodorkovsky… Former deputy assistant secretary at HUD and then senior advisor at OMB, Paige Esterkin Bronitsky… Campaign coordinator at Safer SF Without Boudin, Lilly Rapson… Copywriter at Campaign Inbox, Julia Cohen… J.D. candidate in the class of 2022 at Chapman University School of Law, Jacob Ellenhorn… Freelance writer based in Vienna and the Europe Editor for MomentLiam Hoare… 

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