Your Daily Phil: European Jewish Congress head Moshe Kantor faces U.K. sanctions + ReelAbilities film fest comes to NYC’s Meyerson JCC

Good Thursday morning!

Those who know the European Jewish community know the name Moshe Kantor. Kantor is the longtime president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC). He’s the chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) Policy Council. He’s the founder and namesake of a center for studying European Jewry at Tel Aviv University. He’s an art collector. He’s received distinguished civilian honors from at least seven European countries — including Russia and Ukraine.

And as of Wednesday, he has been sanctioned by the United Kingdom due to his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kantor, a Russian billionaire who is the largest shareholder of the fertilizer company Acron, was on a list of eight Russians being sanctioned that was announced by U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The new sanctions came as evidence of Russia’s targeting of civilians in Ukraine mounts.

So far, some of Kantor’s most prominent peers are condemning the move or staying silent. WJC President Ronald Lauder, who is seen as a rival of sorts to Kantor in terms of European Jewish leadership, declined comment to eJewishPhilanthropy via a spokesperson. Emerita Jewish history professor Dina Porat, who founded Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center, likewise did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The EJC, which Kantor has led since 2007, slammed the sanctions in a statement at the top of its homepage, saying it was “deeply shocked and appalled” and calling for the decision to be reversed. “The decision is misguided and lacks any factual or evidence-based merit,” the statement says. “[Kantor] is a longstanding and respected Jewish leader, who has dedicated his life to the security and wellbeing of Europe’s Jewish communities and the fight against antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.”

Kantor is not the first Russian Jewish billionaire with ties to Putin to land on the U.K.’s sanctions list. Nearly three weeks ago, three founding members of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a Jewish charitable foundation established by moguls from the former Soviet Union, resigned from the group after facing sanctions. Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, another prolific donor to Jewish causes, was also hit with sanctions in March. The sanctions on Abramovich came weeks after he announced a partnership with Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, which was subsequently suspended.

Crossing Boundaries

A JCC film festival in New York City hopes to ‘set the standard’ for disability inclusion

A still from the film "Imperfect," which is screening at the festival.

A still from the film “Imperfect,” which is screening at the festival.

On Monday, at least 150 people — including representatives from the Sundance Film Festival, WarnerMedia and AMC Networks — will converge on what might seem like an unlikely location: Manhattan’s flagship JCC. They won’t be there to learn Hebrew, prepare for Passover or use the gym. Instead, they’ll be attending a two-day conference on a topic not specifically related to Jewish life: How to make movies more accessible to people with disabilities, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Showcasing disability: The Film and Television Accessibility Summit is a new feature of the ReelAbilities Film Festival, which begins today at the Marlene Meyerson JCC on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and has become one of the premier venues for showcasing movies about disability, featuring actors and filmmakers with disabilities. The festival runs for a week and has taken place annually since 2008. This year, 15,000 people are expected to attend screenings of 12 feature films and 30 short films both virtually and in-person. One of those attendees is slated to be Robert De Niro, whose has a son with autism, and who is expected on opening night.

Checking the boxes: “One of our partners gave us this list of criteria to reach as far as which films they would consider partnering on, and it had to be a film by a person with a disability, the actor needed to be a person with a disability, plus they needed to be members of other minority groups, people of color, specifically,” Isaac Zablocki, the director of film programs at the JCC, and co-founder of ReelAbilities, told eJP. “They had a list of six different criteria that we had to reach… We managed to find four films that actually fit their very progressive criteria.”

Accessibility in the seats: The festival aims to both focus on disability on-screen as well as prioritize it for the audience: Every film is made as accessible as possible, whether that means providing captions, audio descriptions (which verbally describe events in a film for blind viewers) or — for the first time this year — a sensory friendly space that will provide a soft and calm atmosphere for those who are overwhelmed by the experience of watching a movie.

Read the full story here.

A disney passover

The Jewishness of Disney’s ‘Luca’

A frame from Disney’s “Luca.”

“Everything we say to others matters. In Judaism, every word has the potential to bring holiness or profanity into the world. How much more powerful then, are the words we say to ourselves? How can it be that we teach our children to be mindful of their words and language to others, but we often fail to support them when they have a nagging voice or worse, we model for them the toxic and limiting behavior of our own negative self-talk?” writes Ben Vorspan in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy on the Jewish seasonal resonance of the Disney/Pixar film “Luca.”

Front of mind: “Mindfulness practices and skills are essential at Jewish day schools. Whether through our social/emotional learning programs or partnership with organizations such as  the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, these opportunities provide us with the tools to notice, interrupt and reframe negative self-talk. As someone immersed in this work, trust me when I say that there is no quicker way to integrate mindfulness into our own day, or that of our students or children, than using, ‘Silenzio Bruno!’”

Passover practice: “As we move toward spring and Pesach, toward our holiday of the liberation of our people and nation, it can be a moment to break free from the Pharaoh’s voice within each of us. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that we can be a Pharaoh unto ourselves, that the true meaning of freedom is ‘the liberation from the tyranny of the self-centered ego.’ In other words, while we eat the bread of affliction, we can embrace the virtue of self-compassion.”

Read the full piece here.

Telling Stories

When our Jewish tradition isn’t developmentally appropriate

“In my fourth year of rabbinic school, as I delivered a sermon on the portion Tazria, I argued that we can not simply ignore the parts of our tradition that make us uncomfortable — that we have an obligation to ensure we embrace all of our tradition, not simply the ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ parts,” writes Rabbi Carrie Vogel in an opinion piece in eJewishPhilanthropy.

Lessons from Noah: “There is a popular children’s book about an extremely powerful person. This person was so powerful they had the ability to control the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon. One day, this powerful person decided, completely on their own, that because everyone was making bad choices they would kill all of them. Well, except for a few. Naturally, this isn’t actually a popular children’s book. It is the story of Noah and the flood, a story we tell annually to our youngest learners, a story we would never consider reading to them otherwise because the content is clearly not developmentally appropriate.”

Finding meaning: “It is our job to help our students extricate meaning, connection and value from generations-old traditions. It is our job to help them understand how something old can be new again and again. But it is also our job to create safe learning spaces. For example, we would not typically have a conversation with 8- or 9-year-olds about murder or adultery (let’s be honest, many of the Ten Commandments would get some side eye from Common Sense Media), but they can absolutely engage in a discussion about how we assess whether a rule is a good rule that we should follow, or a rule that we should push back against.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Stage Considerations: Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks explores the widening racial lens through which Jewish characters are played in modern theater. “Examining Jewishness has been a vital preoccupation of American theater for generations, from the early-20th-century traditions of Yiddish theater to ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ to ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ to Joshua Harmon’s irreverently hip 2010s comedy ‘Bad Jews.’ What feels ever more current are the new ways in which Jewish playwrights and performers are introducing a broader range of cultural experiences into the contemporary conversation. For instance, in Alex Edelman’s sublime solo show ‘Just for Us’ — a sold-out smash at off-Broadway’s SoHo Playhouse — he hilariously illuminates the complex role Jews continue to occupy in America’s polarized society… ‘The show is not a think piece or anything,’ Edelman said late one winter afternoon, sitting in a small West Village park in the drizzly cold. ‘The show is not about “if Jews are White.” Personally, I think it’s about a gray area, where Jews are classically “other,” in a way that this binary doesn’t serve.’”[WashPost]

Miri’s Moment: 
Haaretz’s Shuki Sadeh profiles Miriam Adelson after having taken control of her husband’s empire in the year since his death. “Adelson, 76, is Israel’s richest person, with her wealth estimated at $38 billion. Until 14 months ago, she stood alongside – or more accurately, perhaps, in the shadow of – her husband, Sheldon. Now, following his death in January 2021, she alone is on the front lines of the Adelson empire. In addition to its commercial branch – Las Vegas Sands, a casino and hotels company that is traded on Wall Street – the empire also has a media branch consisting of two Israeli papers that are distributed for free: Israel Hayom and Makor Rishon. It has a political branch as well, which includes influencing U.S. politics through political donations and philanthropy. People who knew the Adelsons, who were married for 30 years, believe that Miriam enjoyed quite a lot of influence over some of her husband’s decisions – particularly his political views on Israel. ‘Miri was active in their empire long before Sheldon died,’ says a high school friend. ‘She isn’t the poor widow who has suddenly had everything dumped on her.’” [Haaretz]

Word on the Street

The Council of the District of Columbia passed a resolutioncondemning antisemitism…

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Day Camp Shlichim Training Seminar returned this week…

Members of the Cincinnati Jewish communitywill hold a rally this evening opposing a plan to close the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion…

The Jewish Theological Seminary added two professors to its faculty: Shira Billet, assistant professor of Jewish thought and ethics, and Yael Landman, assistant professor of Bible…

The Hayes Foundation and Wheelchair Foundation donated a container of 350 new wheelchairs to the Israeli Yad Sarah social service organization….

Holocaust survivor and author Gerda Weissmann Kleindied at 97…

Actor Nehemiah Persoff died at 102…

Pic of the Day

Pastor Gregor Hohberg speaks alongside Rabbi Andreas Nachama, chairman of the General Rabbinical Conference of Germany, and Imam Kadir Sanci, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the House of One, to members of Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious communities gathered at Berlin’s Red City Hall to break Tuesday’s Ramadan fast together.


In 1971 he released The Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and other newspapers, Daniel Ellsberg… Professor emeritus of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, Marilyn Ann Friedman… Retired president of Yale University, later CEO of Coursera, Rick Levin… Consulting research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, Naomi Karp… Software engineer at FlightView, Jonathan Ruby… Professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University, Simon J. Bronner… Los Angeles-based casting director, Jane Sobo… Director of project staffing at Tower Legal Solutions in Addison, Texas, Ilene Robin Breitbarth… Member of the House of Commons of Canada from the Winnipeg area, Martin B. Morantz… Washington, D.C., bureau chief at Insider Inc., Darren Samuelsohn… Chicago-based co-founder of Project Shema, Oren Jacobson… Author, travel expert now living in Thailand, Justin Ross Lee… Senior marketing manager at Leidos, Gregory Hellman… Reporter covering the White House and Washington for PoliticoDaniel Lippman… Associate at McKinsey & Company, Marissa Wizig… Professional golfer who joined the PGA Tour in 2015 when he won Rookie of the Year, he has since won four tournaments, Daniel Berger… MBA candidate at the Wharton School, David Farahi

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