Your Daily Phil: EXCLUSIVE Israeli nonprofit SmartAid providing shelter to Gazans

Good Tuesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the Anti-Defamation League’s 2023 annual audit, which found record-high numbers of antisemitic activity spurred by Oct. 7 attacks, and a new campaign by the Academic Engagement Network to provide tools to university faculty to combat antisemitism. We feature an opinion piece by Philip Bendheim about the unique benefits offered by older volunteers. Also in this newsletter: Emma TsurkovAlexandra Cohen and Israeli President Isaac HerzogWe’ll start with the Israeli relief group SmartAid providing thousands of tents to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli humanitarian tech aid nonprofit SmartAid has provided thousands of tents to civilians in Gaza in partnership with an American relief group since January, which its founder revealed exclusively to Judith Sudilovsky for eJewishPhilanthropy.

“We have helped build three refugee camps; it is thousands of tents,” Shachar Zahavi, founding director of SmartAid, told eJP. “We have experience in war-torn areas for decades — this is a whole different ball game.”

Working with partners whose logistics infrastructures are spread across Gaza, Egypt and Jordan, SmartAid has purchased tents through Egypt and brought them to the Egyptian border crossing, where the IDF has inspected, vetted and approved every shipment. The tents have then been delivered to their partners on the ground for distribution to civilians, Zahavi said.

Since the IDF’s accidental killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers earlier this month, Zahavi said he felt it necessary to come out openly about the work SmartAid has been doing to let the world know that Israelis and Jews are also involved in helping with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“We have been doing this quietly for months,” he said. “I want [people critical of Israel] to know that we are an international humanitarian aid organization, and yes we are Israeli and yes we are helping our [own] people and yes we are helping [people whom many Israelis perceive as our enemies]. This is exactly what Israel did when civil war broke out in Syria and the (injured) civilians came to Israel’s borders. That is what Jews do. There is never a simple answer or solution.”

He said the organization is constantly reevaluating how it conducts its work in Gaza to assure the aid does not get into the hands of Hamas, and has coordinated its aid delivery with the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which provided them with the names of trusted American charities with whom to cooperate.

The efforts are being funded by a donation of an initial $200,000 from donors from abroad specifically for this project, he said. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the donors asked to remain anonymous.

Zahavi acknowledged the moral complexity of an Israeli organization — one that continues to help the Israeli victims of the Oct. 7 attacks and the war — providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza. “As Jews, we totally demand the release of the hostages, totally demand that Hamas be held fully accountable for what it did. I had close friends who were massacred on Oct. 7 and I know people who are still [captive] in Gaza. I am not doing this lightly,” he said. “But there is also the Jewish side of us, the Holocaust side of us, the humane side of us. How are we going to live with everything going on [in Gaza]?” he said.

“Everyone is saying we are against Hamas, not against children, but for me saying it wasn’t enough. I felt we had to do something; I know there are a lot of groups and individuals around the world in the Jewish community who are against this and I totally understand,” he said, noting that SmartAid also continues to provide aid to survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks, evacuated Israeli communities and Israeli farmers along the Gaza border.

“I am doing what people are saying,” said Zahavi. “If you just Google (you can find) thousands of articles about the Israeli government saying they are supporting aid for civilians, but are against Hamas. We are taking the words and making it into action.”

Read the full report here.


One every hour: ADL records 8,873 antisemitic incidents in 2023 — more than double the previous record

Students participate in a protest against Israel outside of Columbia University in New York on Nov. 15, 2023. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Even before the Oct. 7 terror attacks and ensuing wave of antisemitic and anti-Israel attacks and rhetoric around the world, 2023 was on track to see the largest number of reported antisemitic incidents on record, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual “Audit of Antisemitic Incidents,” which was released on Tuesday. According to the ADL’s tally, there were 8,873 antisemitic incidents across the United States in 2023, nearly 2.5 times the 3,698 events recorded in 2022, which was at the time the largest number on record. The majority of the incidents — 5,204 of them — occurred between Oct. 7 and Dec. 31, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

‘Five-alarm fire’: “Antisemitism is nothing short of a national emergency, a five-alarm fire that is still raging across the country and in our local communities and campuses,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said in a statement. The organization includes two policy recommendations for lawmakers in the audit: at the federal level, for Congress to pass the Countering Antisemitism Act, which would create a dedicated White House antisemitism coordinator; and for every state to pass its own strategy to counter antisemitism in the vein of the White House’s national strategy.

Expanded definition: An important caveat to the 2023 total is a controversial change that the organization made to its methodology after Oct. 7, when it began including “expressions of opposition to Zionism, as well as support for resistance against Israel or Zionists.” This update resulted in a significant increase in the number of incidents in the 2023 audit — an additional 1,350 incidents, according to the ADL. Yet even without this change, last year still would have seen 7,523 incidents reported, slightly more than double the figure from 2022.

Read the full report here.


Inspired by Berkeley prof, Academic Engagement Network launches national Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement

Professor Ron Hassner shows the bed he set up in his office to protest antisemitism at the University of California, Berkeley, in March 2024.
Professor Ron Hassner shows the bed he set up in his office to protest antisemitism at the University of California, Berkeley, in March 2024.

When Professor Ron Hassner made the decision to stage a sit-in protest at his University of California, Berkeley office until the school’s administration agreed to take seriously rising campus antisemitism, several other local professors were inspired to come visit the professor of political science in solidarity as he ate and slept in his office — and taught class from there — for two weeks. Encouraged by Hassner’s activism and the support he received from other concerned faculty, the Academic Engagement Network on Tuesday announced it will coordinate a national campaign called the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement and #KeepTheLightOn, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen has learned exclusively.

Silent majority: “Faculty that holds antisemitic or anti-Zionist views are an extreme minority but are often able to monopolize the public sphere because so many faculty are silent, so this won’t take a tremendous amount of effort to signal to campuses that [the] majority of faculty will not stand by when antisemitism or anti-Zionism are aired,” Hassner told eJP. (The “hashtag” for the campaign comes from the fact that Hassner kept his office light on for the entire two weeks of the sit-in.)

Faculty support: The initiatives will provide support to participating faculty, including a website that will be continually updated with information and resources for faculty looking to counter antisemitic and anti-Israel claims and actions, as well as a FAAM social media toolkit, trips that bring American faculty to Israel and support for faculty-focused initiatives, such as developing a database of academics around the U.S. who will serve as reviewers for Israelis who are being ostracized by academic groups, according to AEN.

Read the full report here.


Why volunteering as an older adult elevates both individuals and nonprofits

Illustrative. Image by Silvia from Pixabay

“As we mark Global Volunteer Month, organizations should not only be especially attentive toward their existing older volunteers but also work to foster a culture that opens the way for more older people to volunteer,” writes Philip Bendheim, director of the International Board of Overseers at the Israeli nonprofit Yad Sarah, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Everyone benefits: “A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people over the age of 50 who volunteered more than 100 hours a year, or about two hours each week, had better physical and mental health outcomes than those who don’t regularly do volunteering activities… This is especially critical as more people live longer and face the challenges that come with that, including increasing rates of loneliness — a phenomenon that the U.S. surgeon general recently identified as a public health epidemic that can take up to 15 years off a person’s life.… But volunteering isn’t just good for the volunteers… In the United States, for instance, the estimated value of unpaid labor conducted through formal volunteer hours in 2021 alone was $122.9 billion. Volunteers in nonprofits allow funding to go further, which in turn can enable organizations to provide more goods and services.”

Plan with them in mind: “More nonprofits have come to rely on older volunteers as rates of volunteering decline among younger generations while demand for services continues to rise. That means that many organizations and their services depend on older volunteers, whose numbers are continuing to grow… Older age should be viewed as an advantage and not a drawback; at the same time, organizations may need to make adjustments to accommodate the needs of older volunteers and accept that as people age their abilities may change.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

With Signs and Miracles: A group of survivors of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on the Nova music festival recently embarked on a speaking tour of college campuses in the United States, and Ayala Or-El focuses on the account of one of these speakers in the Jewish Journal. “Dor Kapah, 30, stood before a group of students at Florida University, recounting a harrowing tale that seemed straight out of a war movie. But it wasn’t fiction; it was a gripping account of his escape from Hamas terrorists, relentlessly pursuing him no matter where he fled. His narrative unfolded with scenes of shooting, bombing and the tragic kidnapping and murder of his friends. The students listened in stunned silence as Kapah detailed the events of Oct. 7, a day etched in his memory and scarred with terror. It’s one thing to hear about the targeting of 3,000 partygoers at the Nova music festival by Hamas terrorists, but it’s an entirely different experience to hear it firsthand from a survivor… There was a moment during his hair-raising escape when he knew deep down that he was going to get out of there alive. It was when he and his friends were hiding from Hamas, and he noticed something shining on the ground. ‘I picked it up, and it was a ring engraved with the words: “Shema Israel, God is our Lord, God is one,”’ he said. ‘I knew right then that I had received a message and that I was going back home.’” [JewishJournal]

Our Tax Dollars At Work: In the Forward, Emma Tsurkov describes the absurdity of discovering that the United States is indirectly funding the terror group that is holding her sister hostage. “Elizabeth is my Irish twin, now 37 to my 36. Throughout our childhood we shared most of our waking and sleeping hours. Until we were teenagers, we shared a rickety bunk bed whose noises woke both of us up whenever one rolled over. Her calm breaths as she sleeps are a fixture in my life, more stable than anything else in the world. Now I wonder if she is even able to sleep in captivity… The Iraqis want a productive visit to Washington, and are paying multiple lobbyists to pave their way. The Biden administration wants to showcase an ally from the Middle East. But the U.S. government knows that its counterpart is harboring a designated terrorist group with American blood on its hands. My blood boils each time I envision [Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al] Sudani shaking Biden’s hand while the keys to my sister’s shackles are in his pocket. The White House should make it a priority to force Sudani to help free Elizabeth.” [Forward]

Alternative to ‘The System’: A $33 million initiative by the Doris Duke Foundation is attempting to create an alternative to America’s child welfare system — one that helps families before they reach their crisis point instead of punishing them for getting there, reports Connie Matthiessen in Inside Philanthropy. “The child welfare system’s goal is to protect children, but it too often shatters families and relegates children to foster care in ways that disproportionately impact families of color and people living in poverty. Many in the field envision an overhaul of the system that leads with prevention and works to strengthen families and communities. The Doris Duke Foundation (DDF) hopes that its new program, Opportunities for Prevention & Transformation Initiative, or OPT-In for Families, will help pave the way… In many cases, families who are facing challenges but are not yet in crisis are overlooked by an overburdened child welfare system that prioritizes acute cases where child safety is at risk… OPT-In for Families … recognizes that poverty is often the underlying reason families are referred to child welfare — they are struggling because they are having trouble meeting basic needs.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

Yale University’s Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life hosted the first Jewish Women’s conference in over 25 years…

Bloomberg visits the Streit’s factory in Orangeburg, N.Y., the country’s only still-operating mechanical matzah factory, as the company prepares for Passover, which begins next week…

Craig and Barbara Weiner made an unspecified “significant gift” to Florida Atlantic University to establish the Holocaust Museum of South Florida at FAU, which will be named for them. The donation will go to the construction of a 2,000-square-foot museum within the university’s Holocaust and Jewish Studies Building, beginning this summer…

The Chronicle of Philanthropy looks at how nonprofits are grappling with intra-office tensions over the Israel-Hamas war…

The Israeli delegation to the Venice Biennale art exhibition locked the doors to its pavilion, saying no one could enter until a deal has been reached to bring home the hostages in Gaza and end the war…

Town & Country magazine interviews Alexandra Cohen, who serves as president of the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, which recently donated $116 million to New York’s LaGuardia Community College

In Newsweek, sociologist Amy Neustein reflects on her great-grandfather’s murder a century ago in what was believed to be an antisemitic attack as she confronts modern-day antisemitism in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks…

Ken Holtzman, MLB’s winningest Jewish pitcher who played for the Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubsdied on Sunday at 78…

Pic of the Day

Koby Gideon/Israeli Government Press Office

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (fourth from right) and First Lady Michal Herzog (third from right) stand with the families of Yotam Haim, Samer Talalka and Alon Shamriz, three hostages who were killed in a friendly-fire incident by Israeli soldiers in Gaza in December, during a ceremony at the President’s Residence yesterday. Herzog presented them with certificates of recognition in the name of the State of Israel.

“Beloved Shamriz, Talalka, and Haim families: You have endured such profound agony, endured long nights of fear and worry for the safety of your sons, breathless days, filled with prayer and hope. And after them, shattered days, crisis, tremendous shock, and terrible grief when the news of their deaths broke, when hopes to ever see them again were dashed,” Herzog said at the ceremony. “It takes immense strength of spirit to endure all this. To see your courageous coping it is clear to us all from where Yotam, Alon, and Samar derived their unimaginable bravery, and from where they drew their strength.”


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Daniel Shirley/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Pitcher in the Washington Nationals organization, he played for Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Richard Sidney Bleier

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