Your Daily Phil: Former MK Stav Shaffir advocates for autism support + The rise of privatized Judaism

Good Thursday morning!

Philanthropist and businesswoman Constance Milstein was announced by President Joe Biden as his nominee to serve as ambassador to Malta on Wednesday.

Milstein, the daughter of New York real estate developer Seymour Milstein, has an extensive resume spanning the business and philanthropic worlds. With her brother, Philip Milstein, she co-founded Ogden CAP Properties, a New York residential real estate company.

The philanthropist is a longtime donor to Democratic causes, according to the Federal Election Commission, having made hundreds of donations to candidates and Democrat-affiliated committees in recent decades. Days after the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Milstein made a contribution of $725,000 to the Biden Victory Fund.

A founding member of Blue Star Families, Milstein served in the Obama administration as a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, after decades of work supporting U.S. servicemembers. In 2011, she co-founded Dog Tag Bakery, which employs and provides opportunities for injured servicemembers, their families and caregivers. Biden and former President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the Washington bakery in 2018. In November 2020, Kamala Harris, then the vice president-elect, visited the bakery on Veterans Day with her husband, Doug Emhoff.


Post-Knesset, Stav Shaffir’s new cause

Nir Arieli

Former Knesset member Stav Shaffir rose to prominence in 2011 as a leader of social justice protests that quickly spread across the country. A decade later, and after seven years in the Knesset, Shaffir is taking on an issue that is even more personal, reports Hannah Brown for eJewishPhilanthropy. Shaffir has gathered a group of families who are proposing an ambitious program that will support lifelong learning for people with autism, like her sister Shir.

A quiet revolution: Shaffir’s efforts are one of two parallel initiatives spearheaded by parents and family members in recent months that aim to provide more opportunities for adults with autism. They’re a part of a quiet revolution that could transform and enrich the lives of autistic people, making it possible for them to become more integrated into the mainstream community and to lead more productive and fulfilling lives. In Israel, individuals with autism “age out” of state-provided education programs upon reaching adulthood. With no pipeline to continued educational and vocational opportunities, many experience a deteriorating quality of life, and the stresses of caretaking are put on their loved ones.

On campus: The program Shaffir is seeking to build will create centers on university campuses, where individuals with autism will learn part-time, to the best of their ability in individual programs that will be run using university resources. They will also have an occupational component that will involve working alongside mainstream students, under the supervision of special-needs professionals. Work options might include gardening and recycling, services a campus needs, Shaffir said, and the courses of study would vary, depending on the interests and abilities of each person. She started a fundraising campaign to build the Shira Center to cover the expenses that the government and the universities are not able to absorb. To date, they have raised over NIS 650,000 (about $210,000) of their goal of one million shekels from over 3,000 donors.

Changing the system: Emanuel Cohen, 56, a Jerusalem father whose 22-year-old son has autism, recently went on a hunger strike outside the Knesset to draw attention to the problem. In a demonstration in October after he had been on the strike nearly three weeks, he appealed to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Social Welfare Minister Meir Cohen to change the system. “Once people with autism turn 21, they are pushed out of a helicopter,” he said, and given almost no services. Speakers at the demonstration — many of them parents like Cohen — described how the meaningless, repetitive work and lack of mental stimulation cause many people on the autism spectrum to deteriorate, noting that they sometimes become so frustrated they lash out violently against others and also harm themselves.

Budgeting needs: While activists did not receive the increase of NIS 2000 ($645) per month per person that they had requested, the government did approve a NIS 1000 ($322) per month increase for stipends for those who have more severe autism, as well as 80 new training courses for staff members — many of whom currently receive little to no training — and the establishment of a commission on occupational and educational frameworks which includes parents. For people like Shaffir and Cohen, failure in this quest is not an option. “When they do something they are passionate about, it wakes them up,” said Shaffir, who noted that growing up with a sister on the spectrum fostered in herself a sense of empathy. “When we close our eyes to people who need more support, we are weaker as a society.”

Read the full story here.

rebuild the center

Should the Jewish community challenge progressive ideology or just its portrayal of Jews?


David Bernstein, founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, and Eran Shayshon, CEO of the REUT Group, an Israeli think tank, share an exchange of views on Jewish advocacy strategy in polarized times, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A decade ago: “Eran, in 2010, REUT came out with a groundbreaking report arguing that the Jewish community must build a robust network to oppose the delegitimization of Israel on the left. One of your main recommendations was for Jewish and pro-Israel groups to engage progressive ‘fence-sitters’ who have not made up their minds on the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Like many in the Jewish advocacy arena, I agreed with your analysis and approach and put it into practice. I still think it was the right approach for the time. In recent years, however, I’ve started to think that the engage-progressives strategy should take back seat to a rebuild-the-center strategy, emphasizing building a center-left to center-right coalition of allies in the fight for liberalism and liberal democracy.”

Crucial task: “David, I agree with your recommended priority of rebuilding the center. I’ll add that the fact that Jews are between a rock (antisemitism from the right) and a hard place (antisemitism from the left), also positions Jews uniquely to lead efforts aimed at rebuilding-the-center. A populist resurgence makes the historic role of the Jewish community ever-more crucial. This task, by definition, requires strengthening Jewish communal cohesion, which means that Jewish organizations must proceed carefully in what they say and do in relation to the left so as not to break down the possibility of consensus inside the Jewish community.”

Read the full conversation here.


The rise of privatized Judaism: What it is and what it means


“Jews are a communal people, with a collective set of rituals and traditions. Ours has been a culture of assembly, as symbolized by the centrality of the synagogue and the shared focus around celebrated holidays and festivals as Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. We gather, we pray with a minyan, we eat, we learn, we celebrate simchas, and we mourn, all in a communal way,” write Erin Tarica, former director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico’s Jewish Care Program, and Steven Windmueller, emeritus professor of Jewish communal studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

COVID times: “As COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. in March 2020, our homelife became more grooved and separated us more than ever — children in the home, single, partnered with no children, young adulthood, older adulthood. In many ways, we were no longer geographically bound, we had lost the casual nature of our social interactions and most of our regular Jewish activities outside the home ceased.”

Response: “Pushed towards isolation, our response has been to reach for connection. Within weeks of this pandemic shutdown, Jews with access and ability to use the internet found themselves gathering in virtual spaces. With bountiful entry to all things virtual — lectures, classes, gatherings, prayer, children’s programming, etc. — we were able to sample and explore the creative array of online opportunities. This imaginative response builds on a three-decade-long renaissance in Jewish life. While COVID-19 did not launch this creative Jewish moment, it most certainly accelerated both its pace and substance.”

New model: “Still amidst the pandemic, Judaism remains a communal experience. As the height of the pandemic in the U.S. receded, affording more opportunities to once again be together in person, many Jews remain increasingly drawn to virtual connection. This abundant opportunity to hold a fundamentally strong Jewish identity and virtually gather with other Jews serves as a conduit for a high degree of independent learning and engagement. We believe that the emergence of these online platforms has personalized in many ways one’s Jewish encounter. The climate is now primed for a decentralized membership structure making way for a communal yet individualized model.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

The Giver: In a post on Medium, MacKenzie Scott, who has given away more than $8.5 billion in the last two years, writes that she will not announce future philanthropic contributions, citing an over-emphasis on the amount being given and those making donations, rather than the work of the recipients. “How much or how little money changes hands doesn’t make it philanthropy. Intention and effort make it philanthropy. If we acknowledge what it all has in common, there will be more of it. That’s why I keep referring to what I’m doing as ‘giving,’ a word still being used to describe what humans have been doing with their time, focus, food, cash, and trust to lift each other up for thousands of years. It’s also why I’m not including here any amounts of money I’ve donated since my prior posts. I want to let each of these incredible teams speak for themselves first if they choose to, with the hope that when they do, media focuses on their contributions instead of mine.” [Medium]

Future of Philanthropy: Following the close of the annual NPC Ignites conference in the U.K., NPC’s Liz Gadd, writing on the Alliance Magazine website, considers the ways in which philanthropy will evolve over the next decade. “At its best, philanthropy is constantly evolving in both its approach and its focus in order to remain relevant. The pandemic shone a light on several areas of debate about the future of philanthropy. For example, the rise of more open, flexible and trusting approaches; greater reflection on equity, diversity and inclusion in grant-making; and wider thinking on how to improve collaboration.” [AllianceMag]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Yesterday, the Jewish Future Pledge recorded its 3,000th pledge and 3,750th youth pledge… The Maccabiah Games, which have been referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” will be held from July 12-26 across Jerusalem, Haifa and Netanya. The competition is the third-largest sporting event in the world and takes place every four years in Israel… David Forman has been named president and CEO of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation effective Jan. 1… In an online fundraiser, Mizrachi U.K. raised $1 million to support religious Zionist education in the U.K….The New Jersey Performing Arts Center received a $10 million commitment from Judy and Stewart Colton to establish the Colton Institute for Research and Training in the Arts… The University of San Diego announced a $50 million gift from Don and Ellie Knauss in support of its School of Business… OLAM and the Shalom Hartman Institute have launched a partnership to explore how a strong Diaspora and a vibrant Jewish state – taken separately and together – foster a greater Jewish collective consciousness towards global responsibility… Applications are open for Jewish Women INVEST Education Projects’ January education circles on impact

Pic of the Day

JCC Chicago

JCC Chicago lit up the Windy City on the final night of Hanukkah with a celebration at Gallagher Way at Wrigley Field featuring live music, ice skating, games, food and more.


Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Singer-songwriter and son of Bob Dylan, he rose to fame as the lead singer and primary songwriter for the rock band the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan… 

Israel’s ambassador at large and special envoy to the Gulf States, UAE and Bahrain, Zvi Heifetz… Los Angeles-based founder of CaregiversDirect and Beverly Hills Egg Donation, and a past president of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Lisa Greer… Former senior White House aide and deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton and Obama administrations, now CEO of the Brunswick Group, Neal S. Wolin… EVP of Sterling Equities and former COO of the New York Mets, Jeffrey Scott Wilpon… President of the American Federalism Project, Dan Greenberg… Israel’s minister of justice, Gideon Sa’ar… U.S. senator (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand… Singer-songwriter, music producer and founder of StaeFit workout apparel, Stacey Liane Levy Jackson… Biden administration nominee (still pending Senate confirmation) to be assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Tamara Cofman Wittes… Senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg… Director at Finsbury and a board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Eric Wachter… Actor, comedian and musician, best known for his role as Howard Wolowitz in the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” Simon Helberg… Staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice, Daniella Rohr Adelsberg… Senior manager of digital media and policy fellow for the R Street Institute, Shoshana Weissmann… Israeli fashion model, Dorit Revelis

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