Your Daily Phil: Funding fiasco leaves Iranian refugees stuck in limbo

Good Thursday morning.  

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the Institute for Curriculum Services spinning off from the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area to become an independent organization, and feature an opinion piece by Stephan Kline about the role of Jewish service work in non-Jewish communities. Also in this newsletter: Daniel WhiteheadLily Serviansky and Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. We’ll start with a funding shortfall that is leaving hundreds of refugees from Iran in limbo.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Long Beach and West Orange County, Calif., was set to bring 375 Jewish and Bahá?í refugees from Iran to start new lives with family in Los Angeles this year, at a cost of roughly $1,000 per person.

But then, in April, the funding suddenly fell through, leaving the refugees, who have been approved for refugee status and waiting to enter the United States since 2016, stuck in limbo, reports Jay Deitcher for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The sudden shortfall was the result of a decision by the Jewish Federation Los Angeles (JFedLA), which had initially agreed to fund the initiative, to pull out in light of shifting priorities after the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel. The organization maintains that it is still committed to bringing over the 375 refugees, but as time passes that may be more difficult, according to those involved.

This development comes amid general concern among activists that Jewish groups’ support for Iranian opposition to the regime is waning in light of the war in Israel and rising global antisemitism.

“I understand that we’re worried about Israel and antisemitism on campus, but we have a very limited opportunity, maybe incredibly limited opportunity, to get some Jews out of Iran. I think we should take it,” Trip Oldfield, CEO of JFCS, told eJP.

Although no written contracts were signed, JFedLA was expected to fund the program, with email communication showing the partners essentially signing off on the initiative. Planning meetings were held. Government approval was procured. Last September, HIAS, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and JFedLA organized an event, pushing community members to get their applications in for family members.

Emails obtained by eJP show Becky Sobelman-Stern, executive vice president and chief program officer of JFedLA, referring to funding the program and calling the JFedLA, JFCS, JFSLA and HIAS a “partnership.” 

In early April, JFCS, HIAS and JFSLA were informed that JFedLA would no longer be providing funding. This initiative would have cost them $350,000 over four years, with the goal of serving 75 refugees per year, according to Oldfield.

Calls from frantic families are surging to both the JCFS and to the IAJF, especially as Iran clashes directly and indirectly with Israel. Persian Jews in Iran live in fear, often condemning Israel so they won’t be targeted by the Iranian government. (An Iranian Jewish man is now facing execution for killing a Muslim man, allegedly in self-defense.) “It is so outrageous that we would see the federation behave this way when they’re claiming to care so much about antisemitism and Israel when these are literally the Jews who are fleeing for their lives because of anti-Zionism,” a source involved with the planning for the refugees who asked to remain anonymous told eJP.

But Elliott Benjamin, IAJF’s vice president, said he has faith in JFedLA, which also funds an IAJF program unrelated to the Lautenberg Amendment, and , he added, has helped make the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community “one of the most successful immigrant communities in the United States.” He referred to JFedLA and HIAS as the Los Angeles Iranian Jewish communities’ “big brothers and sisters,” whose support over the decades has been invaluable.

Once JFedLA’s funding fell through, JFSLA’s involvement in the program did as well. So JFCS’ most urgent need is funding for a part-time staff member who speaks Farsi now that JFSLA is no longer providing case management. Then JFCS needs additional funds for helping the refugees launch into their new lives, Oldfield said. HIAS said it is trying to cobble together whatever funding they can to get the program reopened.

“There’s a sense of urgency here, maybe that isn’t fully understood,” Oldfied said.

Read the full report here.



Illustrative. Getty Images.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area’s initiative to improve K-12 curricula about Judaism and Jewish history will spin off into an independent, national organization next month, the organization told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Hard not to: “Textbooks routinely misrepresented the meaning of Passover, and not one but four major history textbooks for middle school wrongly described the holiday as a celebration of the killing of the Egyptian firstborn,” Aliza Craimer Elias, the initiative’s director, said in a statement to eJP. “Instructional content was rife with inaccuracies, and key historical context and events were missing altogether. Students reading these textbooks would be hard-pressed not to develop antisemitic attitudes towards Jews.”

Building independence: ICS is now building its inaugural board of directors. The DRG consulting firm has also been brought on to locate a CEO for the newly independent organization. Craimer Elias will stay on with the organization in a “new executive position overseeing ICS’s programs, strategic initiatives and Jewish community partnerships,” the JCRC Bay Area said. A spokesperson for the organization told eJP that since ICS has always done its own fundraising, the organization is prepared financially to break out on its own. “It is in great financial shape as we begin the transition to building it into its own 501(c)3,” the spokesperson said. “We fully expect that it will emerge stronger than ever from the transformation and, indeed, will stand the test of time.”

Unanimous decision: The decision to launch ICS as an autonomous 501(c)3 nonprofit was made “after lengthy consideration by stakeholders and a unanimous vote by the board of directors of ICS’s parent organization, JCRC Bay Area,” according to the organization. “JCRC’s conception of ICS, under the leadership of our Executive Director Emeritus Rabbi Doug Kahn, is part of our legacy of innovation in the Jewish communal landscape,” Tye Gregory, JCRC Bay Area’s CEO, said in a statement. “In this moment of unprecedented antisemitism in America, including in K-12 education, the need for accurate education on Jews, Judaism and Jewish history is more critical than ever. Being fully independent will allow ICS to grow even more substantially across diverse regions of the country.”


Tikkun olam is a tool to combat antisemitism

NECHAMA volunteers in Puerto Rico in 2018. Courtesy/Nechama

“Nechama is a natural disaster relief organization, bringing nechama (comfort) to those affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and other extreme weather events. For myself as CEO and for thousands of others as volunteers, Nechama provides the opportunity to engage in literal tikkun olam as we help rebuild communities significantly impacted by these disasters,” writes Stephan Kline in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A unique position: “What defines Nechama is not our size, but being the only national Jewish organization in the United States dedicated to natural disaster response and recovery… [O]ur focus is on the individuals with the greatest needs, regardless of their background. Historically, over 90% of our clients are not Jewish. Our motto is: ‘We do this restorative work not because you are Jewish but because we are.’ During our recent deployment to Hodenville and Bartlesville, Okla., in early May, we helped with debris and brush removal in towns hammered by strong tornados. One client told a Nechama volunteer that they had never knowingly had a conversation with a Jewish person before.”

More important than ever: “The fight against antisemitism requires a multipronged approach including education, activism and legal battles. But we must not forget that promoting tikkun olam, a value we hold dear, is also a key tool in combating antisemitism. For Nechama, we choose to embody that value with disaster relief work, but there are numerous other service options community members can engage in as well. Jewish presence in moments of need is guaranteed to have positive ripple effects on society, particularly when that need is not exclusively Jewish… Your time is needed now more than ever to engage in tikkun olam and help strengthen relationships with our fellow citizens at this perilous point in our history.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Proximity Power: When ELMA Philanthropies and Delta Philanthropies co-launched Masana wa Afrika this month — a new foundation based in Africa, led and run by Africans and focused on child health in Africa — it was a reflection of a growing mindset shift among funders that people with proximity to an issue are best suited to develop and implement effective solutions, writes Liz Longley in Inside Philanthropy. “Historically, U.S. funders have primarily used U.S-based intermediaries to execute on their global goals. A 2022 report on global giving by Candid and the Council on Foundations found that just 13% of global grant dollars between 2011 and 2019 directly funded organizations based in the countries receiving support. It also showed that the total universe of funders was actually quite small. Seventy-five percent of all global giving came from only 25 sources… With the launch of Masana wa Afrika, the hope is that a wider universe of funders will play an important role in helping to aggregate additional resources for Africa by embracing a new foundation that’s derisking the investment.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Holy Role-ers: For Philanthropy Roundtable, Esther Larson interviews Daniel Whitehead, CEO of Sanctuary Mental Health Services, about a curriculum created to help churches better serve as a resource for supporting mental health. “The Sanctuary Course equips the church as they learn to support those with mental health challenges while the Sanctuary Songs is a complementing worship album that focuses on themes related to mental health and faith. There are currently around 2,000 churches throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom benefiting from this resource and around 300,000 individuals completing the course in small groups of Sunday school class formats… [Whitehead said:] ‘Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries began 13 years ago because of research that shows that at a point of mental health crisis, people are more likely to turn to the church than they are to a doctor. The challenge is that very often the kind of support people get in the church is at best non-existent, and at worst unhelpful, or damaging. Faith and mental health belong together because at the heart of our faith is a belief we can bring all things before God and God has a redemptive plan for all human experiences, including difficult ones.’” [PhilanthopyRoundtable]

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Pic of the Day

Mendy Dahan/Merkos

Thousands gathered at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn on Wednesday, and tens of thousands more joined via live broadcast, to pay their respects to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch (the movement’s educational arm) and chairman of the International Conference of Shluchim. Kotlarsky died Tuesday at 74 after dedicating 50 years of his life to expanding the Chabad network to nearly 6,000 centers in over 110 countries. He was involved in initiatives such as Roving Rabbis, Chabad on Campus International, CTeen International, Chabad Young Professionals and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.

Kotlarsky was laid to rest at the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights, Queens, near the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit
Screenshot/Ohr Torah Stone

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