Your Daily Phil: HIAS helps synagogues sponsor refugees + New religious mental health coalition

Good Monday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we profile the Coalition of Religious Organizations for Mental Health, an Israeli umbrella group created last year, and feature op-eds from Nancy Parkes, Saul Kaiserman and the friends, family and colleagues of Ilia Salita. Also in this newsletter: Robert Grey, Daniel Kaminetsky and Judy Levine. We’ll start with an initiative from HIAS to help synagogues sponsor refugees.

Zia Saberi had worked for the U.S. military in Afghanistan for nine years in the mid-2010s, so when the Taliban took control of his country in August 2021, he and his family had to go into hiding. That December, they were granted Special Immigrant Visas, and they made their way to America, first living on a military base in New Jersey, and then finally arriving in Denver, their new home, in February 2022, where they were greeted by a crowd of friendly faces, reports Jay Deitcher for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The group waiting for them was their Welcome Circle, formed through local congregation Rodef Shalom under the guidance of HIAS. “They gave us dishes, mattresses, pillows, television, dining chairs, dining table, whatever we need,” Saberi told eJP.

The Welcome Circle lined up housing for the Saberi family, and over the next several months, members of the congregation took the family to medical appointments, enrolled Saberi’s wife in English courses and his sister in high school, and helped with finances and legal issues.

This is just one story of refugees being helped by the Welcome Corps, the first U.S. government private refugee sponsorship program in almost 40 years, under whose auspices the Welcome Circles operate. Although HIAS has been running their Welcome Circle programs for two years, the U.S. government formalized their private sponsorship program on January 19 with HIAS as one of the first private sponsorship organizations. The entire list of 12 partner organizations was announced on June 13.

“We’ve heard so many times how the groups have formed close relationships, especially coming out of COVID when people haven’t had as much personal interaction,” Isabel Burton, senior director of community engagement initiatives at HIAS, told eJP. “We’ve also had a number of rabbis saying, ‘This has been incredible for our congregations. It’s created a  whole new life for us. It’s brought new people in.’”

Read the full story here.

spiritual well-being

Rabbanit Vered Mezuna-Aviad and Rabbi Avi Novis Deutch speak at a seminar for rabbis about mental health at the Be’er Yaakov Mental Health Center in central Israel in June 2023. (Courtesy/Schechter Rabbinical Seminary)

Rabbanit Vered Mezuman-Aviad’s daughter had struggled with mental health issues in her later teenage years, giving her an acute understanding of the difficulties not just facing patients in mental health centers in general but religious patients in particular. Shabbat meals, prayer services, holiday celebrations — in the often cash-strapped, carefully regimented wards of Israeli psychiatric hospitals, these are often not available. Mezuman-Aviad, who has long been active in Israel’s religious-Zionist education system, felt that her religious community was not adequately dealing with the issue of mental health. “So I started this group – the Coalition of Religious Organizations for Mental Health,” Mezuman-Aviad, who serves as CEO of the organization, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Start with a Seder: “We started just before last Passover at the Geha [Mental Health Center],” said Mezuman-Aviad, whose daughter had been hospitalized there. “We wanted to make sure there’d be a Passover Seder. We bought presents for all of the patients at the hospital, all 170 of them.” From there, the coalition took off, with regular activities at 17 mental health centers across the country. The organization, which is run almost exclusively by volunteers, has some 250 members — representatives from youth groups, religious communities and other organizations from across Israel — and hundreds more volunteers who visit and hold events at mental health facilities.

Rabbis’ role: Rabbi Avi Novis Deutch, dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary and an active member of the coalition, whose seminary includes a far greater focus on pastoral training than most rabbinic programs in Israel, told eJP that rabbis can serve a key position in helping people with mental health issues. At the same time, rabbis are not therapists and need to know where the line is between providing pastoral care and offering mental health advice. “There is a tension between the rabbi being someone who can help — and the need to give them those tools — and the fact that a rabbi is not a therapist, they do not give treatment. There are professionals who do that,” he said. “Rabbis should see themselves as a figure involved in the process, not — heaven forbid — as having the responsibility of a therapist.”

Read the full story here.

In memoriam

Strengthening the ties that bind global Jewry

Courtesy/Hillel International

“Three years ago today, on the 7th of Tammuz 5780, we lost Ilia Salita (z”l) — a beloved friend, an ardent Zionist and an exceptional Jewish leader. Not a day passes without us reflecting on the profound legacy he left behind and the countless individuals who benefited from his tireless efforts on behalf of the Jewish people, particularly those among us who are Russian speakers. While much has changed in the many months since Ilia died, most of the challenges and conflicts to which he dedicated the bulk of his time and energy persist. Indeed, some of them are more problematic than ever,” write 32 friends, colleagues and family members in a joint opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Jewish peoplehood: “One of the projects most dear to Ilia at the time of his passing was ‘Our Common Destiny,’ a global effort to build stronger bonds between and among Jews all over the world. As a direct beneficiary of the Soviet Jewry movement – the last great moment world Jewry united for a common purpose — Ilia understood better than most the power of Jewish collective action, and he sought to harness that energy once again for the good of his beloved Jewish people. Many of us listed at the close of this opinion piece were honored to be a part of that effort, and we remain deeply committed to fulfilling Ilia’s mission of uniting global Jewry in unprecedented ways using our shared values and cutting-edge technology to achieve that lofty goal. Fortunately, we are not alone in our pursuits.”

Come help us: “We are currently in the process of enlisting others who share our passion for Jewish unity to help us develop a new, grassroots global initiative. The aim of the project is to provide a platform for Jews of all ages, celebrate their appreciation for the Jewish values, principles and heritage we all share, reaffirm the importance of Jewish peoplehood and declare their commitment to strengthening the global Jewish community.”

Read the full piece here.

Teach your children

Synagogue schools: creating a sense of belonging to the Jewish people

Hero Images

“As school breaks for the summer, and we look towards the new school year, our minds are still on the Census of Jewish Supplementary Schools conducted by The Jewish Education Project and its findings. As practitioners and researchers, we are grateful for this important contribution to the data on Jewish education, and on supplementary schools in particular, write Nancy Parkes, an educational consultant, and Saul Kaiserman, who is writing his dissertation in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Changing demographics = declining numbers: “Neither of us were especially surprised by the numbers reported on synagogue enrollment. Synagogue school participation has been on the decline since its peak in the early 1960s. There are many ways to interpret the changing numbers in any given school other than the often cited assumption that it must be the subpar quality of the program. For us, the most relevant variables are the changing demographics in the Jewish community and the budget of a synagogue or other supplementary school.”

Parental choice: “Despite this, the census shows that the majority of parents in the target population in North America continue to choose this setting to educate their children, more than any other form of Jewish learning… We contend that the best explanation for the resilience of synagogue schools is the devotion and creativity of educators in this setting, as is reflected by the design principles that accompany the census. They have consistently adapted to the changing needs of their families and learners.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Forever Searching for a Tenth: In The New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer reflects on the other victim of Robert Bowers’ murderous shooting spree at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh: the minyan. “There is a tendency, when discussing the Tree of Life massacre, to draw lessons that feel widely applicable, not limited to the case of Jews: demands for tighter gun laws, rallying cries against ‘white supremacy’ and pleas for interfaith cooperation. These universalist appeals make the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history an occasion for well-meaning policy advocacy or moral uplift. To believe in them, you don’t need to know, or care, anything about Jews specifically… Robert Bowers did not just deprive those he murdered of their lives. He deprived them of the opportunity to practice their religion — what’s more, he obstructed the religious practice of those who depended on the victims’ presence. And because the murders were committed early on a Sabbath morning, soon after the synagogue building opened, the people caught in his gunfire were reliable attendees, the ones who showed up early, who kept the community running.” [NYT]

Not Just Kosher Chicken: In The Times of Israel, Cnaan Lidor interviews Katharina von Schnurbein about her efforts to bolster Jewish life across Europe. “Four years into her stint as the European Union’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, Katharina von Schnurbein asked her boss to add the words “and Fostering Jewish Life” to her official job title… It signaled her shift from merely countering hatred and discrimination of Jews, using tools such as the working definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Under von Schnurbein, her office added a new and tricky role: defending Jewish customs, such as kosher slaughter, from growing scrutiny or limitations, including by governments of EU member states and even institutions of the European Union itself. ‘I came to realize in the first three years that countering antisemitism only serves an ultimate goal, which is to foster Jewish life, to make sure that Jewish life can flourish… So we started focusing on that.'” [TOI]

Cultural Heritage Brought to You By…: The New York Times’ Alex Marshall reports on the changing methods of funding for British cultural institutions, from state budgets to private philanthropy. “When the [London’s National Portrait Gallery] reopened to the public [after a $53 million renovation], visitors enter the National Portrait Gallery via the Ross Courtyard, named after a retail magnate who donated more than $5 million for the refurbishment. One floor is now called the Blavatnik Wing, after a Ukrainian-born businessman who gave the museum nearly $13 million. The site’s three new classrooms, designed for school visits, are also named for donors. ‘The funding model for British museums is changing,’ [museum director Nicholas] Cullinan said. ‘We’re definitely having to become a lot better at fund-raising’… Until recently, when major British museums planned significant work, their first port of call was often national or local government… Now, such offers are harder to come by… The National Portrait Gallery’s renovation was ‘a revelation,’ [said Paul Ramsbottom, the chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation, one of Britain’s largest institutional arts donors], but the wider situation was ‘a real worry for the sector, and for heritage in the U.K.’” [NYT]

Around the Web

Hundreds of residents of Macon, Ga., came out in support of the city’s Temple Beth Israel on Saturday, after an antisemitic group rallied outside the synagogue the day before. Also on Saturday, the same neo-Nazi group demonstrated outside a Chabad synagogue in Marietta, Ga., outside Atlanta…

New York-based attorney Robert Grey was elected chair of the board of trustees of World ORT earlier this month, succeeding Robert Singer, who has served in the role since 2020…

The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey launched a new online system to report suspicious activity through the Secure Community Network. “Protecting safety and security in Jewish life is an ever-increasing federation priority,” JFHNJ’s executive director, Susan Antman, said…

Abortion access groups are reporting a drop in funding in recent months after seeing major donations in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June…

Agudath Israel of America hired Daniel Kaminetsky as its general counsel…

The Wall Street Journal looks at the role played by Jeffrey Katzenberg as a co-chair of President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign…

The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia raised more than $2 million earlier this month at its annual gala, in which the museum honored Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and focused on its “core work of promoting civil discourse and combating antisemitism through education”… 

Chad Coerver will step down as executive director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in mid-August after less than two years at the museum. Coerver is leaving to serve as president of the art- and education-related Working Assumptions organization…

Sonya Shields will succeed Judy Levine as executive director of the New York-based Cause Effective, a nonprofit advisory group, beginning next month…

Jenny Ingber was named the next president and CEO of Chess in the Schools, succeeding Debbie Eastburn, who has served in the role for seven years…

Philip Kaplan, an attorney and former board member of the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, died last week at 85…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Ohel Sarah

Israeli First Lady Michal Herzog presents the Matanel Inclusive Workplace Award to representatives from the Concept for Pharmacy pharmaceutical company. The award, which recognizes workplaces that employ people with disabilities, was initiated and hosted by Ohel Sarah and funded by the Matanel Foundation.


Courtesy/Reut Group

President and founder of Reut Group, Gidi Grinstein… 

British Labour party member of Parliament for 42 years, David Winnick… Partner in the law firm BakerHostetler known for his recovery of funds from the Madoff investment scandal, Irving H. Picard… Independent insurance agent and investment manager, David A. Marks… Retired co-host for more than 30 years of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Robert Siege… Rabbi of Congregation Chaverim in Tucson, Ariz., for more than 35 years, Stephanie Aaron… Founder of Grover Strategies, Alan Solow… CEO of Emerging Star Capital and the author of a biography of President Bill Clinton, Robert E. Levin… Attorney and Holocaust survivors’ rights advocate, Samuel J. Dubbin… CEO of ZMC, previously chairman of CBS and CEO of 20th Century Fox, Strauss Zelnick… Professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland, Amy Ruth Wolfson, Ph.D…. Israeli actress and comedian, Anat Waxman… Once the wealthiest of all Russian businessmen, then a prisoner in Russia and now living in London, Mikhail Khodorkovsky… Novelist and journalist, most notable as the author of the Magicians trilogy, he was the book critic and lead technology writer at Time magazine, Lev Grossman… and his twin brother, author and video game designer, Austin Grossman… Dean of Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, Noam T. Wasserman… Political commentator, YouTube personality, comedian and talk show host, Dave Rubin… Strategic communications consultant, Ross Feinstein… Associate in Mayer Brown’s D.C. office, Michael “Mickey” Leibner… Director of development at NYU’s Bronfman Center, Sara Fredman Aeder… Special advisor for implementation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Asher J. Mayerson… Executive director of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, David Bocarsly… Author and media personality, Elizabeth Pipko