Your Daily Phil: Hillel in Ukraine after nearly a year of war + Tu B’Shevat and climate change

Good Friday morning!

Ed note: The Your Daily Phil newsletter will be shifting to a less frequent publishing schedule for the next few days. We are aiming to be back to our regular publishing schedule as quickly as possible. In the meantime, new eJP stories will continue to appear on and will also be included in the Daily Kickoff newsletter of our sister publication, Jewish Insider. Subscribe to the Daily Kickoff here. More updates to come shortly. Thank you!

In today’s 
Your Daily Phil, we report on the state of Hillels in Ukraine, and feature a column by Y.U.’s Erica Brown on the weekly Torah portion, as well as an op-ed by JFN’s Andrés Spokoiny on Tu B’Shevat. Also in this newsletter: Rabbi Dina Brawer, Chelsea Clinton and Ryan Turell.

For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent Jewish Insider and eJewishPhilanthropy stories, including: Tracing his family history in Poland, Emhoff explains his approach to antisemitism; Why Jordan is not embracing the Abraham Accords; Robert Shwartzman is inching his way closer to a Formula One spot; At former SS headquarters in Berlin, European leaders teach the U.S. a lesson on antisemitism; Will Scharf steps up to run for Missouri AG; Three Israeli NGOs in Africa weren’t collaborating. Now they’re working together; Gottheimer, Moskowitz call for select committee on antisemitism; and Alvin Bragg defends plea deal in brazen antisemitic attack. Print the latest edition here.

Next week, Hillel in Central Asia and Southeastern Europe, known as Hillel CASE, will hold a professional development conference for members of its staff. Unlike conferences before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the gathering will not be held in that country, where most of the Hillel region’s participants are located, but in Chisinau, the capital city of neighboring Moldova. Another difference from past conferences: This one will include mental health professionals who will assist attendees in coping with wartime trauma.

“I invited psychologists to work with the professional staff because for them, [working] every day under rocket attack is unbelievable,” Iosif “Osik” Akselrud, the regional director of Hillel CASE, told eJewishPhilanthropy in a video interview on Thursday.

But while Akselrud is caring for the well-being of his staff, he said he isn’t hearing pleas for additional support from Hillel’s target demographic: the approximately 3,000 students at five Hillel centers across Ukraine. Instead, he said, the past year has seen the students step into local leadership roles as they and their neighbors approach a year of living under Russian attack.

“They don’t ask,” Akselrud said. “They felt their responsibilities. They felt that now, more than ever, they are responsible for elders, for kids, for community.”

He added, “During the war, the number of students who participated in Hillel’s activities didn’t decrease. I couldn’t understand this phenomenon. You know what? I realized why. During this dramatic time, they need to be in their familiar surroundings… Even if they have no events during one day [or] two days, they come to Hillel to spend time together, to drink tea or coffee, to talk and to spend time with their friends.”

When Akselrudlast spoke to eJP, just two weeks after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, the situation for Ukrainians across the country, including Jewish students, appeared more dire and less certain. Millions of Ukrainians fled their homes. Much of the country, including Kyiv, was under attack, and the only functioning Ukrainian Hillel center was in the western city of Lviv. Days earlier, a Russian attack had destroyed the Hillel building in Kharkiv. And days after the interview, Serafim Sabaranskiy, a Jewish student in Kharkiv, was killed in battle.

Now, Hillel is again active in five cities across Ukraine, including Kharkiv, where the organization has rented a new space. Akselrud says most of the students active in Ukraine’s Hillels are still in the country (partly because young men are prohibited from leaving). Some of those who have stayed are volunteering in territorial defense units, he said.

Read the full story here.

wait for it

Tu B’Shevat, climate change and delayed gratification

“On Jan. 5, 2020, Stav Harari and Dean Shoshani entered the elevator of their building in south Tel Aviv. It had started to rain, and apparently the water short-circuited the elevator, which got stuck. Within a few minutes, they realized that the rain outside had become a torrential storm and water started to seep slowly but relentlessly into the elevator. After three hours punctuated by Stav and Dean’s desperate calls and knocks, rescue personnel were finally able to extract them from their metal cage. But by then they were dead. Stav and Dean saw their death coming at them in slow motion. For three hours. 10,800 seconds,” Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, writes in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Hot, hot, hot: “Climate change is not just glaciers you’re never going to visit melting in some unknown country, not just polar bears and penguins in distress. Climate change is two young Israelis with their whole lives ahead of them dying a slow and horrific death. Fighting climate change is not about saving the planet. It’s about saving people like Stav and Dean. Climate change is relevant to almost all Jewish holidays because they all have an agricultural and ecological dimension. If spring disappears and we have only two seasons, ‘hot and hotter,’ what happens to Passover, a.k.a. ‘Chag HaAviv,’ the holiday of spring? How do we celebrate the Shavuot harvest when our fields are scorched? And what is to become of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees (which begins Sunday evening), Judaism’s central ecological holiday?”

Pray and delay: “Tu B’Shevat celebrates the importance of trees in our lives, and modern science has proved something that our tradition seemed to know already: that trees are at the center of any ecological system. But Tu B’Shevat has another message that is countercultural for our times and closely linked to the root cause of climate change: the notion of delayed gratification… Delayed gratification is present in many Jewish rituals, as anybody who has waited two hours for the food at the Seder table can attest. Even on normal days, before taking a bite of food or a sip of a drink, we are commanded to stop and say a blessing.”

Read the full piece here.

the torah of leadership

Confusion and control: Parshat Beshalach


“Confusion can be a technique leaders use to maintain control. Confusion can create dependency on leaders because their followers simply do not understand what is expected of them or fail to comprehend the situation they are in. In this scenario, such leaders augment power because followers continue to look up to the leader for explanation and guidance,” writes Erica Brown in her weekly column for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Are you a multiplier? Or a diminisher?: “Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, divides the leadership personality into multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers debate ideas and decisions with those around them. They don’t provide easy answers and try, instead, to coax direction out of others and empower them. They challenge others to create an intense atmosphere that helps bring out people’s best efforts. Multipliers also hold people accountable as a way to create ownership. They give others the credit and take the blame. Diminishers are often tyrants or micromanagers who always think they know better than everyone else. But, as Wiseman discovered, many well-intentioned leaders can become diminishers unintentionally by ‘thinking too big,’ expecting their teams to live up to their grandiose plans and vision without connecting the dots on how to actualize their dreams. Teams can feel disempowered and confused and lose enthusiasm. Diminishers can suffer from brainstorming too much without seeing things through, or involve themselves in every decision, creating dependency.”

A failure to communicate: “What diminishers fail to understand is that, psychologically speaking, everyone needs to feel some degree of autonomy and control. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in TheDignity of Difference, helps us understand what happens when we have little control: ‘At the core of our culture is the knowledge that too much of what happens to us is beyond our control, the result of economic choices or political decisions taken far away by people we will never meet nor be able to identify. Beyond the narrowing circle of the self lies a world in which we are not the makers but the made. This is the genesis of despair.’ In this week’s parsha, Beshalach, we find yet another example of a diminisher-in-chief: Pharaoh.”

Read the full opinion piece here.

Worthy Reads

Volumizing Volunteering: In the wake of the pandemic, the rate of people volunteering has dropped significantly, writes Sara Herschander in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. A group of grantmakers and nonprofits focused on volunteerism conducted interviews with experts on how to increase the numbers: “The key finding, says Sue Carter Kahl, a consultant to nonprofits and author of the new report, ‘Investing in Strategic Volunteer Engagement: A Qualitative Study,’ is that nonprofits first need to ask what the people they serve need — and then think about how volunteers can help, rather than focusing on what organizations need. Today, few foundations provide grants for developing and maintaining volunteer programs, and not all think it’s worth investing in such efforts at all, according to Kahl… [D]edicated volunteer funding can be a boon for nonprofits, many of which have had a hard time attracting and retaining volunteers and paid staff members alike in recent years. As they rebuild postpandemic, such funding can also help nonprofits retool how they attract and communicate with volunteers to be more effective and more representative of the people they seek to serve, says Kahl… Kahl says to improve the diversity of the volunteer force, nonprofits might consider offering stipends, child care, or other measures to make volunteering more accessible.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

The Giving Tree: 
The lifecycle of trees teaches the concept of “gradual self-improvement and its capacity to generate monumental transformations,” Rabbi Benny Berlin of the BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, N.Y., writes in USA Today in advance of the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees, which begins Sunday evening. “February has just come around, and as the energy behind our New Year’s resolutions is starting to slow, maintaining our perseverance and determination becomes increasingly challenging. It’s all the more frustrating when those major changes we made last month have yielded what we can see in the mirror as only minor returns on investment. Even more so for the small incremental changes we made that, while they will lead to major results, have not yet gotten to the point. Like the tree, whose roots are growing during the barren winter, so are the roots of our habitual change.” [USAToday]

Around the Web

On Wednesday, a man entered the Schneerson Center, a Bay Area synagogue that principally serves Russian-speaking Jews, and shot blanks in a room where people were attending a study session, according to J.: The Jewish News of Northern California. There were no injuries…

The Idea School, a Modern Orthodox, project-based high school in New Jersey, will not be opening for the next school year. The school, which launched in 2018, is hoping to share its approach and the lessons it has learned with the broader field of Jewish education, according to an email sent from school leadership to the school’s community. The email said, “While we are deeply sad that 2022-2023 will be our final academic year, we are proud of what The Idea School has achieved and the ways we have transformed the field of Jewish education.”…

Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev announced that it will award an honorary doctorate to Chelsea Clinton when the school’s Board of Governors meets in May…

World Jewish Relief, the British Jewish humanitarian aid nonprofit, announced that it has named Rabbi Dina Brawer as executive director of its recently launched American arm, World Jewish Relief USA…

Moving Traditions launched a new Tu B’Shevat program that uses sources, activities and discussion points to engage teens in thought and conversation about the world…

Some 200 attendees gathered this week at Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah, Israel, for a conference on artificial intelligence and healthcare, according to the hospital…

Pic of the Day

The National Library of Israel has digitized a five-volume copy of the Jerusalem Talmud with the handwritten notes of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leading Haredi authority in Jewish law, who died last year.


BALTIMORE, MD – MARCH 6: Ryan Turell #11 of Yeshiva pumps up his team prior to playing against WPI at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD on March 6, 2020. (Photo by Will Newton for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

First-ever Orthodox basketball player in the NBA G League, last year while at Yeshiva University he was the top scorer in all divisions of college basketball, Ryan Turell celebrates his birthday today…

FRIDAY: Former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, now a senior adviser at the Carlyle Group and on the board of Bloomberg LP, Arthur Levitt Jr.… Former president and CEO of clothing manufacturer Warnaco Group, Linda J. Wachner… Former chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., previously president of the Lillian Vernon Corporation, Fred Hochberg… Partner at Shipman & Goodwin, following 19 years as a justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Joette Katz… Singer-songwriter, best known for composing “From a Distance,” Julie Gold… Retired member of the Utah House of Representatives, she was a co-president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, Patrice M. Arent… Former science advisor to President Biden, Eric Steven Lander… Former CEO of the Chicago Sun-Times, prior to which he was an alderman of the 43rd ward of Chicago, Edwin Eisendrath… Steven F. Schlafer… Member of the Knesset for the Blue and White alliance, Michael Biton… Deputy commissioner and general counsel for the NYC Department of Finance, Diana Hartstein Beinart… French actor with 50 film credits, Vincent Elbaz… Founder of Fourth Factor Consulting, Joel Mowbray… Australian actress and author, Isla Fisher… Record producer and music critic, Sarah Lewitinn… Senior director at the GeoEconomics Center of the Atlantic Council, Josh Lipsky… Senior associate program director at CSS/Community Security Service, Joshua Keyak… One of Israel’s most popular singers, Ishay Ribo… Account director at NYC’s Brunswick Group, Noam Safier… Director for J Street U at J Street, Erin Beiner… 

SATURDAY: Actor best known for his work as Herman “Hesh” Rabkin on HBO’s “The Sopranos” and as Howard Lyman on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” Jerry Adler… Stowe, Vt., resident, Barbara Gould Stern… Co-founder and Chair of SAGE Publications, Sara Miller McCune… Attorney, bank executive and philanthropist, donor of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, Adrienne Arsht… Dean of Yeshiva of Telshe Alumni in Riverdale, N.Y., Rabbi Avraham Ausband… Patrick B. Leek… Senior counsel at the global law firm Dentons, Evan Wolfson… Director of English language programming at Herzog College in Alon Shvut, Israel, Shalom Berger… Actress, Jenette Elise Goldstein… Member of the State Senate of Maryland, representing portions of Montgomery County, Brian J. Feldman… Former mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, Ethan Avram Berkowitz… Former kickboxing champion, ultra-distance cycling champion and IDF soldier, Leah Goldstein… President and COO of Blackstone Group and chairman of the board of Hilton Worldwide, Jonathan D. “Jon” Gray… The first elected Jewish mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti… Television writer and producer, Edward Lawrence “Eddy” Kitsis… Executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, Howard Libit… Coordinator for the Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ilan Goldenberg… Author, psychotherapist and group fitness instructor, Rebecca Alexander… Washington-based economic policy reporter for The New York TimesAlan Rappeport… Senior manager in the NYC office of Monitor Deloitte, Justin Meservie… Client operations and legal project manager at Ropes & Gray, Abigail Dana Cable… Professor emeritus at Northeast Forestry University in Harbin, China, Dan Ben-Canaan… Jan Winnick…

SUNDAY: Director, screenwriter and producer of movies and television, Michael Kenneth Mann… Israeli engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, he holds more than 700 patents and applications, and is a founding partner of Rainbow Medical, Yossi Gross… Actor, singer, voice actor, puppeteer and comedian, best known as the voice of Jafar in Disney’s “Aladdin” franchise, Jonathan Freeman… Professor at Georgetown University Law Center, he wrote a 2015 essay entitled “The Making of a Libertarian, Contrarian, Nonobservant, but Self-Identified Jew,” Randy E. Barnett… Past chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, she was also national campaign chair for JFNA, Linda Adler Hurwitz… Ellen Braun… Movie, television and stage actress, writer, producer and director, Jennifer Jason Leigh (family name was Morozoff)… Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley, Niles Elliot Goldstein… Member of the New York State Assembly representing the east side of Manhattan since 2018, Harvey David Epstein… Canadian environmental activist, Tzeporah Berman… Executive director of the Jerusalem-based Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, Pesach Wolicki … Baltimore-area oenophile and chiropractor, Dr. Kenneth S. Friedman… Member of the New York City Council from 2014 to 2021, now a White House digital service expert, Benjamin Kallos… President and COO of American Signature, Jonathan Schottenstein… CEO at the American Journalism Project, Sarabeth Berman… Partner for political and strategic communications at Number 10 Strategies, Joshua Hantman… Olympic sprinter, born in Los Angeles and now an Israeli citizen, specializing in the 400-meter dash, Donald Sanford… Deputy director of communications and intergovernmental affairs at NYC’s Correctional Health Services, Nicole A. Levy… Israeli golfer who is an LPGA Tour member, Laetitia Beck… Former Team USA ice dancer, now a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in neuroscience, Eliana Gropman