Your Daily Phil: Holocaust Museum LA fundraiser’s Hollywood roots + Preaching democracy on the High Holidays
Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Your Daily Phil, we cover a celebrity namesake at the Holocaust Museum LA and feature op-eds on adult education and discussing democracy at synagogue. In this newsletter: Omar Sharif Jr., Rabbi Michael G. Holzman, Diane Tickton Schuster, Dan Gilbert, Rabbi Emily Goldberg Winer, Gavin Newsom, Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Starr and Daniella Levine Cava. We’ll start with a look at the response to a recent investigation of New York’s Hasidic schools.
The recent New York Times investigation of Hasidic boys’ schools in New York continues to make waves, as the State Board of Regents passed regulations yesterday intended to tie state funding to a requirement that yeshivas and other private schools teach a certain amount of secular studies.
Sunday’s article detailed how Hasidic schools across New York City and its northern suburbs fall far short of the state’s education requirements in English, math, history and science, even as they received state funds totaling $1 billion over four years. The story quoted a number of former students who recalled being subjected to corporal punishment.
Many Haredi leaders, both Hasidic and not, have decried the article’s findings as false or exaggerated, and have described it as an attack on the community’s education system. Some have accused the Times of singling out their community despite shortcomings across the state’s public and private schools.
David Bryfman, CEO of the Jewish Education Project, told eJP that the group takes the article’s findings “very seriously.” He added that the organization offers professional development in secular studies to New York City-area teachers, including at Hasidic schools. Bryfman added that the organization “will continue to work with interested yeshivot to advance the ability of their staff to better teach secular subjects.”
David Magerman, founder of the Kohelet Foundation, which funded Jewish education before it closed in 2019, told eJP that while he believes Hasidic parents want their children to receive the education the schools offer, if they “are accepting public funds, then the government has the right to make rules that qualify schools to get those funds.” He said that as Jewish philanthropists approach the issue, they should be cognizant of schools’ philosophies and shouldn’t expect to change them.
“If the organization’s mission doesn’t align with the donor’s mission, and the donor can’t be adequately convinced that the mission has merits for the target audience of the organization, then the donor shouldn’t give money to the organization,” he told eJP. “If an organization has a donor who is fighting the organization about their mission as a part of their gift, the organization should reject future gifts from the donor.”
Six other donors and organizations that support Jewish education in New York declined to comment or did not respond to eJP regarding the Times story. Bryfman told eJP that if non-Haredi Jewish organizations hope to get involved with the yeshivot, they must do so with “respect and honor.”
“There is much to celebrate and value in Haredi culture and in a high-quality secular education,” he told eJP. “We do not believe that these two things need to be mutually exclusive.”
L.A.’s Holocaust museum has a new lead fundraiser: Omar Sharif Jr.
The new chief advancement officer at the Holocaust Museum LA descends from Hollywood royalty, speaks fluent Hebrew and Yiddish that he learned in Jewish day school and is co-starring in an Israeli TV series. So it may be a surprise to discover that the new hire is Omar Sharif Jr., grandson of one of the most famous Egyptian actors in history. Sharif Jr. hopes that he can draw from both sides of his lineage in his new role fundraising for the museum: He grew up with an Egyptian Muslim father — the elder Sharif’s son — and a Polish Jewish mother whose own mother survived the Holocaust, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.
A major expansion: The Holocaust Museum LA, the oldest such museum in the United States, was founded by survivors in 1961. Last year, the museum reached almost 30,000 students and is embarking on a $45 million expansion that will fund a new 16,000-square-foot Learning Center Pavilion with special exhibits, a 200-seat theater, two classrooms, a gift shop and a café. Sharif told eJP the museum has raised about 80% of the needed funds, including a $5 million gift from The Smidt Foundation. The museum hopes to accommodate 150,000 students annually by 2030.
Lessons for today: “At the core of our mission is educating about the Holocaust, making it relevant to today and inspiring youth and young adults to tackle some of these issues that they might even see in their communities today,” Sharif, 38, told eJP. “It’s not just a history museum. It has relevance today. And it’s urgent that we address these issues, and education is the best way to do that.”
Appreciating difference: “I had these two sides of my family,” he said. “And we would gather for cultural [and] religious festivities on all sides. So whether it was Passover or the High Holidays with my mother’s side of the family, or whether it was Ramadan with my grandmother in Egypt, or [because] my grandfather was born Catholic, we would do Christmas with his mother and sister. I grew up experiencing and appreciating the different elements.” While those influences could have been points of conflict, Sharif said he saw “so much similarity between them.” At the core of all of these festivities was family and food. And there was much more in common than there was that separated the different observances of the different religions.”
RIGHT TO VOTE
These High Holy Days, preach democracy, please
“The full sanctuaries of the High Holy Days have long been a platform for American rabbinic leadership. Certain topics are regulars — the latest news from Israel, spiritual guidance for a healthy life or family, the ever-present nudge to get more ‘involved’ in synagogue life and the reliable social justice sermon to fire up the crowd. I have given many of these sermons, as their messages emerge naturally from the themes and texts of this season,” writes Rabbi Michael G. Holzman, recipient of the 2019 Lippman Kanfer Award for Applied Jewish Wisdom, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
A neglected topic: “This year, I ask my colleagues to add a neglected topic to the list — democracy — and I would like to go beyond the critical work of expanding voting rights. That topic deserves its own sermon, as leaders in many state capitals are doing everything they can to reduce access to the polls. We should continue the tradition of American Jews who have been at the vanguard of the fight for voting fairness.”
The art of the sermon: “Sermons offer long-form thinking, nuance, analysis and complexity. As Jonathan Haidt and others have pointed out, our democracy suffers from the simple binaries and algorithms of social media. Synagogues, as spiritual containers, can shake people out of echo chambers and self-fulfilling narratives.”
Putting adult Jewish learning at the center of the conversation
“The birth of a book is always a cause for celebration, but the arrival of Portraits of Adult Jewish Learning: Making Meaning at Many Tables marks a particularly joyful moment for educators and scholars who have long sought to develop a field called ‘adult Jewish learning,’” writes Diane Tickton Schuster, an affiliated scholar at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University and the book’s editor, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
No knowledge base: “Long a subfield of the broader discipline of Jewish education, adult Jewish learning has been something of a stepchild in academia. Many people go into Jewish studies, Jewish education or the rabbinate because they want to work with adults. Occasionally they will have the opportunity to take a course on adult education. But there are no graduate degree programs that focus exclusively on Jewish adult learners, teachers, pedagogy or settings. More importantly, there is very little research literature nor a scholarly journal dedicated to the particulars of the adult Jewish learning experience. There is no knowledge base, and very few materials to help adult Jewish educators think about their work.”
No formal processes: “There are no formal credentialing processes or mechanisms of systematic performance review for adult educators in Jewish contexts. And although there once may have been the perception of a standardized curriculum meant to guide the ‘serious’ learning of informed Jews — a curriculum traditionally organized around the study of classical texts — Jon Levisohn’s 2019 probing essay about the need for a much broader definition of Jewish literacy upends any discussion about the parameters of the adult Jewish learning experience.”
Closer Look: MacKenzie Scott’s generosity is to be commended, especially when she supports groups with undeniably worthy missions, such as New City Kids, a New Jersey-based foundation that combats child poverty and delinquency, writes Aron Ravin in National Review. Yet many of her donations — like those that support land reparations to Native Americans — are more political, less traditionally philanthropic and also unlikely to actually achieve real change, Ravin states. “Charity has stopped being something we volunteer for our communities or to people in desperate need. It’s just becoming yet another low-risk method for people to engage in politics.” [NR]
Chip Off the New Blockchain: Arts philanthropy can be disrupted and transformed for the better with emerging tech tools, especially decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, Christos A. Makridis writes in City Journal: “[DAOs] are governed by smart contracts, or self-executing digital agreements, written and voted upon by all of an organization’s members rather than by a centralized entity. The organization’s rules and transactions are recorded on a blockchain, thus adding an important layer of transparency and providing incentives to members to carry out agreed-upon initiatives…The DAO is designed not only to meet an immediate need but also to equip members with the credentials and knowhow to market themselves over the long run. This also allows the DAO to become a community of practice that can simultaneously incubate talent and help arts institutions source the right people for performances. DAOs, like other blockchain technologies, cannot replace good judgment, the right people, and good ideas. But they have the potential to promote better governance, return on investment, and flourishing in the arts profession by increasing transparency and accountability.” [CityJournal]
Text Tricks: Because nearly everyone uses texting, nonprofits are increasingly incorporating it into their engagement strategies; 98% of SMS messages are opened, 90% of them within three minutes, Jeff Eiden writes in NonProfitPRO: “People have now grown accustomed to using SMS for everyday activities, like confirming doctors’ appointments, making restaurant reservations and, increasingly, receiving services from nonprofit organizations. In fact, it’s estimated that brands will send 2.7 trillion messages this year alone. Unfortunately, this increase in SMS usage has also come with an increase in unwanted messages — including from bad actors. This decreases consumer engagement and threatens the overall trust in the channel. To combat this, telecom carriers in the U.S. have recently rolled out an increase to know your customer (KYC) requirements for organizations sending SMS to preserve the integrity of the channel and increase the value of each message. In return, organizations sending compliant messages get higher SMS delivery rates and increased messaging throughput (ability to reach more people quickly)..” [NonProfitPRO]
Word on the Street
American Jewish University in Los Angeles accepted an offer to sell the university’s Familian Campus in Bel Air to EF Education First, an educational organization that offers language learning and international degree programs, for an undisclosed sum. Under the terms of the agreement, AJU will continue to house its administrative offices at the Familian Campus until September 2028…
Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, is beginning to work with Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University on major research projects on brain disorders, stem cell research and behavioral disorders. Sheba signed a memorandum of understanding with the university on Monday. The MOU will lead to the opening of a new center that will promote academia, innovation, research and clinical care on the Ramat Gan campus in 2024.…
With a $10 million commitment over three years, the Gilbert Family Foundation, founded by Rocket Mortgage founder Dan Gilbert and his wife Jennifer, formally launched Venture 313. The initiative aims to devote a variety of resources to “provide Detroit-based founders with opportunities to participate in the innovation economy”…
The Ruderman Family Foundation announced a $500,000 grant to the Brookline Center for Community Mental Health to transform mental health support for high school students in Massachusetts, bringing its total support for the issue to $1 million over the last four years…
A $650,000 grant from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation will support a new two-year pilot program between the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem focused on developing school violence-prevention strategies that turn school campuses into safe and welcoming places for children…
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $31 million investment in support of arts initiatives in the Knight brothers’ hometown of Akron, Ohio…
The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America has opened a regional office in Boston. Rabbi Emily Goldberg Winer will head the Boston office and manage local programming…
UpStart named Cohort 13 of its flagship Venture Accelerator program…
The Israel Policy Forum announced the 2022 cohort of Charles Bronfman IPF Atid Conveners. This year marks the fifth cohort of conveners…
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 587, which requires social media companies to publicly disclose their policies for online hate and extremism so they can be held accountable for those policies’ enforcement. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, and the Legislative Jewish Caucus strongly advocated for the bill…
French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard died at 91…
Ken Starr, a former federal appellate judge and an attorney whose criminal investigation of Bill Clinton led to the president’s impeachment, died at 76…
Pic of the Day
An extremely rare Judean quarter-shekel coin, minted by Jewish rebels fighting the Roman empire some 2,000 years ago, was returned to Israel in an official ceremony in New York on Monday, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. The coin, known as the “Year Four Quarter Shekel” is one of only two such coins from the Great Jewish Revolt (First Jewish-Roman War) that began in 66 CE known to exist, and is valued at more than $1 million.
Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava…
Actor, writer and director, first known for his role in the original “Star Trek” television series, Walter Koenig… Basketball coach enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Lawrence Harvey (Larry) Brown… Executive chairman of MDC Holdings, parent company of Richmond American Homes, past chairman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and longtime AIPAC board member, Larry A. Mizel… Partner at San Diego-based CaseyGerry, a specialist in mass torts, Frederick A. Schenk… Plastic surgeon and television personality, Dr. Terry Dubrow… Chairman and chief investment officer of The Electrum Group, he is the world’s largest private collector of Rembrandt paintings, Thomas Scott Kaplan… Strategic advisor at Wye Communications, Amy Kauffman… Founder of Vermont-based Kidrobot, a retailer of art toys, apparel and accessories, and Ello, an ad-free social network, Paul Budnitz… British secretary of state for transport until last week, he was a national president of BBYO, Grant Shapps… President of Strauss Media Strategies, during the Clinton administration he became the first-ever White House radio director, Richard Strauss… Managing director at Gasthalter, Mark A. Semer… Comedian, television actor, writer and producer, Elon Gold… Managing partner of Berke Farah LLP, Elliot S. Berke… Senior White House reporter for Bloomberg, Jennifer Jacobs… CEO of San Francisco-based Jewish LearningWorks, Dana Sheanin… Public relations professional, Courtney Cohen Flantzer… Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis… Israeli-American actress, Hani Furstenberg… Artist, photographer and educator, Marisa Scheinfeld… Staff writer at The Atlantic, Russell Berman… Co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, Leah Greenberg… Los Angeles-based attorney working as a senior contracts specialist at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Roxana Pourshalimi… New York Times reporter covering national politics, Matt Flegenheimer… Former VP at Hillel International, co-founder of Cunucu Dog Rescue, Jeremy Moskowitz… Founder and owner of ARA Capital, Arkadiy Abramovich… Deputy commissioner of press and communications at New York City’s Department of Social Services, Julia Savel… Artistic gymnast, she represented Israel at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Lihie Raz…