Your Daily Phil: How JDC is responding to war in Israel

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a push by the National Council of Jewish Women to secure the release of the captives taken by Hamas, and the Maccabi Ra’anana basketball team’s emotional game in New York last week. We feature opinion pieces from Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath and Rabbi Avi Strausberg. Also in this newsletter: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Doron Almog and Jack Lew. We’ll start with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committees short- and long-term plans to assist the State of Israel.

Ariel Zwang, CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, spent a week in Israel following the Oct. 7 terror attacks, checking in on the organization’s hundreds of staff members, its partner organizations and clients to see how the group can both provide for the immediate needs of Israelis and begin preparing for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the south, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

“Helping the State of Israel respond to lots of challenges is at the heart of what we do at JDC,” Zwang told eJP on Tuesday in a spare office at Occupational Guidance, an initiative co-sponsored by JDC in the majority Haredi city of Bnei Brak outside of Tel Aviv. “So for now, the programs and systems that we have are all being put into service for immediate needs. That’s what everyone’s doing,” she said.

“But we’re already in touch with our directors general and industry partners to figure out what different and additional changes will be needed long-term in employment, in education, in aging and in people with disabilities. These are the areas in which JDC works in Israel,” she said. “Helping figure out how the most vulnerable members of society will continue to thrive and receive the services that they need is both an immediate-term and a long-term [mission].”

Both in the short term and looking forward, Zwang said rebuilding the economy in southern Israel, which has been brought to a complete standstill in some cities and towns, will be a major focus for JDC. The Israeli government is also planning to support businesses affected by the war, but has not yet approved and released a full assistance package.

“We’re already working with business owners from the south who had to relocate their physical businesses or who can’t function to help them get online,” she said. “Economic recovery, especially for small business people and those whose employment has been interrupted, will be crucial for JDC.”

Read the full report here.


A woman looks at a wall with photos of hostages kidnapped and taken to Gaza in last Saturday’s Hamas attack on Oct. 17, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

They range from infants to Holocaust survivors. At least 203 people, mostly civilians, were abducted from Israel during the Oct. 7 terror attacks by Hamas and are being held captive in Gaza. A diverse group of women leaders, including celebrities, politicians and activists, jointly signed a letter, spearheaded by the National Council of Jewish Women, urging human rights groups and international governments to demand immediate release of the hostages, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Rapid effort: Sheila Katz, CEO of NCJW, pointed to the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim — freeing the captive. “Releasing hostages is considered to be the greatest mitzvah,” Katz told eJP. “It’s directly related to ongoing responsibility to work for justice and surpasses many other critical mitzvot. It’sthe right thing to do and Jewish thing to do.” Katz noted that when drafting the letter, she consulted directly with parents, siblings and spouses of hostages. “Because we’ve been involving the families there is a lot of trust in the process,” she said, adding that the “whole campaign from inception to launch was 24 hours.”

Respect the law: In addition to calling for the hostages’ release, the letter also demands that until then, the captives receive medical treatment and that Hamas refrain from withholding or mutilating the bodies of the people that it murdered. “International humanitarian law requires that Hamas immediately provide all necessary means to identify those being held hostage, to allow for medical treatment, not to engage in their torture and ill-treatment, and to respect the dignity of remains by not desecrating bodies and returning them for burial,” the letter continues. “We demand that these norms be respected, and stress that all parties to armed conflict must comply with international law.”

Read the full report here.


Maccabi Ra’anana gets lift from U.S. crowds

The Maccabi Ra’anana basketball team stands during the national anthem prior to an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center in New York City on Oct. 12, 2023. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

When the Maccabi Ra’anana basketball team landed in New York City two weeks ago to kick off its preseason exhibition tour across the U.S., all minds were on Israel: making their country proud, representing the skill of Israeli basketball, improving on their game and maybe even recruiting a few American players to join the league. Eight days later, as the team readied to play the Brooklyn Nets in its first of three NBA matchups, players’ and coaches’  minds were still on Israel: this time on the family, friends and neighbors who had been killed, taken hostage or otherwise terrorized since Hamas’ plunged the country into war on Oct. 7 with an attack deadlier than Israel had seen in its 75-year history, reports Tori Bergel for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Body in U.S., heart in Israel: “The mood is really, really sad and tough. It’s hard to focus on basketball at [the] moment, but we are representatives of Israel also, not only our club, and we’re going to do the best out of it,” head coach Yehu Orland told JI ahead of last Thursday’s game against the Nets. No one in Israel has been left untouched by the war, including those with Maccabi Ra’anana, some of whom had been called up as reservists. One of Orland’s close friends, Eli Ginsberg, was among those killed in the days before the game, during which he wore a shirt that read “R.I.P. Eli. Forever in my Heart.”

Win or lose: Maccabi Ra’anana lost in the end, 135-103, but the scoreboard seemed of little consequence. Much of the team waited around afterwards, waving to the crowd and thanking those closest to the court for their support. Outside, a large group of fans formed a circle at the entrance to Barclays Center. Together, arm in arm, they sang “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Hatikva” among others, wearing the Israeli flag and dancing, creating an impromptu vigil for Israel.

Read the full story hereand sign up forJewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.


Past, present and future: Making meaning of the moment

bestdesigns/Getty Images

“It’s only with hindsight that we are able to recognize the end of a period of normalcy, but now it’s clear: Oct. 6, 2023 and earlier is now officially a ‘before’ time,” writes Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath, a senior director at The Jewish Education Project, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

An inflection point:“We watched a pogrom in real time. We don’t get a year to reflect, and to find the words, and to make meaning out of the unthinkable, like Bialik did. We don’t get literal centuries to find the lessons in destruction, like the Talmudic sages did. To make Jewish choices in the world of after is to be grounded in the past, straddling the complexities of the present, shaping the world of the future. Never before has Jewish education required so many lenses.”

Read the full piece here.


What Torah can I teach right now?

stained glass window featuring a Torah scroll
Catherine Leblanc/Getty Images

“I cannot in any way equate my experience to the experience of Rabbi Shapira writing from the Warsaw Ghetto, nor can I equate my experience in America with the experience of people right now in Israel … But Rabbi Shapira’s record of his struggle is itself Torah that we can share,” writes Rabbi Avi Strausberg, director of learning initiatives for the Hadar Institute, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Real talk: “[Rabbi Shapira] writes: ‘There are times when a person wonders about himself, thinking, “I am broken. I am ready to burst into tears at any moment, and in fact, I break down in tears from time to time. How can I possibly learn Torah? What can I do to find the strength not just to learn Torah but to discover new Torah and piety?”… Then there are times when a person beats his heart, saying, “Is it not simply my own heartlessness allowing me to be so stubborn, to learn Torah in the midst of my pain, and in the midst of the pain of the Jews whose suffering is so great?”’”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Out of Left Field: In eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider, Matthew Kassel examines how far-left Jewish groups are being pushed further to the fringes by Democrats in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. “Progressive pro-Israel lawmakers and activists are gradually beginning to crack down on extreme voices from the hard left as a range of outspoken anti-Zionist groups have grown increasingly radical amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The most high-profile rebuke came on Wednesday morning from Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the informal dean of the House Jewish caucus, who drew unexpected scrutiny to a far-left group, Jewish Voice for Peace, that has held rallies this week in Washington calling for a ceasefire and accusing Israel of committing ‘genocide’ in Gaza… Jake Dilemani, a Democratic strategist who lives in Nadler’s heavily progressive district in Upper Manhattan, estimated that an ‘overwhelming majority’ of the congressman’s constituents would support his approach to the group. ‘For Nadler to come out and say what he said makes perfect sense,’ Dilemani told JI, citing recent polls showing a dramatic uptick in Democratic support for Israel in the wake of the attacks. ‘People don’t want to pay lip service to the far left anymore.’” [JewishInsider]

Media Literacy Matters: Only three states in the U.S. require media-literacy education, yet this is a fundamental tool for fostering a society that can distinguish fact from fiction in the midst of a storm of misinformation, writes Charles Salter, president and CEO of the News Literacy Project, in an opinion piece for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “For the philanthropic community, that means playing a bigger role in supporting nonpartisan legislative advocacy and investing in research that demonstrates the efficacy of media-literacy instruction. … Models for large-scale media-literacy efforts exist in other countries. Finland, for example, has made media literacy a requirement in every subject and grade, recognizing the important part schools play in developing a citizenry with the skills to identify and resist misinformation. It’s likely not a coincidence that Finland’s residents ranked as the most resistant to misinformation in the Open Society Institute-Sofia’s 2022 Media Literacy Index of European nations.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Redeeming the Social Network: In The Atlantic, professor Deb Roy, director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, recounts an experiment in the New York Public Library that helped her and her colleagues develop a model for a new online social network. She also shares why, in this case, bigger is not better: “To understand what we ought to build, you must first consider how social media went sideways. In the early days of Facebook and Twitter, we called them ‘social networks.’ But when you look at how these sites are run now, their primary goal has not been social connection for some time. … Community-scale social networks can foster learning, listening across divides, mediation between groups in conflict, deliberation, and decision making grounded in listening … In an era when trust has eroded in virtually all institutions, including those foundational to democracy — government, media, higher education — there is a clear opportunity to create a new communication infrastructure for people to understand and shape their communities from the ground up.” [Atlantic]

Around the Web

More than $50 million has been donated to the Magen David Adom emergency medical service since Oct. 9 through a matching program launched by businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg. Over 25,000 people have made donations so far…

California Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized an additional $30 million in funding for nonprofit security — $10 million to immediately boost protection at houses of worship and $20 million to the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program — in light of increased threats to synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions because of the war in Israel…

Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau met with survivors of the Oct. 7 massacres and led them in the recitation of the traditional Hagomel blessing, which is said after surviving a life-threatening situation…

Students at New York University raised over $22,000 for Israel in 24 hours following the Hamas terror attacks…

Jack Lew, the White House’s nominee to be the next U.S ambassador to Israel, is expected to be confirmed for the position along party lines…

Australian Jewish leaders involved in interfaith work say they are “disillusioned” and reevaluating their ties to different groups after all Muslim and most Christian organizations have been silent on the Oct. 7 terror attacks…

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is visiting Israel on a solidarity mission…

A number of large companies and philanthropic funds have announced new donations to Israeli relief efforts, including the Azrieli Foundation, which pledged $10 million; the Jefferies investment bank, which is donating $8.6 million to Israeli hospitals and emergency services; and Google, which is giving $8 million to both Israeli and Palestinian humanitarian causes…

Twenty-five new olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) landed in Ben Gurion Airport this morning from across the United States. “Seeing olim arrive in Israel during the most challenging days we’ve ever known fills our hearts and gives us strength to carry on,” Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Doron Almog said in a statement…

Brothers Ari and Noah Hirson, aged 14 and 17, respectively, raised $150,000 for blindness research in honor of their mother, Lorie, who has a rare hereditary disease causing her retinas to break down…

Pic of the Day

Amos Ben-Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog yesterday in Tel Aviv’s Kempinski Hotel during the American leader’s one-day solidarity visit to Israel.

“The President of the United States expressed great empathy and deep sorrow for the tragic loss of life Israel had suffered, and emphasized that he fully supports Israel’s actions against the terrorist organization Hamas,” Herzog’s office said.


Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Co-owner of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and English soccer club Manchester United, Avram A. “Avie” Glazer

Professor emeritus and first-ever Jewish president of the University of Minnesota, Kenneth Harrison Keller… CEO of Aramark Corporation for 34 years, he is a past chairman of the University of Chicago’s Board of Trustees, Joseph Neubauer… Founder and former ringmaster of the Big Apple Circus, Paul Binder… Pulmonologist in Plano, Texas, he is also the author of six mystery novels, Dr. Kenneth L. Toppell… Writer, scholar and former Israeli ambassador, Yoram Ettinger… Obstetrician and gynecologist at the Center for Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles, Lawrence David Platt, MD… Retired hospitality executive, Michelle Fischler… Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, she directs the journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Deborah Blum… Founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist… Retired supervisor for Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency, David Alan Cera… Israel’s minister of the economy and former mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat… Social psychologist and professor at New York University focused on the psychology of morality and moral emotions, Jonathan David Haidt… Canadian business executive and board member of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, David Cynamon… Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich… Founder of Global Policy Associates where he is now an advisory board member, he was the White House Jewish liaison in the Clinton administration, Jay Footlik… Ritual coordinator at Congregation Emanu El in Houston, Shira Kosoy Moses… Actor, director, producer and screenwriter, his television production company is Golem Creations, Jon Favreau… Former mayor of Portland, Maine, now a nonprofit executive, Ethan King Strimling… Technology journalist and record producer, Joshua Ryan Topolsky… Film director, screenwriter and producer, Jason R. Reitman… Chief growth officer at itrek, Evan Majzner… Executive at Nefco, David Ochs… Pittsburgh-based founder and CEO of Mamalux, Lindsay Applebaum Stuart… Founder of iTrade[dot]TV, equities trader and financial marketer, Elie Litvin… Infielder in the Oakland Athletics organization, he played for Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Zack Gelof