Your Daily Phil: How the Dallas Jewish community is weathering this week’s storm + The conference circuit flocks to Clubhouse

Good Wednesday morning!

The news that Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which owns 15% of Israel’s land has ended its ban on buying Palestinian property in the West Bank has catalyzed a passionate debate among American Jews.

Axios broke the story on Feb. 11 with a report based on a draft resolution which stated that the “Jewish National Fund” was about to approve the change in order to build settlements, which led to some confusion. The Jewish National Fund-USA is an independent American organization with historical ties to the Israel charity.

Nonetheless, American Jewish groups have some say in what KKL-JNF does through the World Zionist Congress, a global body elected by Jewish people over the age of 18, that helps appoint leaders at KKL-JNF and other Zionist entities. Last year, a new Orthodox party, Eretz HaKodesh, pulled off a surprise victory that tipped the balance in favor of the policy shift on Palestinian land purchases. Any decision, however, must still be approved by KKL-JNF’s directorate.

“This decision is welcomed and historic,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, founder of Eretz HaKodesh, said in a statement shared with eJP. “We are proud and excited that we had a part in creating it.” The Zionist Organization of America also cheered the move.

Meanwhile the Union of Reform Judaism, the Conservative movement and their allies condemned it. They called it “extreme,” saying that it would damage Israel’s foreign relations.

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order reestablishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, rehiring Melissa Rogers, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led the office under former President Barack Obama. The office’s mission is primarily to help disadvantaged people both in the United States and abroad by working with faith and community groups.

The Jewish Federations of North America’s priorities for Rogers’ office include combating racism and antisemitism and ensuring that all Americans have access to food and housing, vice-president of public affairs Elana Broitman told eJewishPhilanthropy.


Dallas Jewish community weathers deadly winter storm


Texans are facing a brutal winter storm that has frozen equipment at energy facilities across the country and shut off power to millions in the state, leaving residents struggling to stay warm in an area of the country that, this week, is colder than parts of Alaska. “Everything comes in threes,” Mariam Shpeen Feist, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss Tuesday afternoon. First, she explained, was a 2019 tornado that destroyed the federation’s building and homes of members of the Jewish community. Six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, paralyzing the country’s economy and infrastructure. Now, the cold has arrived.

Banding together: “Because [of] the pandemic, the federation organized what was called a health crisis management team,” Feist told JI. “So we have the infrastructure. [On Monday], we were all so much in shock that today we started working on who’s open, who can be a warming center, what do we have, what’s happening. We’re just all trying to coordinate with each other to make sure that people are safe… So synagogues are really banding together, where they’re not opening as much as they’re finding family, congregants who will take in other congregants or other Jewish congregants of other synagogues. We’re just all trying to band together to get through this.”

Feeding the hungry: “Right now, for example, today, one of the kosher restaurants and grocery stores [Kosher Palate] organized free food at two different spots in South Dallas,” said Feist. “So we’re working with them, the Dallas Jewish community, the federation and the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, to help fund those meals for the next two days. Because within two days, we should be in better condition. We’ll reconvene in 48 hours, but Saturday, it’s supposed to be 67 [degrees] and sunny here. So hopefully, we won’t be in the position that we’re in right now… But there are people that really have nothing to eat.” 

Read the full interview here.

tech talk

Clubhouse, the Jewish community’s new hallway chatter

Clubhouse Drop-in audio chat app logo on the App Store is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Poland on February 3, 2021. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via AP)

Clubhouse, a new audio-only social networking app, is quickly becoming the digital version of the Jewish conference circuit hallway. With in-person meetups on hold due to the novel coronavirus and Zoom broadcasts often taking on a formal nature, Jewish conference regulars had been searching for a digital duplicate of the informal conversations that are often the main draw of the offline gatherings. For Jewish Insider, Ryan Torok spoke to a range of Clubhouse members about their experiences

Conference circuit: William Daroff, who joined the app in February, likened his Clubhouse experiences to life before the pandemic, when the affable CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations routinely turned out to large, well-attended conferences. “To some extent it is like walking through the hallways of a Jewish conference because you’ll run into somebody and [think] ‘It’s been a long time since I connected with that person,’ and you can jump into a private room with them, or you can be in a public room with them and talk about issues that are engaging,” he said.

Connecting: Rachel Sumekh, the founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger and a frequent speaker on the Jewish conference circuit, concurred. “Jumping into a Clubhouse room, especially smaller ones, is reminiscent of sitting in the conference hotel lobby with one friend and friends slowly calling over others who walk by,” said Sumekh. “You really do meet new people.” For those seeking something specifically Jewish, at any given time there may be a discussion on combating antisemitism, Kabbalistic weekly wisdom, the Iranian-Jewish community or weekly Torah studies led by rabbis including David Wolpe of Los Angeles’s Sinai Temple and Adam Mintz of New York’s Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim.Read more here.


Bringing diversity education to summer camp


In the summer of 2019, Friday afternoon Shabbat celebrations at New Country Day Camp’s leafy Staten Island campground already featured rap competitions and songs in Spanish, in addition to candle lighting and Hebrew prayers, a testament to the diversity of the community. Since then, the movement to increase diversity education in summer camps has only gained steam, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff.

More to do: Lili Weiss-Voskidis, director of New Country Day, which is Jewish but also serves a general population, was glad to see so many people sharing how they were going to celebrate the coming weekend. But she also knew there was more work to be done.

Virtual conversations: Over the last year, Weiss-Voskidis and five other camp directors have met regularly — over Zoom — with Jared Jackson, founder of the advocacy group Jews in All Hues. Jackson leads what he calls a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training, a program funded by UJA-Federation of New York and run by the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC).

All in: “It’s not just anti-racism, it’s not just LGBT work, it’s not just disability inclusion,” Jackson said. “We’re about all of those things.”

Read more here.


Isresilience: What Israelis can teach the world


Stephen Donshick reviews Isresilience: What Israelis Can Teach the World, by Naomi L. Baum and Michael Dickson. Encouraging others to read what he deems a relevant and timely book that can be a source of strength to countries, communities, organizations, and families during the pandemic.

Background: Following a discussion of resilience, the authors share how Israelis have developed the ability to bounce back after very difficult situations — ranging from the horrors of the Holocaust, the frightening effects of war trauma and physical injury, the loss of a child in a terrorist attack, to dealing with social discrimination. They present fourteen personal stories that provide a window into how people have struggled not only to rebuild their lives but also to thrive and achieve what they consider to be significant personal and professional goals in their own lives.

Hope: As much as we yearn for the end of the pandemic, we know that it will not end our struggles with the losses we experienced either personally or communally. The stories in the book and the authors’ conception of the tools of resilience can be a source of strength as we work together whether as community leaders and individual friends or relatives.

Read the full review here.

Worthy Reads

 Asking Questions: Despite their prominence in Judaism, Leading Edge’s Amy Born looks at the dark side of asking questions, warning, “questions are much less innocent than they seem…the fact of asking always implies something about the relationship between the asker and the askee…the most awkward moments often come when someone asks an insincere question.” [eJewishPhilanthropy]

 Disappearing Center: Three communications professors write in The Conversation they analyzed more than 46,000 transcripts from three cable and three broadcast news networks and found that the more extreme members of the House of Representatives on both left and right got more air time. The result, according to Joshua P. Darr, Jeremy Padgett and Johanna Dunaway, is that the broad center of the chamber is not visible to the public, and it seems more ideologically divided than it actually is. [TheConversation]

 Ashes, Too: Last year, on Ash Wednesday — the day Catholic priests daub the foreheads of their flock with ashes to mark the beginning of Lent — awareness of the coronavirus pandemic was just starting to spread. Today, some parishes are preparing congregants to self-administer the ashes in order to maintain social distance, according to a report from Sarah Pulliam Bailey in the Washington Post[WaPo]

All Together: Jews, Muslims and Christians will pray and gather in one Berlin building that will break ground in May, reports Ken Chitwood in RNS. Some Berliners are skeptical, however, regarding it “an overwrought symbol that has little practical purpose in the heart of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.” [RNS]

 Under Cover: John M. Donnelly reports that CQ Roll Callobtained a Pentagon document which shows the extent to which white supremacists have infiltrated the U.S. military. The report also explains how the Pentagon is trying to keep extremists, especially fascists, out of the armed forces. [CQRollCall]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Giving USA has released a fundraiser must — the 2021 Annual Survey on State Laws Regulating Charitable Solicitations… Nearly 30% of all online gifts were made from a mobile device, just one finding from The Blackbaud Institute’s latest research report… New research from Hebrew University examines the effect of natural disasters on charitable and criminal activity… The ‘Beth Din of Arabia‘ has been formed to support Jewish life in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia… The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is exhibiting the work of Will Eisner, a father of the graphic novel and the son of immigrants who was one of the first American Jews to work in comic books…

Pic of the Day


The American Zionist Movement (AZM) has started sending its Purim care packages — mishloach manot — to COVID-19 first responders in the Israeli Defense Forces.


Mickey Berkowitz carrying the torch at the opening ceremony of the 15th Maccabiah games held at the Ramat Gan Stadium; photo Israel GPO

One of the most popular Israeli basketball players of all time, Miki Berkovich, carrying the torch at the opening ceremony of the 15th Maccabiah games held at the Ramat Gan Stadium.
Former Treasurer of Massachusetts and former president of AIPAC (92-96), Steven Grossman… Executive Director of HUC-JIR’s American Jewish Archives and professor of Reform Jewish History at HUC-JIR, Gary Phillip Zola… Owner of Lynn’s Photography, Lynn Katz Danzig… Israel’s Minister of the Interior and Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee, Aryeh Deri… Partner in the DC office of Kirkland & Ellis specializing in international trade and national security, Ivan A. Schlager… Rabbi of Khal Ahavas Yisroel Tzemach Tzedek in Baltimore and Kashrus Administrator at the Star-K, Rabbi Dovid Heber… Filmmaker of big-budget action films including Transformers, Michael Benjamin Bay… Executive director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute, Betsy Fischer Martin… Executive director of the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life (the Columbia / Barnard Hillel), Brian Cohen… Israeli actress and winner of the Miss World beauty pageant in 1998, she has since become Orthodox and completed law school, Linor Abargil… Actor and filmmaker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt… Senior counselor at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Samantha Vinograd