Your Daily Phil: HUC to close Cincinnati seminary + JFN could be more welcoming
Good Tuesday morning!
The governing board of the Reform movement’s rabbinical seminary voted on Monday to shutter its full-time rabbinical school in Cincinnati, the seminary’s founding location.
The plan, which has split the movement, was approved by considerably more than two-thirds of the board of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC), according to a board member who spoke to eJewishPhilanthropy on the condition of anonymity. After the academic year ending in 2026, for the first time in more than 150 years, there will be no comprehensive rabbinical school in the city where the American Reform movement took root.
Instead, HUC’s Cincinnati campus, which according to the plan will remain active, will continue to host a Jewish archive, a library, a museum and part of what the board calls a “low-residency rabbinical and cantorial program” that will also include remote elements.
HUC’s full-time rabbinical programs in Los Angeles and New York will remain intact. HUC also has a rabbinical school in Jerusalem. The Cincinnati rabbinical program has 27 students in total from years two through five (all Reform rabbinical students spend their first year of seminary in Jerusalem). That’s compared to 40 in Los Angeles and 45 in New York City.
“This vote was a first step toward transformational change for HUC-JIR and the Reform Movement – as we are bound together in the recognition that Judaism must honor its history and tradition while adapting to fundamental changes in the world around us,” HUC’s leadership wrote in an email to the school’s community Monday night. “Given the intensity of deeply held feelings on all sides of this historic vote, we will take time to navigate the right path forward – sensitively and with our common commitment to the education of future generations of Jewish leaders guiding our way.”
The plan to scale down the Cincinnati program, which had been in the works for two years, sparked strong feelings within HUC’s alumni community. An open letter protesting the plan garnered approximately 500 signatures, far outnumbering the more than 130 on a petition in favor of the move.
“The current plan alienates a huge portion of our community,” the letter read. “The plan reflects a bias toward the coasts that fails to consider the stable demographics of Reform Jews in the Midwest, Northern, and Southern regions of North America.”
The letter supporting the proposalsaid, “Transformative changes to our school are the only reasonable response to a rapidly evolving North American Jewish community.”
From actress to activist, Noa Tishby is Israel’s first special envoy to fight antisemitism
As Israel’s first special envoy for combating antisemitism and delegitimization, Israeli actress and author Noa Tishby knows she has her work cut out for her. Antisemitic attacks – both online and in-person – are on the rise, and Israel is the rare country whose right to exist is regularly challenged, Tishby told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash this week in an exclusive interview, her first since being appointed.
Reaching out: Appointed by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as an official envoy — though not an employee of the Israeli government, as the role is unpaid — Tishby said she would work to create alliances with groups who “might not be aware of the rise in antisemitism” and share with them that the increase in antisemitism is bad for an entire society. She also said she would work to raise awareness in international forums such as the United Nations to push more governments and organizations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as a legal baseline.
Social scene: In addition, Tishby, 44, said she would utilize her own social media networks, with hundreds of thousands of followers, to engage with people online and work closely with antisemitism envoys in other countries, including with Deborah Lipstadt, who was confirmed by the Senate last month after an eight-month delay as the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.
Haredi participation in the Jewish Funders Network
“In our efforts to bring Jews into JFN, we cannot rely on stereotypes and sweeping generalizations,” writes Lindsey Bodner, executive director of the Naomi Foundation, in a response to eJewishPhilanthropy’s coverage of the recent Jewish Funders Network conference, during which JFN’s CEO, Andres Spokoiny, broached the subject of a lack of Haredi participation. “We know not to assume all Jews eat gefilte fish — or even keep kosher. While it is true some Haredim would not participate in mixed-gender events, there are many more who would gladly attend a panel discussion with mixed seating. In many Haredi communities there are plenty of spheres in which men and women work together — particularly in chesed, kiruv and chinuch: giving, outreach and education. And let’s not forget that the wealthy among these groups — funders and prospective JFN members — are perhaps even more likely to participate in groups with men and women than the general population as they are used to attending business meetings and conducting real estate transactions in mixed-gender settings.”
Encouraging participation: “We must leave our prejudices aside when cultivating open and diverse spaces and conversations. I wonder if the first thing you would say about integrating another Jewish group would be a reason not to include them, and a flimsy one at that. When considering how to encourage participation by specific identity groups, such as Jews of color, Sephardic Jews and Jews in the LGBTQ community, I believe we would discuss the value of their participation first, and we would be extra careful laying out the perceived obstacles. We owe our Haredi brothers and sisters the same consideration.”
Listening with respect: “If there are obstacles to any member’s participation at JFN, I hope we can listen with an open ear and see if an accommodation is possible. If at that point the answer is no, whether because of ideology, respect for women, space, cost, etc., then of course it is a reasonable decision to make. Let’s get to the point where Haredi Jews are requesting gender-segregated spaces before suggesting that is the reason they are not participating and thereby foreclosing the possibility of future Haredi attendance.”
Three things I learned about day schools from Prizmah’s new development survey
“As a data-informed organization, Prizmah invests considerable time and resources uncovering the trends and best practices in the Jewish day school world. Our newly released Development Pulse Survey Report is the most recent collection of data from the field to help day school leaders and philanthropists make informed decisions that are based on facts and measurable outcomes. From our network of 305 Jewish day schools and yeshivas across North America, we received 118 responses to our survey, representing a diversity of school sizes, geographies and religious affiliations. In reviewing this extraordinary data set, it’s clear that there’s good news for day schools,” writes Hannah Strasser Olson, senior vice president of development for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Building systems in crisis: “In the early days of the pandemic, many Jewish communal organizations went into crisis mode. How will we meet our mission at a six-foot distance? What will it take to ensure that we can continue to serve the families who rely on us? In day schools in particular, this meant a huge investment in technology and infrastructure to be able to serve students in virtual classrooms and socially distanced in-person classrooms. The immediate need to upgrade technology, refurbish air filtration systems, invest in cleaning and maintenance staff, hang plastic dividers, and build outdoor learning environments seemed overwhelming. But with the support of generous donors, emergency resources and reserves, schools were able to put in place the systems necessary to continue the teaching and learning. In fact, for many, day schools became hallmarks of successful pandemic experiences, thinking creatively to ensure that their missions were met even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
Long-term support: “Now, as we move beyond the acute stresses and change created by the pandemic, schools feel buoyed by the relationships they created in their crisis mode. Rather than an emergency need, schools are talking to their communities about the kinds of support that will help them serve their students in the long-term, and endowment funds are finding their way to the top of that priority list. Seventy-eight percent of respondents, representing 92 schools, reported that their school has an endowment fund. Of the 27 schools that reported not having an endowment, nearly 50% are planning to launch an endowment campaign in the next five years, while an additional 41% are interested in doing so in the future.”
Future-focused philanthropy: “Endowment valuations have increased significantly from last year. This is the result of both strong stock market performance and schools securing additional endowment funds […] Endowment funds are the very definition of future-focused philanthropy; like retirement funds, an investment in the present ensures that long-term planning is supported and that the financial health of schools is on track.”
A Shtiebel of One’s Own: The Wall Street Journal’s Emily Bobrow spotlights Rabbanit Hadas Fruchter, one of the first Orthodox Jewish women to seek ordination. “When Rabbanit Fruchter, 32, opened the South Philadelphia Shtiebel in 2019, she became one of the first Modern Orthodox women to start and lead her own house of worship. (A shtiebel, Yiddish for ‘little room,’ is an informal house of prayer.) The congregation had already outgrown its rented Philadelphia storefront when Rabbanit Fruchter stopped in-person programming in March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. Last summer she signed a lease on a larger space, which already feels snug: the congregation attracts about 100 worshipers to its Shabbat morning services. She is now preparing for the synagogue’s first in-person Passover celebration. ‘There’s such an appetite for community,’ she says over the phone from her home in Philadelphia. The synagogue ‘really feels like a living and breathing organism now.’” [WSJ]
Clergy on COVID: The New York Times’ James Estrin speaks with New York-based clergy about the pandemic’s “deep physical, spiritual and emotional toll — not only on the faithful but also on clergy members who struggled to serve worshipers from afar,” including Rabbi Rachel Timoner of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn: “We need each other. Judaism teaches us that the Shekhinah — the presence of God — is most clearly present when a group is gathered. So our ability to commune with the divine, to commune with God, is related to our ability to commune with each other. There is no substitute for holding each other’s hands, for putting our arms around each other, for dancing together, for singing together, and we feel it acutely when it’s gone. Covid has made me even more dedicated to the social justice imperative at the heart of Torah. The Passover Seder story of our enslavement, and our liberation, is the formative story for the Jewish people, and it reminds us that wherever we are there is oppression, and wherever we are, liberation is possible.” [NYTimes]
Word on the Street
Rabbi Avi Olitzky is joining See3 Communications as chief innovation officer; he formerly was senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis.
The family of Ted and Annette Lerner, who bought the Washington Nationals in 2006, has begun the process of exploring potential changes in the club’s ownership structure, including the possibility of selling the team…
Rabbi Charles E. Savenor has been named the executive director of the educational organization Civic Spirit. He was previously director of congregational education at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan…
Pic of the Day
Retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer received the Albert D. Chernin Award from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs on Monday at the group’s conference. Journalist Dahlia Lithwick (left) presented the award.
Comedian, writer and actor, best known for co-creating and co-starring in the Comedy Central series “Broad City,” Ilana Glazer…
Senior U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Judge Alan Neil Bloch… Founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel, Pastor John Charles Hagee… National correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning,” Rita Braver… Attorney and bestselling novelist of 11 legal thrillers and author of three nonfiction books, Scott Turow… Television producer and screenwriter, he serves as chairman of the Liverpool Football Club and the Boston Red Sox, Thomas Charles Werner… SVP at UJA Federation of New York, Stuart Tauber… Moroccan-born fashion designer and co-founder of the Guess clothing and accessory brand, Paul Marciano… West Bloomfield, Mich., resident, Ron Mitnick… Washington, D.C. attorney, Norman B. “Norm” Antin… Chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews since 2014, she was appointed to the House of Lords in 2021, Baroness Joanna Merron… U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer… Twin brothers, both real estate agents starring in the Netflix original series “Selling Sunset,” Jason and Brett Oppenheim… Actress, director and writer, Jordana Spiro… Realtor and VP for Keller Williams focused on Cambridge and Somerville, Mass., Ilya Jacob Rasner… President at National Student Legal Defense Network, Aaron Ament… California state senator, Henry I. Stern… Member of the Seattle City Council, Daniel Aaron Strauss… Israeli actress best known for her lead role in the 2012 film “Fill the Void,” Hadas Yaron… Actor, currently starring as Big Red in the Disney series “High School Musical,” Larry Saperstein…
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