Your Daily Phil: In Israel, grassroots initiatives must now grow deeper

Good Tuesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on how the U.S. Department of Education is handling the growing number of antisemitism allegations against universities and K-12 schools, and feature an opinion piece by Gil Galanos about Israeli tour guides adapting to the impact of the war on their work. Also in this newsletter: Yehuda KurtzerMitch Daniels and David Rubenstein. We’ll start with how Israeli grassroots initiatives that sprung up post-Oct. 7 are preparing for the long haul.

In the early days of the war, Heela Harel had a friend who was going to the Dead Sea to volunteer with the evacuees from Gaza-border communities. “I just joined him, and so did another friend [Shifra Wygoda]. She was in the middle of crocheting something, and she said maybe I should bring my stuff too,” Harel told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

The two started crocheting in the lobby of one of the hotels and “within five minutes, someone asked us what we were doing, and if she could join us,” she recalled. “We said, ‘Of course,’ and that’s how it started, in the most ‘grassroots’ way possible.”

Within an hour a few more women had joined the circle, and the word spread from there. “We saw that the need for this was [immense]. The people there loved it,” Harel said. “We started to post on Facebook, and it just started spreading.”

Harel and Wygoda started looking for sources of funding for their initiative. They applied for — and received — a NIS 25,000 ($6,850) grant as part of a joint program by the Israeli think tank and nonprofit Shaharit – Creating Common Cause and the Fund for New Leadership (FNL), which was found and is supported by Alan and Kim Hartman. Shaharit, which focuses on leadership development and community organizing, and FNL gave similar micro-grants to more than 170 initiatives across the country in the weeks following Oct. 7, as part of a fund they created called Shahar, or Daybreak.

The knitting circles — Ayin Tova, a play on words meaning both “good eye” (in contrast to the evil eye)  and “good stitch” — now operate at some 30 hotels around the country, with hundreds of participants.

But nearly four months into the war, Ayin Tova is struggling to keep itself going. (Yarn isn’t cheap.)  “At first, everything was in this tiruf [mania] — We have to do something! — so it was easy. You’d put out a request, and someone helped,” Harel said. “But the war isn’t ending. Our challenge is how do we continue to provide this as long as there is a need, and the need is growing.”

Harel and Ayin Tova are not alone. The grassroots organizations that sprung up in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacres are entering a new phase as the war drags on, in which they will have to develop the resources and infrastructure to continue — either on their own or with another organization — or close up shop.

To help Ayin Tova and the 170 other recipients of its microgrants navigate this moment, Shaharit and FNL will hold a daylong conference in Jerusalem next month, gathering these entrepreneurs together for discussions and workshops.

“The idea was that [these initiatives] would be transitional, that many of these places were going to be ephemeral. They were going to exist for three weeks and then they’re going to be gone. And that’s fine,” Eilon Schwartz, the director of Shaharit, told eJP. “[But] some of them are going to morph into something more permanent. And some of them are going to be ephemeral, but the person who built it is now going to be looking to do something else.”

Read the full report here.


Rabbi Dina Brawer, executive director of the U.K.-based World Jewish Relief’s American branch, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2023.
Catherine Lhamon. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Catherine Lhamon, the top civil rights official at the U.S. Department of Education, said on Monday she is “astounded” by the antisemitic incidents she has seen since Oct. 7. “I’m a longtime, lifelong civil rights attorney, and I and my staff know hate intimately because of what we do, and I am astounded by the kinds of allegations that we are seeing now in this country,” Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, told Gabby Deutch for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider. “I’m devastated that it’s true, and devastated for the students who are experiencing those kinds of incidents.”

Access denied?: Lhamon declined to weigh in on whether particular statements or actions, such as anti-Israel protesters chanting the phrases “Globalize the Intifada” or “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” that are viewed as antisemitic by many in the Jewish community, would rise to the level of a civil rights violation. “The question for us is not so much whether one student is correct or not correct about how the student received the comment,” said Lhamon, when asked about those two phrases. “It’s, ‘Was the conduct so severe or pervasive that it limited or denied the students access to education? And was it based on shared ancestry? And then if so, did the school respond in a way that mitigated the harm to the student and prevented its recurrence?’”

Backlog building: The work is not made easier by the department’s inability to hire more attorneys. Congress has not yet passed a budget for the year. President Joe Biden has requested a 27% increase in OCR’s budget, Lhamon said — an increase that would allow her to hire 100 people to her investigative team. “Until then, we’re throwing everything we have at these cases, with the resources that we have,” said Lhamon. “It is very challenging for us. Our staff are now carrying in excess of 50 cases a person, and that is an untenable caseload.”

Read the full report here and sign up for Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.


What does Israel education look like post-Oct. 7?

itrek tour educators visit the Gaza Envelope in Dec. 2023. Photo by Keren H./itrek

“What is the Israel story we tell now? As a nonprofit organization that has sent more than 25,000 rising leaders in the fields of business, public policy, STEM and law on Israel Treks — tailored educational experiences in Israel — we at itrek knew we were not alone in grappling with this question. To begin to answer it, we focused on our greatest asset: our itrek tour educators,” writes Gil Galanos, co-founder and CEO of itrek, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Forever changed: “‘After Oct. 7, it was clear to me that I will never guide the same familiar sights in the same way again,’ itrek tour educator Hadara Arbel told me after a guided tour of the Gaza Envelope that our organization facilitated in December… Given that many of our tour educators had not visited the area since that horrific day, we quickly organized the tour to hear from those affected most — and to help our tour educators consider how they will guide diverse audiences at these same locations in the near future. ‘While it wasn’t my first time visiting these sites, it was the first time I was there as a student, not a teacher — and with my colleagues, not my clients,’ Arbel reflected. ‘For the first time since the war started, I found myself beginning to process my feelings, and think through my professional insights. It got the ball rolling on what I know will be a long process to come.’”

Contingency plans: “Given the disruption to tourism caused by the ongoing war, itrek has offered tour educators up to $2,500 in ‘Emergency Israel Education’ funding toward new experiences that meet the needs of the current moment. Our tour educators have shown their ingenuity in creating authentic Israel education experiences that do not require boots on the ground.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Lean Into the Nuance: In the Forward, Yehuda Kurtzer calls for a more nuanced form of solidarity with Israel as the war against Hamas grinds on, with no clear end in sight and no consensus vision for the day after. “The challenge for liberals in this just war moment is to support the fight and hope it is fought justly and speedily. I find affirmation in the philosopher Michael Walzer’s words: ‘Now I pray for a smart war and a smart politics afterward.’ But it is also true that as the war drags on, it is getting harder to hold onto this view. The costs of the war are profound: thousands of Palestinian deaths, incalculable destruction in Gaza, and a constant stream of the news of deaths of Israeli soldiers from whom I often have but one degree of personal separation… With the passage of time, some of the initial broad-consensus American and American Jewish support for the legitimacy of the war is starting to fade… There are many ways to show solidarity, and to fight for what is just, besides affirming the decisions made by an army or a government or publicly dissenting from them. We can express solidarity by investing in personal relationships, finding ways to support Israeli civil society and its many needs amidst a war, continuing to try to proliferate a Jewish voice that affirms humanity amidst so much death, and planning now for the Israel of tomorrow.” [Forward]

Here’s to the Little Guy: In The Washington Post, Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana, argues that the solution to many of the country’s problems should be solved starting at the local level, not with moonshots. “Community foundations are a Midwest invention and remain heavily concentrated in the heartland. The Cleveland Foundation, in 1914, is generally credited with being the first of its kind, but it was quickly followed by counterpart institutions in neighboring states. Although at least one can now be found in every state, one-third or more are in the Midwest, more than 200 in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana alone. These organizations leave worrying about ocean-boiling to the Fords and Gateses, aiming instead at the nitty-gritty problems that afflict their localities… But the good these brave little organizations do might be secondary to the way they do it… Community foundations seek out and draw together as many of their neighbors as they can enlist in conceiving and deciding on their investments, serving as vehicles of consensus and cohesion.” [WashPost]

Keeping it in the Faith: In The New York Times, Joseph Bernstein examines the impact of Oct. 7 on Jewish singles’ search for love — specifically, a new focus among some Jewish women on finding a Jewish partner. “Amid an endless scroll of social media invective and atrocity, and in the face of a gnawing feeling that many things in the world are hopeless, some young American Jewish women say they are doing — or trying to do — something that is the opposite of hopeless. ‘For some people having a child is manifesting hope,’ said Stephen Seligman, a psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘It’s saying, yes there is a future. And I’m going to bank on it.’… Now, even some unobservant or secular Jewish women, for whom such concerns were far from important before Oct. 7, have rediscovered the imperative to have Jewish children. And women from all of these groups describe a reawakened ethnic trauma that is factoring into their family planning decisions… According to Signe Svallfors, a social demographer at Stanford University, armed conflicts between ethnic groups have been shown in some cases to raise fertility rates — in particular when people start to fear for the survival of their ethnic in-group. Ms. Svallfors said this phenomenon has been documented everywhere from Israel to Rwanda and Myanmar. But Joshua Wilde, a demographer at the University of Oxford, added that in general, uncertain times correlate with lower birthrates, and that rhetoric about fertility does not always lead to action. ‘Something traumatic happens and everyone is like, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to get overrun,”’ Mr. Wilde said. ‘Everyone wrings their hands for awhile. A few weeks later, the shock subsides. And children are very costly.’” [NYT]

Around the Web

Speaking of Jewish baby booms, the number of lesbian couples and single heterosexual women in Israel using sperm donors have outnumbered the couples struggling with infertility for the first time…

A new study by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University found that members of Generation Z have greater philanthropic desire than previous generations but lack financial resources…

After it was nearly kept out of the competition, the Israeli Under-20 National Team won the gold medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division III Group A tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria. The team will now move to Division II Group B…

The Israeli military expects the war against Hamas in Gaza to continue through at least the end of this year…

Hadassah Ben-Ari, the wife of singer Hanan Ben-Aricreated “The Heroes of Oct. 7,” a project telling stories of bravery and courage during the massacres; the stories are available in Hebrew, English and French…

The Conservative movement announced in a new 21-page report that it will maintain its ban on rabbis officiating at interfaith weddings, while simultaneously promoting changes to make the movement more welcoming to interfaith families…

This past weekend, Tovah Feldshuh, Debra Messing, Adam Pascal and other Jewish performers put on the first-ever “Shabbat on Broadway,” which its producer described as “non-denominational Shabbat service with a real Broadway twist”…

Tom Nides, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and banker, is joining Blackstone as vice chairman for client relations and strategy, 

Jonathan and Anne Rand donated their collection of 582 minerals, worth over $1 million, to the Biblical Museum of Natural History, just outside Beit Shemesh in central Israel. The collection will be exhibited in the museum later this year…

The University of Texas at Austin raised $1 billion for students through a two-year philanthropic campaign with almost 291,000 donors…

The Pardes Institute for Jewish Learning hired Simone Katz as its next chief marketing officer in a round of hirings for top positions…

Arizona’s Jewish News spotlights the role that Arizona State University Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick played in creating a partnership between the school and OpenAI… 

HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht in the Netherlands will hold a series of lectures about the Holocaust, which had been canceled reportedly due to pressure from a pro-Palestinian lobbying group, following an outcry from the local Jewish community and politicians… 

The Baltimore Banner examines how a planned assembly about the Israel-Hamas war, featuring Palestinian and Israeli anti-war academics, disrupted the private Park School of Baltimore

A Massachusetts man was charged with leaving a series of threatening and antisemitic messages on the voicemail of Congregation Agudas Achim…  

The investor and philanthropist David Rubenstein is stepping down as chairman of the Kennedy Center after 14 years in the role…

Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings donated $1.1 billion worth of his stake in the streaming giant to Silicon Valley Community Foundation, whose donors include top high-tech leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, who gave a similar amount worth of Facebook stock 10 years ago…

Marshall B. Grossman, a high-profile litigator and longtime donor to the Chabad-Lubavitch movementdied in October at 84…

Vera Clement, a Holocaust survivor and artist whose work reflected her early experiences, died in October at 93…

Pic of the Day

Over 50,000 people attend the traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City today, during Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days) of Sukkot.
Screenshot/Jewish Federation of Howard County/Facebook

A Jewish teenager blows a shofar as his fellow Student to Student teen leaders look on during their presentation about Jewish life, culture and religion for the youth of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints in Ellicott City, Md., earlier this month.

Laid out on the table are additional Jewish ritual objects they incorporate into their presentations, such as sefarim (Jewish books), a small Torah scroll, a chanukiah, a set of Shabbat candles, a kiddush cup and some challah; and a series of names are translated or transliterated into Hebrew on the white board.

Student to Student is a program of Be The Narrative, a national nonprofit that develops interactive educational programs that connect Jewish and non-Jewish peers to learn about Judaism and dispel stereotypes.


Artist Barbara “Willy” Mendes stands in front of a piece of her art at her gallery in Los Angeles in 2017. Screenshot/Bruno Strauss/YouTube

Artist, she paints brightly colored Biblical narratives based upon her Torah study, Barbara “Willy” Mendes… 

Chairman of The Cordish Companies, David S. Cordish… Professor at the School of Pharmacy of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Meir Bialer… Teacher and national community leader, holder of a Ph.D. in modern Jewish history from New York University, Judith Friedman Rosen… Broadcaster for MLB’s Oakland Athletics and author of two baseball related books, Kenneth Louis Korach… Upton, Wyo., resident, Heather Graf… VP of corporate engagement at the Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation in New Hyde Park, NY, Linda Scacco… CEO of Jewish National Fund-USA, Russell F. Robinson… Former Member of the California State Senate from 2014 until 2019, now a member of the Nevada State Senate, Jeffrey Earle Stone… Philadelphia area psychologist, Dr. Rachel Ginzberg… Managing partner of lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Richard B. Benenson… Director of public relations for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Zalman Shmotkin… Associate professor in the electrical engineering department at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Guy Gilboa… Israeli singer, songwriter and music producer, Assaf Amdursky… Publicist, manager and socialite, she runs an eponymous NYC PR and management firm, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Grubman 3… Special projects editor at The Week JuniorBari Nan Cohen Rothchild… At-large member of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Council, Evan M. Glass… Dallas resident, Gisele Marie Rogers… Senior advisor at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Joshua M. Kram… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-NY-1) from 2015 to 2023, he was a candidate for governor of New York in 2022, Lee Zeldin… National correspondent for ABC News Radio, Steven Portnoy… Israeli actor, director and author, he is known for starring in “Shtisel, Out in the Dark” and as the host of the popular reality TV show, “The Voice Israel,” Michael Aloni… CEO at Harvesting Media and host of the Kosher Money podcast, Eli Langer… Media professional and communications strategist, Alyona Minkovski… Member of the Connecticut House of Representatives since 2019, he is the eldest son of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Matthew S. Blumenthal… Partner in Avalanche VC and managing partner of Arcadia Projects, Eric Scott Lavin… Deputy National Security Advisor to VPOTUS Kamala Harris, Rebecca Friedman Lissner… Model Kate Lynne Bock… Senior principal at Publicis Sapient, Max Delahanty… Professional ice hockey defenseman, he played on Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics and is currently playing with EHC Red Bull München, Jonathon Blum… VP at Blue Wolf Capital Partners, Jared Isenstein… Ice hockey forward for four seasons at Northeastern University, she is now playing in the Professional Women’s Hockey League, Chelsey Goldberg… Digital marketing manager at sbe Lifestyle Hospitality, Alexa Smith