Your Daily Phil: Inflation, staffing and camp + The view from a small school

Good Wednesday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we report on the state of Jewish camp, and feature an interview with the Big Ten’s Kevin Warren as well as an op-ed by Sue Bojdak about the advantages of running a small school. Also in this newsletter: Rebecca Balter, Rabbi Sharon Brous and Menahem Schmelzer. We’ll start with a panel yesterday on protecting houses of worship in New York City.

Political and spiritual leaders who gathered at an interfaith forum yesterday on the threats facing New York’s religious communities — titled “Building Bridges” — said the solution for protecting the city’s houses of worship from attack comes down to, well, building bridges,reports JI’s Tori Bergel for eJewishPhilanthropy.

“If you as a community want me, as a faith leader in my tradition, to stand with you with your issues, I think you also have to stand with me in my issues as well,” said Pastor Gilford Monrose, executive director of the city’s Office of Faith-Based Community Partnerships, during the morning’s opening panel. “We all must really respond to each other so that the world can see that we’re standing [together], even though the issue itself does not directly affect us.”

The forum was hosted by City & State magazine, and the opening panel was moderated by Maury Litwack, the Orthoox Union’s managing director of public affairs and executive director of TeachNYS, an OU program that advocates for directing government funding toward private schools. The panel’s other speakers included Hassan Naveed, executive director of the New York City Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes; Fred Kreizman, commissioner of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit; and Rick Sawyer, special counsel for hate crimes in the state attorney general’s office.

“It goes to show how diverse our administration is — we can have a Muslim, someone who’s Jewish and Christian, working together to serve our communities, but also… rather than our own communities itself, to be able to see this issue in such a broad particular way,” Naveed said.

Monrose said religious leaders and houses of worship need to take two steps to prepare for potential attacks: First, institutions need to have their own plans in place for dealing with threats, and second, the personnel who work within them need to receive technical training on what to do.

Naveed added that his office is working with partners to conduct trainings for houses of worship in each of the five boroughs, starting with Queens. The discussion concluded with a look toward what everyday community members can do to help.

“Be an upstander, respectfully. If you see something, it’s important to be able to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong,’” Naveed said. Sawyer said, “Speaking out is an act of bravery, and bravery is fueled by faith. So it’s the faith communities that have the greatest score of the bravery that is required to speak out against hate.”

notes on camp

Campers dancing at sunset.

After three years spent in the shadow of COVID-19, the future looked bright as 800 camp professionals and supporters gathered for the Foundation for Jewish Camp Leaders Assembly in Atlanta last week, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Camp is back!: Among the 300 day and overnight camps FJC serves, enrollment is almost back to where it was in 2019 — and many camps have exceeded their pre-pandemic numbers. The field as a whole is on its way to closing a $150 million budget gap that resulted from camps remaining closed in 2020.

Keeping camp affordable: But some difficulties have festered — while new ones have appeared. Staff recruitment and training remains a challenge. And ongoing inflation means that most families will see significant tuition hikes when they sign up for next summer. “We don’t want camp to get so expensive that it’s unattainable for families,” Jeremy Fingerman, FJC’s CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “So there’s a lot of effort and a lot of conversation around trying to address affordability to raise additional scholarship funds.”

The enrollment report: A preview of data from FJC’s annual census of camps, due out in 2023, shows that, at least in one respect, numbers have returned almost to where they were in 2019, which was a record year for Jewish camp in terms of attendance. Day and overnight camps across the sector had a total of 182,000 campers and staff in 2019, and after a dip in 2021, camps reached 95% of the 2019 number last year. Most camps are tracking behind 2019 in terms of camper registration for summer 2023, but 40% are exceeding 2019 levels.

Read the full story here.

sports talk

Kevin Warren’s big tent

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – JULY 26: Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren speaks during the 2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium on July 26, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Last March, Kevin Warren, the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, took a moment from his demanding schedule to congratulate Yeshiva University’s men’s basketball team after the end of a historic season. To Warren, the team’s achievements were an inspiring testament to “the wonderful influence the Maccabees have had on our nation and the Jewish community,” he wrote in a heartfelt letter to Elliot Steinmetz, the head coach. Warren discussed his connections with Judaism in a series of interviews with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel this fall.

Getting personal: The sports executive, who is based in Chicago, has leveraged his position to promote diversity, equality and inclusion while raising awareness of antisemitism, racism and other forms of bigotry on college campuses and beyond. Last year, he helped form an ongoing partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to launch a multipart training and education commission addressing bias and hate amid an uptick in anti-Jewish incidents. “One of the things I’ve been really struck by in conversations with Kevin is he recognizes the platform that he has, he recognizes the responsibility that comes with the role, and he blends that with his personal commitment,” said David Goldenberg, the ADL’s Midwest regional director, who is actively involved with the program.

Mr. Warren goes to Washington: In 2019, shortly before he moved on to the Big Ten, Warren, then a member of the Minnesota Vikings staff, was among a group of staffers who participated in what he described as an “emotional” visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., with Mark Wilf, the team’s president and co-owner, who serves as board chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel and formerly chaired the Jewish Federations of North America. “He was very much always counseling us to share our stories,” Wilf said of his former charge, recalling that Warren had encouraged him to speak openly with players and employees about Wilf’s relationship to the Holocaust as the son of survivors. “He’s promoted so much in the areas of diversity and tolerance,” Wilf told JI. “He’s been a leader on all of those fronts.”

Read more here.

less is more

“When I first returned to the role of educator at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav five years ago, I quietly confessed to the rabbi that we might want to merge our school with that of our nearest Jewish neighbors. Their school and ours were meeting at the same time on Shabbat mornings, separated by just a few blocks, and we share common values and goals. It seemed foolish for us to put so much effort into our own thing. But Sha’ar Zahav’s lay leaders, especially the school parents, had worked hard to keep their school afloat despite difficult leadership transitions and financial pressures. They had brought me in to revitalize the school, not to shut it down. So we went to work,” Sue Bojdak, director of education at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, writes in an opinion piece in eJewishPhilanthropy.

Limitations expand thinking: “What’s great about a small school is that you are compelled to draw outside the lines. The limitations on the ground force innovation. You know you cannot field enough kids to populate individual grades, so you work in mixed-age groupings. If you have a small building, as we do, you need to think creatively about how to best use the available spaces. Your limited budget gets you thinking about minimal staffing and the role of volunteers. If you meet these limitations with creativity and educational know-how, your too-small school can become an amazing learning lab, as ours has.”

Energy-driven: “Sha’ar Zahav made a commitment to project-based learning (PBL) and mixed-age classes years ago. In our revitalization efforts we doubled down on our PBL vision and all-school learning. We let go of a complex curriculum we had designed more than a decade earlier and let our curriculum be emergent, organized around one to three interwoven themes each year. We also added a maker space and with it a philosophy of curiosity-driven tinkering as a learning modality. What drives our learning is big Jewish ideas, our questions and the children’s energy and interests.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Restitution for Good: Rebecca Balter, trained as a neurobiologist, became an activist and grantmaker eight years ago; her family inheritance comes from German governmental restitution payments to her family, whose assets were seized after the Nazis came to power, Sara Herschander writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Balter’s Cast Iron Skillet Fund donates about $100,000 a year in unrestricted grants for grassroots organizing in the South. Balter manages another fund with her mother that donates roughly $750,000 a year to support environmental justice. She also has connections to two larger foundations run by other family members. In all of her work, Balter emphasizes the importance of ‘sharing power’ with grantees, not just money. To that end, her grants support organizations’ general operating costs and typically provide multiyear support. ‘If you trust that you are building power with an organization, why would you micromanage how they use the grant?’ she says. ‘That’s a waste of your time.’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Listen and Fail: 
Developing authentic relationships can help fundraisers connect to donors more deeply, Paul D’Alessandro writes in NonProfitPRO. “Trust is crucial in any relationship. If it’s missing, you’ll struggle to receive the support from others you may need. To establish trust with your donors, be transparent and honest about your organization’s mission and plans… Once you bend the realities of your work, you lose all credibility. So, even if your organization or a pilot project didn’t work out as you hoped, you have to be straight with people. Failure is OK. It’s part of the learning process. And when you share your successes — and failures — you establish trust and credibility. In fact, I’ve seen it happen where an edge initiative fails, and the organization still gets funding for it. Why? Because failure is the path to success and admitting it builds credibility and trust.“ [NonProfitPRO]

Around the Web

A bipartisan group of House legislators led by Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders urging them to allocate $360 million in funds to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in the coming fiscal year…

Lawmakers from the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism met with FBI representatives yesterday to discuss the bureau’s newly released Hate Crimes report, which vastly underreported instances of antisemitism due in part to a change in the FBI’s reporting mechanism…

The Hadassah Foundation has given $130,000 each in unrestricted grants to Jewish Women International and WePower, to be paid over five years…

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance restarted its weekly in-person talks with Holocaust survivors, which had been paused during the pandemic…

At the inauguration ceremony of new Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar was one of four clergy members — and the only rabbi — to provide invocations and blessings. Katy Young Yaroslavsky was also sworn in as city councilmember at the event…

Menahem Schmelzer, who survived the Holocaust to work at the Jewish Theological Seminary as professor of medieval Hebrew literature and Jewish bibliography, and as the longtime librarian of JTS’ Judaic collection, died at 88…

Pic of the Day

10,000 Jewish teens across six continents celebrated the BBYO youth group’s Global Shabbat this past weekend, whose theme was “Everyone, everywhere.”


NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 12: Mia Sinclair Jenness during the photo call for the Second Stage production of ‘Mary Page Marlowe’ on June 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Television, teen theater and voice actress, Mia Sinclair Jenness… 

Dean emeritus at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop… President emeritus of The George Washington University, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg… Co-founder and chairman of Creative Artists Agency, later president of the Walt Disney Company, Michael S. Ovitz… Retired N.Y. state assistant housing commissioner, he also served as a military chaplain for 38 years, Jacob Goldstein… President of Bard College since 1975, he is also music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein… Retired SVP at Warner Brothers, key advocate for Israel on the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party on the national and state levels, Howard Welinsky… Director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Robin Schatz… Member of Knesset for the Likud party, Avi Dichter… Co-founder of Beanstalk, Sixpoint Partners and Vringo, author of New York Times bestseller Let There Be Water, Seth (Yossi) Siegel… Hedge fund manager John Paulson… Owner of Bundles of Boston, Sheree Boloker… Retired CEO of San Francisco-based Jewish LearningWorks, David Jonathan Waksberg… Nurse and mental health counselor, Martina Yisraela Rieffer… Founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness established to combat abusive class-action settlements, now a division of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, Ted Frank… Partner and COO of Chicago-based Resolute Consulting, David Smolensky… British chef, restaurateur and food writer, Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi… Senior rabbi of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, Calif., Kalman Topp… Policy counsel in the criminal defense practice at The Bronx Defenders, Eli Clemans Northrup… SVP for the acquisition of skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric hospitals and addiction centers at TL Management, Matt Kosman… Former NFL player now playing rugby, he was on the Patriots when they won three Super Bowls, Nathan “Nate” Ebner… Speech-language pathologist, Leora Neuberger… Former offensive lineman for the New York Giants, now a medical sales representative at Stryker, Adam Bisnowaty… Co-director of Chabad of Macalester-Groveland in the Minneapolis area, Tzemach Feller