Your Daily Phil: Inside the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable + Abrahamic House takes a page from Moishe House
Good Monday morning!
A resolution put forward by members of United Teachers Los Angeles, the city’s teacher’s union, that calls for the U.S. government to end all aid to Israel has prompted condemnations from both the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.
“It is inappropriate and unacceptable for UTLA to promote a one-sided position on a complex geopolitical issue that is far removed from the day to day public education in our schools, among our teachers, our students and their families,” the federation said. The union is expected to vote on the resolution in September.
JewBelong, the Jewish outreach program known for its use of humor, has mounted its first-ever media campaign against antisemitism, Archie Gottesman, a JewBelong co-founder, told eJewishPhilanthropy. JewBelong’s first response to antisemitism was the creation of the Jewish Partisan Prizes, which honored influencers who were fighting antisemitism online during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“JewBelong’s core mission is to help those who are somewhat disengaged from Judaism to find joy, meaning, and relevance in Judaism,” Gottesman said. “We can’t be successful in that mission without facing the hate head on. We are taking action by speaking out. We are temporarily pivoting to combating antisemitism.”
One of the first ads reads: “Here’s an idea. Let’s ask everyone who’s wondering if antisemitism is real to wear a yarmulke for a week and report back.”
The campaign has started with 750 ads on digital information kiosks in Manhattan, and will also include billboards and print posters in high-traffic locations such as Times Square. It will expand to Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Growing the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
Since Abby Levine took the helm of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable in 2012, the umbrella group has nearly tripled in size to 70 affiliated organizations. Levine took the job envisioning the Roundtable’s members as a coalition working toward policy goals, but came to realize that the Roundtable could serve as a convener that provides training, education and inspiration, she told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Helen Chernikoff: Did you always know you wanted to be an activist?
Abby Levine: I wanted to be a camp counselor forever. I just really liked the spirit of it. But there is a way in which the conferences and the training we run have elements of camp for grown-ups. We go away to Pearlstone Retreat Center [outside of Baltimore] and program our days in ways that build community, are grounded in values and make the world a better place. It’s so gratifying to get people into bigger-picture thinking as a field and a movement and to have fun together. One of our standards is karaoke. Now, because of the pandemic, even just being in a room together will be fun. Our bar has dropped over the past year. Those things are going to happen again, although I don’t know when yet.
HC: What would you say is one of the Roundtable’s primary accomplishments?
AL: It changed the atmosphere from one of competition to collaboration. That doesn’t mean that all the competition has gone away. But people know that the Roundtable is the place to come for partnerships, for collaborations. None of us can accomplish our visions by ourselves; we have huge ambitions. We need each other.
HC: Do members of the Roundtable find themselves competing for funding?
AL: It plays out in a lot of ways. There can be competition for funding, for press attention, for board members, and it happens everywhere, throughout the Jewish world and the broader nonprofit world. It’s important to talk about it and to acknowledge that this exists.
Building an interfaith oasis in the nation’s capital
When the members of the inaugural class of Abrahamic Fellows — one Jew, one Muslim, one Christian and one Baha’i — moved into their shared home in Los Angeles last year, they were preparing for a unique year of interfaith programming, hard conversations and new friends. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic shut down their city. The fellowship, the culmination of a decade of pioneering interfaith work by Yemeni refugee Mohammed al Samawi, is designed to bring together adherents of the four main “Abrahamic faiths” to promote dialogue and understanding. “We had plans for them to do events inside the house, but they couldn’t do any events inside the house [because of the pandemic]. So basically, then they started doing it on Zoom,” al Samawi told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutchin a recent interview about the fellowship’s new house in Washington, D.C. “It was such an amazing experience…they became really good friends with each other.”
Blueprint: The idea for the Abrahamic House — of bringing together young people to form communities outside of traditional religious institutions — was inspired by a Jewish organization called Moishe House. In dozens of cities around the world, shared Moishe Houses offer affordable rent to young Jews, as long as they organize three to six social events and Jewish programs a month. When al Samawi, 34, first came to the U.S., he spoke about his interfaith work in Yemen at a Moishe House in Washington, D.C. “I loved the whole idea about having people living together and doing Shabbat and doing Jewish events,” al Samawi recalled. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I do something similar to that?’ But instead of [people] only from one religion, it will be from different faiths.” Al Samawi got in touch with David Cygielman, the founder and CEO of Moishe House, who is now the chair of Abrahamic House’s board of directors.
Never ‘othering’: Al Samawi thinks that building understanding — the cornerstone of the Abrahamic House model — is a good place to start at this fractured moment in American history. “It started in my country like this: It started by a group who [has] all the stereotypes about the others, trying to impose their opinion in certain ways,” al Samawi noted. “We are speaking about a culture of ‘othering’ the others. Abrahamic House, this is what we’re trying to fight off: ‘othering’ the others. Because the more that you are involved in interfaith [efforts], the more that you realize, we are actually the same.” He explained that unlike some other interfaith organizations, “we don’t [just] celebrate holidays. We don’t just do basic conversations, we actually get into the deep conversation,” al Samawi noted. Events might focus on teaching attendees about antisemitism and Islamophobia, or teaching about how women in all four faiths are challenging traditional gender norms and taking on spiritual leadership roles.
New research on High Holiday participation illuminates critical themes for future design
“Among the many ways that the pandemic profoundly changed Jewish engagement, the High Holidays of 2020 stands out as a particularly fascinating case study,” write Lisa Colton, Tobin Marcus, and Felicia Herman in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Infrequent vs. Regular Observers: “One of the most interesting findings focuses on those who are less consistent or comprehensive in their participation in a typical year. This group, ‘Infrequent High Holidays Observers,’ clearly has interest in participating in the High Holidays, but chooses to not participate some of the time. This year, not only did they participate at high rates, they also had markedly different patterns of participation and motivations when compared to ‘Regular Observers,’ who generally participate in both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
New ways to engage: “Remarkably, approximately half of the ‘Infrequent Observers’ participated in High Holidays this year, when it would have been very easy to opt out. Furthermore, they were more likely than ‘Regular Observers’ to report sharing their High Holidays experiences with others in their lives, more likely to be considering new ways to engage in the future, and they are looking differently at what Jewishness means to them.”
THE AMERICAN FAMILIES PLAN
Universal preschool: What could this mean for the Jewish community?
“What if Jewish early childhood centers embraced universal preschool by partnering with their states to open public pre-Ks?,” asks Shma Koleinu, a collective dedicated to advocating for early childhood education, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
The Ask: “The Biden administration is calling for universal, high quality preschool for all three- and four- year-olds. How and why should the Jewish community support this, and what might this development mean for our schools?”
Vocalizing support: “We authors do not take a stand on whether or not a particular Jewish early childhood center should offer a universal preschool program. We do, however, believe that our values—grounded in Judaism, racial justice, progressive education, and feminism—call us to vocalize support for a major national investment in early childhood education.”
Specific Steps: Advocates see little systemic progress despite the billions of dollars given to new philanthropic initiatives in the wake of protests racial justice protests last summer, reports Glenn Gamboa in the Associated Press. A lack of consensus on the definition of a “racial justice equity” makes it difficult to track and evaluate the donations, and many organizations who have pledged money have not made other, more permanent changes, such as increasing the diversity of their board or putting racial equality on the official agenda at their meetings. “We can’t solve racial equity until we change the dynamics of who gets to make decisions about how these enormous sums of capital are being deployed,” said Dana Lanza, CEO of Confluence Philanthropy. [AP]
A Special Moment: In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Leah Reisman pens a call to action to consultants who serve nonprofits, urging them to understand the post-pandemic moment as an opportunity not just for charitable organizations, but for the consultants themselves to do especially meaningful work. Because the pandemic has forced many nonprofits to take such drastic moves as layoffs and program cancellations, consultants must go the extra mile to customize their services and even make their work available on a pro bono basis if necessary, Reisman writes. “For many nonprofits, the pandemic-precipitated crisis presents an opportunity — albeit a painful one — for organizations to reimagine what they do and how they do it,” Reisman writes. [ChroniclePhilanthropy]
Same Old: The practice of pooling contributions for a charitable purpose is not new, but the term “crowdfunding” and the internet are — so new, in fact, that nobody knows how much money changes hands through such platforms like GoFundMe, IndieGogo and thousands of others, write Jaqueline Ackerman and Jon Bergdoll, both of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at the University of Indiana, in The Conversation. These mechanisms are neither regulated nor coordinated, but according to rigorous estimates, crowdfunding campaigns raise as much as $34 billion a year globally, and it’s especially popular among younger people, people of color and those who support social justice causes. Fundraisers should temper their excitement, however, Ackerman and Bergdoll suggest: “Crowdfunding donors, for the most part, also give to charity through more traditional means … they do not constitute a separate pool of charitable donors.” [Conversation]
Tribes At Work: In The Guardian, Gillian Tett explores the notion that individuals working remotely can be as effective and productive as they are in the office, and finds it at odds with the scholarship of anthropologists who study professional life and have found that workers make decisions as groups who access multiple sources and disseminate it across the organization. When employees are isolated from each other, their thinking tends to lose nuance and subtlety, Tett writes, citing research that showed American bankers who worked more in-person than Europeans also better navigated the financial chaos of the pandemic. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed,” said Charles Bristow, a senior trader at JP Morgan. “[It’s] where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.” [Guardian]
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Word on the Street
Yesh Atid MK and former IDF general Elazar Stern will be the next government’s candidate to replace Isaac Herzog as chairman of the Jewish Agency when the latter becomes president of Israel this week… The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat chose Tel Aviv’s two-year-old ToHa skyscraper as the overall winner in the office building category of its 18th annual awards program… Jewish Care is set to resume in-person activities in its London area homes and centers next month… Delivering Good, Inc. announced a June 9 panel to examine women as philanthropists & their emerging power to do good… Google announced commitments totaling $4 million in support of building an inclusive and equitable COVID-19 recovery for the LGBTQ+ community…
Pic of the Day
More than 50 teens from 13 Russian cities gathered in Kazan for the JDC-supported AJT-BBYO Festival, the first offline regional event for Jewish teens since the pandemic began. JDC’s Active Jewish Teens is powered by a founding partnership with BBYO and partnerships with Genesis Philanthropy Group and other supporters.
Chicago and Aspen-based investor and philanthropist, reported to own large stakes in Maytag, Hilton Hotels, the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls, among many other companies, Lester Crown…
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware resident, Dennis B. Berlin… Former five-term Democratic Congressman from California (1983-1993), he now serves as counsel in the Century City office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Mel Levine… Professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of 13 books, Deborah Tannen… Deputy Secretary of State of the U.S., Wendy Ruth Sherman… Senior advisor in the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. State Department, he was previously the staff director of the House International Relations Committee, Hillel Weinberg… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-PA-7), Susan Ellis Wild… Former Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence… Jerusalem resident, Deborah Renert… U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York, Jesse Matthew Furman… U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM)… One-half of the Arab-Jewish electronic music duo Chromeo, David “Dave 1” Macklovitch… Director of voice, creativity and culture at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Isaac Luria… Editor of The New York Review of Books, Emily S. Greenhouse… Actress and model, Emily Ratajkowski… Canadian ice hockey forward currently playing with HC Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League, Ethan Werek…
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