Your Daily Phil: Israel marks a more somber Independence Day

Good Tuesday morning. Today is Israel’s Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we speak with Shir Goldstein, who was chosen to participate in the official Yom HaAtzmaut torchlighting ceremony in recognition of her volunteer work after the Oct. 7 attacks, and report on a meeting between the White House and Jewish communal leaders. We feature an opinion piece by Rabbi Sid Schwarz about the trajectory of the American Jewish community and the need to reinvent and not just protect it, and another by David Cygielman about supporting Jewish young adults. Also in this newsletter: Noah EfronMelinda French Gates and Rabbi David Golinkin. We’ll start with an interview with Doron Almog, chair of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

It’s time for the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora to unite in support of each other, as Israel fights a multifront battle and world Jewry contends with a sharp rise in antisemitism, Doron Almog, executive chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), told Ruth Marks Eglash for eJewishPhilanthropy this week ahead of Israel’s 76th Independence Day.

Almog, who was appointed chairperson of the quasi-governmental organization in August 2022 following a lengthy search for a successor to now-President Isaac Herzog, told eJP that it is essential now, more than ever, for Jewish communities and communal organizations worldwide to work more closely together and to initiate more joint ventures in order to strengthen world Jewry.

“There are many, many Jewish organizations, and it is time for more cooperation,” emphasized Almog, a retired army major general who previously headed the IDF’s Southern Command, which includes the Gaza Strip. “It is time for us to stand together and decide how to navigate ourselves against this wave of antisemitism.”

“The traditional role of the Jewish Agency is to strengthen Jewish communities all over the world, among them Jewish students on campuses in America,” he added, referring to the anti-Israel protests and encampments at prominent universities.

Since Oct. 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel murdering, raping and kidnapping hundreds of men, women and children – and sparking an all-out war with the IDF in the Palestinian enclave – JAFI’s traditional role as a bridge between the Jewish state and the Jewish world has become even more critical, he said.

Almog described how JAFI has expanded its emissary programs over the past seven months, sending Israelis, including soldiers and survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks, to share testimony and eyewitness accounts with Jews in the U.S., South America and Europe.

It has also been working to bring Jews from around the world to Israel — both as new immigrants and as volunteers to bear witness and boost morale in the country as the war in Gaza enters its eighth month. The agency, Almog highlighted, is also acting as an important funnel for Jewish philanthropy, enabling Jewish communities to play a part in helping to rebuild the communities destroyed and damaged by the war.

“We have strengthened the number of partnerships between Jewish communities overseas and here – almost doubling the number of partnerships,” Almog said.

Almog said the agency was facilitating multiple projects to assist the devastated communities, including resilience programs, financial support and centers working to repopulate the areas hardest hit. Almog’s own relatives from Kibbutz Kfar Aza — Nadav Goldstein Almog and Yam Goldstein Almog — were murdered and the rest of the family — Chen Goldstein Almog and her three children, Agam, 17, Gal, 11 and Tal, 9 — were kidnapped by Hamas and later released.

“It is Memorial Day in Israel and of course we are all in grief and sorrow, but I think we are strong, determined and decisive to return to our communities and rebuild the Gaza envelope and the communities in the north of Israel,” said Almog, who after retiring from the military helped to establish a residential and outpatient rehabilitation center for children, teens and young adults with severe disabilities.

“I’m certain we’ve got the spirit, not only for fighting but also to build a better Israel, one that is more inclusive, more loving and a more caring society of tikkun olam,” Almog added. “When we speak about absolute victory, the victory will be to establish a better State of Israel, a model society that illuminates a way for ourselves.”

Almog warned against the type of internal division that rocked the country in the months preceding Oct. 7 over the government’s plans to reshape and weaken the country’s judiciary. “We must not go back to the polarization that split society and being on the verge of civil war, the inner hatred and polarization… We need to make Israel a better place to live.”

Read the full report here.


Lev Echad’s Shir Goldstein, a ‘torchlighter’ for Israel’s Independence Day, reflects on post-Oct. 7 scramble to help, organization’s ongoing work with evacuees

Shir Goldstein (third from left) lights the 'generosity' torch at the annual torchlighting ceremony for Israel's Indepdence Day on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which was broadcast on May 14, 2024. Screenshot
Shir Goldstein (third from left) lights the ‘generosity’ torch at the annual torchlighting ceremony for Israel’s Indepdence Day on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which was broadcast on May 14, 2024.

Shir Goldstein was babysitting her brother’s children on Oct. 7 after he was called up to the reserves earlier that morning when she got a call from the CEO of the humanitarian aid nonprofit Lev Echad asking her to set up the organization’s command center in Tel Aviv. “I did an about-face and went back to Tel Aviv,” Goldstein told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross. Goldstein, a social worker by training, established the organization’s command center in the city, providing assistance to evacuees, survivors, families of reservists and others affected by the war as Israeli local and national governments failed to adequately respond to the crisis. In recognition of her service, Goldstein was selected to represent the organization in the traditional torchlighting ceremony at Mount Herzl that brings in Israel’s Independence Day, which was broadcast last night.

‘Israeli heroism’: The 12 torches were lit by 44 people — an unprecedented number — all related to this year’s theme of “Israeli heroism.” Eleven of the torches were lit by groups of people representing: security services, rescue services, public diplomacy, community emergency response teams, rescuers, protectors, hope, health and rehabilitation, victory of the spirit, generosity and the Diaspora. The 12th torch, which was lit without a representative, commemorated the 132 captives still held in Gaza. (Goldstein was part of the group representing “generosity,” along with five other women who were part of civil volunteering groups after the attacks.)

Into the water: After receiving the phone call Lev Echad CEO Tomer Dror on Oct.7, Goldstein returned to Tel Aviv and set up shop in the City Hall. “I’ll say honestly that I have never dealt with command centers,” she said. “You can say that I jumped into the water… or maybe I was pushed into the water.” Goldstein recalled being immediately inundated with requests for help. “There was just a flood of telephone calls, from the paramedic who needs help in the south to the family with seven kids that doesn’t have a place to sleep for the night,” she recalled. After the first day of handling requests through Post-it notes, the project management firm Monday[dot]com offered to help them set up a database system to organize the process, she said. After that, they set up a logistics center and started working in the hotels for displaced people. “We were constantly reorganizing ourselves based on what was needed,” she said. “Every day felt like three months.”

Ongoing work: Once the command center wrapped up its work, after three months of operations, Goldstein continued working with Ein Prat in Tel Aviv, setting up a center for at-risk youth from the displaced communities, which is opening now in the city’s port. “Their school is in Gelilot [an area north of Tel Aviv], and it is a makeshift school in some high-tech firm’s offices. Those are some very difficult conditions,” she said. The center helps teenagers in 11th and 12th grade prepare for their army service, study for their exams and helps them find work in Tel Aviv. Goldstein and the other employees of the center visit the teenagers’ usual haunts and pick them up from there. “We have all kinds of methods to find them,” she said.

Read the full report here.


White House officials meet with Jewish groups after Rafah rift

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. Andrew Harnick/Getty Images

A week after President Joe Biden gave a speech about the Holocaust and modern-day antisemitism, senior members of his administration met yesterday with Jewish community leaders to discuss ways to further combat antisemitism on college campuses and elsewhere, reports Gabby Deutch for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider. But while the meeting ostensibly focused on antisemitism, it took place against a backdrop of tensions between many prominent Jewish advocacy groups and the Biden administration, after Biden’s decision to condition military aid to Israel dependent upon Israel’s actions in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

More to do: The meeting focused on implementing the Biden administration’s national strategy to counter antisemitism and working to strengthen it as challenges have evolved since the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel. “I think everyone agrees that while a lot has been done, there is also so much more to do given the scope of the challenge,” said Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, who was at the Monday meeting. “That requires continuing to build on and adapt the strategy to meet evolving needs, such as the post-10/7 reality on campus.”

Fuel to the fire: Responding to the White House’s Rafah remarks, Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, urged the Biden administration to be “much more careful” in its language around Israel, because recent statements made by the administration “provide fuel to the fire of the antisemites,” according to another person who was in the room. Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told the group that was “an important point,” an attendee said.

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


Doubling down on Jewish innovation

“The Jewish community’s ability to be resilient in the face of crises depends on its ability to make Jewish life a source of meaning and human flourishing,” writes Rabbi Sid Schwarz, director of the Clergy Leadership Incubator, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy. “Jewish identity in a free society is a choice. If next-gen Jews experience Jewish life as simply a vehicle to respond to threats to Jewish survival at home and abroad, many will choose not to engage at all.” 

Connecting ‘creatives’: “In the opening essay of my 2013 book, Jewish Megatrends: Charting the Course of the American Jewish Future, I argued that while legacy Jewish organizations are on the decline and it seems like American Jewish life is deteriorating, there is a countervailing force on the Jewish landscape of emergent communities and organizations that represents the seeds of an American Jewish renaissance. These observations and more in Jewish Megatrends elicited much interest and comment from major stakeholders in the American Jewish community. Based on that interest, in 2015 we secured funding from the William Davidson Foundation to create Kenissa: Communities of Meaning Network, a national initiative designed to find, convene and build capacity among ‘creatives’ — the individuals building new organizations and communities across a range of sectors and issues.”

Gateway to engagement: “In building out our network, we wanted to identify the themes that were of greatest interest to next generation Jews. We called them ‘sectors,’ each representing a portal through which Jews were prepared to experience a facet of Jewish life and community… Kenissa was designed to bring national attention to this phenomenon; to identify and convene the creatives founding new organizations that spoke to the interests of young Jews; and to build bridges between these innovators and the organized Jewish community. We accomplished the first two goals with great success. The third goal continues to be a work-in-progress, and we stand ready to serve as a resource to Jewish federations, Jewish foundations and other interested parties that understand the importance of supporting efforts to rethink, reshape and transform Jewish life and community.”

Read the full piece here.


Young adults are facing new risks as Jewish leaders. Here’s how we can help support them.

Participants celebrate Shabbat at a Moishe House retreat in March 2024 in Inverness, Calif. Courtesy/Moishe House

“Unlike the conditions we are seeing on campus today, my Jewish identity and pride were always things I could discuss publicly and freely with friends and peers, Jewish and non-Jewish. It was something I never once thought about having to conceal for risk of being verbally or physically attacked. Decades ago, my grandparents did not have the same luxury — and young adults today, sadly, do not have it either,” writes David Cygielman, founder and CEO of Moishe House, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Hostile environment: “Conversations with young Jewish professionals around the globe make it clear that there is now a risk of openly and proudly identifying as a Jewish leader. A climate of risk — personal, professional and even potentially physical — also exists for early-career young Jewish adults who celebrate their Judaism and connection to Israel. This is not OK and it is not the future we want for our kids. These young adults should be celebrated for dedicating time and resources to building their Jewish community — and their community at large — and taking on leadership roles.”

Support systems: “Whether it’s through retreats, living with friends as roommates, volunteer opportunities, classes or Shabbat meals, providing more Jewish spaces to come together will help young Jewish adults feel connected to a community… We need to invite experienced professionals into places where young Jewish adults are already spending their time to help with career guidance, mentorship and coaching. Additionally, we need to show appreciation for young leaders, knowing that they have something to lose through their Jewish leadership… We need to support, sustain and, in some cases, create opportunities where rabbis can provide pastoral care in a way that connects with Gen-Z and older millennial Jews. Jewish learning, Jewish conversations and rabbinic relationships matter, and we must fuel more of it.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

History Rhymes: In The Times of Israel, Noah Efron compares this year’s Israeli Independence Day to the one marked 50 years ago, seven months after the devastating Yom Kippur War, when the national mood was similarly somber. “Fifty years ago this week, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, what people felt most in Israel – and about Israel – was gloom… The mood of the nation ahead of that Yom Ha’atzmaut was dark. The State Archives holds a collection of petitions that circulated in those days – there were a great many of them – calling for the government to do more to bring back the prisoners in Damascus, and calling for the government to resign in shame for having gotten so many good people killed for no reason anyone could see. Then two weeks before Yom Ha’atzmaut, three terrorists snuck over the border from Lebanon under cover of early morning rain and fog, and made it to Kiryat Shemoneh, where they went on a rampage that left 18 people dead, eight of them kids, and lots more injured… And I know you know that I write all this because now, 50 years later, we are again in despair. We are worried sick about our people captive over the border…We know that even if we ‘win’ this war, whatever that could mean (Prime Minister Netanyahu still talks about ‘total victory’), we will still feel like we lost and we will still feel all that we have lost… [But] we ought to know that [the myriad ways Israelis came together after Oct. 7] represent something profound, something astonishing, something good, and something beautiful about us. Which is why my thoughts these days go back over and over to Golda Meir, 50 years ago, when she said maybe the wisest thing she ever said: ‘With all the sadness and all the pain, it is still Yom Ha’atzmaut.’ Because this year, more than ever in the past, despite everything, because of everything, there is what to be proud of, there is what to celebrate.” [TOI]

Moving Forward With Humility: In Forward, Sruli Fruchter explains why his Religious Zionist beliefs compel him to assert that both “blind faith” and “total despair” are the wrong responses to this year’s Independence Day. “The period of Israeli history most comparable to ours is the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which shattered Israel’s self-perception and bludgeoned its self-assurance concretized a few years prior in the 1967 War. It sent Israel onto a difficult path of reckoning: what went wrong, what it means and how to move forward. Everyone was scarred by the near miss the Jewish state had undergone — even prominent American Orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Norman Lamm, three years before becoming Yeshiva University’s president, ‘confessed’ his ‘sin of premature Messianism’ and ‘a cockiness about Israel’s power.’ He rejected the hubris that enabled such a blunder. Many Religious Zionist voices, however, coped by still situating the war within God’s larger plan of redemption… My Religious Zionism is precisely what drives me to reorient my Yom Ha’atzmaut mindset and reshape my philosophy. If the state of Israel is truly to be the harbinger of Messianic times, then our religious imperative demands we act like it. That begins with the highest level of scrutiny, a radical and religious act of questioning. We must fight not only for the country’s survival but also for its values, morals and ideals. That means asking difficult questions — questions I, like most, feel wholly unprepared to consider — about our past, our present and our future: our hostages, war, dangers, errors, leadership, aims. What, in the future, do we want Israel to be? Only a humble faith in our discoveries can assure we protect Israel from its enemies, and perhaps even from itself.” [Forward]

Improving Rural Mental Health: With twice the suicide rate of urban and metropolitan areas and a shortage of mental health professionals and facilities to serve their populations, many rural communities in the United States are in crisis — but there are multiple pathways for funders to help, writes Martha Ramirez in Inside Philanthropy. “[B]eyond direct services support, philanthropists can also make a big impact by offering technical assistance so that rural communities can apply for state and federal funding. ‘If you’re asking small communities to be writing these applications, they don’t have the resources to do it, so they’ll never be able to access the funding… They’re not even in the running,’ [researcher Brett R.] Harris said. ‘I think there’s an opportunity to provide… technical assistance to help them if they have questions, or any kind of support to help them write the proposals would be really helpful.’ Funders can also engage in and support advocacy work to reshape the policies that govern how mental health and suicide prevention funding is allocated at the state and federal levels. In addition, funders can support mental health and suicide prevention education, as well as efforts to increase residents’ awareness of the services available to them.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

Jewish Insider profiles the Druze communities in Israel’s north who refuse to flee their towns despite ongoing attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon…

Melinda French Gates is resigning from the foundation she established with her ex-husband, Bill Gates, to set up a new organization focused on gender equality; she will bring $12.5 billion to the new foundation…

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency explores how U.S. Jews are celebrating a more somber Yom HaAtzmaut this year…

Israeli President Isaac Herzog released a video greeting for Yom HaAtzmaut to Jews around the world, noting the tragedy of this year but also calling on them to “recognize that these times of real loss have also been a time of important achievements”…

President Joe Biden sent a letter to Herzog in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, describing himself as “lifelong supporter of Israel” and reiterating Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security; Biden said he hopes that “the coming year brings more peace and joy than suffering”…

Rabbi David Golinkin, the president of the Schechter Institutes, Inc., in Jerusalem, translated a recently discovered “Zionist sermon” written in 1920 in the midst of the bloody Petliura Pogroms, which he believes is relevant 104 years later, in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks…

In an opinion piece in TabletJewish Funders Network CEO Andrés Spokoiny argues that anti-Zionist Jews are taking the easy way out, eschewing the difficult decisions intrinsic in having power and self-determination…

federal judge ordered a review of dozens of death row cases in California’s Alameda County, following allegations that prosecutors in the northern California county worked to exclude Jews from sitting on juries…

Two Jewish groups involved in a federal complaint against the University of California, Berkeley over antisemitism at the school amended their complaint to include a February incident in which Jewish students were trapped in an on-campus building while a mob of angry protesters demonstrated outside an event featuring an Israeli reservist…

The Robin Hood Foundation, which combats poverty in New York City, held its annual star-studded gala last night…

Forbes interviews Warren Buffett about his support for the nonprofit Glide, which promotes social justice in San Francisco…

A new British foundation, the Thea and Heinz Skyte Charitable Trustlaunched this week to provide small education grants to young people in honor of the eponymous couple who each fled to the United Kingdom from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport

Ella Riley Adler, the 15-year-old granddaughter of U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and former President of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation Michael Adlerwas killed in a Florida boating accident…

Pic of the Day

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Families of hostages and their supporters participate in an “Independence Day Rally For The Hostages” last night in Tel Aviv’s Hostages’ Square. 


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit
Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chroncile via Getty Images

Dean of UC Berkeley Law School, he is one of the most frequently cited American legal scholars on constitutional law and federal civil procedure, Erwin Chemerinsky

Born in Casablanca and raised in Paris, Midtown NYC hair stylist and owner of La Boîte a Coupe salon, Elie Laurent Delouya… Physician and social activist, she is the Green Party’s nominee for POTUS this year as she was in 2012 and 2016, Jill Stein… Professor of computer science at Technion, Orna Grumberg… Los Angeles city attorney until 2022, he ran earlier this year for Adam Schiff’s seat in Congress, Mike Feuer… Author of seven international bestsellers, Robert Greene… Head of School at the Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, Daniel L. Lehmann… Former member of Knesset for the Meretz party and a major general (res.) in the IDF, Yair Golan… Former ESPN SportsCenter anchor and NFL sideline reporter, Suzanne Lisa “Suzy” Kolber… Policy advisor for defense, foreign policy and veterans affairs for Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Robert Levinson… CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, she is a former seven-term Connecticut state senator, Gayle Slossberg… Education program lead of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Howard Wolfson… Record producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, he has won nine Grammy Awards, Greg Kurstin… Managing partner of Alexandria, Va.-based MVAR Media and a leading strategist in Democratic politics, Jon Vogel… Political director for the Northeast region at AIPAC, Jason Koppel… Executive producer at NBC’s “Meet the Press,” David Philip Gelles… Director of media relations at Chabad Lubavitch, Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Seligson… Chairman, CEO and co-founder of Meta / Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg… Bloomberg reporter covering the union movement and labor law, Josh Eidelson… Actress, Sasha Rebecca Spielberg… Managing director of government relations at The Blackstone Group, Alex I. Katz… Judicial law clerk for a U.S. Circuit Court judge in Denver, he is a former track star and then football player at Harvard, Andrew Ezekoye… Former pitcher for Yale and then Team Israel, he is now a senior associate on the Ashler Capital team at Citadel, Eric Brodkowitz… Center for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, Jack Hughes