Your Daily Phil: Israeli teacher-turned-shlicha reunites class after student released by Hamas

Good Monday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new partnership between the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Secure Communities Network, and feature an opinion piece by Mark Charendoff, president of Maimonides Fund, as part of a new regular column, The 501(c) Suite, from leading foundation executives sharing with the wider philanthropic field what they are thinking about and working on. Also in this issue: Zeev Engelmayer, Adam Lehman and Meir WeinerWe’ll start with a Jewish Agency shlicha working in Dallas who returned to Israel to reunite her class after one of her former students was released from Hamas captivity.

To the neighbor, it was just a bunch of kids being loud and stinking up her yard doing an art project with spray paint outside her apartment building. “It’s really hard to work with all this noise,” she yelled at them, peeking her head up over the fence.

What she didn’t know was that this was no normal midday party for 12-year-olds. The Sunday gathering was the first time that the 6B class of Shachar Eshkol Elementary School — a community school for the towns throughout the Eshkol region near the southern Gaza border — had gotten together in over three months, since the Oct. 7 terror attacks upended their lives, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross from the gathering in Tel Aviv.

Every member of the class — who came from some of the hardest-hit communities in the Hamas attacks, including Kibbutz Nir Oz, Kibbutz Holit and Kibbutz Nir Yizhak — lost family members, friends or, as often, both. Following the attacks, the various communities were evacuated and the members were scattered across the country — some to hotels by the Dead Sea, some to Tel Aviv and others to the Eilat area.

What brought them back together on Sunday morning — three months to the day after the Oct. 7 attacks — was a vow that their former teacher, Aya Margalit, had made to the mother of Erez Calderon, 12, who was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, along with his father, Ofer, and 16-year-old sister, Sahar. Erez and Sahar were released in November by Hamas as part of a deal between the terror group and the Israeli government. Their father remains in captivity.

In August, Margalit, along with her husband and three children, traveled from their community of Nir Yizhak to Dallas to spend the year as a Jewish Agency emissary, the senior community shlicha at the city’s Temple Emanu-El. She was there on Oct. 7, watching from afar as her community and the communities of her students were overrun by terrorists, and her family has remained in Dallas since the attacks.

“When Erez was in captivity, I told his mother, Hadas, that when Erez came back, I would be there. I vowed a vow,” Margalit said using the Hebrew term, neder, referring to an oath that effectively cannot be broken. “Once he was released, I told her and him, that whenever he is ready, I’d be there. A few days later, he wrote in the class WhatsApp group, ‘Aya are you coming to visit?’ I said, ‘Do you want me to?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ So I started planning to come,” Margalit told eJP.

She bought a plane ticket, which the Temple Emanu-El community paid for, and set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for a party for the class. When she hit that goal, Margalit started raising additional funds for students’ families that were struggling financially because of the war, which has devastated the local economy.

For her former students, Oct. 7 is “a nightmare that won’t end,” Margalit said. They have lost family, friends and homes, and now most of them are still displaced.

“I knew that when Erez came back, that I wanted to do something to bring them together,” she said. “I’m not their teacher anymore, but I’m with them forever.”

Read the full report here.


Amid rising antisemitism, USCJ announces new partnership with Secure Community Network

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.
A Miami Beach police patrol drives past Temple Emanu-El synagogue in Miami Beach, Fla., on Oct. 9, 2023. Marco Bello/AFP via Getty Images

With antisemitic incidents at historic levels across the U.S. in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Secure Community Network announced a partnership to enhance security awareness on Monday. The agreement follows SCN’s similar collaborations with the two other denominations – a memorandum of understanding signed with the Union for Reform Judaism in late 2022, as well as an online forum to report incidents with the Orthodox Union, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Greater need: Ezra Weinberger, a spokesperson for SCN, told eJP that the partnership was in the works before Oct. 7, but that “the events certainly crystallized the urgency of this agreement.” According to a statement, the agreement “formalizes two decades of collaboration and reflects the enhanced emphasis of USCJ to bolster its safety, security, and resiliency efforts across its approximately 600 affiliated synagogues in North America and Israel, making it the largest network of Conservative Jewish Congregations worldwide.”

Security boost: Through the agreement, SCN will continue to assist USCJ in implementing best-practice security frameworks, including the creation of security policies, emergency plans, facility assessments, training and crisis management support, according to the statement. “USCJ will also have ongoing access to SCN’s nationwide network of full-time security professionals and their relationships with local law enforcement partners, alongside up-to-date intelligence gathering from SCN’s National Jewish Security Operations Command Center ,” the statement said.

Read the full report here.


Goodbye, Columbia

Photo by Vadim Sherbakov on Unsplash

“Great nations need great systems of higher education. America used to have one. It doesn’t now, and that sorry state of affairs threatens not only Jewish student life in this country, but the country’s future,” writes Mark Charendoff, president of Maimonides Fund, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy’s new column, “The 501(c) Suite.”

A frank diagnosis: “We know precisely what ails universities: an obsession with equity over excellence; students who, from the moment they write their college applications, are encouraged to participate in the identitarian victimhood Olympics; boards of trustees and administrators that cower in the face of DEI consultants; and a social climate that demands that Jewish kids leave their Zionist values behind or denounce them outright as the price of acceptance.”

Think big: “How do we end this? There are three possible options, but only one of them can bring about effective change… The point of this exercise isn’t simply to assure Jewish parents that there are a handful of colleges out there where their children can get a high-quality education without sacrificing their Jewish identity or Zionist values. It’s to make these schools models for what a first-rate liberal arts education can still be.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Forget What You Know: In the Jewish Journal, veteran ad man Gary Wexler recounts the unanticipated learning process he faced when he pivoted from the commercial world to the Jewish advertising world more than 20 years ago. “I remember vividly how, early in my transition, I’d sit in meetings with organizational leaders, eating my Federation tuna sandwiches pulled from a plastic Lazy Susan plate. ‘What,’ I would ask them, ‘is the discipline of marketing Jewish life?’ They — professionals, donors, board members — would put down their pickle spears, look back at me, mouths hanging open, shaking their heads. ‘Just do everything you did for Apple and Coke.’ I assumed they knew what they were talking about. Because I certainly didn’t at that point. So I slapped the business marketing paradigm they were suggesting onto Jewish life. With time, producing branding and ad campaigns that the organizations and their leaders loved, I had to admit to myself that I was failing… [A]fter three years I didn’t see where I was moving the needle. I realized that neither I nor all those Jewish leaders knew how to do this. Shaking the hubris out of my head, I began a complex journey of observation, trial and error, discovering what was the discipline of ‘Jewish communication,’ and what it would take to succeed. Selling the Jewish people became a much more complex process than any product or service I ever had to sell during my ad agency days.” [JewishJournal]

Engaging Opportunities: In a blog post for Global Impact, fundraising manager Gillian Wagner offers advice for nonprofits seeking to partner with companies on employee engagement programming. “Companies are looking for ways to meaningfully engage their workforce — it helps with recruitment and retention, especially given the large number of hybrid and remote employees, and can even feed into their [corporate social responsibility] goals if they partner with charities like yours. Hosting an enticing engagement activity for employees gives you visibility with potential donors and opportunities to partner more closely with companies. I hear from charities that it’s sometimes difficult to plan employee engagement opportunities for companies, not because there’s a lack of interest or staff buy-in, but the logistics can present a large barrier, especially if you can’t offer in-person activities because you don’t operate in the U.S. This is why it’s critical to take advantage of the hybrid and remote workforce — while it takes time to plan out the details, staffing, and budget for virtual activities, it’s usually much more manageable and affordable than in-person offerings!” [GlobalImpact]

Around the Web

J Street postponed its annual conference until next year, denying left-leaning politicians a platform for Israel-focused speeches…

Hadassah, along with the Hadassah Foundation, Jewish Women International, the National Council of Jewish Women and 55 other organizations, sent a joint letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanding that the world body conduct an independent investigation into the rape and sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7…

The Chronicle of Philanthropy predicts five trends that nonprofits should consider for their 2024 fundraising efforts: artificial intelligence, donor-advised funds, recruiting new young donors, polarization and staff retention…

The Ruderman Family Foundation has issued $1.5 million in emergency grants to Israeli organizations since Oct. 7 — on top of the $10 million in grants the organization gives normally — including $1 million to Shamir Medical Center to fortify the building and $120,000 to the mental health nonprofit Natal

The Dallas Mavericks will pay out more than $35 million in bonuses to employees after Mark Cuban sold his majority stake in the franchise to Miriam Adelson and her family

Adelson and her children held a memorial service on Thursday for her husband, Sheldon Adelson, who died three years ago, at the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem…

The first post-Oct. 7 Birthright trip arrived in Israel last week, bringing 17 participants from North America. Hundreds more young American Jews are expected to arrive in the coming months…

A new study by the fundraising technology company OneCause found that nonprofits are more likely to meet or exceed their fundraising goals when they hold in-person or hybrid events…

Haaretz interviewed Israeli artist Zeev Engelmayer who has been creating daily “postcards” since Oct. 7, reflecting the anguish and hopes of Israelis, particularly regarding the hostages still being held in Gaza…

The Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is hosting an exhibition of drawings by Israeli artist Zoya Cherkassky about the Oct. 7 terror attacks…

Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square on Saturday night, calling on the government to do more to secure the release of the 132 captives in Gaza. The families of the hostages will meet with Secretary of State Tony Blinken when he visits Israel today…

Despite foundation endowments growing significantly in the final quarter of 2023 with a stock market boom, experts doubt that this will result in a commensurate rise in charitable giving by those foundations…

Dan Brotman, the head of the Windsor (Canada) Jewish Federationis embroiled in a public spat with Paul Hirschson, Israel’s consul general in Montreal, over an event hosted by his organization to help Israeli medical professionals who have relocated to the area, which Hirschson criticized as “weaken[ing] Israel’s ability to treat our wounded”…

The Beverly Hills Courier profiled Carolyn Siegel about her nonprofit, If You Heard What I Heard, which interviews the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors…

Karen and Todd Blue will help sponsor the 2024 JCC Maccabi Games & Access, which will be held this summer at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center in Houston…

Some 300 Jewish teenagers from across Europe gathered in Barcelona, Spain, this weekend for a Shabbaton organized by Chabad’s CTeen youth movement, with support from the Meromim Foundation

The Kranzberg Family Foundation issued 15 grants totaling $75,000 to St. Louis-area Jewish nonprofits

To sidestep the Conservative movement’s ban on having rabbis who are members of the Rabbinical Assembly officiate interfaith marriages, Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Mass., hired as its cantor Sarah Freudenberger, who is not a member of the RA and can therefore conduct weddings between Jews and non-Jews…

Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman told Fox News that universities’ diversity, equity and inclusion frameworks have “largely failed” Jewish students by failing to protect them from antisemitism…

The New York Times investigates how labor unions, which once were staunch supporters of Israel, have turned into some of its fiercest critics…

Meir Weiner, who founded the Yedidim organization, which brings help to motorists with car troubles, died on Saturday after suffering a heart attack last week at 43…

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.
Alexander Kolomoisky/KKL – JNF

On Sunday, KKL – JNF dedicated the “Path of Heroines” at the entrance of Ofakim Park in Ofakim, Israel, commemorating the courage of Israeli women — including those pictured above standing with KKL – JNF Chairwoman Ifat Ovadia-Lusky (third from right) — who acted with bravery and successfully saved lives during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. 

“Those who observed carefully saw that on the seventh of October there were many women, including those who showed up to fight without orders,” Ovadia-Lusky said at the event. “Today, we come to honor those heroine women. The women who fought to hold the door of the command center, the brave paramedics, the fighters and the policewomen, the doctors and the medics who saved hundreds of lives. Those who did not surrender to fear, did not stop to rest, showed determination and acted without hesitation, each with her unique strength… We salute the heroines in a special way. We did not place a statue or a silent stone here. We paved a path. Because the heroism of the seventh of October is part of a long journey that begins long before us – and will continue long after us.”


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a guitarist and founding member of the Doors, Robby Krieger

Sociologist at the American Enterprise Institute, Charles Murray… Senior U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Florida, now on inactive status, Alan Stephen Gold… Classical pianist Vladimir Feltsman… Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer, he is a professor of music composition at Yale, David Lang… Founder and chief investment officer of Pzena Investment Management, Richard “Rich” Pzena… Deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific at Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Rafael Harpaz… Co-founder and co-owner of Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee, Mark Gold… Violinist and composer best known for her Klezmer music, Alicia Svigals… VP of wealth services at the Alera Group, he was an NFL tight end for the Bears and Vikings, Brent Novoselsky… Founder and president of D.C.-based Professionals in the City and a D.C. party planner, Michael Karlan… Lobbyist, attorney, patron of contemporary art, founder and CEO of lobbying firm, Invariant, Heather Miller Podesta… Former state senator in Maine, Justin Loring Alfond… Singer-songwriter, musician, and actress, Jenny Lewis… Director of U.S. public policy programs for Meta / Facebook, Avra Siegel… Creative director at Nashville-based Asurion, Ross M. Schneiderman… Actor, screenwriter and director, Sam Levinson… Retired professional soccer player, now a partner at Main + High Investments, Ross Benjamin Friedman