Your Daily Phil: Israelis creating safe spaces for Ukrainian kids + Teshuva for synagogues

Good Friday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we cover an Israeli organization creating safe spaces for Ukrainian refugee children, and feature an op-ed on how synagogues can return to their roots. In this newsletter, Sarah Wilner, Rabbi Jonathan Leener, Seneca, Suzanne Patt Benvenisti, Audrey Shimron, Maiya Edelson, Jordan Daniels, Rula Daood, Alon-Lee Green, Linda and Sandy Gallanter, Mindy and Jon Gray and Audrey Steele Burnand. We’ll start with a look at local reactions to the sale of an American Jewish University campus.

After Tuesday’s announcement that American Jewish University had agreed to sell its Bel Air campus to EF Education First for an undisclosed sum, some members of the L.A. Jewish community told eJewishPhilanthropy that the loss of the campus was a missed opportunity for AJU and the community at large.

The 35-acre Bel Air campus has served as the home of many Jewish academic programs, including the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, a Conservative seminary. AJU administrative offices will remain on the campus until approximately September 2028, and the institution’s second campus, in Simi Valley, will not be affected by the sale.

In a letter to students on Wednesday that was obtained by eJewishPhilanthropy, the leadership of the Ziegler School confirmed that classes this academic year will continue to be held on the Bel Air campus. The letter said the location of classes after the summer of 2024, when EF is slated to move in, “will be determined at a later date.”

“AJU remains committed to the future of the Ziegler School as a center for in-person Torah learning and Jewish leadership,” the letter said. “This decision was made after careful consideration and will enable AJU to devote significantly greater resources and focus to our core mission – and to meet the evolving needs of the Jewish community in Los Angeles and beyond, now and in future generations.”

But local Jewish community members told eJP they were frustrated that such a large Jewish population center would be losing an expansive campus it once called home.

“While other Jewish communities around the country are working together to create great shared spaces that make all kinds of creative programs and cost savings possible, our community seems to be unable to act collectively for the greater good,” a communal leader said. A longtime Jewish professional said it was “strange how little they are saying about their future. The idea that AJU can’t be sustained in the second largest Jewish community in the United States is heartbreaking.”

The working committee overseeing AJU’s transition out of its Bel Air campus includes members of the senior staff and “will provide regular updates to the community,” a spokesperson for AJU told eJP, though they did not say when.

The spokesperson added that the institution plans to create a mikvah to replace the one currently on the Bel Air campus. The school will also need to address the future of its library, which represents a consolidation of books from other L.A. Jewish libraries that have since closed.

Despite the unresolved questions, the community member said the sale, which was first announced in February, was no surprise. “Even before the pandemic the building felt empty, populated below capacity,” the leader said, likening it to “studying in a hotel closed down for the season.”


This Israeli nonprofit is trying to create spaces where Ukrainian refugee children can be themselves

Yuval Cohen Harounoff

When she thinks about her time working in refugee aid this year, Yulie Khromchenco recalls the story an Israeli volunteer in a childcare center in Moldova shared with her last week. As he walked outside with a quiet 6-year-old girl, preparing to play ball, she told him he resembled her father back in Ukraine whom she hadn’t seen for several months, reports Daniela Cohen for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Caring for displaced children: “I think it’s a moment where we know that an important connection was formed,” Khromchenco, Eastern Europe program manager of an organization called Early Starters International, told eJP. Such moments of safety and comfort are the raison d’etre of Early Starters, an Israeli-founded nonprofit that, working with IsraAid, has set up six early childhood education and care centers in Moldova, along with another seven in Israel, to serve displaced Ukrainian children and maintain their access to education. In total, the group serves 3,500 Ukrainian children.

Making an impact: Research shows that “[this] is when we have the most impact for children, not only when it comes to development and learning but also on social-emotional levels and the well-being of people when they get older,” said Early Starters co-founder Sarah Wilner, a Canadian-Israeli special education teacher and trainer.

Read the full story here.


Synagogue teshuva

Courtesy Mordechai Rosenstein / Emes Editions

“For many American Jews, the synagogue is totally irrelevant. As an institution, the synagogue is often viewed as being sterile and unwelcoming. Authenticity and inclusivity are not often associated with synagogue life. Membership decline and building closures are now commonplace. We could use COVID-19 as a new scapegoat, but the synagogue’s foundation has been eroding for decades. The synagogue needs more than a rebranding, it needs to do teshuva,” writes Rabbi Jonathan Leener, spiritual leader of the Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A Beit Knesset: “To be clear, I’m not referring to teshuva as the process of repentance or confessing any wrongdoing, but teshuva as an existential return to a former self. In short, synagogues need to reclaim its origins as a place of radical hospitality and openness. Its Hebrew name, Beit Knesset, a house of gathering, reinforces its central task.”

The messiness of life: “I’ve always found it incredibly powerful that the homeless often sit outside churches. In fact, I have even become jealous because people associate the church as a place of healing, a place of compassion, a place that can hold suffering. This is the type of connection I dream for the synagogue. Synagogues need to embrace the messiness of life.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Connecting with Clinton: The Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting is returning to New York next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Alex Daniels reports in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “The New York meetings not only help grant makers keep tabs on the latest ways they can make a difference around the world, but for many, they are also the ultimate philanthropy networking event. The annual meetings helped Rachel Flynn land her current job as Skoll’s director of funder alliances three years ago. Skoll’s Silicon Valley headquarters is about five miles from her former employer, the Omidyar Network, but she had never stepped foot in Skoll’s offices. Meeting Skoll leaders across the country in New York introduced her to the foundation’s work and eventually led her to joining the organization. Flynn says during the peak of the pandemic, the foundation was largely unable to meet its international philanthropic partners in person and conduct its regular due diligence on projects supported by grant makers in other parts of the world. As a result, Skoll and other grant makers have placed a higher importance on ‘trust-based philanthropy,’ an outlook that includes having organizations close to problems take the lead in determining what approaches should be used.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: 
Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca’s essay “On a Happy Life” includes 11 of the most important lessons he believed one must follow to achieve peace, Arthur C. Brooks writes in The Atlantic. This includes several with connections to philanthropy, including: “Lesson 5: I will so live as to remember that I was born for others, and will thank Nature on this account: for in what fashion could she have done better for me? She has given me alone to all, and all to me alone. In other words, charity is a gift to the giver. Service to others is one of the easiest ways to get happier. Volumes of research attest to the fact that giving to charity and volunteering, spending money on others, and more radical acts such as donating blood and organs all raise well-being…Lesson 7: I will think that I have no possessions so real as those which I have given away to deserving people: I will not reckon benefits by their magnitude or number, or by anything except the value set upon them by the receiver. The idea here is that the true value of what I do is not how much it costs me, but how much it benefits you. For example, the true value of your work is not your salary but rather how much it helps others. Altruism won’t pay the rent, but if you take this lesson to heart, it can change your priorities, and maybe even lead you to a better job.” [TheAtlantic]

Community Comms

Be featured: Email us to inform the eJP readership of your upcoming event, job opening, or other communication.

Word on the Street

The Reut Group, a leading Israeli think tank, held a summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to confront the obstacles facing Jews and Muslims in America. The summit brought together diplomats from among the Abraham Accords countries that signed a normalization agreement with Israel two years ago and a range of Jewish and Muslim experts, activists, philanthropists and civil society leaders from across the political spectrum to assess the challenges and goals for both communities. The group discussed how the Abraham Accords set an example for Muslim-Jewish activism in the face of common challenges…

The American Jewish Committee and the Lufthansa Group announced a joint initiative to combat global antisemitism. The new partnership focuses on Lufthansa utilizing AJC staff experts to train airline employees to identify and respond to antisemitism. The new project comes in the wake of an incident earlier this year when Orthodox Jews were barred, as a group, from boarding a Lufthansa flight…

Suzanne Patt Benvenisti has joined Hadassah’s Israel offices as deputy executive director. Most recently Patt Benvenisti was director general at Jerusalem’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies. In January, she will become Hadassah in Israel’s executive director when Audrey Shimron becomes executive director emeritus after 40 years at the organization…

Maiya Edelson will join Hillel International as associate vice president for organizational learning at the end of the month. She was most recently executive director of the Texas Hillel Foundation…

Nadine Sasson was named assistant vice president, centennial campaign at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. She previously served as senior vice president for Israel and global philanthropy at The Jewish Agency for Israel…

Jordan Daniels was named junior program officer at the Jews of Color Initiative; he was previously communications and creative specialist at the Leichtag Foundation…

The New Israel Fund awarded its Gallanter Prize to Rula Daood and Alon-Lee Green, the national co-directors of Omdim Beyachad (Hebrew for standing together), an Israeli-Palestinian activist group. The prize, created by Bay Area philanthropists Linda and Sandy Gallanter, comes with an award of $15,000 for each recipient…

The Mind the Tech NY 2022 conference, organized by Calcalist and Bank Leumi, opened in New York City on Wednesday. The Israeli delegation was led by the minister of innovation, science and technology, Orit Farkash-Hacohen…

The University of Pennsylvania’s Basser Center for BRCA announced a $55 million gift from Penn alumni Mindy and Jon Gray to establish a new Basser Cancer Interception Institute, creating a new weapon to target hereditary cancers at their earliest stages. The Institute will aim to dramatically disrupt the timeline of cancer treatment, “intercepting” disease when the very first abnormal BRCA1/2 cells develop. The Grays’ total commitment to Penn during the last decade has now exceeded $125 million…

Centre College, a private liberal arts college in Danville, Ky., is partnering with the Schuler Education Foundation on a $50 million scholarship initiative to support underserved students…

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, Calif., has received a $106 million gift from the estate of Audrey Steele Burnand. The gift is the largest the hospital has ever received…

Pic of the Day


Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker speaks on Thursday at the United We Stand summit at the White House, which addressed hate-motivated violence. Cytron-Walker is the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, where he and other congregants were held hostage by an attacker earlier this year.


Wikimedia Commons

Founder and CEO of OurCrowd, Jonathan Medved

FRIDAY: Argentinian physician and author, Esther Vilar… NYC-based real estate investor and the founder of Cammeby’s International Group, Rubin “Rubie” Schron… Defense policy advisor to Presidents Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43, Richard Perle… Montebello, Calif., resident, Jon Olesen… Pompano Beach, Fla., resident, Shari Goldberg… Sheriff of Nantucket County, Mass., James A. Perelman… Fern Wallach… Award winning illusionist, David Copperfield… Anthropology professor at Cornell, Jonathan Boyarin… Former VP of political affairs for J Street, Dan Kohl… Rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, Rabbi Dov Linzer… Writer at large for The New York Times MagazineJason Zengerle… Israel’s first Olympic Gold medalist, he won Bronze in Atlanta 1996; Gold in Athens 2004, windsurfer Gal Fridman… Jerusalem-born founder and chairman of Over The Rainbow – the Zionist Movement, Tzvi “Tziki” Avisar… VP of public affairs marketing at Meta / Facebook, Josh Ginsberg… President of basketball operations for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Koby Altman… VP of business development at RubiconMD, Suzy Goldenkranz… New York City-based wealth reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Louise Ensign… Israeli actress who plays the lead role in the spy thriller “Tehran,” Niv Sultan… Winner of an Olympic bronze medal for Israel in taekwondo at the 2020 Games, Avishag Semberg… Deputy national field director at the Israel on Campus Coalition, Lauren Morgan Suriel Past president and chair of the board of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, member of the board of governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Caryn Rosen Adelman…

SATURDAY: : Founder and marketer of the Oreck Corporation, manufacturers of vacuum cleaners and air purifiers, David Irving Oreck… U.S. senator since 1981, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)… Investment banker who once served as a New York City deputy mayor, Peter J. Solomon… Newbery Honors-winning author of young adult books, Gail Carson Levine… Rochester, N.Y., attorney and Jewish federation leader, Frank Hagelberg… Professional tennis player who achieved a world ranking of No. 5 in 1980, Harold Solomon… Comedian, writer and actress, Rita Rudner… Israeli businessman Mody Kidon… Author and graphic designer, Ellen Kahan Zager… Former member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Rina Frenkel… Rabbi of the New North London Synagogue, Jonathan Wittenberg… Consultant at Quick Hits News, Elliott S. Feigenbaum… Washington columnist for The GuardianRichard Wolffe… Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services until earlier this year, Mandy Krauthamer Cohen… Partner at Seven Letter, Adam Abrams… Elected official on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education, Nick Melvoin… Former Obama White House speechwriter who has since written a bestselling comedic memoir, David Litt… Associate at General Atlantic’s Israel office and founder of the Israel Summit at Harvard, Max August

SUNDAY: Marina Del Rey, Calif., resident, Kathy Levinson Wolf… Retired neurosurgeon, he served as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson… Business executive who served as co-CEO of SAP and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Léo Apotheker… Harvard professor of psychology, specializing in visual cognition and psycholinguistics, Steven Pinker… U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)… Former CEO of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, Howard Tevlowitz… Executive director of the Los Angeles Westside Jewish Community Center, Brian Greene… Professor of economics at MIT and a 2021 Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Joshua Angrist… Early Israeli tech entrepreneur, he is best known for starting Aladdin Knowledge Systems in 1985, Yanki Margalit… Classical pianist, Simone Dinnerstein… NBC News legal analyst and recent candidate for Manhattan district attorney, Tali Farhadian Weinstein… Rome bureau chief of The New York TimesJason Horowitz… Co-host of “Bloomberg Surveillance” each morning on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg Radio, Lisa Abramowicz… CNN analyst, former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Bakari Sellers… Professional poker player Nick Schulman… Former managing director of public affairs at the American Jewish Committee, Avi Mayer… Baseball and basketball broadcaster, Dan Kolko… Director at the Levinson Group, Zak Sawyer director of government relations at Hadassah, WZOA, Karen Paikin Barall

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