Your Daily Phil: Israel’s president observes mourning customs in UAE + Colleagues remember Cheryl Aronson

Good Tuesday morning!

Tributes poured in across the Jewish world on Monday as colleagues and friends learned of the sudden death of Cheryl Aronson, 58, a Hillel International executive who had previously worked for decades at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Boston’s Jewish federation.

Aronson died on Sunday night at her Boston-area home, where she lived with her mother. Friends told eJewishPhilanthropy that Aronson, a lifelong Bostonian, dedicated her life to serving the Jewish community.

“She was an amazing human being with enormous care and concern for the Jewish people and all people,” Nancy Kaufman, the former CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, who had been friends with Aronson for more than three decades, told eJP. “It’s shocking and a huge loss. She was smart and she was passionate, and a consummate professional. She could work with everyone in the community.”

Aronson worked at CJP for more than 30 years, and in 2007 founded the organization’s IACT campus engagement program, Which engages college students in Jewish life after they return from Birthright Israel, the free 10-day Israel trips. “It is impossible to overstate her love of and dedication to Jewish life, Israel and the Jewish people,” Rabbi Marc Baker, CJP’s president and CEO, said in a statement. CJP’s former president, Barry Shrage, told eJP that Aronson was “a force of nature but the nicest, sweetest human being at the same time.” He added, “We had a lot of nice ideas, but Cheryl made stuff happen.”

In 2020, she went to work for Hillel International, which partnered on IACT. Adam Lehman, Hillel’s president and CEO, told eJP that Aronson had “enormous and enduring impact.” He added, “Her passionate commitment to Jewish peoplehood, Israel and a strong Jewish future has inspired countless young Jews, together with the thousands of Jewish community professionals who had the privilege of working with Cheryl during the past three decades.”

Soon after Hillel International announced Aronson’s death on Facebook on Monday, friends posted messages of shock and mourning about her loss — some recounting posts or comments she had just made days earlier.

“Our WhatsApp conversation was like our mini Kotel: we shared the best of moments and the worst,” wrote Michelle Rojas-Tal, The Jewish Agency for Israel’s central emissary to Hillel International, on Monday. “You were always there for me, personally and professionally and I will forever be grateful for that. When I [texted] you this morning to check in and didn’t hear back, something was wrong. You always wrote back…”

Atty Garfinkel-Berry, director for Hillel of Northern Nevada, wrote, “May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her. May her name be used for a blessing within our Hillel movement and by all who knew her heart. May her work serve as an inspiration and a standard for us all. May we prove worthy of her legacy.”


Herzog’s beard displays Jewish ritual of grief 

Amos Ben-Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office

The numerous photos documenting Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s inaugural trip to the UAE also captured something seemingly out of place at a state visit — Herzog’s beard, a sign that he was in mourning, reports eJewishPhilathropy’s Ben Sales. 

Observing shloshimHerzog’s mother, Aura, died on Jan. 10, which meant that as Herzog embarked on the first-ever visit of an Israeli president to the UAE this week, he was also in the Jewish mourning period of shloshim, the 30 days following a close relative’s death. According to traditional Jewish law, men are forbidden from shaving during the monthlong period. Herzog adhered to the ritual even as he conducted a state visit and met with the UAE’s leaders. 

Mutual respect: Rabbis and experts in Jewish mourning told eJP that Herzog’s appearance set up a striking parallel with the Emirati leaders. “They have their traditions as well in their appearance,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), told eJP. “The crown prince did not greet him in a suit. He greeted him in his traditional look. The traditional look of a Jew in mourning is not to be shaven.” Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s former ambassador to the U.S., told eJP that “Religion is very much respected in the GCC countries and we appreciate religious practice.”

Interreligious interest: Shemtov, who has more than a decade of experience meeting with leaders from the Arab world, can recall a series of meetings where he discussed Jewish practices with interested government officials from the Gulf. There was the time an Omani diplomat was mortified that Shemtov had no kosher food at an iftar dinner — and brought him a plate of chopped fruit. Or the time he had an hourlong conversation about ritual slaughter with the Saudi justice minister. 

Ritual and history: Herzog’s shloshim beard does not mark the first time an Israeli leader has insisted on Jewish observance in a majority non-Jewish society. In 1980, a White House dinner was made entirely kosher to accommodate Prime Minister Menachem Begin. And Shemtov noted that Herzog was, in a sense, paying tribute not only to his mother but to his grandfather, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, a former chief rabbi of Israel.

Grieving in public: Rabbi Rafi Rank of the Midway Jewish Center in New York told eJP that many Jewish men face the same dilemma as Herzog when they prepare for an important work meeting during shloshim. “You make a choice: Are you going to be clean-shaven and skirt the issue, or are you going to press ahead with the meeting and be open about it?” Gail Rubin, a Jewish funeral planning expert, told eJP, “We have lost so many of the public sights of being mourners,” such as walking around with torn clothing. She hopes Herzog’s appearance “makes our society more sensitive to the presence and needs of mourners.”


Jewish justice and disability


In an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy to kick off Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, Michelle Friedman, board chair of Keshet in Chicago, writes, “The moral imperative in Judaism of justice, ethics and morality is intrinsic to Jewish values and taught by both the Torah and the prophets: ‘Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Adonai your God has given you.’”

Bringing justice into the world: “The word ‘tzedek’ is from the same root as ‘tzaddik,’ a righteous person who has embodied the quality of ‘tzedek.’ A tzaddik treats all people in the world equitably, pursues justice as a matter of course — a knee-jerk response — because he or she understands that all humans are created b’tzelem elokiemin, in the image of the divine. A tzaddik has placed himself or herself entirely in service of bringing tzedek – justice into the world.”

Lived experience: “It is through this lens of social justice that I, as a disabled woman, have begun looking at disability services, programs, advocacy, awareness and activism in pursuit of a fair and just society for all people with disabilities… I have been blind for 29 years and visually impaired for 28 years before that; thus, I have lived almost my entire life as a woman with a disability. I have been involved in disability awareness, advocacy and activism in one form or another for the past 40 years. And while I readily acknowledge that there is so much injustice in the world, so many who are marginalized, suppressed and oppressed for many reasons, my lived experience is as a disabled woman and from this perspective, I ask, ‘How do we pursue tzedek in the realm of the disability sector?’”

Read the full piece here.


‘Death Metal Grandma NFT Collection’ pays tribute to Holocaust survivor


“It has been a month since eJP published ‘Are NFTs the Answer to Jewish Woes?’ and I am still getting emails from readers who were intrigued by the idea. Family foundation professionals and entrepreneurs, content creators and art collectors, web builders and young thought leaders…the Jewish community is full of people trying to make sense of the metaverse and what it will mean for the future of Jewish life,” writes Rebecca Dinar, a longtime community professional, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy

New NFT collection: “Last week, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I learned about … an art-supporting nonprofit based in Brussels and New York [who] joined forces with a group of transclassical musicians to create the ‘Death Metal Grandma NFT Collection,’ a tribute to Holocaust survivor [and heavy metal bandleader and singer] Inge Ginsberg. Bidding is well underway for the five-piece collection available on OpenSea.”

Death Metal Grandma: “Ginsberg, whose life story is detailed in a short documentary film created by Leah Gant for The New York Times, would have been 100 the day her NFT’s dropped. A musical artist who began her training at age 6 in Austria, she fled the Nazis and somehow survived life in a refugee camp in Switzerland. Then, once the war ended, she moved to Hollywood, Calif., to start a new life, working as a composer and writing songs for icons like Nat King Cole and Doris Day… As she aged, she became profoundly aware of how society neglects and silences older women and committed herself to finding new ways to reach an audience.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Pledging a Percent: A group of senior Israeli high-tech leaders from various fields established the 1point8 initiative, a community formed by local entrepreneurs pledging to set aside 1.8% of their shares or options to donate to charitable organizations, Calcalist reports. “Every few months, the community will hold a Demo Day for all the social projects with measurable goals and innovative thinking. The leaders of the organizations will present their vision to the community (TED Talk-style), and the participants will vote on the allocation of resources for the upcoming quarter on a designated platform. 1point8 is open to everyone at any stage, whether an old or new employee, company founder, HR manager, or programmer. Similar to the initiative created by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, members will join by signing a pledge – a non-legal document in which investors state that they will give 1.8% of their options to the 1point8 fund. Upon signing, investors gain membership to the community and can take part in the decisions on fund allocation.” [Calcalist]

Berry Surprising: A group of Israeli students volunteering in Perth, Australia, stumbled across a berry farm in the Western Australian coastal town of Denmark, and discovered that the mother of farmer James Lillywhite had been Jewish, the Australian Jewish News reports. “Moments later, he was being helped to put on tefillin, having no idea what they were, and recite the Shema…Mitzvahs completed, amid cries of ‘Mazal tov,’ singing and dancing ensued, with Lillywhite at the centre of his very first simcha. The Torah Mitzion group have since told Chabad of RARA (Rural and Regional Australia) about their encounter and the organization has now spoken with the Denmark Berry Farm proprietor. Rabbi Menachem Aron reported that Lillywhite said it was the most exciting thing he’d done in a long time, stressing, ‘I’ve never done anything like that before!’…He added that Chabad of RARA was planning to stay in touch with him and visit him, enabling him to continue his Jewish journey and learn more about his heritage.” [AustralianJewishNews]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Yeshiva University received a $20 million commitment from the Belz family of Memphis, Tenn., to launch a comprehensive renovation of the building currently known as Furst Hall…

The Kaiser Family Foundation received a $3.9 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to expand Kaiser Health News…

The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund announced it will wind down its LGBT equality program over the next two years…

Wealth-X, a provider of data and insight on the wealthy, released “Ultra High Net Worth Philanthropy 2022.” The report finds growth in giving by the ultra-wealthy outpaced that from other sources in 2020, and that North America accounted for more than half of all global ultra-wealthy donations…

Henry Grunwald will step down as chair of the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust at the end of next month, as will the former chief rabbi’s longtime director of communications, Dan Sacker. Grunwald will be succeeded by Elliott Goldstein

Three new reports from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy make the case that fundraisers could benefit from making personal connections with, demonstrating impact to and cultivating empathic responses from donors without inducing feelings of guilt or distress…

Pic of the Day

The Golda Meir House Museum in Denver, where the former Israeli prime minister lived as a teenager, was rededicated earlier this month to serve as a center of Jewish learning and engagement for area Jewish students and will host a growing number of classes and activities provided by Chabad-Lubavitch of Auraria Campus.

Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images

Comedian, writer, actress and illustrator, best known for co-creating and co-starring in the Comedy Central series “Broad City,” Abbi Jacobson

Vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm I. Hoenlein… Partner in the LA-based law firm, Fredman Lieberman Pearl, Howard S. Fredman… Midtown Manhattan physician, affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital, specializing in nephrology and internal medicine, Dr. Mark H. Gardenswartz… Composer and conductor, he is the laureate conductor of the Chappaqua Orchestra, Michael Jeffrey Shapiro… Far Rockaway, N.Y., resident, Maurice Lazar… President and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was previously president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, Stan Kasten… Publisher of Baltimore Jewish LifeJeff Cohn… Artist born in Derbent, Russia, now living in Albany, N.Y., his oil on canvas paintings contain many Jewish themes, Israel Tsvaygenbaum… Deputy director for policy and government affairs at AIPAC, David Gillette… EVP and chief program officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Becky Sobelman-Stern… Twenty-five-year veteran of the Israeli foreign service, now a scholar-in-residence at American University in Washington, Dan Arbell… One of Israel’s top soccer players of all time, now chairman of Beitar Jerusalem, Eli Ohana… Actor, comedian and producer, Pauly Shore… Voting rights and election law attorney, he advises the DNC, DSCC, DCCC and the DGA, Marc E. Elias… Mid-Atlantic regional director for AIPAC, Tara Brown… Managing director of Pickwick Capital Partners, Ari Raskas… Experimental jazz guitarist, bassist, oud player and composer, Yoshie Fruchter… Talk radio host and author, Adam Charles Kokesh… Managing director of client partnerships at AxiosAndrew Friedman… Sportscaster and sports reporter who covers the New York Mets for SNY, Steven N. Gelbs… Health services deputy at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Stephanie Beth Cohen… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-CA-53), Sara Jacobs… Resident physician in the Ob-Gyn program at Emory University School of Medicine, Alisha Sara Kramer… Brand marketing manager at Smore, David Aryeh Leshaw… Actress and model, Julia Garner CEO of the Charleston (S.C.) Jewish Federation, Judi Corsaro

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