Your Daily Phil: JCCs ramp up Israel programs with Diaspora Affairs Ministry partnership

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on an annual toy drive by Chai Lifeline expanding this year to give gifts displaced by the Israel-Hamas war and a spike in Judaica sales following the Oct. 7 attacks. We feature an opinion piece by Ziva Hassenfeld on the top priority of schoolteachers in Israel in this moment and another by Magda Dorosz about Hillel Poland’s role in the lives of the country’s young adults. Also in this newsletter: British Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Brian S. Cohen and Merra Vinogradov. Happy last night of Hanukkah!

The JCC Association of North America is accelerating a partnership with the Israeli Diaspora Affairs Ministry in order to ramp up JCCs Israel-related activities in the coming months and expand their role in developing a sense of peoplehood within their communities, the organization’s CEO told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Dubbed “Mithabrim,” meaning “connecting,” the funding initiative was first devised in 2021 under former Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nahman Shai and signed under the current minister, Amichai Chikli. The initial goal of the program was to strengthen JCC programming around Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron)and Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut), which are held over eight days each spring.

“In the aftermath of Oct. 7, we went back to the ministry and said we’d be very eager to develop resources more committedly and more directly so that JCCs can respond immediately with greater solidarity,” JCC Association CEO Doron Krakow told eJP. “We have begun with a host of programs already, some digitally and others in person.”

Krakow said the initial vision for the partnership was to fund a smaller number of Israel-related programs over a period of two years. The plan now is to adopt an “expedited time frame” in order to “do more, more quickly.” The Mithabrim initiative provides $7 million in dollar-for-dollar matching from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry for relevant programs.

These new programs include: bringing speakers from Israel to JCCs; hosting “Together We Shine Shabbat” solidarity programs (one of them this coming weekend, and another scheduled for Jan. 26–28 around the holiday of Tu B’Shvat); bringing survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks to speak at JCCs as part of a “Giborim,” or heroes, series; solidarity missions to Israel by JCC leaders; holding Israel education programs; and hosting events around Yom HaShoahYom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut at JCCs as initially planned.

This initiative is part of a growing effort by the JCC Association to expand its role in the Jewish community, from serving as a mere host for events to using its platform to instill values and ideals in its members.

“I and the JCC Association leadership had hoped and anticipated that we would move JCCs into an increasingly prominent place in local Jewish community leadership,” Krakow said, “and I think this initiative is an example of the ways in which we are rising to meet the moment as part of a durable strategy to become important and prominent in guiding and shaping the next generation of the Jewish community.”

“We believe that we have been insufficiently committed in ensuring that Israel was a cornerstone of Jewish community-building in North America and we have been leaning into redressing that issue for some time,” Krakow said.

Read the full report here.


Volunteers package toys for Israeli children at a Chai Lifeline center in Israel in December 2023. Courtesy/Chai Lifeline

Chai Lifeline, which provides services for children and families facing medical crises, is accustomed to putting smiles on children’s faces during Hanukkah with its annual toy drive. But this year, in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, it is expanding its reach to a special group of children and families. “In addition to running programming and counseling for those displaced families, we are also providing the children with toys this Hanukkah,” Matt Yaniv, a Chai Lifeline spokesperson, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Grassroots effort: The organization’s annual toy drive, which distributes more than 50,000 gifts to children living with severe illness worldwide, also included thousands of gifts to families in Israel doubly impacted by illness and the ongoing war against Hamas, many of whom were displaced from their homes on Oct. 7. The initiative is the largest-ever toy drive for Chai Lifeline’s Israel branch – with more than 7,000 toys distributed in Israel, more than double its usual number. “It’s driven mainly by the masses, through social media, toy drives in schools and synagogues, when people go shopping for toys for their own kids, they are thinking about other kids in need right now,” Yaniv said.

Read the full report here.


Judaica sales surge as community members seek ‘a little Jewish joy’ during a difficult time

American politician Dianne Feinstein, her arms outstretched in celebration, in her office after she was elected mayor of San Francisco, at San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco, California, circa 1978.
Takamasa Ota/Leadoff Studio

In any given year, the months leading up to Hanukkah are their own kind of Super Bowl in the world of Judaica sales, as hanukkiot purchases typically spike and retailers see their largest influx of business. This year began similarly, with shop owners stockpiling supplies and logging orders ahead of their busiest quarter. Then came Oct. 7. and, in a burst of Jewish identification following the deadliest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust, sales of jewelry, mezuzot, the Israeli flag and books are rising in Judaica stores across the country, reports Tori Bergel for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Jewish pride: “We have people, definitely on a daily basis, that are coming in looking for Star of Davids, looking for chais. They feel as if they need to have a physical way of showing support,” David Cooperman, owner of Shalom House in Woodland Hills, Calif, told JI. “Sometimes people will buy a small Star of David to pair up with a larger piece of jewelry that they might already own. So they’re wearing multiple pieces of jewelry, and they want to make sure that they’re wearing a star or chai as well.”

Financial support: Buying pieces crafted in Israel, as an additional show of support, has taken on a greater importance for many customers. “Many of our vendors have called and said, you know, tourism is down [in Israel], whatever you can do to continue to order, we’ll get it out to you,” Josh Zwelling, owner of Rosenblum’s World of Judaica in Skokie, Ill., recalled. “I said, OK, you know what, we’re going to place our orders [and] whenever you ship, you ship. Hopefully we can have it for Hanukkah time and things like that, but in the meantime, just know your orders are gonna continue to come in.”

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


‘Something has broken’: Teachers in Israel are straining to provide stability and support for their students

Image of a classroom in Tel Aviv, Israel, damaged by a missile strike from Gaza on Dec. 5, 2023. Courtesy/Ziva Hassenfeld

“In the field of educational research, there has been a growing focus on education in emergencies. Studying educators in a crisis helps us to understand the fundamental role of education and teachers as part of the fabric of society,” writes professor Ziva Hassenfeld of Brandeis University in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Battle for ‘shigra’: “[F]or three weeks after Oct. 7, I worked alongside Harvard Graduate School of Education alumna Tal Eitan and local Israeli educator Smadar Yitzhaki to interview as many teachers in Israel as we could… As we interviewed more and more teachers, whether they taught first grade or 12th grade, in the south or in the central areas of the country, a commonality emerged: they are desperately, determinedly striving to create shigra, routine, for their students.”

I’m OK, you’re OK: “Of course, it is not easy to have to be the face of routine in this context. Teachers are also human, and this war is happening to them as well… ‘I find strength in routine, preparing lessons,’ a teacher said, echoed by others as well. ‘To wake up in the morning and not the afternoon, to need to get dressed and presentable. Even on Zoom, the students see. To sign in, to go on Zoom, to see if the students are also on Zoom, to check if they are okay, for them to know that you are okay.’… Therein lies the true heroism of education right now: that it mitigates the effect of conflict on children. Schooling, even on Zoom, can provide children with the critical sense of normalcy in otherwise disruptive and fearful settings.”

Read the full piece here.


In Poland, community carries us through challenging times

Photo by Magda Dorosz

“When we first built Hillel Poland almost eight years ago, we hoped it would be a place to experience Jewish life in all its beauty,” writes executive director Magda Dorosz in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Space to learn and connect: “We sought to create a place to allow Jewish young adults to discover what their identity meant for them; a place they could ask questions, sometimes find answers and, most of all, meet others on their own self-discovery journeys. ‘It is nice to finally feel you are not the only young Jew,’ Ela, a student, shared with me. ‘At Hillel, I finally felt like an actual part of the community… Hillel is the place where I found friends who understand me.’ It’s a place I wish I had as I discovered more about my own Jewish identity when I found myself with more questions than answers, and didn’t know whom I could ask.”

Old foe, new form: “[I]t’s a place that has become more important than ever in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. Amid the ensuing rise of global antisemitism, Jewish people around the world are increasingly isolated. Polish Jewish young adults are being singled out in their social groups because of their Jewish identity. Some report losing friends. For many young adults in Poland, this is the first time they are personally experiencing antisemitism, online and offline, as they have become the targets of the outpouring of hate towards Jews since the start of the war.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Better Than Nothing: The deal struck on Wednesday at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai matches its predecessors in its perennial underwhelmingness, writes Zoë Schlanger in The Atlantic. “Every year, some version of this disappointment plays out. Over and over, COP produces texts that, however much they are trumpeted, fail to match the urgency or scope of the climate crisis. Without 2015’s Paris Agreement, the last notable COP result, the world would be in a much worse position, and still, eight years later, the most ambitious actions that the deal prompted leave the world far short of its goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. And yet, the agreements that emerge from this strange process have substantial sway. They may not be legally binding, but countries do, haltingly, move in the direction that they point. This COP will nudge the world toward pumping and buying less oil ‘this decade’ — doing anything less would now be archaic. Ultimately, the COP process is not the expression of the world’s maximum ambition on climate change. It’s simply the new floor.” [TheAtlantic]

No More Ashkenormativity: In Tablet, Paula Jacobs profiles the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America, which recently released a strategic plan to guide its efforts in the coming years. “Today, Larry Bensignor is working to preserve Sephardic Jewish identity in America and beyond as co-chair of the Strategic Planning Committee of the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America, an organization of Jews who trace their ancestral roots to Ottoman, Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jewry. ‘Sephardic Jews in America are a minority of a minority,’ said Bensignor, a third-generation member of the brotherhood. ‘Those of us in leadership of the brotherhood feel a responsibility to ourselves and our ancestors to ensure the vibrancy of the Sephardic community in America. It brings much joy to my heart and soul to do so. We look forward to continuing to build an organization that will continue for our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children to have a strong Sephardic legacy in their lives.’” [Tablet]

Giving Spirit: The Newtown, Pa., Patch publication profiles a $25,000 donation by a local philanthropist to recipients of free produce distributed by a local nonprofit. “As Christmas music filled the air, a long line of people waited to pick up their weekly allotment of fresh produce at the Bristol Township Municipal Complex on Bath Road. But today, they were in for a surprise. As they reached the end of the line, each were presented with a holiday greeting card from the Gene and Marlene Epstein Humanitarian Fund containing a crisp $100 bill… Epstein sold one of his prized antique cars to fund this year’s giveaway. He did the same thing last year for the $50,000 giveaway. ‘It’s more important that the people have a little buffer as opposed to me driving an antique car,’ he said.” [Patch]

Around the Web

British Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis held a Hanukkah candlelighting ceremony at Westminster Abbey last night, apparently the first such event to ever be held at the church in its 958-year history…

A new poll by the U.K.’s Jewish News and the Jewish Leadership Council found that more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they feel less safe in the country following the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel…

At a Hanukkah candlelighting ceremony at Harvard, the university’s Chabad rabbi, Hirschy Zarchicondemned the school’s leadership and said “Jew-hate and antisemitism is thriving on this campus”…

President Joe Biden met the families of American citizens being held hostage by Hamas yesterday at the White House for nearly two hours. “He listened, shared, shed a tear and insisted on taking us all to the Oval Office at the end of the meeting. We left strengthened and with hope,” said Orna Neutra, whose 22-year-old son, Omer, is a captive, after the meeting…

Hadassah sent a letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross “from one humanitarian organization to another,” criticizing it for failing to visit the hostages being held in Gaza…

The Jewish Funders Network will hold its annual conference in Tel Aviv next March 17-20, under the title, “The Power of Rebuilding Together.” It will be co-chaired by Leora Propper and Stephen Bronfman

The Lilly Endowment Incdonated $4.95 million to continue a collaboration between the Associated PressThe Chronicle of Philanthropy and The Conversation to cover news in the nonprofit sector…

Police in Detroit arrested Michael Jackson-Bolanos, who has been charged with the murder of local synagogue leader Samantha Woll during a home invasion on Oct. 21…

A group of artists, actors and celebrities who created the group Artists Against Antisemitism have launched an auction to benefit Project Shema. The auction runs Dec. 15-22…

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty profiled the small Jewish community in Uzbekistan, which is getting smaller due to a diminished dating pool for young people…

British Jewish and Israeli groups criticized the decision by a London advertising company to withdraw a billboard campaign that showed images of Israeli hostages after threats of violence…

Craig Newmark pulled his financial support for the New York-based nonprofit journalism outlet, The City, as part of a recent shift toward funding military veteran-related causes…

Brian S. Cohen, co-chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Asian Hate, detailed the efforts that his group has made in the two months following the Oct. 7 attacks…

The U.K.’s Jewish News spotlighted eight British Jewish nonprofits for the eight days of Hanukkah…

The British fundraising arm of Beit HaLochem, which helps wounded Israeli veterans, raised $2.85 million in a donation-matching campaign last weekend…

In a worrying sign for the Israeli economy, merger and acquisition deals in the country this year dropped in value by almost half to $9.8 billion, the lowest in nine years…

The Wall Street Journal delved into the at-times messy relationship between donors and universities in light of the growing outrage over antisemitism on campus…

Guy Stern, a German Jewish refugee-turned-U.S. intelligence operative known as a “Ritchie Boy” who became a Holocaust scholar, died last Thursday just before his 102nd birthday…

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.
Courtesy/Guy Yechieli

Holocaust survivor Merra Vinogradov, 97, lights Hanukkah candles in her home in Israel with help from an International Fellowship of Christians and Jews staffer. IFCJ teams have traveled to the homes of elderly individuals — with specific attention paid to homes in Israel’s south, where many seniors are still living despite large-scale evacuations — to deliver food and offer assistance with celebrating the holiday.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

Co-founder of several companies, including Beanstalk, Sixpoint Partners and Vringo, author of New York Times bestseller Let There Be WaterSeth (Yossi) Siegel

Dean Emeritus at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop… President emeritus of George Washington University, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg… Co-founder and chairman of Creative Artists Agency until 1995, later president of the Walt Disney Company, Michael S. Ovitz… Retired NY State assistant housing commissioner, he also served as a military chaplain for 38 years, Jacob Goldstein… President of Bard College since 1975, he is also music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein… Retired SVP at Warner Brothers, Howard Welinsky… Retired U.S. Air Force general who served as the chief of staff of the Air Force, he is currently the president and CEO of the Institute for Defense Analyses, Norton Allan Schwartz… Director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Robin Schatz… Member of Knesset for the Likud party, now serving as the Minister of Agriculture, Avi Dichter… Hedge fund manager, John Paulson… Owner of Bundles of Boston, Sheree Boloker… Retired CEO of San Francisco-based Jewish LearningWorks, David Jonathan Waksberg… Nurse and mental health counselor, Martina Yisraela Rieffer… Founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness established to combat abusive class-action settlements, now a division of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, Ted Frank… Partner and COO of Chicago-based Resolute Consulting, David Smolensky… British chef, restaurateur and food writer, Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi… Senior rabbi of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, Calif., Kalman Topp… Policy counsel in the criminal defense practice at The Bronx Defenders, now also a candidate for NYS Assembly, Eli Clemans Northrup… Co-CEO of Health Consulting Services, Matt Kosman… Former NFL player now playing rugby, he was on the Patriots when they won three Super Bowls, Nathan “Nate” Ebner… Speech-language pathologist, Leora Neuberger… Former offensive lineman for the New York Giants, now a medical sales representative at Stryker, Adam Bisnowaty… Co-director of Chabad of Macalester-Groveland in the Minneapolis area, Tzemach Feller… Television, teen theater and voice actress, Mia Sinclair Jenness