Your Daily Phil: JDC chief on wartime challenges facing Ukraine, Israel

Good Wednesday morning. 

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a pro-Israel music festival being held at MIT, and feature an opinion piece by Ilai Z. Saltzman and Maxine Grossman about the value of Israel studies and Jewish studies programs on U.S. college campuses. We’ll start with an interview with Ariel Zwang, CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

As the bitter wars in Ukraine and Gaza grind on with no end in sight, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) says it is committed to the next phase of helping at-risk populations in both Ukraine and Israel rebuild vibrant Jewish lives.

Fresh off solidarity visits to Ukraine and Israel, the group’s CEO, Ariel Zwang, recently sat down with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen to discuss the challenges facing both countries. In Ukraine, two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country, the crises have remained even as world and Jewish interest have waned. In Israel, the struggles are still emerging and developing in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks and the ongoing fighting in Gaza and along Israel’s northern border. But Zwang said the two countries also share many of the same issues, particularly around mental health.

“The needs in Ukraine are as great as they ever were, and I don’t think it’s in our consciousness in the same way [as] when the war began” more than two years ago, Zwang said.

“Tens of thousands of Jewish Ukrainians [left] when the war started… leaving because of what might happen,” she said. Now, Zwang added, they are leaving “because of what did happen” and what is still happening as the war rages on. She noted a building bombing that occurred during her visit to the region, killing 25 people. “This is still the news that they are living with every day in Ukraine. It’s homes destroyed, loved ones displaced, family members called up not able to leave the county, families separated,” she said.

Tens of thousands of members of the Jewish community in Ukraine are receiving aid from JDC, particularly the elderly and disabled, who have been the least able to flee the country, according to the organization. Services include assisting evacuees whose homes have been destroyed by missile attacks as they settle into their new homes. “We’re helping them pay rent, helping them to get there, [providing] home care, partially covering medical costs,” Zwang said.

Other JDC programs in Ukraine focus on the renewal of Jewish life for the 40,000-190,000 members of the country’s Jewish community (estimates vary based on who is included). “People have a misconception that all of the Jews left, and that’s not true at all,” Zwang said. “But many who did leave were active in leading a Jewish life, counselors at camps and youth groups, and so [there’s a need] for people who can lead Jewish activities and also make sense of what’s happened from a Jewish perspective. So we’ve created courses for Jewish educators and counselors.”

Some 2,000 miles away, JDC is also helping the hardest-hit Israelis to heal, recover and rebuild after the Oct. 7 attacks and the ongoing war against Hamas. In the aftermath of Hamas’ attack, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression climbed.Responding to the increase of mental health issues, JDC launched the Emergency Resilience and Mental Health National Initiative, a $24.5 million program that offers tailored mental health care, supported by the Israeli government, the Jewish Federation Los Angeles, the Horwitz and Zusman Family Foundations and other donors.

On Zwang’s most recent visit to Israel in March, her third since Oct. 7, she said she “saw well-developed responses from JDC that really were responsive to the needs.” She pointed to the southern Israel city of Ofakim, which has tens of thousands of residents, is not economically wealthy and “doesn’t have the same kind of resiliency as [tight-knit communities on] kibbutzim.” As it is located further from Gaza, it is not eligible for the same level of support from the government as border-adjacent communities. “JDC has begun working intensively with Ofakim, which was very much affected by the Hamas attacks,” she said.

Zwang said there are several parallels between what Jews in Ukraine and Israel are experiencing. Some of JDC’s initiatives, such as Hibuki therapy dolls, have been used to heal both Ukranian and Israeli traumatized children.

“Daily casualties, daily loved ones losing their lives, dislocation and all of that is traumatic,” Zwang said, pointing to the overlap between wars. “So the mental health initiative in Israel and the treatment centers in Ukraine would be the most salient area of this common need.”

Read the full report here.


MIT to host music festival celebrating ‘Jewish joy’ this week

Teens from across the country celebrate Opening Session of USY International Convention in Orlando, Fla. with teens from the Metropolitan New York area.
Matisyahu performs in concert during the “Hold The Fire Tour” at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater on February 10, 2024 in Austin, Texas. Rick Kern/Getty Images

In recent weeks, as headlines have painted an increasingly grim picture of life for Jewish students on many American college campuses, a group of Boston-area Jewish students banded together to try to inject some positivity into that gloomy narrative. The result is a just-announced music festival taking place tomorrow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge with a slew of artists who have been outspoken about their support for Israel and the Jewish community in recent months, reports Gabby Deutch for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Dancing again: The four-hour event is titled “We will dance again,” referring to the phrase that Oct. 7 survivor Mia Schem had tattooed on her arm following her release from Hamas captivity. It will feature performances by the Israeli singer Idan Raichel; rapper and reggae artist Matisyahu and his son, LAIVY; singer-songwriter John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting; rapper Kosha Dillz; and a DJ who performed at the Nova music festival. There will also be food trucks on-site, including kosher options.

Feeling glad: “Through the power of music and rhythm, the event aims to unite attendees, honor those who have passed, and support those facing challenges while celebrating joyful Judaism,” reads the event description. The event came together in less than two weeks, after MIT graduate student Talia Khan, the co-president of the MIT Israel Alliance, created a GoFundMe with the support of MIT Chabad to raise money to organize the event and cover the cost of student tickets. As of Tuesday night, the campaign has raised $32,000. “As they say, haters gonna hate, but we’re proud and loud,” Rabbi Menachem Altein, director of MIT Chabad, said yesterday. “Being Jewish should invoke a feeling of gladness rather than the feeling of sadness and being a target.”

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


Investing in knowledge: The imperative for greater support for Jewish and Israel studies

Illustrative. skynesher/Getty Images

“As we seek to cultivate a discourse that is both rigorous and nuanced and that is driven by the exploration of the intricacies of our identities or histories, both at home and abroad, the need for increased funding for Israel studies and Jewish studies programs on U.S. campuses has never been more urgent,” write Ilai Z. Saltzman and Maxine Grossman, the directors of University of Maryland, College Park’s Israel studies and Jewish studies programs, respectively, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Diving deep: “The study of modern Israel provides a way to engage with a nation whose roots extend deep into antiquity, and whose story is intertwined with the very fabric of human civilization. From the ancient narratives of the Hebrew Bible to the modern social, political and economic realities as well as the challenges of statehood, Israel presents a phenomenon that defies simplistic characterization and rewards multidimensional analysis. Similarly, Jewish studies encompass a diverse array of topics, ranging from religious texts and traditions to the diasporic experiences of Jewish communities around the globe. Through the study of literature, history, philosophy, art and more, students gain a deeper appreciation for the richness and complexity of Jewish identity.”

Practical skills: “The value of Israel studies and Jewish studies extends far beyond the confines of the classroom or the campus as well. In an increasingly interconnected world, where headlines often fail to capture the depths of complex issues, informed discourse is more important than ever; the ability to analyze sources, evaluate arguments and discern bias is indispensable. Central to the pedagogy of Israel studies and Jewish studies is the cultivation of critical thinking skills and interdisciplinary perspectives. By encouraging students to approach complex issues from multiple angles, and drawing upon insights from history, sociology, political science and other disciplines, these fields empower individuals to engage such intricate topics with depth, empathy and confidence.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

What Makes the Cut: In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf questions why news outlets focused primarily on the 30 protesters who walked out of Jerry Seinfeld’s commencement speech at Duke University on Sunday rather than on the substance of his remarks, which included timely observations about the role of humor as “the most survival-essential quality” for navigating a complex world. “The war in Gaza is, of course, more newsworthy than any commencement and has been covered extensively. Many protests about the war are newsworthy, too. But the airing of grievances at Duke was not notable for the number of people who participated, or for any insight offered on Gaza, or for even a remote prospect of affecting the conflict. To the credit of the students who walked out, it didn’t even disrupt the speech. So it was suspect, I think, to treat the protest as more important than the event that the activists sought to leverage for attention. A protest in and of itself does not confer importance. Journalists often fail to distinguish between substantively newsworthy protests and mere deployment of the protest mode — a bias that activists have learned to exploit. Social media is optimized to signal-boost conflict more than attempts at distilling wisdom. And too many Americans revel in rather than resist conflicts.” [TheAtlantic]

Tech Savvy: A technology plan addresses the data and underlying technical capabilities that enable an organization to achieve its strategic objectives. In The Philanthropist Journal, Katie Gibson and Marc-André Delorme offer potential models for nonprofits interested in incorporating these tech considerations into their strategic planning. “‘In a perfect world, the strategic planning process includes an ED/CEO with tech expertise, an internal strategic tech leader, board members with tech expertise, and a strategic planning consultant well-versed in tech. We dub this the ‘peloton model’ of strategic planning. For most non-profits, this is unrealistic. So what is plan B? One option is to engage an external IT or tech strategy consultant to support the planning process – the ‘pedicab model.’ Some technology vendors offer this service. However, not all tech experts understand the non-profit context. It is important to find an expert who is familiar with both technology and the specific needs of non-profit organizations. Another option is to ask your strategic planning consultant to team up with a tech expert — the ‘tandem bike model.’ It has the advantage of bringing deep strategy and tech expertise to bear. At a sector level, it will also, over time, strengthen the tech expertise of strategic planning consultants.” [PhilanthropistJournal]

Will We Choose To Live Better?: The Longevity Imperative, a new book by Andrew Scott of the London Business School, looks beyond the challenges of an aging world population to consider its opportunities, writes Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. “This new world has been created by the collapse in death rates of the young… This is humanity’s greatest achievement. Yet our main reaction is to fret over the costs of an ‘ageing’ society. Would young and middle-aged adults prefer to know that they and, worse, their children might die at any moment? We know the answer to this question. Yes, the new world we live in creates challenges. But the crucial point Scott makes is that it also creates opportunities. We need to rethink old age, as individuals and societies.” [FinancialTimes]

Around the Web

Politico previews Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California’s annual lobbying trip to the state capital today, which is expected to focus primarily on combating antisemitism…

The Morris and Helen Belkin Foundation donated another $500,000 to the Canadian nonprofit L’Arche Greater Vancouver, which creates and supports communities for people with disabilities. This is the second $500,000 donation by the Belkin Foundation to the organization’s $6 million We All Belong campaign, which launched in 2019…

An NPR affiliate in Ohio spotlights the Rekindle Fellowship, an initiative that looks to bring together the Black and Jewish communities…

In The ConversationSamira Mehta, an associate professor of women and gender studies and Jewish studies, explores the history and current realities of Asian Jews in light of the fact that May is both Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month

In a virtual organizing call, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) alleged that until his election in 2020, AIPAC had “full control of this district, just like they now have full control of Congress — as they fund everyone in Congress.” The remarks came after a spirited debate between Bowman and his opponent, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, in the district primary…

Jewish Insider examines the concessions that universities are making to anti-Israel activists to get them to disband their protests and encampments as graduation season arrives…

The encampment at Cornell University dispersed on its own, without a deal and without police intervention…

A University of Delaware student was charged with committing a hate crime, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after vandalizing a Holocaust memorial on campus and going on an antisemitic tirade…

The chairs of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Accountability and Committee on Education and the Workforce are launching a wide-ranging probe into potential ties between terrorist groups and the organizations backing the campus anti-Israel protests…

Officials in the U.K. charged three men with plotting a terror attack against the Jewish community in Manchester

Jewish parent filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the Philadelphia School District, over a series of incidents that took place at the city’s Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School…

Watertown, N.Y. — a small town in upstate New York made famous by Harry Chapin  will stop holding official flag-raising ceremonies of any kind at its city hall in order to avoid controversies following pushback over an Israeli flag-raising event yesterday to mark Israel’s Independence Day

Irvin Fishbein, who used his knowledge of Yiddish to help Holocaust survivors after World War II and later became a prominent member of the Baltimore Jewish communitydied last month at 101…

Pic of the Day

Maayan Toaf/Israel’s Government Press Office

The recipients of this year’s Israel Prize stand with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog (10th and 13th from left), Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (seventh from left) and Education Minister Yoav Kisch (11th from right) at last night’s award ceremony in Jerusalem.

This year’s recipients are: Gershon Ben-Shahar, Hagai Bergman, Miki Berkovich, Cochav Elkayam-Levy, Moshe Edri, Menachem Kalmanson, Chen Kogel, Tzvi Mazeh, Vitali Milman, Shlomo Nakdimon, Yaakov Ritov, Edna Solodar, Eyal Waldman, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Itiel Zohar.


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit
Courtesy/Dartmouth College

Professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, she is the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Susannah Heschel

Principal of Queens-based Muss Development, a real estate development company founded by his grandfather Isaac in 1906, Joshua Lawrence Muss… Chairman emeritus of The Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States, Rachel Oestreicher Bernheim… VP of the American Zionist Movement and chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Martin Oliner… Retired major general in the IDF, he served as Israel’s national security advisor and is now a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, Yaakov Amidror… Israeli diplomat who served as Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy… CEO of Emigrant Bank, Howard Philip Milstein… Owner of Midnight Music Management and one of the founders of The Happy Minyan in Los Angeles, Stuart Wax… Associate editor and columnist at the Washington PostRuth Allyn Marcus… Five-time Emmy Award-winning journalist, producer, and filmmaker, Giselle Fernandez… First lady of Israel, Michal Herzog… Owner/President of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, he is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Mark Wilf… Former member of the Nevada Assembly, she served as secretary of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, Ellen Barre Spiegel… Director, screenwriter and former film critic, Rod Lurie… Actor and filmmaker, Grant Heslov… Vice Chancellor of Brown University, she is the founder of Reeves Advisory, Pamela R. Reeves… Actor and comedian, David Krumholtz… Executive director in the Office of Crime Victim Services at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Shira Rosenthal Phelps… Noam Finger… Executive director at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Daniel M. Rothschild… Actress, Jamie-Lynn Sigler… Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author, Eli Eric Saslow… Senior editor at VogueChloe F. Schama… Rochelle Wilner… Ofir Richman…