Your Daily Phil: Jewish activists working under the radar for Ukraine + Amnesty USA head says Israel shouldn’t be ‘Jewish state’

Good Friday morning!

To get 60 people out of an embattled city in Ukraine, you need a bus that costs $10,000. Then you need to find a driver who’s willing to drive the bus on the country’s treacherous roadways. You also need gas. You must get in touch with the people who need to evacuate, and get everyone on the bus during an exceedingly narrow window of time when Ukrainians are not under nighttime curfew and Russian forces are not shooting in the streets. Only then can they begin their journey to the border.

Those are some of the myriad challenges facing a discreet and anonymous network of grassroots activists, convened and funded partly by Jews, that has sprung up during the past two weeks. Its mission is to evacuate and deliver urgent aid to some of the millions of Ukrainian civilians, Jewish and not, facing both starvation and Russian weaponry.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine late last month, a range of Jewish organizations with years of experience and robust infrastructure in Eastern Europe has delivered millions of dollars’ worth of aid. This grassroots network has coalesced in tandem — focused on providing immediate assistance to civilians on a touch-and-go basis.

“In most disasters you need both — there’s the short-term immediate relief, getting people fed, getting supplies in, getting people out,” Charlene Seidle, executive vice president of the Leichtag Foundation, which has delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to Ukraine, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “And then there’s going to be much longer-term needs around refugee resettlement, longer-term medical needs, psychosocial services [and] educational services.”

The grassroots effort grew partly out of Jewish communal connections. The person who connected many of the activists, and who works at a Jewish organization, realized about 10 days ago that they knew people — and knew people who knew people — who had been active in Ukraine and might be able to deliver aid to those in the country. Since then, the organizers have been on their phones nonstop, trying to organize guerrilla aid operations like evacuation buses and 20-foot-long trucks full of supplies (approximate cost: $200,000) that they hope will get food and medicine to starving families.

One of the organizers said they recently succeeded in getting three buses to take 180 people out of a city under attack. Now, in order to get more people out, the organizers are trying to load a car with 200 liters of fuel that other vehicles can use to reach the border. “Every day we can’t get them out is one day more they’re going without food,” said one organizer during a recent briefing. “Because we have this unconditional trust, everything gets done so fast and effectively.”

Read the full story here.


A Jewish magazine’s new initiative highlights women over 40


Forbes celebrates 30 entrepreneurs under 30. The New York Jewish Week lauds 36 Jewish innovators under 36. But a new list, from the feminist Jewish magazine Lilith, conveys the message that creative spirit, innovative instinct and professional achievement, for most, do not end or stop being noteworthy at 40, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Elevating new voices: “The New 40,” a project from the magazine announced last year, is specifically geared toward emerging women writers over 40 and drew 269 applicants, 10 of whom were selected. “Quite clearly we had tapped into a huge need,” Susan Weidman Schneider, Lilith’s editor-in-chief and one of the magazine’s founders, told eJP. The members of the first cohort, which began meeting in February, range in age from 43 to 87 and hail from all over the United States, with one member in Israel. Weidman Schneider hopes for each of the women to publish a piece in the 46-year-old magazine.

An unheard demographic: “There has been a tradition of elders telling their stories that went away; now it’s ‘let’s hear from all the young people,’” said cohort member Beverly Pincus, who has been a psychologist for 30 years and who intends to work on a memoir. “It’s visionary to make a program that supports the voices of older Jewish women… They’ve tapped into a demographic that isn’t being heard that much.”

Dreaming the future: For the cohort, Weidman Schneider said the magazine sought voices that hadn’t been widely heard or included. “What’s so brilliant about this program is that we’ll have the opportunity to cycle through many writing genres,” said cohort member Marcella White Campbell, formerly the executive director of Be’chol Lashon, a Jewish nonprofit that advocates for Jews of color. She is particularly interested in exploring autobiography and essay writing, as well as science fiction.“I have seen Afro-futurists dream a Black future, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dream an explicitly Black and Jewish future,” she said.

Read the full story here.


Israel ‘shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state,’ Amnesty USA director tells Democratic group

Following Amnesty International’s recent report that accused Israel of “apartheid” in its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, the group’s USA director appeared to go a step further on Wednesday, suggesting to a Women’s National Democratic Club audience that the bulk of American Jews do not want Israel to be a Jewish state, but rather “a safe Jewish space” based on “core Jewish values,” Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.

Changing minds: Paul O’Brien said one of Amnesty’s goals in publishing the report, which was roundly criticized by Israeli and American officials, is to “collectively change the conversation” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It needs to start first and foremost with the Jewish community,” O’Brien, who is not Jewish, said.

Gut feeling: The Amnesty official rejected a 2020 survey conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation that found that eight in 10 Jewish Americans identify as “pro-Israel,” and two-thirds feel emotionally “attached” or “very attached” to the Jewish state. “I actually don’t believe that to be true,” O’Brien said regarding those figures. “I believe my gut tells me that what Jewish people in this country want is to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jews, the Jewish people, can call home.”

Safe space: American Jews “can be convinced over time that the key to sustainability is to adhere to what I see as core Jewish values, which are to be principled and fair and just in creating that space.” (The pro-Israel community rejects this so-called “one-state solution” argument as a cover for the dissolution of a Jewish state.) On the question of Israel’s right to exist, O’Brien seemed to be splitting hairs. Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state,” O’Brien told some 20 in-person and 30 virtual attendees at the Wednesday lunch event, before adding “Amnesty takes no political views on any question, including the right of the State of Israel to survive.”

Counter voice: “It is disturbing that Amnesty, which ostensibly exists to advance global human rights, could so casually deny the inalienable human rights of safety and sovereignty to a nation as persecuted as the Jewish people,” Amanda Berman, executive director of the progressive pro-Israel group Zioness, told JI after the event.

Read more here.


Recognizing Soulful Giving

Getty Images

Ed. note: Welcome to Parsha Phil! This new weekly project invites thought leaders from varying backgrounds to read the weekly Torah portion through the lens of philanthropy. We hope this space provides new ways of reading the parsha and valuable insights into how our texts teach us — through statements, suggestions or character behavior — about supporting those in need, donating a portion of our income or giving of ourselves in acts of generosity toward our fellow humans.

Our first Parsha Phil contributor is advisor, consultant and author Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky. (To learn more about this project or to suggest contributors, contact

“At first glance, the book of Leviticus appears quite boring. It dispatches with the engaging narrative to which we’ve grown accustomed these many months with the characters-and-action-packed Genesis and Exodus. And yet, beneath the surface of each turn of phrase within this book is an entire corpus of interpretation adding not only background narrative to each law, but also color to what might otherwise be considered a dull section of the Torah,” writes rabbi, consultant and advisor Avi S. Olitzky in an opinion piece.

Offerings of self: “To make an offering, one needs to have financial means. It takes wealth to be able to provide an animal for sacrifice. If a person could not afford an animal, then grain would have to suffice. And if that person were bringing grain, then they were likely giving up a meal from their own meager resources to do so — a sacrifice within the sacrifice. They effectively were offering up themselves on the altar.”

Soul giving: “Many give of themselves – of their souls – to our communal institutions, but because those “‘gifts’” are not entered into the revenue line on an organization’s profit and loss statement, they are overlooked and often disregarded. When we consider only the size of a gift, we neglect those whose offerings may be smaller, but much more qualitatively significant than the seven-figure donor. Someone who makes a modest donation out of the funds they receive from their disability check; serves as a pro bono attorney, accountant, teacher, for an organization or institution; who leaves their family at home to attend (sometimes unproductive) meetings for organizations where they volunteer; who stands outside in the cold as security — all these represent great contributions of time, energy and spirit.”

Read the full piece here.


You don’t have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist


“Have you ever asked yourself whether a small donation can really make a difference to a charity that is trying to heal the world or even just a tiny piece of it? Whether the cause that interests you is regional, national or global, the answer to that question is a resounding, ‘Yes!’” writes Jane R. Snyder, a writer/songwriter, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Starting small: “I used to feel embarrassed to send only modest donations, but I still sent them. Later on, after I’d read an article in a magazine dedicated to philanthropy, my attitude shifted completely. I had learned that although few of us can make a million dollar contribution, many millions of people can and do donate $5, $10, or $25 to help dedicated groups to move their valuable work forward. Over time, these smaller amounts will add up to many millions of dollars of support. Any fundraising professional will tell you this is true.”

Personal goal: “Many decades ago, setting a personal goal, I decided to add a new charity to my list of those I supported every year going forward. I have continued to do so and a spreadsheet keeps track of my donations — one charity for each year of my life. When circumstances allowed, I increased the value of my gifts, but I have never once stopped supporting a cause after I donated to it the first time. After all, repeat supporters are something every charity hopes to attract and be able to count on.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Get High on Helping: People who are having difficulty coping can help their bodies and minds by helping others, Tara Parker-Pope writes in The New York Times. “Some research has focused on the ‘helper’s high.’ Studies show that volunteering, donating money, or even just thinking about donating money can release feel-good brain chemicals and activate the part of the brain stimulated by the pleasures of food and sex. Studies of volunteers show that do-gooders had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol on days they did volunteer work.” [NYTimes]

Cross-Border Philanthropy: 
The 2022 Global Philanthropy Environment Index, a report on global philanthropy, indicates that many countries worldwide, particularly European nations, are well-positioned to help with the global humanitarian crisis unfolding as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, writes Dan Parks in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Nick Deychakiwsky, a senior program officer at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which helped fund the report, said that if Russia manages to capture Ukraine, the philanthropic environment in both countries could take a significant turn for the worse. Even if Ukraine manages to repel the invasion, it will need significant assistance for years in many ways, Deychakiwsky noted. Russia may open up for global philanthropic assistance as well if a defeat in Ukraine leads to a change in Russia’s power structure, he said… He added: ‘The report indicates the value of having as few barriers as possible to cross-border philanthropy.’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Art Scene:
 In The Circuit, Rebecca Anne Proctor spotlights Alserkal Avenue, the booming Dubai arts district that is attracting artists from around the world. “Imagine New York’s City’s Soho or Miami’s Wynwood, once-neglected manufacturing districts dotted with warehouses repurposed as artists’ lofts and sleek art galleries offering cutting-edge work. Now imagine these two arts districts on overdrive — art galleries, restaurants, performance spaces, artists studios, a yoga studio, a jewelry workshop, a photography center, an independent vinyl record shop, a hip clothing boutique housed within a design gallery, even an Italian bespoke shoe shop — spread across 500,000 square feet and 90 low-slung warehouses. That’s Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates.” [TheCircuit]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem will suspend its strategic partnership with Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich, who was added to the U.K.’s list of sanctioned individuals on Thursday due to his alleged ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The partnership was announced last month…

The Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States (FJC) dispatched 54 buses on Tuesday carrying Jewish refugees from all over Ukraine to the border, heading to Moldova, Romania and Poland. Crossing the border, they are housed by the FJC in refugee camps until they are assisted in relocating toward Western and Central Europe or placed on chartered flights to Israel…

Activists organized by The Jewish Federations of North America spent Wednesday in Washington, D.C., lobbying for aid to Ukraine. They met with Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., as well as an administration official and members of Congress…

The NFL’s Washington Commanders are sending 4,000 care packages to troops deployed in Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…

StandWithUs announced it will be opening an office in Australia in the spring…

The Muslim American Leadership Alliance has created its own NFT Collection. The project showcases the symbols that represent the beauty of Islam and in particular, the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on April 2. All proceeds will be directed to humanitarian relief programs…

With an investment of $60 million, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ City Data Alliance, which will identify 100 cities from across North and South America and train and guide them to use data to inform their governing…

The Truist Foundation in Charlotte, N.C., announced a $10 million grant to Connect Humanity to advance digital equity among historically marginalized communities…

Pic of the Day

Shy Brameli, Createit Studio

The Israeli disability organization Beit Issie Shapiro and The Holon Institute of Technology have teamed up to provide Purim costumes for children with disabilities who use mobility apparatuses.


JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Pop singer, pianist, composer of over 500 songs and record producer, his family name derives from the Hebrew word for charity, Neil Sedaka celebrates his birthday on Sunday…?

 Professor emeritus at Princeton University whose research focuses upon the Cairo Geniza and Jewish life in Muslim countries, Mark R. Cohen… Doctor of nursing practice, Hermine Warren… Office administrator at Creative Wealth Management in Islandia, N.Y., Glenda Kresh… Culinary writer, television host and novelist, Steven Raichlen… Suzanne Dreyfus… Composer and conductor, David Louis Newman… Co-owner of One Oak Vineyard in Sonoma, Calif., Laura Zimmerman… Chairman of Lions Gate Entertainment and head of MHR Fund Management, Mark Rachesky… College physician at Stony Brook University, internal medicine specialist, Dr. Richard E. Tuckman… CEO of Weiss Public Affairs, Amy Weiss… Singer-songwriter with an eponymous line of eyeglasses, Lisa Loeb… Chief research officer and SVP of strategic partnerships at Momentive dot AI (formerly Survey Monkey), Jon Cohen… Northeast regional deputy synagogue initiative director at AIPAC, Daniel Kochavi… Israeli singer-songwriter and pianist, Keren Peles… Managing director at energy-focused private equity firm Ridgewood Energy, Samuel J. Lissner… Co-founder and CEO of Flow Carbon, Dana Stern Gibber… Financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, Lev Beltser… Assistant director of Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Ga., Ayala Wasser… Director of the Israel office at Britain Israel Communications and Research Center, Richard Pater… President of JCS International, Michal Grayevsky… Principal and chief strategist at MCS Group, Sharon Polansky… Retired CBS president of business affairs and past board chair of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Deborah Barak…

Saturday: Venezuelan-born rabbi now residing in Lakewood, N.J., Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi… Photographer, musician and author of 15 children’s books, Arlene Weiss Alda… Carol Margolis… U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT)… Director, producer and screenwriter, Rob Cohen… Born in Mumbai, British sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor… MLB pitching coach who has worked for the Yankees, Reds, Braves, Marlins, Cubs and Padres, Larry Rothschild… Founder and CEO of R.A. Cohen & Associates, and a past president of AIPAC, Robert A. Cohen… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Ayoob Kara… Founder of hedge fund Lone Pine Capital, and a national board member of Teach for America, Stephen Mandel… Sales representative at Paychex, Lynne Blumenthal… Senior official at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Diane Saltzman… Senior attorney in the DC office of Squire Patton Boggs, Stacey Grundman… Sportscaster for ESPN and a host of SportsCenter, Steve Levy… Born in Haifa, Israel, he served as President of the Central Bank of Brazil, now an official at the IMF, Ilan Goldfajn… U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)… Chief Washington correspondent for CNN and host of the Sunday morning program “State of the Union,” Jacob Paul “Jake” Tapper… Founder and CEO at Miller Strategies, LLC, Jeff Miller… VP for communication and media affairs at USTelecom – The Broadband Association, Brian T. Weiss… Founder and publisher of Fleishigs kosher food magazine, Shlomo Klein… Writer and communications specialist at the American Hospital Association, Talia Schmidt… Member of Congress (D-NY-15) , Rep. Ritchie Torres… Senior Middle East specialist at Leidos, Aaron Magid… Co-founder and CEO of Serotonin, Amanda Gutterman Cassatt… CEO and co-founder of Wonder Media Network, Jenny Kaplan… Israeli figure skater who won the 2016 World Junior championship, he competed for Israel at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Daniel Samohin… Israeli internet personality with 5 million followers on TikTok, Anna Zak… President of A.Lavin Communications, Andrew Lavin

Sunday: Israeli singer who won the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest, Izhar Cohen… Robert Smith… Psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan and Teaneck, New Jersey, Shana Yocheved Schacter… U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)… Founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann… Former Florida congressman, Alan Grayson… Adjunct lecturer in rabbinics and biblical commentaries at Hebrew Union College–Los Angeles, Rabbi Neal S. Scheindlin… Managing director of Supernode Ventures, Laurel Touby… Heavy metal songwriter, vocalist for the band Disturbed as well as for the band Device, David Draiman… Member of the California State Senate since 2014, Benjamin Allen… Former member of Knesset for the Jewish Home party, Yonatan “Yoni” Chetboun… Legislative director for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ari Rabin-Havt… Television and film actor, Emile Hirsch… EVP of Nefco, Matthew Gelles… Television and film actor, Emory Isaac Cohen… Senior manager of social marketing at NBC Universal, Jessie Hannah Rubin… Gabriel Romano…

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