Your Daily Phil: Jewish Funders urged to ‘focus inward’ at JFN conference

Good Tuesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a visit by the Israel ParaSport Center’s basketball team to the West Coast, and feature an opinion piece by Paul Bernstein about a post-Oct. 7 surge of interest in Jewish day schools. Also in this issue: Lois BuntzRabbi Jason Rubenstein and Rabbi Elisheva Sachs Salamo. We’ll start with the Jewish Funders Network conference taking place this week in Israel.

Tel Aviv’s Hilton Hotel became the epicenter of frenzied activity this week as every public space in the building — the lobby, restaurant, seating nooks, empty halls and walkways — was used for conversations by the 600 attendees of the Jewish Funders Network’s four-day international convention, as well as dozens of people who just stopped by for meetings on the sidelines of the gathering, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross from the conference.

After months of Israel being the focus for many Jewish donors around the world, having the conference in Tel Aviv allowed the Israeli participants and visitors a chance to meet, mingle, check-in and share both their experiences so far and their plans for the future.

These meetings — some scheduled, others spontaneous — were precisely the goal of the conference organizers, who prioritized conversations among funders over addresses by senior officials and analysts.

The scheduled sessions also primarily focused on having foundation leaders and others within the philanthropy field discuss issues and brainstorm ideas. “It’s not like most of the conferences that you go to, where it’s just someone on stage who talks and talks and talks,” one attendee told eJP about one of the afternoon “deep dive” sessions on Monday.

The conference officially kicked off on Sunday afternoon with an opening reception at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, featuring speeches by the conference chairs, Leora Propper and Stephen Bronfman, as well as actor and IDF reservist Yadin Gellman, who shared his experiences in the battles of Oct. 7, in which he was seriously wounded and his combat partner, David, was killed.

In his opening address, Andrés Spokoiny, JFN’s CEO, called for funders to “give boldly” and “dream big,” telling them that “this is the rainy day we’ve been saving for.”

He also recommended that Jewish funders “focus inwards,” noting that according to a recent study the majority of Jewish giving goes to secular causes. “We Jews rightfully pride ourselves on being universalists. We care about all humanity. But during this crisis, we saw that when push comes to shove, sadly, we are alone,” he said. “And that’s painful, but in a certain way, it’s liberating: The Band-Aid was pulled off, and now we know where we stand. So now is the time to live by the first part of that Hillel saying, ‘If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?’ And to be clear, every citizen of Israel, Arab or Jew, is part of us.’”

Breaking somewhat from the general trend of the convention, the plenary session on Monday evening did feature a big-name keynote speaker: Israeli First Lady Michal Herzog.

In her address, Herzog, who plays an integral role in the presidency’s civil society efforts, hailed the funders and philanthropic sector for their nimbleness in the early days following the Oct. 7 terror attacks, supporting a broad array of pop-up initiatives, but warned against continuing to do so.

“The boldness and creativity that were evident in unusual times will need to meet a willingness to work together as one attuned organ during the days ahead,” Herzog said. “This may mean putting aside for a time the type of personalized giving that can feel so satisfying so that we can jointly zone in on the broader strategic needs of Israeli society and respond to them together through synchronized efforts… In the interest of a strong Israel, we cannot abandon the organizations that make up the critical mass on the ground in favor of passing trends. No matter how important they may be, because they are what sustain Israeli civil society day in and day out.”

Read the full story here.


Israel ParaSport Center’s ‘Hope in Motion’ tour wheels into Arizona, SoCal

The Israel ParaSport Center basketball team plays against San Diego's Wolfpack at the Merage JCC of Orange County in Irvine, Calif. in March 2024.
The Israel ParaSport Center basketball team plays against San Diego’s Wolfpack at the Merage JCC of Orange County in Irvine, Calif. in March 2024.

The wheelchair basketball team from Israel ParaSport Center in Ramat Gan is usually Europe-bound in the spring, where they compete against European teams and interact with the local communities. But this year, the team was assigned to Turkey and the Israel Ministry of Sport — out of concern for the team’s safety and amid heightening tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem – called off the trip. Instead, the Center’s leadership suggested a U.S. exhibition tour, which became the “Hope in Motion Wheelchair Basketball Tour,” bringing the team of 10 players, all of whom have physical disabilities, along with two coaches and other staff, to locations in Southern California and Tucson, Ariz., reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Excuse to connect: Sarah Meisenberg, the Center’s director of international relations, who lives in Israel and is traveling with the team, told eJP that one of the goals for the tour was to connect with its West Coast supporters. “We’re looking toward the future and trying to maintain that people-to-people connection and connect with our Jewish Diaspora,” Meisenberg said, “because we know that especially since the war, a lot of people feel like they really want to connect with Israel. So we’re hoping to bring a little bit of Israel and our center to the U.S. and to our community.”

Confidence building: Center board member Lisa Roth, who is based in Los Angeles, said she grew up with the ParaSport Center  — then called the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled — because her mother, Ellen Hershkin, also a past national president of Hadassah — served as one of the Center’s original board members. Over the years, she told eJP, she met many of the athletes, accompanying them on their travels and observing their interactions with the people and places they visited. “The Center gives people confidence,” Roth said. “It lets kids with disabilities participate in sports that they [otherwise] might not be able to do,” she added. While some players might use crutches or wheelchairs daily, she explained, most don’t, but wouldn’t “be able to run and compete with able-bodied kids. So it’s an equalizer.”

Read the full report here.


In uncertain times, Jewish families seek community in Jewish day schools

Courtesy/Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford

“Since Oct. 7, so much of what we thought we knew about Jewish life in North America has been called into question, and the impact on ourselves as individuals, as Jews and as a larger community will continue to evolve in the months and years to come… In this time of crisis, as more people are seeking connection and community, what are the implications for Jewish day schools and yeshivas, which have been delivering just that for decades?” writes Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Transfer inquiries up: “What stands out about the increased inquiries reported by Jewish day schools, across geography and denomination, is the unusual number of families interested in mid-year admission and the number of families exploring ‘lateral transfer,’ meaning joining the school community at a grade level outside of the typical entry points such as kindergarten, grade six or grade nine. Some professionals we spoke with called the number of these unique inquiries ‘unheard of,’ with most of the inquiries coming from families not currently enrolled in a Jewish day school.”

‘A critical role’: “As word spreads about how our schools are meeting the needs of new families (one slogan I have heard is ‘No Hebrew, no problem’), we may anticipate even more interest. Funders will have new opportunities to invest in our schools during this period of expansion to ensure schools can meet this moment and welcome new families while still providing excellence and community for those who have been steadfast in the day school choice for a long time… The increasing prominence of Jewish day schools, no longer reserved just for the Orthodox or children of clergy, has already generated greater responsiveness from the philanthropic community. If indeed we are entering a new stage of American Jewish history, those of us who are dedicated to Jewish day schools recognize that we have a critical role to play.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

‘Standing Shiva’: In the Jewish Journal, Toby Klein Greenwald writes about the unique experiences of older Israelis grieving the deaths of loved ones whom they always thought and prayed would outlive them. “The wish of every parent in Israel, when a child is born, is that by the time they are adults, there will be no more war. But the need for an army is still here. We pray that they come home safely. And then we of a certain age find ourselves not only making shiva visits to friends whose children have fallen in wars, but to our peers — grandparents. That includes terror attacks. Deaths not on the battlefield, but on what were supposed to be the fields of ordinary life, doing ordinary things. A walk in the mountains. A ride on a bus. A visit to the mall. With friends in a coffee shop. A family visit to a kibbutz. A music festival. Grandparents have adopted their own nomenclature — not ‘sitting shiva’ but ‘standing shiva,’ as they are among the extended family and friends who are quietly helping out in the background of the shiva home and, most of all, giving emotional support to their children and grandchildren in mourning.” [JewishJournal]

Gender Dynamics: Women in the U.S. presently control $10 trillion in household assets and that amount could triple by 2030, with big potential impacts for philanthropy, writes Tom Barton in Iowa’s The Gazette. “Women across income levels and generations are more likely to give — and give more, says local author and retired chief executive officer of the United Way of East Central Iowa Lois Buntz. More women are working than ever before and gaining more economic power. And an unprecedented amount of assets will shift into the hands of U.S. women in coming years in the midst of a massive intergenerational wealth transfer… Men remain the financial decision-makers in two-thirds of households. But as male baby boomers die, they will leave control of their assets to their wives, who are typically younger and outlive men by an average of five years… [Said Buntz:] ‘I think a lot of nonprofits and fundraisers still don’t really look at what I would call the subset of donors. They don’t look at how maybe women give differently, or younger generations give differently or women of color give differently. And so we really need to look at our practices and make adaptations as we deal with different groups of donors. … But we’re missing, I think, a huge capacity because women will give more if they’re asked. And we have to approach them, I think, a bit differently than we do every other donor.’” [TheGazette]

Man of Faith: In an interview with Amanda Bowman in the Catholic Herald, financier and philanthropist John Studzinski shares how his religious beliefs and practice have served as points of connection for him both in business and in giving. “[W]hether I am in California, Taiwan or Japan — wherever I am — I go to daily Mass. I try to keep my feet on the ground from a grassroots point of view. But a lot of very powerful people from all walks of life contact me out of the blue, because they know I am a devout Catholic and are curious about my faith. I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve as a form of dogma; I regard my faith as private. But when people ask me: ‘Did you go to Mass this morning at the Franciscan Mission in Tokyo?’ for instance, I say: ‘Yes, I was at the 6:30,’ and the Japanese Finance Minister loves it, because he was educated by nuns. So faith is a very interesting bridge and people are willing to share their faith with you in a measured way… Perhaps because it comes down to that whole question of ‘Do you live your life in a certain way from 9 to 5, making your decisions based on your faith, or do you make decisions another way?’ I think people want to have roots in their faith, and that is very important.” [CatholicHerald]

Around the Web

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein was hired as the next executive director of Harvard Hillel. He will succeed Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, who stepped down last year. Rubenstein comes to Harvard from Yale, where he has served as the Jewish chaplain and senior rabbi for the Slifka Center for Jewish Life for the past six years…

Secretary of State Tony Blinken warned that “100% of the population in Gaza is at severe levels of acute food insecurity,” which he said was “the first time an entire population has been so classified”…

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill restructuring the state’s hate crimes commission, giving the state’s attorney general broad powers to appoint and remove members, in response to a controversy regarding a member of the body who posted antisemitic content on social media but could not legally be removed…

Nate Fish, the coach of the Israel National Baseball Teamcreated a new U.S.-based organization, Israel Baseball Americas, to help build a pipeline of American Jewish players who could someday play for the Jewish state in international competitions…

Former President Donald Trump declared that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion,” and “they hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed,” in a recent interview. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt denounced the comment, saying that it was “defamatory and patently false”…

Billionaire investor and philanthropist Nelson Peltz told the Financial Times that he will vote for Donald Trump, whom he previously disavowed, because he believed that President Joe Biden’s “mental condition is really scary”…

The Forward examines the family history of Ruth Gottesman, who recently donated $1 billion to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, particularly her parents’ efforts to help Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during World War II…

The board of the Jewish Community Foundation San Diego appointed Jeremy Pearl as the organization’s next president and CEO…

Residents of the Upper West Side volunteered to remove antisemitic graffiti that had been spray painted on the ground outside a local kosher, Israeli-owned restaurant, Effy’s Café

The New York Jewish Week looks at how Jewish and Israeli groups are keeping the locations of their events private and otherwise trying to maintain a low profile to limit the chances of being targeted by anti-Israel and antisemitic protesters…

Virginia school district is under fire after it lets students opt out of a presentation by a Holocaust survivor…

Rabbi Elisheva Sachs Salamo was named the next executive director of the Mordecai Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood beginning July 1…

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.
Haley Cohen/eJewish Philanthropy

Some 800 people attend UJA-Federation of New York’s 18th annual Young Leadership Generosity Gala last Thursday at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Wharton Schools Baker Retailing Center and Retail Leaders Circle

Philanthropist, art collector and chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies, Leonard A. Lauder

Chairman of the board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, Dr. Daniel M. Zucker… Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for three different political parties, the daughter of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof… Former executive editor of The New York TimesJill Abramson… NYC-based real estate investor, he is one of three co-founders of the Tribeca Film Festival, Craig Hatkoff… Musician, composer, singer and songwriter, he was born in Buenos Aires and now lives in Jerusalem, Yehuda Julio Glantz… Actor, stand-up comedian and author, Fred Stoller… EVP of merchandising at American Signature Furniture, Steve Rabe… Writer, music critic and author, Seth Rogovoy… Of counsel in the New York office of Latham & Watkins, Jonathan R. Rod… Neurologist in Naples, Fla., Brian D. Wolff, MD… Dean of students at Reichman University, she was previously a member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Dr. Adi Koll… Online producer, writer and director, who together with his brother Rafi, are best known for their React video series which have more than 13 billion YouTube views, Benny Fine… Brazilian-born entrepreneur and angel investor, he is one of the co-founders of Facebook, Eduardo Luiz Saverin… Former director of North American staff at Taglit-Birthright Israel, Aaron Bock… Member of the New York City Council, Lincoln P. Restler… Founder of two lines of jewelry, the Brave Collection and Zahava, Jessica Hendricks Yee… Line producer at NBCUniversal in NYC, Emma Gottlieb