Your Daily Phil: Jewish groups react to Iranian attack

Good Monday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we interview the new CEO of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Alon Cassuto, about the challenges facing Jews “down under” and report on last week’s episode of “Get Your Phil” with Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. In the latest installment of eJewishPhilanthropy’s opinion column “The 501(c) Suite,” Mark Charendoff shares his thoughts on “the end of history” and new beginnings in the context of Passover and the war in Israel. Also in this newsletter: David BrooksJosh Protas and John A. Pérez. We’ll start with how Jewish groups responded to the recent Iranian attack on Israel.

North American and international Jewish groups denounced Iran for launching hundreds of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles at Israel in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, while hailing the fact that nearly all of them were intercepted by Israeli, American, British, French, Jordanian and other military personnel throughout the Middle East, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross. 

The nonprofit Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) connected the attack — retaliation for an Israeli strike on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers in Damascus earlier this month — to broader antisemitic trends in the region. “As we watched the Islamic Republic launch hundreds of rockets and drones in an unprecedented attack, we understand these events are not isolated, but a continuation of the threat to Jewish life in the Middle East,” JIMENA said in a statement

The group stressed that it sees the Iranian government, not people, as responsible for this attack and for the regime’s overall support for terrorism in the region. “We extend our hand in solidarity with the people of Iran, who know all too well the terror imposed by the Islamic Republic regime occupying their land,” JIMENA said. “We look forward to the day when they, along with us and the entire Middle East, are liberated from the regime’s despotism and chaos.”

In Israel, the Jewish Agency’s leadership said that its staff had been on high alert throughout the attack and afterward to ensure that the thousands of people in its charge — mostly new immigrants living in its absorption centers and elderly Israelis who reside in its Amigour facilities — were kept safe and followed the Israeli military’s directives, notably the cancellation of all educational activities.

“Unfortunately, even the camp for children of the Fund for Victims of Terror, which was supposed to begin [on Sunday] with about 800 children and teenagers participating, was canceled,” Jewish Agency Board Chair Mark Wilf and Chair of the Executive Doron Almog wrote in a letter to stakeholders. “We also canceled a program of Masa with more than 5,000 participants from Jewish communities around the world and across Israel the country.”

Wilf and Almog also noted that on Sunday Hamas officially rejected an Israeli proposal for a hostage release deal, a stinging blow to the families of the captives and raising concerns that the terror group is not interested in a deal at all. “This is a difficult announcement to accept, and we will continue to make every effort to bring back the hostages and shape a better regional reality,” they wrote.

In light of the increased threat of further Iranian attacks, the Jewish Federations of North America called for Congress to pass a bill to increase military aid to Israel. “We are grateful to President Biden for his ongoing support and partnership with Israel to defend against the Iranian threat, and urge Congress to act expeditiously to pass a security supplemental to reinforce Israel’s defensive capabilities,” the organization said.

AIPAC similarly called on Congress to “pass a bipartisan bill that includes the $14.3 billion in emergency security assistance for Israel” and said that the attack demands unspecified “severe consequences.” The group added: “America and Israel cannot accept a status quo in which Iran can attack our allies with impunity.”

In its statement, the Orthodox Union called for divine assistance in the conflict with Iran. “We must pray for Hashem’s continued protection and for success in ending the multi-pronged threat from Iran,” it said, adding that people should “include Tehillim [Psalms] chapters 100 and 20” in their prayers.

While more dovish groups also condemned the Iranian attack, they added calls for deescalation and for Israel to refrain from responding militarily to the fusillade. 

“We must resist hawkish, reactionary voices pressing for continued escalating conflict with Iran, which is in neither America nor Israel’s interests. We need cooler heads to prevail. We need to find an offramp,” J Street said in a statement. “We also need to turn down the burner on the entire region by bringing the fighting in Gaza to an end and getting hostages out and aid relief in.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt decried anti-Israel groups that cheered on the Iranian attack. “We saw it after Hamas’ 10/7 massacre and we’re seeing it now after Iran’s unprecedented attack on the Jewish state: anti-Zionists rejoice, glorifying and justifying violence against Israeli civilians,” Greenblatt told eJP’s sister publication Jewish Insider. “The cruelty knows no bounds; the hatred has no limits.”


New head of the Zionist Federation of Australia wants to build up local leadership, ‘reclaim Zionism’

Alon Cassuto
Alon Cassuto. Courtesy/Zionist Federation of Australia

Alon Cassuto stepped into his role as chief executive of the Zionist Federation of Australia during one of the most tumultuous periods in the roughly 200-year history of the country’s formal Jewish community, just a few weeks after the Oct. 7 terror attacks as anti-Israel and antisemitic acts, speech and demonstrations were raging across the continent, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Stronger ties, stronger selves: In response to this growing problem, Cassuto told eJP that he is calling for strong leadership from the Australian federal and local governments, as well as security forces, to condemn antisemitism and assert that they won’t let Jews feel threatened or unsafe. He is also advocating for building and strengthening ties to other communities in Australia and to bolstering the Jewish community’s resilience through fostering social circles where Jews connect “with their people in their tribe and feel welcomed and supported.” Cassuto said the Australian Jewish community needs to build “phenomenal leaders, who know what their Jewish identity means, what Israel means to them but also how to build movements, build strategies and execute impacts wherever they go…  [who can teach the world] that we’re not Jews who are trembling: We are Jews who stand proud.”

Take it back: Cassuto, 39, who was born and raised in Jerusalem and has been involved in Jewish organizations for most of his life, worked for years as a consultant to nonprofits before applying for the CEO position in September. In January, he succeeded Ginette Searle, who had served in the role for over a decade, leading the umbrella organization, which represents 20 affiliated Zionist groups from a broad array of backgrounds. “It’s on us to reclaim Zionism, to bring Zionism into the spotlight for what it truly is, which is a beautiful and successful rebirth of self-determination,” Cassuto said. “For some reason, ‘Jewish’ is an OK word and ‘Zionist’ is not. A vast majority of Jews do believe in the tenets of Zionism — Jewish self-determination and the right to live freely in the State of Israel, which is a reality, not an aspiration.” 

Read the full report here.


‘Get Your Phil’ with Ron Halber

The additional staff member hired by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington for its education department was meant to free up the director for “higher level” initiatives. Instead, since Oct. 7 it’s been an all-hands-on-deck situation as the organization has scrambled to respond to over 100 antisemitic incidents in schools, the JCRC’s executive director, Ron Halber, told eJewishPhilanthropy Managing Editor Judah Ari Gross in the latest installment of “Get Your Phil.”

School troubles: “We have responded in this region to over 100 anti-Semitic incidents since the war started. And it could be a teacher inappropriately using their work email to state their view. It could be a Jewish student being socially ostracized. Or it could be a swastika. And it’s non-stop,” Halber said. “The goal was to allow the second person to run our programs… and then the idea was to allow Sarah Winkleman [the JCRC’s director of education, program and services] to work on some more higher level stuff with school boards and with the administration. But Oct. 7 changed everything. Now everybody’s doing more of everything. Our associate director is [also] probably spending half of her time working on this. So I would say the JCRC right now has two and a half professionals who work full-time on issues of antisemitism in the schools, in workplaces. And of course I get involved myself. It’s all time consuming.”

New litmus test: Halber said that he expects Israel to be a top priority for local Jews ahead of November’s election, even as prior surveys have shown that it is normally not a top-10 issue. “I do think that whereas Israel has been lower [on American Jews’ list of policy priorities], I think it’s going to be more in the mindset of American Jews in this election cycle because of the war and certainly antisemitism. There’s not even a doubt in my mind about that,” he said. As Maryland prepares for a tight Senate race, Halber said that the Jewish community appears to be turning away from the incumbent Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who has emerged as an increasingly strong critic of Israel. “He’s become the head of the anti-Israel caucus, I hate to say it… [But] the bottom line is if you are against providing Israel military aid, you’ve hit the third rail of American Jewish politics at this point,” he said.

Shut it down: Reflecting on the growing prevalence of local government resolutions criticizing Israel or calling for a cease-fire, Halber advocated a tough tack of shutting them down at all costs. “I believe in a very, very aggressive response to these resolutions because I think what you’re seeing happening is that the anti-Israel activists are frustrated at their lack of ability in Congress to get what they want. So they’re directing their energy towards local and state government where it’s easier to stoke the flames at the grassroots and get resolutions passed.”

Watch the full recording here.


The end of history and the donning of the kittel

A Mokhtari/Getty Images

“[I]s history cyclical or linear? Are we back where we were when our ancestors wrote the Haggadah?” asks Mark Charendoff, president of Maimonides Fund, in the latest installment of eJewishPhilanthropy’s opinion column “The 501(c) Suite.” “I think, actually, that we have evolved. Something on Saturday night gave me hope.”

An unexpected twist: “Our ancestors could not have imagined a non-messianic scenario where the world’s great powers would fight side by side with the Jewish people against her enemies. Even a decade ago it would have been hard to think of an Arab country coming to our defense against an Iranian menace. (True, the Jordanians have since announced they were acting in their own self-defense, but the results still speak for themselves). The Haggadah reminds us how easy it is to identify moments in history when we were under mortal threat. Until now, it’s been difficult to find moments when the world stood with us.” 

A time of potential: “On the night of the Seder, many men don a kittel, a white robe we traditionally wear under the chuppah, on Yom Kippur and, ultimately, as a burial shroud. Why wear it at the Seder? In a recent article, Rabbi Shlomo Brody offered a compelling explanation: Just as a groom wears the kittel to signify a new start, unblemished and unhindered by the past, freedom presents us all with the same opportunity. The Israelites of the Exodus were embarking on a new chapter — writing, for the first time, the next page in their history… As I put on my kittel next week, I’ll be thinking about the past and about the future. About the blessings of true freedom and the sting of true enslavement. I’ll be thinking about hope, a new turn in the journey. And I’ll be grateful for the miracles afforded us Saturday night, both manmade and Divine, and praying for a new beginning. ”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

An Enthusiast: In Tablet, Shalom Goldman writes about mid-20th-century literary critic Edmund Wilson, who was not Jewish but was drawn to Jewish culture and history (and possessed an obsessive affection for the language of the Old Testament). “What Wilson saw in the Jewish intellectual tradition was an affirmation of the scholarly, and an openness to criticism. As a representative of an American cultural world that he believed was disappearing, he sought allyship in the Jewish tradition. In his mind, what was noble about the American tradition was its ‘Hebraic’ element. In Jewish culture he saw the possibility of American renewal or, at the very least, cultural preservation… On making the acquaintance of American intellectuals of Jewish origin he would assume, often mistakenly, that they had some innate knowledge of Hebrew and Judaic lore. Jason Epstein remarked that Wilson ‘had convinced himself, completely inaccurately, that I knew Hebrew and could teach him something about it. I knew nothing about Hebrew, but whenever I saw him in those years, he would ask me whether I knew Hebrew or not. I suppose he assumed that in the interval between each occasion I had learned it, but that is what he was like.’” [Tablet]

Our Invisible Glue: New York Times columnist David Brooks writes in praise of “middle managers,” the low-key leaders who help their employees become the best versions of themselves. “At a time when conflict entrepreneurs (see: Tucker Carlson) and demagogues are trying to rip society apart, I’m beginning to think that these members of the managerial class, spread across the institutions of society, are serving as the invisible glue that gives us a shot at sticking together. So how do these managers work their magic? When I hear people in these roles talk about their work and its challenges, I hear, at least among the most inspiring of them, about the ways they put people over process, about the ways they deeply honor those right around them. A phrase pops into my mind: ‘Ethical leadership’… The democratic fabric is held together by daily acts of consideration that middle managers are in a position to practice and foster. The best of them don’t resolve our disputes but lift us above them so that we can see disagreements from a higher and more generous vantage point.” [NYTimes]

Around the Web

The Jewish Federations of North America has raised $806 million since Oct. 7 for its Israel Emergency Fund as of last Friday. More than half — $410 million — has already been allocated through grants to nearly 300 partner organizations and nonprofits…

Police departments in New York City and Los Angeles announced they are deploying resources to continue monitoring houses of worship and “sensitive locations” as they watch for new developments between Iran and Israel. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Saturday night that there are no imminent threats to the city at this time…

Jewish students, Hillel employees and other professionals working on college campuses are speaking out after the Anti-Defamation League unveiled its Campus Antisemitism Report Card, claiming that the ADL’s harsh grades are an “oversimplification” of Jewish life at their schools…

Theater charity Broadway Cares is donating $100,000 each to four Israeli nonprofits — the trauma care nonprofit NATAL, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel and the mental health hotline ERAN — after criticism for its aid to Gaza…

Josh Protas was hired as the next chief advocacy and policy officer for Meals on Wheels. Until recently, Protas served as vice president of public policy at Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger

Three Jewish Illinois politicians have refused a meeting with Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson after he cast the tie-breaking vote to pass the city’s cease-fire resolution and refrained from condemning antisemitic rhetoric at a student walkout the day of the vote…

Josh Green joined the Daniels Fund as senior vice president of its scholarship program… 

Fox News spotlights the struggles that Ethiopians waiting to immigrate to Israel are facing in light of the war against Hamas…

Rabbi Scott Shafrin was chosen to serve as the next executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Shafrin, who currently serves as the JCRC’s deputy director and director of social justice, succeeds Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, who left the position in December…

Politico interviews John A. Pérez, a member of the University of California Board of Regents, about antisemitism in the system, which he says is “absolutely disproportionate[ly]” larger than Islamophobia and other forms of hate at the schools… 

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Daniel Lozano/Survival Media Agency

Participants in the Jewish Climate Summit convened by Adamah NY, Dayenu and RAC-NY (a local project of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) at Central Synagogue in New York City earlier this month. The signs bearing the message “PASS THE HEAT ACT” refer to the NY HEAT Act, legislation that would stop consumer subsidization of New York’s fracked gas system, move the state away from fossil fuels and cap household energy bills at 6% of a family’s income.

The aim of the summit was to educate, motivate and energize people about the necessary actions and the potential roles Jewish community members can take in addressing climate change. The event featured sessions such as “Decarbonizing NYC: A Dialogue Between the Jewish Community and Elected Officials,” where New York City Councilmembers Julie Menin and Eric Dinowitz and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine discussed the city’s ambitious commitment to decarbonization. The conversation was moderated by Shahar Sadeh, founding director of Adamah NY.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Noam Galai/Getty Images

CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Mark Treyger

Psychiatrist, entrepreneur, movie producer and philanthropist, Dr. Henry George Jarecki… Professor of law and public policy at Duke University since 1971, Joel L. Fleishman… Former fifteen-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Howard Lawrence Berman… Duke University professor, physician, biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate in 2012, Robert Lefkowitz… Retired U.S. Army chaplain who attained the rank of lieutenant colonel, Rabbi Alan Sherman… Retired U.S. astronaut and a veteran of five Space Shuttle missions, Marsha Sue Ivins… Professor of German and comparative literature at New York University, Avital Ronell… Former city controller of Philadelphia for 12 years, following 16 years as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Alan Butkovitz… CEO of DMB Strategic, David Brand… Founder and director of the graduate school in the decorative arts at Bard College in Dutchess County, N.Y., Susan Weber… Deputy counsel at the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, Deborah R. Liebman… Former executive director at American Press Institute, he is the author of ten books, including three novels, the pride of Woodside, Calif., Tom Rosenstiel… Born in NYC, now living in Jerusalem, he is the Rebbe of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer… Former deputy secretary of the Treasury during the Obama administration following four years as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Sarah Bloom Raskin… Winner of 12 Olympic medals at five different Olympic games, Dara Grace Torres… Managing partner, CEO and chief investment officer of Hudson Bay Capital Management, Sander R. Gerber… CEO of the New Israel Fund since 2009, prior to that he was the executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Daniel Sokatch… Cheryl Myra Cohn… Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder of the Truman National Security Project, Rachel Kleinfeld, Ph.D…. Head coach of the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos basketball program, Joe Pasternack… CEO of the American Fintech Council, Y. Phillip Goldfeder… Actor, comedian, writer, producer and director, Seth Rogen… Co-founder and co-CEO of theSkimm, Carly Zakin… Research manager at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, David May… Director of grants and operations at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Kristin McCarthy… Founder and managing partner of Neue Urban, Zach Ehrlich… Social entrepreneur, environmental activist and human rights activist, Erin Schrode… Israeli singer, songwriter, rapper and record producer, Jasmin Moallem… Moshe Lehrer…