Your Daily Phil: Jewish groups ‘relieved’ by hostage release deal

Good Wednesday morning.

Ed note: In celebration of Thanksgiving, the next Your Daily Phil will arrive on Monday. Have a meaningful Thanksgiving and a Shabbat shalom!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a renewed initiative by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to combat antisemitism on local college campuses, and feature opinion pieces from Elana Frank and Jason Blazakis. Also in this newsletter: Yehuda KurtzerJulie Fisher and Jane ShermanWe’ll start with how Jewish communal organizations are responding to news that 50 hostages will be released from Hamas captivity in Gaza.

American Jewish groups expressed relief and appreciation for the impending release of some 50 Israeli hostages, specifically women and children, currently being held captive by Hamas in Gaza, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

At the same time, they lamented that the agreement does not include the nearly 200 other hostages, mostly civilian men and soldiers, who will remain in Gaza for the time being. The deal also requires the release of at least 150 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been convicted of attempted murder, as well as a limited pause in the fighting, which Hamas will likely use to regroup and resupply its forces.

“Jewish Federations [of North America] are relieved that after 45 excruciating days in Hamas captivity, 50 hostages are on their way home,” JFNA said in a statement. “This is a moment of relief, but let us not forget that Hamas continues to hold nearly 200 people hostage. We will continue to advocate every day for their freedom.”

The American Jewish Committee said it is “relieved that these hostages are slated to be returned home and deeply appreciates the role of President [Joe] Biden and his administration, and other world partners, in securing their release.”

While most major Jewish organizations put out statements lauding the release of 50 hostages, there were differences of opinion over the other conditions of the agreement.

The National Council of Jewish Women, which launched a campaign for the hostages last month, said it was “thrilled” by the release of 50 hostages, but stressed that “releasing 20 percent of the hostages is insufficient… The individuals still held captive are not statistics — they are real people with aspirations, dreams and families. Their prolonged captivity stands as a blatant violation of international humanitarian law, necessitating a robust global response.”

NCJW described the pause in fighting, which is expected to go into effect tomorrow, as a positive step, as it “allows for medical assistance and humanitarian aid for the hostages remaining in captivity and the Palestinian families suffering from the ongoing war in Gaza.”

Americans for Peace Now, going a step further, hailed the at least four-day cessation of hostilities, saying it “hopefully, will begin to shape a post-war reality on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border.”

While it backed the Israeli government’s decision, the Orthodox Union referred to the exchange as “one of the most morally and strategically complex and difficult decisions any group of elected officials can confront, making painful concessions to free hostages from the hands of their evil captors.”

“We support the Israeli government and urge them to not let this pause in the fire provide an opportunity for Hamas to reorganize and rearm,” Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the executive vice president of the OU, said in a statement. “We support the Israeli government in this painful decision, and we hold the world responsible for their complicity in their having to make it. You have failed those men, women and children held captive and you must not allow this travesty to continue.” 


Pro-Palestinian protesters hold fake body bags of children during the a protest outside the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Photo by Adam Delgiudice/SOPA Images/Sipa via AP Images

To address rising antisemitism on local college campuses, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles relaunched the Campus Impact Network, an initiative to help support Jewish college students across L.A., including those at University of California, Los Angeles, USC and California State University, Northridge. The aim of the program is to connect Jewish students and empower them to promote a positive view of Israel and become effective leaders, Joanna Mendelson, the federation’s senior vice president of community engagement, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Filling a need: The network will be helping students to understand community organizing principles, rather than focusing on hasbara (a more traditional public diplomacy effort that elevates the Israeli narrative), Dan Gold, UCLA Hillel’s executive director, said. “Hillels are incredible organizations built to service the pluralistic Jewish community on a campus,” Gold told eJP. “Fighting BDS was never supposed to be part of it. When it consumes all of our time, as it does these days, having federation come in and help us do that will help us reach other goals as well,” he said.

Civic training: During their yearlong stint at CIN, participants will receive leadership training, particularly in civic mindedness, coalition-building, fighting on-campus antisemitism, professional development and effective advocacy; microgrants to support campus programming; and ongoing support for further needs on campus. In a community-building effort, network members will also have opportunities to attend retreats with other Jewish students in L.A.

Read the full report here.


We’re still fundraising for our shared future

Photo by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

“While the Israel-Hamas war continues to rage, Barry Finestone charges us to double down on our philanthropic support for worthy causes both in Israel and the North American Jewish community (‘American Jewish philanthropy today needs a “yes, and” approach,’ eJewishPhilanthropy, Nov. 6)… At the same time, understanding why it is more critical than ever to support Jewish nonprofits in our own communities doesn’t make the actual work of development professionals responsible for raising these dollars any easier,” writes Elana Frank, CEO and founder of the Jewish Fertility Foundation, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

What we’ve learned: “My grief-stricken staff was still reeling from the daily horrors in Israel as, professionally, difficult new questions were emerging: Should we even ask for money during a time of crisis if the work we are doing is not in direct support of the safety of Israel? How do we engage our board, ambassadors and other stakeholders? How do we pivot to ensure our messaging is appropriate? What do our donors need most right now?… Based on this experience, I would like to offer some key takeaways to help other Jewish nonprofit professionals facing similar challenges as Giving Tuesday and end-of-year appeals fast approach.”

Read the full piece here.


Bad charity

Image by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

“Recent reports have focused on Hamas’ utilization of cryptocurrency to fund its misdeeds, and think tanks and governments have documented the organization’s financial links to state actors like Turkey, Qatar and, most notably, Iran. Just as important, and perhaps more sinister, are Hamas’ most creative revenue generators: ‘charities’ created by Hamas as fronts for fundraising terror, and the extortion of legitimate charities by virtue of the group’s complete control over the Gaza Strip,” writes Jason Blazakis, director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Under the guise of good: “I spent most of my career, inside and outside the U.S. government, dedicated to countering terrorist financing. The concept that money is fungible — that it can be spent on an activity or goods other than that for which it was originally intended  — is core to the work of fighting against illicit financing. While a seemingly legitimate charity may certainly engage in ‘good’ work that helps those suffering from socioeconomic hardships, it can at the same time give terrorist groups access to financial capital. This is why countering terrorist abuse of charities is among the thorniest of issues for governments.”

An ongoing problem: “Hamas is not alone in using charities to fund their terrorist activities. The bulk of al-Qaeda’s funding for the 9/11 attacks came from its worldwide network of charities. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) used its U.S.-based Northern Irish Aid (NORAID) to fund attacks in Northern Ireland. Just as the IRA appealed to Irish Americans via NORAID, Hamas has created charities in Europe that receive significant funds from Palestinians, amongst others. Some governments and supranational political bodies, like the European Union, are reticent to acknowledge — let alone counter — the vast charity network of Hamas. I witnessed this reluctance firsthand in the case of a terrorist charity that goes by a deceptive name: Union of Good.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Investing in Impact: Launched in 2020, the impact investment fund administered by Save the Children Global Ventures is the first of its kind in Australia’s nonprofit sector “because it presents socially minded investors with opportunities for competitive returns,” writes Susan Muldowney for INTHEBLACK. “Michael Dugina FCPA, group CFO and non-executive director of the fund, says this is just the beginning of Save the Children’s plan to radically transform its approach to solving complex global problems. … ‘We also plan to have a European fund and a global endowment fund set up in 2024, leveraging our expertise and footprint as a globally federated organisation. Demand for our services is growing, and our operating environment is changing. We needed to adapt our business model.’” [INTHEBLACK]

The Jewish Art of Argument: Jeffrey Kopstein, the newly appointed director of the University of California Irvine’s Center for Jewish Studies, envisions UCI “not only educating its diverse student body but building bridges of understanding into the community,” reports Christine Byrd for UCI News. “One of Kopstein’s favorite aspects of Judaism is its embrace of argument as a form of teaching. The Talmud – one of the longest texts in existence – is millions of words in the form of arguments meant to educate. ‘The thing I love about Jewish tradition is that you get to argue, even with God,’ Kopstein says. ‘That’s a crucial part of our heritage, and students can only be enriched by engaging with it.’” [UCINews]

A ‘Torah’ for This War: In Sources, the Shalom Hartman Institute’s journal, the organization’s president, Yehuda Kurtzer, offers a “moral map” for how the Jewish people can navigate the current moment. “We now need a complex way of thinking about the diverse and intersecting set of issues raised by the war, and a heuristic that enables us to make sense of what it means to be a Jew right now. We need a ‘torah,’ a teaching, for this war… The moral map I am offering consists of four overarching commitments: peoplehood, or solidarity, and what it demands from us; sovereignty, and the responsibility of the State of Israel for what transpires in and at its borders; democracy, as an operating system, as the aspiration of the state, and as the essential infrastructure for the safety and security of Diaspora Jews; and power, for both the dignity it offers and the restraint that it demands.” [Sources]

‘You’re Breaking Me’: In The Jewish Journal, Kylie Ora Lobell interviews three participants from a recent Rabbinical Council of America solidarity trip to Israel. “Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Rabbi Jason Weiner and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, three Los Angeles rabbis, were at the Shura Rabbinic Army Base in central Israel, looking at rows of containers full of dead bodies from the October 7 massacre. ‘While we were standing there, they opened the containers, and the smell overtook us,’ said Muskin. ‘It was so heart wrenching to see what this really meant.’ While Jewish law requires that dead bodies be buried within 24 hours, these bodies had been sitting in freezers in containers for weeks… ‘They were distraught that they could not identify every body, while families are waiting to find out,’ said Muskin, senior rabbi at Young Israel of Century City. ‘No money is spared’… To ensure that the [IDF] rabbis have support, the government has sent in a group of army psychologists… Weiner said, ‘The military rabbis who work on that base asked us to include them in our prayers for the sick – not because they got injured on the job, but because the prayer for the sick includes a prayer for a “healing of the soul.”’”  [JewishJournal]

Segment and Conquer: The donor population in the United States can be divided into five distinct “types,” according to a report by global strategy and customer experience consultancy Material. The goal of the report is to help nonprofits better understand the motivations, concerns and priorities of U.S. donors. “Fueled by data from a national survey, each donor type encompasses a set of common attributes across economic, religious, political and social factors, providing fundraisers with a new framework for thinking about their current and potential audiences… ‘Brands have leveraged segmentation as a key marketing tool for decades, but it is a less common practice for fundraisers and nonprofit organizations,’ said Nick Kreider, VP of Insights and Head of Social Impact for Material. ‘Since many nonprofits operate with strictly limited resources, audience segmentation can be tremendously valuable as a framework to identify targets, guide messaging development and optimize efficiency.’” [Material]

Around the Web

Last night, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross moderated a panel with Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jeremy Burton, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston; and Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area about their work following the Oct. 7 attacks. The webinar was inspired by an article in eJP last month, “Stress test for JCRCs’ strategy in wake of Hamas attacks”…

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a multimillion-dollar, four-pillar plan to combat “extremism and violence” on college campuses in the state…

A bipartisan group of 51 House members is pushing Congress to allocate funds to combat antisemitism, particularly for programs in the administration’s national strategy on antisemitism…

In the Jewish Review of BooksRabbi Elli Fischer explored Israel’s former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s discussions about the halachic arguments for and against releasing terrorist prisoners in exchange for Israeli and Jewish hostages. This is the second installment in a series on Yosef’s views on hostages…

Jewish Federations of North America poll found that 72% of the general American public said they supported short-term humanitarian pauses to release hostages held by Hamas, as did 69% of Jewish Americans. When it came to a longer-term cease-fire, 20% of the general population and 16% of American Jews polled believed both sides should immediately and unconditionally cease fighting…

The families of hostages met with Pope Francis in the Vatican this morning, speaking to him about their loved ones and what they’ve been through…

Julie Fisher, who founded the Consortium for Israel and the Asylum Seekerswas hired as the Good People Fund’s first director of engagement…

Dozens of Harvard University graduate students resigned from the school’s graduate student union over its response to the Oct. 7 attacks and antisemitism…

A newly formed Israeli-Palestinian boy band, as1oneis recording its debut album…

Thousands of alumni from Princeton and Yale have issued letters decrying antisemitism at their alma maters, joining more than 2,000 Harvard alums who signed a similar missive earlier this month…

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman explored Arab-Jewish cooperation in Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks…

The USC Shoah Foundation has begun releasing video testimonials from survivors of the Oct. 7 massacres as part of a project launched last month…

The Romemu synagogue in Manhattan was vandalized yesterday. Swastikas and other symbols were drawn on its front door…

Workers at UNICEF and the World Food Program have each criticized their organizations’ leaders for being insufficiently critical of Israel in recent weeks…

After a tumultuous few days, Sam Altman was reinstated as CEO of OpenAI, which also got a new board of directors that will include tech executive Bret Taylor; former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers; and Adam D’Angelo, who is already a board member…

Touro Synagogue, the country’s oldest Jewish house of worship, has seen an increase in Jewish and non-Jewish visitors in recent weeks in apparent response to rising antisemitism…

Philanthropist Jane Sherman reflected on her recent trip to Israel on a solidarity mission run by the Jewish Federations of North America and the need to support  mental health services in an interview with The Detroit Jewish News

United Talent Agency dropped Susan Sarandon as its client after she appeared to justify antisemitism, saying that Jews are “getting a taste of what it feels like to be a Muslim in this country”…

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced $117 million in new grants through his fund to support families experiencing homelessness, bringing his total donations toward that cause to nearly $640 million…  

Pic of the Day

Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

IDF Chief Cantor Lt. Col. Shai Abramson sings alongside Ori (left) and reservist Mordechai (right), who was injured in Gaza, as they play the violin on Tuesday at Sheba Tel HaShomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel. 


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Screen capture/New Economic Thinking/YouTube

President emeritus of the Service Employees International Union, now a senior fellow at the Economic Security Project, Andy Stern

Former owner of MLB’s New York Mets, Fred Wilpon… Professor at NYU Law School, she worked at OMB and the National Economic Council in the Clinton White House, Sally Katzen… Novelist and screenwriter, Roger Lichtenberg Simon… Born to a Jewish family in Tunisia, he served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons until 2006, Jacques Saada… SVP of development for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, his bar mitzvah was at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Tim R. Cohen… Television personality, he was previously an advertising executive, Donny Deutsch… IT specialist at the IRS, Martin Robinson… Chairman of Dynamo Kyiv (Kyiv’s soccer team) since 2002, Ihor Surkis… Author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, Peggy Orenstein… Classical composer, conductor and pianist, Benjamin Yusupov… President and CEO of Paramount Pictures, known professionally as Brian Robbins, Brian Levine… Israeli film and television actor, Ishai Golan… Senior editor at The City and columnist and editorial writer for the New York Daily NewsHarry Siegel… Israeli rapper, blogger and right-wing political activist, his stage name is The Shadow, Yoav Eliasi… Former State Department spokesperson, now serving as senior advisor to Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Edward “Ned” Price… Actress, she is the highest-grossing box office star of all time, Scarlett Johansson… VP of communications and media relations for theSkimm, Jessica Sara (Turtletaub) Pepper… Actor, who has appeared in films directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, the Coen brothers and Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich… Actor and comedian, he was on the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” Jon Rudnitsky… Social media personality known as Baby Ariel, she has 36 million followers on TikTok, Ariel Rebecca Martin… Chief of staff to Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, Yarden Golan