Your Daily Phil: JFN’s Rachel Sumekh fights poverty + Ruderman confab on struggling Israel-U.S. Jewry ties

Good Wednesday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we profile Rachel Sumekh, the leader of Jewish Funders Network’s National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty, and report on an event organized by the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program. We also feature op-eds from Aaron Saxe, Rebecca Shafron and Irina Nevzlin. We’ll start with a report from JFN’s annual conference.

Attendees at the Jewish Funders Network’s international conference heard from a range of thought leaders, philanthropists and organization heads throughout the three-day confab in Phoenix. But the main plenary on Tuesday morning featured in-depth conversations, for the first time on the main stage, about gender equity.

“We believe that the Jewish community can do this, both through pushing women’s leadership within the community, but also again, in working in the non-Jewish community and helping to push and promote these issues,” Stacy Schusterman, the chair of the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, told moderator Jeannie Sager, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.

Sunlight Giving President and Co-chair Tegan Acton noted how conversations about gender equity have evolved in recent years. “When we would get together with other gender-focused funders six or seven years ago, the conversation would really be around leveling up, power-building, women in leadership positions, women running for office, women in the boardroom. It was really kind of how to take where we were at and push it forward.” The Women’s Marches, Acton added, followed by a renewed conversation around gender roles and childcare during the pandemic, further pushed the conversation. “It’s important that we get our daughters ready for leadership the best that we can,” Schusterman added.

The morning also saw Doron Kenter, the director of North American grantmaking at Maimonides Fund, honored with the J.J. Greenberg Memorial Award. The day prior, Dr. Arielle Levites and the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) were announced as the winners of the Ilia Salita Excellence in Research Award.

Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, JFN’s executive vice president, closed out the morning’s plenary by announcing Tel Aviv as the location of the 2024 JFN international conference.

preserving peoplehood

The University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies held an at-times stormy conference on Tuesday investigating the apparently diverging trajectories of young American Jews and Israelis and potential ways to bring them back together, reports eJewishPhilanthropy‘s Judah Ari Gross.

Distant relatives: The event was titled “Krovim Rehokim?“, a Hebrew play-on-words meaning both “Close but far?” and also “distant relatives?” The annual conference was attended by dozens of American and Israeli academics, activists, students, Jewish communal professionals, government officials and, perhaps surprisingly, a beer brewer – Ephraim Greenblatt, the U.S.-born owner of Jerusalem’s popular Hatch brewpub, who bottled a special batch dubbed “Brew Derman.” (Get it?)

Controversy: The head of the program, Rabbi David Barak-Gorodetzky, also invited Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli to appear at the conference for an on-stage interview, a decision that prompted criticism and protest from University of Haifa faculty members and students opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul proposals, despite the fact that Chikli ultimately did not attend the event. This led the rector of the university, and former head of the Ruderman Program, Gur Alroey to step in and issue a public defense of Barak-Gorodetzky and academic freedom in general.

Strategic assets: The conference presenters painted a concerning picture of the relationship between young American Jewry and Israel, albeit one of great importance. “This year’s theme, ‘Young American Jewry,’ is an important one because it provides an opportunity to examine the state of American Jewry and its future leaders. The challenges a young American Jew faces today are complex and are a worthy topic of discussion and analysis so we can continue to strengthen the connection between young American Jews and Israel,” Jay Ruderman said in a video address. “This relationship is a strategic asset for Israel, is integral to its national security, and is one we must strive to preserve. This conference provides us a window to delve into this subject matter and boosts Israelis’ public understanding of American Jewry who live in a complex reality. Additionally, the knowledge covered in today’s program encourages the public to continue to engage with this relationship and find ways to promote it.”

Ending poverty

Rachel Sumekh looks to boost Jewish Funders Network’s efforts to fight poverty and hunger

Jewish Funders Network poverty affinity group leader Rachel Sumekh, left, addresses a JFN conference in Phoenix on March 21, 2023.

On the last morning of the Jewish Funders Network conference on Tuesday, Rachel Sumekh stood at the lectern at a session titled “Moonshot: Ending Jewish Poverty.” It was standing-room-only in the hall, packed with philanthropists and others connected to the Jewish funding world, for this final session of the gathering. In it, she shared statistics about the percentage of American Jewish households experiencing poverty: One in five are designated as “financially insecure,” meaning they have an income of less than $50,000, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Affinity group: Sumekh, the founder and former CEO of college hunger organization Swipe Out Hunger, is now the new project executive for JFN’s National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty. “The session’s strong turnout gave me hope that funders are ready to place bets on hopeful, systemic ideas that aim to solve some of our oldest problems,” Sumekh told eJP.

Hunger on campus: In 2010, Sumekh and a small group of her college friends worked with the University of California, Los Angeles administration to donate their unused meal card swipes to food-insecure students. This effort became Swipe Out Hunger, which was founded in 2013, with Sumekh as its CEO. By the time she left the organization in 2022, the organization had accumulated 550 university partners, passed bills in six different states and helped serve more than 5 million meals to students.

Educating and mobilizing: As project executive of JFN’s National Affinity Group on Jewish Poverty, she is drawing on her past experience and skills to increase education around Jewish poverty and mobilize more of JFN’s 581 members to address it, Sumekh told eJP. “During the pandemic, people really acknowledged that there was poverty,” Sumekh said, noting that many people received support from community agencies as well as the federal government. “There was so much money coming in, and so much money going out to people because their jobs were paused, everything was in shambles.” The question now is “how do we have our society recognize that even though the pandemic is over… people were not okay to begin with. They were struggling,” she said.

Read the full story here.

Foundation-grantee relationships

Klaus Vedfelt

“Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, both of our organizations, Jim Joseph Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, had been taking gradual steps to improve our grantmaking processes,” write Aaron Saxe (Jim Joseph) and Rebecca Shafron (Schusterman), in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Focus on mission: “We were guided by a desire to serve as genuine partners to our grantees, emphasizing information and insights over process so that our grantees have more time to focus on implementing their missions.”

Priorities: “Once the pandemic hit, it was clear that business as usual wasn’t going to work. Strict parameters around grant proposals, mid-grant reporting, payout structures and final grant reports were rigid, time consuming and ineffective for organizations that needed to be responding and adapting to the needs of their communities in real time.”

Read the full piece here.

In unity there is strength


“As Jews, we do not have the luxury of being complacent, nor is it a part of our DNA. Had this been the case, we would likely have disappeared as a people long ago. Our identity and our heritage are something we have always fought for — and there’s no reason to think we would stop now,” writes Irina Nevzlin, chair of the board of directors of ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The same tribe: “No matter where we live and what lifestyle we chose, our pasts are linked and so is our future. Although we may see many different groups of Jews within Israel and those abroad as separate entities, all Jewish people belong to the same tribe. We are linked by our roots and this makes us one entity. The world sees us as Jews: not religious or secular, right wing or liberal, Israeli Jews or American Jews — just Jews.”

We need each other: “In unity there is strength. The Diaspora will always need to help Israel remain strong because whether they consider it or not, Israel is part of their identity and their roots. The stronger Israel is, the stronger their roots are, and the more they, their families and their communities will thrive. At the same time, Israel will always need the Diaspora. Recognition for the homeland of the Jewish people must happen both from within and from outside. Israel is stronger with a vibrant range of people, opinions and lifestyles. It’s like one heart shared by different organisms.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Emerging Indonesian Jews: Indonesia’s Jews, descended from early 19th century Dutch Ashkenazi Jews and other Europeans as well as from Iraqi Sephardic roots, are reclaiming their identity, Johannes Nugroho writes in Tablet Magazine: “Today, however, almost all Indonesian Jews were born and raised in the country…But they were raised in a time when Indonesian Jews had to hide their identity. After invading the Dutch East Indies in 1942, the Japanese interned more than half of the local Jewish population of around 3,000, classifying them as Dutch combatants…After WWII, when most Jews were interned or fled, those who came back found that their properties, like all those belonging to the Dutch, had been seized by Indonesians. Most decided to leave the country for other Jewish communities in Southeast Asia, notably Singapore, or start over in Israel. The remaining Indonesian Jews have had a low-profile existence since then, subsisting as a hidden subculture of secret heritage and public conformity.” [Tablet]

Around the Web

Rachel Gildiner, CEO of Gather, Inc. and incoming Hillel International chief engagement officer, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Impossible Dream Award, given by the Phyllis Margolius Family Foundation to a Washington, D.C., Jewish communal leader “who has achieved a result against difficult odds”…

Dani Serlin, founding director of Yesod Europe, announced she is stepping down. Serlin will remain with the organization until a successor is in place…

A new American Jewish Committee study of U.S. Latino Millennial and Gen Z leaders looks at attitudes toward Jews, antisemitism and Israel. Among other findings, the study reveals that the young Latino leaders see Jews as experiencing less discrimination than African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and Asian Americans…

The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University is launching the Brandeis Initiative on the Jews of the Americas, which supports academic research and cultural programs focused on Jews in Latin America as well as Latin American Jews who immigrated elsewhere. The launch event will take place on April 16…

JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) announced the first-ever cohort of campus professionals for its leadership fellowship, part of its Sephardic Leadership Institute… 

In the months following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, antisemitic posts skyrocketed, according to a new look into the growing prevalence of hate speech on the site…

Moshe Koppel and Arthur Dantchik, both originally from Queens, N.Y., and associated with the Kohelet Policy Forum, have provided the money and ideas behind Israel’s proposed judicial overhaul…

Atlanta-based Jewish Kids Groups, with support from the Marcus Foundation, will launch the Jewish After School Accelerator, which will assist synagogues and other Jewish organizations start their own Jewish after-school programs…

Chicago-area philanthropists Ruth Wenger and Jonathan Markowitz have made a $1 million commitment to Reconstructing Judaism to establish the Wenger-Markowitz Family Education Initiative to bolster education across the movement…

Real estate developers Carole and Marcus Weinstein donated $25 million to the University of Richmond to establish a center focused on student learning at their alma mater. The Weinsteins previously made a naming gift to the Richmond JCC

Co-owner of the New York Giants, Steve Tisch, has donated $10 million to create the Steve Tisch Family Endowed Scholarship for arts, sciences and engineering undergraduates at Tufts University, his alma mater…

Michigan Women Forward, a Detroit-based community development financial institution, announced the launch of a $10 million fund that will finance loans to women and entrepreneurs of color who would not qualify for traditional bank loans…

Stephane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, exercised a $393 million stock option and indicates he’s donated the entirety of after-tax proceeds — totaling around $176 million to charity…

The Chuck Lorre Family Foundation donated $30 million to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to create a new school for underserved individuals who want to advance their careers in healthcare by acquiring new skills and knowledge…

Tucson, Ariz., philanthropist and wellness pioneer Mel Zuckerman died at 94…

Former board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Richard Kann died at 84…

Pic of the Day

Ramon Gym Club

Obed Hrangchal (right), a recent immigrant to Israel from India, became Israel’s kickboxing champion in a match last Friday. A religiously observant member of the Bnei Menashe community, Hrangchal studies at a yeshiva in Ma’alot.


Crosa/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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