Your Daily Phil: JIMENA unveils Sephardi, Mizrahi tool kit for day schools

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a “teach-in” in Hollywood about antisemitism, and feature an opinion piece by Rabbis Joshua Stanton and Benjamin Spratt about how Jewish communal organizations have pivoted in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. Also in this newsletter: Steve FankuchenEden Golan and French President Emmanuel Macron. We’ll start with JIMENA launching a new tool kit on Sephardi and Mizrahi culture for Jewish day schools.

Does your Jewish day school expect students to understand Yiddish terms? When learning about Jewish practices, which customs and traditions are discussed? What does “Jewish food” look like at your school?

These are some of the questions that JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa poses to Jewish day schools as the first stage — a self-assessment — in its Sephardi & Mizrahi Education Toolkit, a new guide released on Thursday offering “content, resources, and strategies” to better teach Sephardi and Mizrahi culture and history and to make students of all backgrounds feel more welcomed and included, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

“What Israeli artists do students learn about? What melodies are used in Tefillah? How are holiday programs structured?” Ty Alhadeff, JIMENA’s director of education and its Sephardi Leadership Institute, said in a statement. “To meet the needs of Jewish families today — and to celebrate our history and people in their entirety — schools must embrace this type of change.”

The online tool kit was created with a $50,000 signature grant from the Covenant Foundation.

Following the self-assessment, the tool kit offers teachers a variety of resources and ideas for ways to integrate Sephardi and Mizrahi culture and history in the classroom, including source sheets of Sephardi religious texts, recommended activities — for Purim, play Ladino music and eat foulares and biscochos — and even short biographies of Sephardi and Mizrahi scientists that can be taught in STEM classes.

In addition to the resources for teachers, JIMENA’s new tool kit includes recommendations for administrators, lay leaders and families.

“While our schools have become more diverse, many day schools have long been rooted in Ashkenazi culture and do not yet reflect the full diversity of the Jewish people,” Elana Riback Rand, who edited the tool kit, said in a statement. “Broadening the curricular scope of Jewish experiences will help more students and families feel represented and valued, and students will then be better set up for academic success.”

Read the full report here.


Sharon Nazarian (center) stands with Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh and a congregant at the synagogue’s teach-in on Feb. 4, 2024.

Sharon Nazarian, president of her family’s philanthropic foundation and founder of UCLA’s Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, called on Jewish donors to not pull their funding from universities over antisemitism and anti-Zionism but to instead redirect their dollars, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Take it from me: “As someone who built a center at UCLA that I’m so proud of, our family is so proud of — our center being there is part of the solution, [it is] there day in and day out educating about Israel. So my advice is: repurpose your dollars,” Nazarian said. “Make sure [your gifts] are going towards more classes on antisemitism, [or] institutes of research on university campuses.” 

Antisemitism today: Nazarian made her remarks at the opening session of a half-day “Teach-in on Antisemitism” on Sunday at Temple Israel of Hollywood — the go-to shul for many of the entertainment industry’s leading stars. The event featured two main discussions, the first focused more on describing the rise of antisemitism in the United States in general and on college campuses specifically and the second more on prescribing ways to respond.

Put in the work now: In the final session on charting the path forward, Stephen D. Smith, the former executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, stressed the need to build connections to other people and groups when times are good so that they’re in place when they’re not. Virtually every person who rescued at least one Jewish person during the Holocaust knew somebody Jewish before World War II, Smith noted. “If you don’t have the bridge built before this conflict, you aren’t going to build it during the conflict,” he said. “You have to have that bridge in place, otherwise you’ve just got a chasm and you can’t cross it.”

Read the full report here.


Rude ‘Awakenings’: Communal transformations in our time of crisis

The families of hostages lead hundreds of people in the ‘Run for Their Lives’ rally in New York City's Central Park on the 100th day since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Jan. 14, 2024
The families of hostages lead hundreds of people in the ‘Run for Their Lives’ rally in New York City’s Central Park on the 100th day since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Jan. 14, 2024.

“A year and a half ago, we published a book on the awakenings transforming Jewish life for the better… Our legacy organizations and startups have since been battle-tested in the most difficult circumstances that the American Jewish community has seen in at least a generation, and perhaps two,” write Rabbi Joshua Stanton and Rabbi Benjamin Spratt in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Push and pull: “American Jews are rethinking their identities and reexamining how they understand Judaism itself. The growing notion of a wisdom tradition with universal appeal is largely being eclipsed, at least for the moment, by the visceral call to peoplehood as a group under threat by an increasingly hostile society. At the same time, widespread conflation of Israel with Jewish identity since Oct. 7 challenges efforts to separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism, leaving many Jews feeling the binary choice of either claiming their Judaism and absorbing anti-Israel hate, or abandoning their Judaism and being assumed to reject Israel. The rising death toll of Gazans, widespread hunger and disease among displaced civilians and Hamas’ refusal to return remaining hostages, articulate recalcitrance or surrender pushes many American Jews into a quandary of competing values.”

Filling the gap: Many have looked to long-standing organizations for leadership, not only in national discourse as representatives of the Jewish community, but also on the local level, particularly with physical safety and social integration in question. While some mainstay organizations have maintained a national presence, their “ground game” in local communities is largely diminished due to cost-cutting measures. This includes denominations, notably our own [Reform], which used to have regional directors and leadership gatherings that could have been called upon to address the needs of specific communities and bring together clergy and lay people to create meaningful, proactive strategies. Within this lacuna, startups connected to Israel and antisemitism have come to take center stage, and national organizations have put down local roots.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Go for Impact: In Inside Philanthropy, Makeeba McCreary recommends four steps that funders and nonprofits can take to make their Black History Month efforts less about commemoration and more about sparking lasting change. “Black History Month has traditionally served as a time when America attempts to repair centuries of harm with a mile-wide, inch-deep approach that does not disrupt systemic racism in a meaningful way. This Black History Month, philanthropy has an opportunity to take a different way forward. Instead of doing more of the same — extra funding for education initiatives, a new scholarship program or a fleeting new community empowerment project — corporations, foundations and philanthropists can change their giving practice to better support Black leaders and begin to resource them with equitable dollars and respectful relationships. If we can remake philanthropy using this vision, we can change Black History Month from a month of acknowledgement and remembrance to a catalyst for disruption.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

The Shmate Father: In J. The Jewish News of Northern California, Alex Wall writes an appreciation of Steve Fankuchen, “quirky local champion of Jewish avant-garde,” who died at 79 last month. “In 1980, Steve Fankuchen convened a group of friends to discuss putting out a new Jewish periodical in the Bay Area. But every time they’d get together, the conversation would be so stimulating that nothing would ever get done. As he told this publication in 1985: ‘They all wanted to resolve what it meant to be Jewish. … I see no reason for waiting for the Messiah to get work done, so I just went ahead.’ He went ahead by founding a punchy, countercultural Jewish periodical that mixed colorful personality profiles with progressive political commentary and articles about antisemitism, social issues, poetry, humor and more. Since newspapers were called ‘rags’ in the slang of the time, he named it Shmate… [It] featured writers who never had a byline anywhere else, as well as names like J. Hoberman, who went on to write for The Village Voice. Contributors weren’t paid and had total control over their own words. It regularly featured women writers, a rarity at that time in mainstream publications, and covered groundbreaking topics at the time such as gay and lesbian Jews. Other topics included resistance during the Holocaust, Jewish humor and U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.” [J.]

Built to Last: In The New York Times, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman revisits the subsidized housing development Via Verde, a hopeful trailblazer at the time of its construction in the Bronx more than 10 years ago. “Housing and homeless advocates argued — many continue to — that in the midst of an affordable housing crisis every available dollar for new development should be spent on constructing as many apartments as possible… But Via Verde implied a different calculus. Paying a premium for better architecture and sustainable design, it suggested value as an alternative to cost. Its proposition was that spreading dignity, promoting equity, inspiring pride in its residents — all this would pay for itself in the long run… The development has had its share of headaches and miscalculations — apartments plagued by flies because windows weren’t designed for screens; sustainable bamboo cabinetry that fell apart; a tower elevator on the fritz when I last visited. But [the project’s developer, Adam Weinstein,] told me maintenance costs have remained flat for a decade. Expenses for repairs have been half what they are at subsidized projects of a similar vintage. At a cost of $99 million, Via Verde has turned out to be ‘the least expensive most expensive project in the end,’ Weinstein says.” [NYTimes]

Around the Web

Eden Golan was selected to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden, in May…

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Jewish Insider that there was a more than likely chance that Israel would soon go to war with the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, with whom it has until now been fighting only limited — though deadly — skirmishes…

Dozens of Israeli expatriates demonstrated in support of President Joe Biden and his support for Israel as his motorcade went through New York City yesterday, while down the road another group protested against the president for his Israel policies…

The Foundation to Combat Antisemitism released a 10-second teaser trailer for its 30-second Super Bowl ad…

Businessman and philanthropist Steve Ballmer and his wife, Conniedonated $15 million through their Ballmer Group foundation to the nonprofit Wrap to combat food waste around the world…

Debra Messing signed on to executive produce a documentary about the spike in antisemitism since Oct. 7…

A Jewish student at Columbia University said he was assaulted on Friday by a masked anti-Israel protester after a pro-Israel demonstration on campus…

The Detroit Jewish News spotlights the marriage of Brett and Meredith Rubenfire, who hit it off at the JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit in 2019…

A controversial truck covered in screens driven by the Accuracy in Media nonprofit that flashes the names and sometimes photos of people that the organization deems antisemites returned to UC Berkeley last week…

Haaretz profiles the Jewish donors who are still backing Nikki Haley as the 2024 Republican presidential nominee despite her low chances to beat out Donald Trump in the GOP primary…

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.
Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron (center) stands facing members of the French Republican Guard (Garde Republicaine) as they hold portraits of the 42 French and French-Israeli nationals killed on Oct. 7 at a ceremony at the Invalides memorial complex in Paris on Wednesday. In addition to the 42 French and French-Israeli people who died in the Hamas attacks, six were injured and three are still believed to be held hostage in Gaza.

French Jews have experienced a steep increase in antisemitic attacks in the four months since Oct. 7, and Macron spoke out against “rampant, uninhibited antisemitism” in his remarks at the ceremony.


Annie Liebovitz smiles

Portrait photographer whose work has been used on numerous album covers and magazines, Annie Leibovitz

Former Member of Knesset for the Labor party, now director-general of the Israel office of the UJA-Federation of New York, Itzik Shmuli

Boston attorney, author and podcast host, his 2013 book on Jews and baseball was turned into the 2016 play “Swing, Schmendrick, Swing,” Larry Ruttman… Longtime anchor of ABC’s “Nightline,” Ted Koppel… Actor, stand-up comedian and singer, Robert Klein… Chair of the Morris A. Hazan Family Foundation, Lovee Arum… Therapist and life coach, Sheila Kay… Attorney and president of Schottenstein Legal Services, James Mark Schottenstein… Former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York (Albany), Rodney Margolis… Town and Village Justice in Red Hook, N.Y., Judge Jonah Triebwasser… CEO of NYC-based Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, Charles S. Cohen… Investor and business operator, he is on the board of Tel Aviv University, Marc Lauren Abramowitz… President of BlackRock, Robert S. Kapito… Chief rabbi of the IDF, Brig. Gen. Eyal Moshe Karim… Senior director of synagogue affiliations and operations for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Barry S. Mael… Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hudson Institute, Sarah May Stern… Chairman of the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur since 2001, Daniel Levy… Former member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home and New Right parties, Shulamit “Shuli” Mualem-Rafaeli… Chairman of Andell Inc., Andrew Hauptman… Chess grandmaster, then derivatives trader, now a retirement planner, Ilya Mark Gurevich… Attorney, rabbi and New Jersey political consultant, Benjamin G. Kelsen… Popular Israeli musician, Eviatar Banai… Actor and filmmaker, Seth Benjamin Green… Founder of D.C.-based JTR Strategies, Jenny Thalheimer Rosenberg… Deputy general counsel for the Inspector General at USAID, Adam Kaplan… Partner at Sidley Austin, William Ranney Levi… Retired professional ice hockey center for five NHL teams, now a real estate executive, Trevor Smith… Synchronized swimmer on behalf of Israel at the three Olympic games, Inna Yoffe… Senior attorney at Public Justice, Alexandra Brodsky… Assistant director of legislative and regulatory policy at EY, Celia Glassman… Canadian jazz-pop singer-songwriter, Nicole “Nikki” Rachel Yanofsky… Pitcher for Team Israel in the 2020 Olympics as well as the 2017 and 2023 World Baseball Classics, Jake Layton Fishman… Associate attorney at Lewis and Garbuz, Samantha Grosinger… Director of global brand and marketing at Olami, Michal Nordmann