Your Daily Phil: La. synagogue’s new $1 million endowment to pay camp tuition + Lessons learned from ‘Ordinary People’

Good Tuesday morning! 

An anonymous donor has given Congregation Gates of Prayer, a Reform synagogue in the New Orleans metro area, a $1 million endowment to cover half of the religious school students’ summer camp tuition.

“I pitched it to the donor, what if Jewish summer camp was like Birthright?” Rabbi David Gerber, senior rabbi at Gates of Prayer, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “We believe that if our kids spend their Sundays and Shabbats with us and at the synagogue, and if they spend their summers at [Jewish summer camp], then we have a good chance of having highly engaged families and next generations of good Jews to come.”

Students are eligible for the tuition grant through a points system developed by a synagogue parents committee, and need to collect 100 points, or “shekels,” over the course of the school year. Parents are also part of the points system, and can help their children reach eligibility through synagogue attendance or holding leadership positions.

Students get various points for attending religious school, services and other Jewish events or institutions, including Jewish museums and bnei mitzvah at other synagogues. Participating in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services is worth three points, while participating in their own bar or bat mitzvah can net students 18 points.

The points are tracked using LoopyLoyalty, a business software for checking customer loyalty. Students have identifying barcodes they either physically carry with them on cards, or that are kept in Google Pay or Apple wallets on their phones. When they go to synagogue, senior staff scan the barcodes using their phones (in the case of Jewish events away from the synagogue, the barcodes can be scanned remotely).

In July, “when we started tracking the points, a family showed up with their three kids. And because there were two parents there, each kid got the points for both parents being present, and they got points for themselves being present,” Gerber said. “At least 50% [of the points] has to come from religious school activities, but there are a number of activities in all facets of the synagogue life that can earn people points.”

Asked if there was concern that the points system wouldn’t be fair to students with single parents, or parents who are unable to contribute their personal time to the synagogue due to work or other reasons, Gerber said that the points system doesn’t hinge on parental participation.

“It’s all based on the individual child…I don’t think [receiving the camp grant is] going to be made or broken on Shabbat attendance,” Gerber said. “We think some of our kids are going to have the points required, probably, by November or December…we expect to adjust and grow as we go along.”

Gerber hopes that the grant program will make camp more accessible while also helping to grow the synagogue, which has about 450 families, and engage families that otherwise don’t participate in synagogue life.

“You’re looking at people being nervous about the economy going forward. It’s a big help, and for those who maybe go to summer camp and don’t belong to a synagogue, this can hopefully bring people in,” he said. “One of my favorite parts of the program is, you can’t just join the synagogue, pay a minimum dues and get the gift – there’s an entire engagement model that qualifies you for the gift.”


Spertus Institute certificate program to prepare Jewish communal executives to combat rising antisemitism

Kendall McCaugherty/HedrichBlessing

The synagogue attack in Colleyville, Texas, in January. The physical assaults against Jews following the May 2021 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Jewish college students under a constant barrage of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolutions on campus. With antisemitism running at historically high levels, Jewish leaders are having to navigate a treacherous minefield when it comes to community relations, especially in the age of social media. The situation is prompting Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership to launch a new certificate program to provide Jewish leaders with the tools and training to respond to the complex threats reflected in contemporary antisemitism, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther Kustanowitz.

Broad view: The Combating Antisemitism certificate program follows the Spertus approach of “applying Jewish learning and using experiences to help engage and address contemporary and emerging issues,” Dean P. Bell, Spertus’ president and CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy. Bell, who also holds a faculty appointment as professor of Jewish history, said that the certificate program will cover the history of antisemitism as well as contemporary events and, given the rise of antisemitic sentiments over social media, “place [antisemitism] into conversation with…with other kinds of bigotry and hatred and bias.”

Starting soon: Applications are now open to those in executive leadership positions in North American Jewish organizations of all types, including social justice, social services, synagogues, advocacy, education, community relations, philanthropy, campus engagement and interreligious partnerships. Starting in January 2023, the program will consist of a two-hour weekly online session lasting 11 weeks, with an in-person seminar in Chicago at the approximate midpoint in February.

Read the full story here.


A family reunion decades in the making


When more than 70 members of the massive Kuklya clan gather today in New York City, it won’t be a normal family reunion: The gathering is part of a roots journey nearly 30 years in the making, one undertaken by an amateur genealogist that spans from Lithuania in the 1800s to England to Minnesota, reports Jewish Insider‘s Nava Katz.

Chasing stories: British record producer Ian Levine began the project in 1995, long before the internet made such searches commonplace, after the death of his grandmother, Golda Cooklin. “I was very fond of her,” Levine told Jewish Insider. “I never took the opportunity to talk to her about the Cooklins. She used to say, ‘It’s a wonderful family I come from; we’re the Jewish royal family,’ and when she died I decided I wanted to trace the family.” Levine began to trace the British branch of the family, whose last name had changed from “Kuklya,” to “Cooklin,” after his great-great grandfather, Hatzkel Kuklya, came to England from Lithuania in the 1800s.

Building connections: The latest chapter of the Kuklya family saga will unfold today at a New York deli, with many members of Levine’s extended clan trading family stories and linking past and present. Family members will be flying in from as far as Toronto and San Diego to attend. Levine has compiled all of his research into two 1,000-page books, a family tree and an encyclopedia. He has also written a 2,000-page historical novel — “Kuklya” — that follows 18 generations of his family, based on his extensive research, with some gaps filled in with fiction.

Read the full story here.


The transformative Torah of ‘Ordinary People’

Paramount Studios PR still via

“’Ordinary People,’ first a novel by Judith Guest and later an Oscar-winning film directed by Robert Redford, tells the story of the Jarrett family, a wealthy Chicago family whose world is torn apart by the death of their elder son, Buck, and the suicide attempt of their younger son, Conrad. Other than competing on a swim team, my childhood and family-of-origin share nothing in common with the Jarrett family. And yet while I prefer to remind Jewish teens that I have a modicum of understanding of their cultural world… as USY completes a summer with teens traveling across North America, Europe, and Israel, I decided to rewatch ‘Ordinary People’ for the hundredth time and go back into the literary and cinematic world that made me want to work with Jewish teenagers,” writes Rabbi Joshua Rabin, senior director of USY, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Meaning: “’Ordinary People’ forces people to think about what it means to be a family or a friend, how to confront pleasure and pain, and what it means to make meaning as one enters adulthood.”

Social loss: “One of the underdiscussed aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic will be how the landscape of teen engagement has been decimated by disrupting the rhythm and safety nets of a generation of high school students. The ripple effects could be felt for decades… Yet the stakes of teen engagement are incredibly high. And if we are to understand what has changed, what must change, and what we must return to, I would like to suggest that we need to join Conrad Jarrett’s journey and to think about what it means to truly understand the ‘Torah’ that ‘Ordinary People’ teaches us.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Recipe for Identity: Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch interviews cookbook author Michael Twitty about his new book, which fuses cultures and cuisines. “‘Recipes are nothing compared to the real story of why the dishes came to be and why people enjoy them, why people pass them and people share them, why people incorporate them into their hospitality and generosity,’ Twitty told Jewish Insider in a recent interview. He gets into all of this in Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew, out today. The book features an exploration of Twitty’s own background and his attempts to understand how Black Jews fit into both the Jewish tradition and the African American tradition — told through long conversations with friends, thought partners and mentors.” [JI]

Saving Refugees by Working the Network: After hearing the stories of two Afghan men who he met on social audio app Clubhouse, New York musician Nat Rosenzweig, a self-described “random musician-slash-paralegal in New York, felt compelled to help, Sarah Rosen writes in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “[Rosenzweig] had just heard a story from a friend who, through several bizarre coincidences, had helped three Afghans leave the country [during the U.S. withdrawal last August]. Rosenzweig’s friend had worked at Seeds of Peace, the social change and leadership organization that began as a summer camp where Israelis and Palestinians could meet but has broadened its scope to connect a variety of communities in conflict. Through the organization she knew an Afghan woman who was in mortal danger in Kabul. The Seeds of Peace community had found a flight for this woman, her mother and child, but the family was stuck in the throngs at the Kabul airport, unable to get through. Rosenzweig’s friend mentioned the situation to another friend over the telephone who happened to be on a walk in Bosnia with her family friend who coincidentally knew a soldier working at the Kabul airport. The soldier ultimately was able to escort the family through the crowd onto the evacuating plane and the family made it to safety. The story’s outrageous turns of luck affected Rosenzweig. ‘I just think about all the things people have to do to get around the limitations imposed by governments unwilling to help in major ways,’ he said. Plus, Rosenzweig had grown up hearing stories about his own grandparents’ survival of the Holocaust. ‘I feel deeply aware of how much grace, fortune and the kindness of strangers went into saving Jews who would have otherwise been killed. Including my ancestors.’” [JTA]

Paycheck to Paycheck to Pantry: Rising gas and food prices are leading to increased food insecurity nationwide, Lora Kelley and Nicholas Kulish report in The New York Times. “[F]irst-time pantry-goers made it through the height of pandemic shutdowns without needing this kind of assistance, but are finding inflation harder to navigate. Iliana Lebron-Cruz, 44, a health coach who also works for a dog retreat, lives an hour west of Seattle with her husband, a supervisor at Costco, and their three children. They have a combined household income of around $120,000. ‘We live pretty much paycheck to paycheck,’ she said. Recently, Ms. Lebron-Cruz found herself looking up options for free food in her area after she unexpectedly spent hundreds of dollars traveling to Oregon after a family emergency. When she got back home after that trip, she looked at her empty fridge. ‘I get paid Thursday. It’s Tuesday. I don’t have it,’ she said she had realized. She called a food pantry. ‘If something pops up with the way inflation is, it’s kind of like a double whammy,’ she said. ‘Six months ago, had the same thing occurred, it wouldn’t have been as bad,’ she said.” [NYTimes]

Community Comms

Leading Edge Launches Cohort 7 of the Board Member Institute: For new and experienced Board Members who strive to grow, lead and build community. Apply by 9/12!

Lead. Apply for the Fall 2022 online cohort of the Certificate in Jewish Leadership, presented by Spertus Institute in partnership with Northwestern University.

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Word on the Street

The Skoll Foundation and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation announced donations totaling $25 million to a new philanthropic project that hopes to invest $100 million in 10 countries, mostly in Africa, by 2030 to support 200,000 community health workers, who serve as a bridge to treatment for people with limited access to medical care… 

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has appointed Andrew Buchanan as its senior education program associate. Prior to his joining the foundation, Buchanan was a middle and high school educator in the Randolph, N.J., public school system, where he specialized in Holocaust and genocide studies…

More than 7 million children in the United States are struggling with anxiety, depression and related mental health challenges in what amounts to a mental health crisis across race, ethnicity, economics and sexual identity, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will perform at Carnegie Hall on Monday, Nov. 14, under the baton of music director Lahav Shani, who will be making his U.S. debut appearance with the orchestra…

Actress, singer and pop star Dame Olivia Newton-John died at 73. Her grandfather was Jewish Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born…

Pic of the Day

Yossi Zeliger

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews donated a new mobile emergency control station to the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. The unit was retrofitted from a previously used caravan and designed to respond to specific critical needs that the municipality identified. Safwan Marich (left), director of the safety and emergency response division of IFCJ, is pictured with Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam.


Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Film Independent

Israeli actor, best known for his role as Yanky Shapiro in the 2020 Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox,” Amit Rahav… 

Former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and mother-in-law of Chelsea Clinton, Marjorie Margolies… Institutional investment banker and a former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador (2007-2009), Charles L. Glazer… Philanthropist and the vice-chair of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Ingeborg Rennert… British businessman, co-founder with his brother Charles of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, appointed to the House of Lords in 1996, Baron Maurice Saatchi… UK cabinet minister in both the Thatcher and Major governments, Sir Malcolm Leslie Rifkind… Creditors rights’ attorney at Chicago-area Blitt & Gaines, David Stephen Miller… Retired managing editor and writer at The Washington Post for 33 years, Peter Perl… Member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party since 2013, he was appointed as Speaker of the Knesset one week ago, Mickey Levy… CEO of Amir Development Company in Beverly Hills, Keenan Wolens… Punk rock singer and songwriter, known as the Gangsta Rabbi, Steve Lieberman… Washington Institute fellow and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, David Makovsky… Senior editorial manager at the Aspen Institute, he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, David L. Marcus… Co-founder and executive editor of Axios, Mike Allen… National education policy reporter for The Washington PostLaura Meckler… Green Bronx Machine’s Tanya Rebecca Singer… Yale Law School graduate and author, Abigail Krauser Shrier… Public affairs consultant based in Manhattan, Sam Nunberg… Co-founder and CEO of Kaggle, a data science platform acquired by Google in March 2017, Anthony Goldbloom… Manager of publicity at Netflix, she was previously a communications officer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jacqueline “Jackie” Berkowitz… Director at Saban Capital Group, Amitai Raziel… Executive director at Hunter Hillel, Merav Fine Braun… Editor for programming and social media at CNN Politics, Madeleine Morgenstern… Singer-songwriter known as ‘Jeryko,’ Yaniv Hoffman… Singer-songwriter and actor, Max Schneider… 
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