Your Daily Phil: Last night’s Times Square rally against antisemitism + Hanukkah and the Tree of Life attack

Good Tuesday morning, and happy second day of Hanukkah!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we report on a Black-Jewish dialogue group in Cleveland, and feature an op-ed by Tree of Life’s Carole Zawatsky on the significance of Hanukkah. Also in this newsletter: The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Elise WesthoffRabbi Mike Uram, Andrea Bocelli and Albert Reichman. We’ll start with the scene at a Times Square rally against antisemitism last night.

“Enough of the blech. Let’s have fun.” That was how comedian Ariel Elias introduced a series of musical performances last night at a rally in Times Square, which drew hundreds of people to the center of Manhattan on a frigid evening to protest antisemitism, celebrate the second night of Hanukkah — and have a good time.

Elias — who rocketed to internet fame in October after drinking a beer that a heckler threw at her — had the delicate task that falls to many emcees of Jewish demonstrations: She had to call attention to the grave and worsening problem of antisemitism while keeping the crowd entertained and uplifted.

“You know things are rough out there when a bunch of New Yorkers are actually willing to come to Times Square,” she quipped. Less than two minutes later, she got serious: “It’s a hard reality to face, but we have to: Antisemitism is intensifying… It’s become normalized across our culture, on social media, in pop culture, in politics and on the streets. And so our efforts to fight it must be even stronger.”

The mix of concern and entertainment spanned the course of the event, part of the national Shine A Light campaign to oppose antisemitism. The rally’s attendees included a robust delegation from the Modern Orthodox Ramaz School, all wearing matching yellow beanies embroidered with the school’s logo. The Ramaz choir (likewise wearing the beanies) closed out the event. Some other rally-goers wore black beanies with the insignia of the UJA-Federation of New York, and some held UJA-branded signs reading, “Fight Jew hatred,” “We stand together” and “Stamp out antisemitism.”

In addition to the cast of the Yiddish-language production of “Fiddler on the Roof” — which sang “God Bless America” and “To Life,” a tune from the show, both in Yiddish — the event included a performance by the Hasidic rapper Nissim Black, wearing a white overcoat; and speeches by Little Rock, Ark. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. as well as TikTok influencer Montana Tucker, who recently made a series of videos on the platform about the Holocaust.

Near the end of the event, Jewish college students who have experienced antisemitism lit an electric menorah, with blessings (sans God’s name) sung by David Herskowitz, perhaps best known as the third Miami Boys Choir soloist in a viral Jewish music hit. The students were accompanied by Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, the chancellor of the City University of New York, who dropped out of testifying at a City Council hearing on antisemitism earlier this year. Months later, he committed to CUNY spending nearly $1 million to combat antisemitism on campus.

At the rally, Matos Rodriguez said, “The City University has always been a light for the Jewish community here in New York. Unfortunately in our campuses they have been victims to this cancer of antisemitism and hate… We are one community, fighting. No, no tolerance for hate, no tolerance for antisemitism, no tolerance for intolerance on our campuses.”

The highest-profile guests were New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James, who both pledged to fight antisemitism. Hochul highlighted her efforts to ensure schools were teaching about the Holocaust and to promote security for Jewish institutions. James, who wished the crowd a decently pronounced “chag sameach,” stressed the role of non-Jews in combating hate against Jews.

“Working together with non-Jews… is so critically important,” James said. “The only way that we are going to stamp out ignorance is with the light of education and understanding and respect.”

face to face

Nissim Black in concert at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights, Ohio on Dec. 17, 2022.
Nissim Black in concert at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights, Ohio on Dec. 17, 2022.

One night last month, seven Jews and a Black Christian gathered in a food court in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights to have lunch and talk about Kyrie Irving’s recent promotion of an antisemitic movie and book — and how they should react to it. All eight people were alumni of a Cleveland-area group called Rekindle, which brings cohorts of Black and Jewish locals together for 12 hours of discussion, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Stress test: The conversations were something of a stress test for Rekindle, a two-year-old organization with a tiny budget and no paid staff that is trying to pioneer in Cleveland what it hopes will be, per its name, a national reigniting of the alliance between Black and Jewish activists that flourished during the civil rights era. The group’s Jewish co-founder, Matt Fieldman, told eJP that he and his colleagues know that the fellowship is “not going to fix racism and antisemitism.” But in recent weeks, such topics have become unavoidable.

Agreeable disagreement: The program’s 70 alumni are a drop in the bucket of the more than 80,000 Jews and hundreds of thousands of Black people in the Cleveland area. But the initiative’s co-founders, Fieldman and Charmaine D. Rice, hope that the discussions can spark broader change. “One of the biggest takeaways that people mention are the relationships that they’re building,” Rice told eJP regarding Rekindle’s fellows. “Folks who have gone to dinner together and opened up a little bit more of a personal perspective to try to establish those meaningful relationships… The goal is not groupthink, the goal is for relationships to develop to create space for us to disagree agreeably.”

Community support: Rekindle has a budget of less than $35,000 and its founders also have other jobs. The organization received startup funding from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the Natan Fund, as well as seed funding from the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “Within our confronting antisemitism portfolio, we very much believe in bringing different groups together, particularly across divides — whether they be faith-based, political-based or just people who don’t tend to spend a tremendous amount of time together,” Adina Poupko, executive director of the Natan Fund, which began supporting Rekindle in June, told eJP. “Relationship building and friendship is core to our work confronting antisemitism… The more you know someone, the less likely you are to hate them.”

Read the full story here.

remembering, rebuilding, renewing

This Hanukkah, flooding the darkness with light

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks during annual Jerusalem Post conference at Gotham Hall.

“During these winter weeks, the days are as short as the nights are long. The world goes darker earlier, with the sun going down before many leave the office or children leave school.  It would make sense that Hanukkah arrives at the darkest time of year, and it can become easy to see how the darkness of the season reflects the darkness in our society. This year we saw an unprecedented rise in antisemitism across the country and a general rise in hate crimes. In times like this, it is more important than ever to follow the Hanukkah tradition of being and spreading the light so it reaches even the darkest corners of the world,” Carole Zawatsky, the inaugural CEO of Tree of Life — the new memorial, museum and education center in Pittsburgh — writes in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Heroic imagination: “It’s that context that makes our traditional emphasis on light in our Hanukkah celebrations and conversations important and inspiring. And yet, I also find inspiration from the resolve of the Maccabees — the heroes of the Hanukkah story — who stood up in the face of destruction and tragedy to imagine something new.”

Historical mirror: “In many ways, the Hanukkah story mirrors the recent history of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life building. Just as the Holy Temple was attacked centuries ago, four years ago, our sacred space — home to three congregations — was also violated and desecrated. As the Maccabees suffered at the hands of people driven to violence by antisemitism and hatred, so too did the members of the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light congregations and their loved ones.”

Transforming tragedy into hope: “The resilience and hope of the Maccabees enabled them to pick up the pieces; to cleanse the Temple and to shine a new light. In this spirit, the new Tree of Life seeks to remember, rebuild and renew, to transform a site of tragedy into a site of hope, remembrance and education.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Be Humble: Humility could be the magic ingredient in connecting with donors, Otis Fulton writes in NonProfitPRO. “Psychologists have documented something they call the ‘better-than-average effect.’ In short, people tend to rate themselves as better than the average person on things like intelligence, attractiveness, athletic ability, etc. The average self-rating for people is usually somewhere between 65% and 70%. But wait — how can everybody be above average? Organizations are a lot like individuals in this regard. Many of the more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States have super-important missions. But focusing on how great your organization is rather than on your relationship with your supporters (‘because of you, all these great things will happen’) won’t keep them around for the long haul. Think about your organization’s supporters. Do you describe them as your donors, or do you think of yourself as one of the charities they support? The answer is telling — are you at the center of their world, or are they at the center of yours?” [NonProfitPRO]

Beacon of Light and Hope: 
In an interview with “Fox News Live” host Mike Emanuel, Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Elise Westhoff said that Americans are still donating to charity in record numbers, despite inflation and the state of the economy. “Philanthropy has been really a beacon of light and hope in our communities. It’s been able to get money to people who are struggling in a way that’s quick and nimble and flexible, and it’s an alternative to the sort of one-size-fits-all, top-down government solutions,” said Westhoff, whose group advises conservative philanthropists, adding, “It’s really important to not restrict or to coerce giving because we know that leads to less charitable giving and we want to see more money going out to the communities.” [Fox]

Around the Web

Congressional leaders released their 2023 federal budget bill, which allocated $305 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides security funding to Jewish and other institutions — an increase from the current funding level of $250 million but short of the $360 million requested by Jewish organizations and legislators…

??The Jewish Fertility Foundation received a challenge grant from the Zalik Foundation supporting the establishment of new JFF branches next year in Pittsburgh, Greater D.C. and Denver. The funding — up to $50,000 per new location — will support an initial grant pool for fertility treatments in each city as well as growing local capacity…

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will headline tonight’s Friends of United Hatzalah Gala in Aventura, Fla. Bocelli and his wife, Veronica, will be honored with the group’s Humanitarian Award, while Margo and Yoram Cohen will be presented with the L’Dor V’Dor Award…

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, traditionally the umbrella group for local Jewish Community Relations Councils, announced what it called a “major organizational reset” in which it will no longer set policy through consensus among its members, many of which are closely affiliated with their local Jewish federations. Instead, policy will now be driven by its board working with coalition partners…

A Texas man was arrested on Monday for allegedly defacing a public menorah in Beverly Hills, Calif., by carving swastikas into it…

Rabbi Mike Uram was named chief Jewish learning officer at the Jewish Federations of North America…

HIASlaunched a new system that allows Ukrainian refugees to list preferences about where they would like to be resettled, as well as any special needs they might have, via a matching algorithm known as RUTH, Refugees Uniting Through HIAS…

Liz Alpert and Fran Feldman were elected national vice presidents and Marcia Gabrilove Ladin was elected national secretary of Hadassah’s National Board, the organization’s governing body. The new officers start their three-year term on Jan. 1, 2023…

Canadian philanthropist Albert Reichman, who fled Austria in his youth and became an advocate for Soviet Jewry, died at 93…

Pic of the Day

(Photo by Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Yehuda Mansbach, grandson of Rabbi Arthur Posner, stands next to his family’s menorah during a Hanukkah celebration at Berlin’s Bellevue Palace Monday night. A famous photograph of the same menorah on the windowsill of the Posner family’s apartment in the German city of Kiel, with a swastika banner in the background, was taken by Rachel Posner in 1931. 


CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Jeremy Burton… 

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