Your Daily Phil: Leket Israel marks 20 years of operations + ongoing Ukraine aid efforts

Good Monday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the ongoing Ukraine relief efforts by Jewish organizations and profile Leket Israel, which is marking the 20th anniversary of its founding this month. We also feature op-eds from Maital Friedman, David Zvi Kalman and Heather Alper. We’ll start with the Jewish Funders Network international conference that kicked off last night in Phoenix.

Representing a range of personal and professional backgrounds, the individuals opening up Jewish Funders Network’s annual confab Sunday in Phoenix — the largest in the organization’s three-decade history — expressed optimism that the Jewish community, and those who support it, will adapt to an ever-changing and growing philanthropic and Jewish communal environment, reports Jewish Insider‘s Melissa Weiss for eJewishPhilanthropy.

“This is a time of growth. It’s a time of expansion,” said Rabbi Kendell Pinkney, a New York-based theater artist who grew up attending a Black megachurch in Texas before converting as an adult. “Now that we are looking forward into our Jewish future, it is that much more important that we redouble our efforts and commit to building the most robust and richly inclusive and creative communities that we can, so that way, our descendants in 10, 20, 30 years will look back on us with gratitude and thank us for the inspiring decisions that we’ve made today that made their lives possible.”

In her remarks to the nearly 700 attendees, JFN’s board chair, Marcia Riklis, highlighted efforts to help JFN, and its members, move forward, citing the organization’s partnership with Impala, an online repository of financial and organizational information of both grantmaking institutions as well as recipients, and SparkIL, which allows individuals to directly fund small businesses in Israel.

She also noted that JFN had grown its membership by 39% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Part of the growth, Ari Rudolph, JFN’s vice president of philanthropic engagement, explained, could be attributed to the nature of JFN’s structure prior to the pandemic.

The conference, which concludes on Tuesday, includes a variety of sessions and workshops targeted for specific subsets of attendees: professionals and funders have different breakout options. Other speakers at the Sunday plenary included conference co-chair Zoya Raynes; Aviva Steinberger, director of innovation diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central; and Ari Wallach, author of Longpath. Conference co-chair Shira Ruderman addressed the crowd by video message.

Read the full story here.

Aiding Ukraine

An American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee worker gives an apple and honey for Rosh Hashanah to a woman in Dnipro, Ukraine.

When Ariel Zwang, the CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), visited the Jewish communities still in Ukraine and the thousands living as refugees in Bulgaria, Moldova and Poland last month, she knew what to expect. Her agency has worked throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union for over 100 years. In the last year, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it helped evacuate more than 13,000 Jews from the war-torn country, distributed over 800 tons of humanitarian assistance and provided medical and psychosocial support to 20,000 refugees. Many likely wouldn’t have survived the bitter winter without the JDC’s support, with attacks on electric grids leaving many communities without power, running water or heating. Still, the trip shook her. Zwang met Ukrainians who lost homes, others who couldn’t evacuate as bombs rained down because they were disabled. “It’s not that I was unprepared for it,” Zwang told Jay Deitcher, reporting for eJewishPhilanthropy

Long recovery: Over one year later, Jewish agencies know they are in it for the long haul. “We’re planning to be there for at least five years,” Yotam Polizer, the CEO of IsraAid, told eJP. “Even if the war finishes tomorrow, which unfortunately seems unlikely, we’ll be there for a long time to support the recovery.”

Creative solutions: Working in unstable circumstances, where communities can lose power for days and sirens can ring any moment because of rocket or drone attacks, has caused IsraAid workers to have “to be creative, to think outside the box, adjust to the circumstances,” Alena Druzhynina, a representative for IsraAid living in Kyiv, told eJP. They continue to do their work, “No matter what.” Her organization created programming “where children can continue to be the children, even during the war, and to receive some emotional learning classes, like art classes, some educational classes.” One of the workers she manages came back disappointed that one of his events was interrupted by a siren; the children had to cluster in a bomb shelter. “So we came up with the idea to create a child-friendly space in a backpack. We put in the backpack different materials, like board games, different supplies, which can be used by the facilitator. So whenever there is a siren, the facilitator can just take the kids, take the backpack, go to the shelter, and continue their activities.”

No Jew left behind: “For the first time in history, there was a war in Europe, and every Jew that needs to be saved was saved,” said Eric Fingerhut, the president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, which has raised $85 million for Ukraine support. “Every Jew that needs humanitarian relief received the humanitarian relief that they needed. It’s really an extraordinary story of a people organized and responsive and determined to make sure that every Jew received the help they need.”

Embracing Judaism: Ukranian Jews may have had their homes destroyed, but they stay optimistic, turning to their heritage and finding hope. “They want to build on what we did last year,” Inna Vdovichenko, a JDC representative in Odessa, told eJP. “Online and in-person seders, concerts and cooking classes, matzah distribution and food aid. And they want to do it even bigger. They want to expand their personal lives and Jewish experiences and want to embrace their families, see their children learning and singing, and connect with community life in new ways.”

Read the full story here.

Comfort food

Marking 20 years of service, Leket Israel looks to get even bigger to fight food waste, insecurity

Joseph Gitler, founder of Leket Israel

The now-massive Leket Israel began in 2003 with a few refrigerators in Joseph Gitler’s driveway. It was the height of the Second Intifada and Gitler, a lawyer by training and a recent immigrant to Israel, saw that many of his fellow countrymen were suffering from a byproduct of the terror attacks and general instability that shook the country in the early 2000s,” Gitler told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Waste not: Gitler quickly latched onto the issue of food insecurity and food waste as an area where he could have a significant impact. “This isn’t gonna change the salary structure. But if a family can save NIS 1,000 ($275) a month on their food bill, because they’re getting free fruits and vegetables, well that’s NIS 1,000 that they now have for other needs. And that’s really what we’re after here. We’re trying to help the poor survive, utilizing existing partners,” he said.

Families in need: Professor John Gal, chair of the Welfare Policy Program at the Taub Center think tank and a lecturer in social work and social welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told eJP that food insecurity disproportionately affects large families, specifically Haredi and Arab families well beyond their proportion of the population. Nearly one-in-five families with children had some degree of food insecurity in 2021 and almost one-in-10 experienced severe food insecurity that year, according to a study by Israel’s National Insurance Institute.

A national enterprise: Today, 20 years after its founding, Leket Israel employs 136 people and operates 67 trucks out of its new 66,000 square-foot logistics center in Sde Warburg in central Israel. It works with 271 nonprofit organizations to provide food to more than a quarter of a million people across the country each week. In 2022, the organization collected over 58 million pounds of fresh produce and nearly 2 million hot meals.

Doing more: Though he does not necessarily expect Leket’s budget to increase in 2023 from last year’s $84 million, Gitler said the organization was nevertheless looking to expand through increased efficiency. This includes maintaining a smaller fleet of its own trucks and instead renting vehicles only when necessary. He said his goal is to increase the amount of produce that Leket Israel collects from 58 million pounds in 2022 to 66 million pounds in 2023.

Read the full story here.

New media

Bernhard Lang

“Because the beit midrash is so crucial, Jewish education has long revolved around it: teachers spend years honing their classroom skills, intensive educational programs are built around and online resources for creating source sheets are blossoming,” write Maital Friedman and David Zvi Kalman, from Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The power of digital: “For anyone working with millennials or Gen Z, this has been clear for a while, and during the pandemic it became clearer still. For all the importance of a teacher’s personal dynamism and spirited discussion in the beit midrash, time restraints and personal preference mean that many of the ideas people consume today are imbibed asynchronously from the infinite materials available online — through text, podcasts and videos. The ideas encountered in these formats can be no less life-changing than the ones gained in the beit midrash.”

Beit midrash-plus: “For Jewish organizations that care about transmitting Jewish ideas, this transformation of the ideas marketplace presents a problem: with limited resources, how do you offer ideas across all the formats in which people want to receive them? More specifically — how do Jewish educational institutions that have spent years or decades optimizing for the beit midrash, move to this ‘beit midrash-plus’ model when the skills to utilize digital media aren’t readily at hand? If digital media is being used to attract new audiences, how do you leverage these tools to share Jewish ideas?”

Read the full piece here.

Jewish literacy

Hillel International

“[I]t is incumbent on Hillel to prioritize content that builds Jewish literacy,” writes Heather Alper, a student in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Jewish Halloween: “Imagine a Jewish college student who has never experienced Purim. Filled with curiosity, they attend a party at Hillel. The student has a blast eating, dancing and admiring all the quirky costumes — but what if the actual story of Purim never comes up? At best, the student leaves with a watered-down understanding of the holiday; and at worst, they simply think of Purim like ‘Jewish Halloween.’”

Building Jewish literacy: “Having worked as a Hillel professional, I certainly do not fault students for assuming this viewpoint; however, for their sake, it is incumbent on Hillel to prioritize content that builds Jewish literacy… To expand the offerings we consider ‘high-impact,’ Hillels must intentionally and explicitly infuse Jewish meaning at the core of every program.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Targeting JDC: Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, plans to shut down a program, operated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which was dedicated to reducing violence in Arab Israeli towns. He reportedly called JDC a “leftist organization,” although many who are Jewishly communally involved know the JDC “as a nonpartisan group with an extensive track record of providing humanitarian aid to Jews in distress,” Philissa Cramer writes in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “In Israel, the group funds and operates efforts to help needy populations — including immigrants, the elderly, people with disabilities and people living in poverty. Those efforts often involve working with the government, which in 2007 gave the JDC Israel’s most prestigious prize for its work. This year, according to a spokesman, the group is spending $129 million on Israel initiatives. The JDC’s government-funded programs include the anti-violence effort that Ben-Gvir is targeting. It was made possible last year due to nearly $1 billion in funding to curb crime in Arab communities by the previous governing coalition, which was centrist. The allocation followed lobbying by Arab and civil society organizations, including the Abraham Initiatives, which is now monitoring how the money is being used as well as its impact. [Amnon] Be’eri-Sulitzeanu [co-CEO of the Abraham Initiatives] said the program was already starting to bear fruit and had contributed to a slowdown in a multi-year rise in murders. Canceling the program, he said, reflects the current government’s general approach to tackling Israel’s problems.” [JTA]

Ditch the Savior Complex: Philanthropists should avoid thinking of themselves as saviors of the causes they champion, Afira Devries writes in Newsweek, because the “savior complex” often includes a strong desire to rescue others to boost one’s own self-worth. “In the context of charitable giving, this can result in a desire to manipulate the recipients of aid, rather than partnering with them in their pursuit of solutions. Charitable giving that’s driven by a savior complex is characterized by a lack of empathy or understanding of the recipients’ experiences and actions that are intended to make the giver feel good rather than make the recipient’s life better. For example, some forms of charitable giving involve taking photos with beneficiaries or expecting emotional reactions that demonstrate their appreciation. These types of interactions can be deeply dehumanizing and can leave recipients feeling like they are being reduced to mere props in the giver’s quest for self-aggrandizement.The performance of gratitude requires a sacrifice of dignity that furthers the harm experienced by individuals and families struggling to regain a sense of independence.” [Newsweek]

Culture Change: Over the last few years, there has been a dip in citizens’ belief in science, write Sam Gill and Elizabeth Christopherson in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. They note that philanthropy can fuel approaches to improve science in three critical areas: helping to make sure everyone is represented in science; making science publicly accessible; and speaking out about how the culture of science can be changed. “A growing group of grant makers, including our foundations, is seeking to foster a culture of what we call ‘civic science.’ The work of civic science is to build bridges across expertise, sectors, methods, and communities, recognizing that science alone cannot confront the nation’s most challenging problems. This work includes funding the Civic Science Fellows program, which supports emerging leaders from diverse personal and professional backgrounds to develop projects focused on weaving science more deeply into society. One fellow, for example, is working with the Open Research Funders Group to help science donors develop more equitable and inclusive funding practices. Another fellow, based at the Harvard Kennedy School, is testing ways health care providers can more effectively communicate the importance of vaccines to people who strongly oppose them. These approaches — increasing representation, connecting science to community, and changing the culture of science — share a commitment both to the goal of scientific objectivity and to confronting the reality that science is too often artificially narrow and exclusionary.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Around the Web

Birthright Israel will launch a greening initiative that, over five years, will aim to reduce the program’s carbon footprint, integrate environmental programming into its itinerary and determine how to make Birthright more sustainable. The program is funded by a gift from Stephen and Claudine Bronfman, Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Andrew Hauptman in honor of Birthright co-founder Charles Bronfman

The Galilee Culinary Institute by JNF, located in the Greater Kiryat Shmona Region, will officially open its doors on May 7…

A bill introduced by New York City Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, will offer interest-free loans for schools serving students with disabilities. The proposed legislation also includes measures to ensure oversight of schools participating in the program…

Former L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who belongs to not one but two synagogues, was confirmed as the United States’ new ambassador to India…

Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame, donated $1 million to a group campaigning against U.S. military support for Ukraine…

Nancy Yao has been named the founding director of the forthcoming Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, effective June 5. Yao is currently president of the Museum of Chinese in America

New York City’s Lincoln Center announced the selection of Steven R. Swartz, president and chief executive of Hearst, as chair of its board of directors…

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, Calif., announced the appointment of David Trulio as president and CEO, effective April 3.  On Friday, the foundation and institute will also officially launch its new exhibition, “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” a collection of more than 700 original objects from Auschwitz-Birkenau…

Ballmer Group is making $43 million in new childcare and early childhood education investments in Washington State…

The Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst received a $20 million gift from Douglas and Diana Berthiaume to support faculty excellence. The Berthiaumes are the most generous cash donors in the school’s history, and the new gift represents the largest cash donation ever to Isenberg…

The Jewish Fertility Foundation, an organization providing financial assistance, emotional support and educational programming to individuals with medical infertility, announced the opening of its Denver location through the support of the Rose Community Foundation. Denver is the organization’s seventh city in its ongoing national expansion…

The ADI Fleet inclusive running team, which included hundreds of runners of all abilities, ran in Jerusalem’s 12th winter marathon last Friday. The team included more than three dozen ADI Jerusalem residents at a special track, where they moved forward using specially made walkers, pushing their limits and raising awareness for disability inclusion…

Jacqueline Gold, founder and executive chair of U.K.-based lingerie chain Ann Summers, died at 62…

Abraham Zarem, one of the last surviving Manhattan Project scientists, died at 106…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/March of the Living

Hundreds of people marched through the port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Sunday, marking 80 years since the deportation of Greek Jews during the Holocaust. The event was organized by the European March of the Living together with city and state government officials.


Courtesy/Alex Edelman

Comedian whose current show centers on a meeting of neo-Nazis that he attended incognito in Queens, Alex Edelman

Senior rabbi of NYC’s Park East Synagogue, Arthur Schneier… Actor, director and musician, best-known role as the title character in the television comedy series “Barney Miller,” Hal Linden… Pioneer of financial futures, he is the chairman emeritus of CME Group, Leo Melamed… Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences as a geologist and oceanographer, but known popularly as poet and performer, Alexander Gorodnitsky… Australian award-winning writer of Portuguese Sephardi descent, author of fiction, non-fiction, screenplays and poetry collections, David George Joseph Malouf… Senior advisor to the family office of Charles Bronfman,  Jeffrey R. Solomon… Senior lecturer of Talmud at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz… Award-winning author of 26 children’s books, Louis Sachar… Owner of Diamond Point Metals, Jack Zager… Former professional tennis player, Bruce Manson… Activist philanthropist, pioneer in corporate social responsibility and former CEO of Timberland, Jeffrey Swartz… Retired as Israel’s chief of police in 2018, Roni Alsheikh… Host of “Time Team America” and producer of a documentary titled “Our Summer in Tehran,” Justine Shapiro… Chilean businessman and philanthropist, Leonardo Farkas… Former member of the Knesset for the Israel Resilience Party, as part of the Blue and White alliance, he served as minister of justice, Avraham Daniel (Avi) Nissenkorn… Journalist, author and lecturer best known for writing about his lifestyle immersion experiments, he is an editor-at-large for Esquire, Arnold Stephen “A. J.” Jacobs… Actor, podcast host, director and comedian, Michael Rapaport… First-ever Jewish mayor of Lansing, Mich., now in his second term, Andy Schor… Award-winning Israeli actress, her credits include a role in “Fauda,” Netta Garti… Actor, music video director and writer, Jake Hoffman… Principal of global strategic alliances at Amazon Web Services, Daniel M. Eckstein… Senior speechwriter and messaging strategist for Apple, Matt Finkelstein… Washington bureau chief at Semafor, Benjamin (Benjy) Sarlin… VP for development at the CIM Group, Jason Lifton… Comedian, writer and actress, Joanna Hausmann… Beit midrash fellow at Yeshivat Hadar and rabbinical school student at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Max Buchdahl… Project coordinator at Bugcrowd, Tatiana Uklist… Ehud Lazar…