Your Daily Phil: Leket pivots post-Oct. 7, looks to save Israeli farmers

Good Tuesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on Israeli nonprofit Leket’s new wartime focus on protecting the country’s agricultural sector. We feature an opinion piece by Idana Goldberg about the National Library of Israel. Also in this newsletter: Shuly Rubin SchwartzMarlene Engelhorn and David Greenfield. We’ll start with how Jewish communities in Israel and abroad are rallying for the hostages in Gaza as their captivity extends past the 100-day mark.

Israelis and Jews around the world marked 100 days since the Oct. 7 terror attacks in southern Israel on Sunday, representing both 100 days of war and 100 days of captivity for the 136 people still being held hostage in Gaza, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

“A hundred days of worry and fear. A hundred days of uncertainty, not knowing what will happen to them. One hundred days in which the heart of an entire nation beats together with you, beloved families,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, in English, on Sunday at the central rally for the hostages in Tel Aviv.

“We cannot allow the issue of the hostages to fall from the public and global agenda, until the very last one of the hostages is freed. I commit to continue acting to ensure this, in every way and with every tool at my disposal. For their sake, and for our sake,” Herzog said.

Some 120,000 Israelis attended the 24-hour rally in Tel Aviv’s Hostage Square, where U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew also spoke, vowing that the American government was “working tirelessly with the governments of Israel, Qatar, Egypt and any other country that can help us reach a breakthrough to bring them home.” 

Smaller gatherings and events — bicycle rides, runs, protests and more — were held in cities and towns across the country. The Histadrut labor union organized a 100-minute shutdown of Israeli businesses to mark the 100 days.

Rallies, vigils and other events were held around the world over the weekend. Thousands of British Jews and their supporters rallied in London’s Trafalgar Square in one of the largest Jewish demonstrations in the country’s history. Canadians braved below freezing temperatures to show their solidarity with the captives.

In India, Israeli diplomats flew 136 yellow kites to mark the hostages’ 100 days in captivity. Cyclists rode their bicycles to mark the grim milestone in Mexico City, Holland, Ghana, the Philippines, Myanmar, China, Australia and Guatemala. In Taiwan, local Christian communities rang their church bells as part of an international “Million Bells” project for the return of the captives. 

In New York, Hila Rotem Shoshani, 13, who was taken hostage from Kibbutz Be’eri, called on the thousands of people who attended a rally outside the United Nations to continue pushing for the hostages’ release. 

“Life as a hostage in Gaza is not life, it is hell. I came all the way here to ask the whole world to help us bring back all of the hostages,” she said, according to the New York Jewish Week. “We can’t leave them there. Their families are waiting for them. Bring them home, please.”

FOOD SECURITY

As war devastates Israeli agriculture, Leket pivots from ‘rescuing’ produce to buying it, boosting farmers

Volunteers work at the Leket logistics center outside of the central Israeli town of Kfar Saba. Courtesy/Leket

The Israeli food security nonprofit Leket has dramatically shifted its focus in the wake of the Oct. 7 terror attacks and ongoing fighting in southern and northern Israel, halting the vast majority of its normal food rescue efforts and concentrating much of its work on bolstering Israel’s farmers and agricultural sector, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Yes, and: “Ordinarily our focus is on using excess crops to feed the poor. That hasn’t changed. That’s still what we would like to be doing. We’re still doing it, but it’s just dropped by 80%,” Joseph Gitler, the founder and chairman of Leket Israel, told eJP. While Leket is still dedicated to food security, ensuring that Israelis experiencing poverty are able to obtain sufficient, healthy foods, the organization is now also focused on a larger, national notion of food security — ensuring that the country can produce the food that all of its citizens need.

What farmers need: “Since Oct. 7, we’ve re-engineered,” Gitler said. “Everything is focused on: How do we help the farmers? So that’s sending them volunteers. And normally, when we send volunteers to help a farmer, we take the crops. That’s the whole idea of Leket. But now, everywhere we send volunteers to, we don’t take the crops. And if the farmer can’t sell them, we’re willing to buy [the crops]. And we’re doing that for two reasons. One, we want to help farmers. We need them to stay in business for the short- and long-term food security of this country. And [two], we need those crops to take care of the poor.”

No way back: “I can’t tell you what’s going to be in the future. I think I can tell you that our work with farmers has changed permanently,” Gitler said. “Our farmers are going to get used to the fact that we’ve been purchasing [their crops]. And the fact is, that’s life. We tell the farmers that what we’re doing is temporary, but it’s been three months and we just approved our 2024 budget. And as part of the budget, we approved the continued purchase of 8 million pounds of crops over the next three months,” he said.

Read the full report here.

COLLEGIATE CONFAB

Students gather in L.A. to kick off local federation’s reborn Campus Impact Network

Students participating in a Campus Impact Network event on Jan. 15, 2024. Courtesy/The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

More than 100 college students from across Southern California gathered on Sunday for the first major event by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Campus Impact Network, which was relaunched after campuses were targeted by antisemitic activity, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Make voices heard: The event sought to train the students how to combat antisemitism, promote a positive view of Israel and elevate the Jewish experience on campus. It was supported by Hillel at UCLA, Hillel USC and Hillel 818, and the participants came from UCLA, USC, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Cal State Long Beach, Moorpark College, Cal State Northridge and Pierce College.

Push for Jewish safety: “They’re going to learn how to be better storytellers, to humanize the story about what it means to be a Jew,” Rabbi Noah Farkas, the federation’s president and CEO, told a local television station. “All of these things that we see happening on campus are based on decisions, and those decisions are made by people. And all those people carry relationships, so they’re going to learn how to use relationships to push an agenda for Jewish safety.”

Stronger together: Joanna Mendelson, the federation’s senior vice president of community engagement, told eJP when the network relaunched that the idea behind it is that the “campuses are stronger when united. The federation believes that helping to align these campuses and create community is a powerful approach in these disconcerting times.”

PEOPLE OF THE BOOKS

Rolling the Torah scroll from Simchat Torah to Bereishit

A photo taken on Nov. 21, 2023 at the new building of the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem shows an installation consisting of chairs with books and portraits of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack. Photo by Kenzo Triboulliard/AFP via Getty Images

“I spent [two weeks] in Israel, a trip that was part comforting the mourners and visiting the sick, part affirming that life endures, part understanding the responsibilities of philanthropy and mostly bearing sacred witness to the trauma and the resilience that persists three months after Oct. 7,” writes Idana Goldberg, CEO of the Russell Berrie Foundation, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Indelible memories: “My mind goes to the resident of Kfar Aza showing us the kibbutz’s devastated youth quarters, pointing to each house in the row and reciting ‘kidnapped, killed, killed, kidnapped’ — an especially poignant memory after two of the kidnapped were among those mistakenly and tragically killed by the IDF on Dec. 15… [It goes to my] beloved colleagues, who continue to assess needs and facilitate partnerships even as they cope with the fear and anxiety of family members on the front lines; and  numerous grantee leaders who have become treasured friends, doing the impossible in managing their teams through the uncertainty of a trauma-inflected present while responding to the enormous call to shape Israel’s future.”

A place of promise: “And yet, throughout my trip, I kept returning to how I felt at the National Library of Israel. Even the NLI’s leadership expressed some surprise to me at how many people now walk through its doors on a daily basis; but to me, the explanation seemed obvious. In Covenant and Conversation: Deuteronomy, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explains: ‘The Torah ends with the last command: to keep writing and studying Torah. And this is epitomized in the beautiful custom, on Simchat Torah, to move immediately from reading the end of the Torah to reading the beginning… Never has a people loved a book more. Never has a book sustained a people longer or lifted it higher.’”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Back But Still There: In The Washington Post, Shira Rubin speaks with Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, one of the 110 hostages released by Hamas in November about her experiences on Oct. 7 and her time in captivity. “In her first interview with international media, Agam described the terror and confusion she endured over nearly two months as a hostage inside Gaza, held with her mother, Chen, and two brothers, Tal and Gal. Speaking from Shfayim, a kibbutz in central Israel that has transformed into a way station for hundreds of her displaced neighbors, she recounted the extreme exhaustion, the oppressive stench of the tunnels, the relentless psychological torture. She turned the conversation again and again to the more than 130 hostages still believed to be held captive in Gaza. The Red Cross has not been allowed to visit them. The youngest, Kfir Bibas, turns 1 this week… For Agam — who has been free now for almost as many days as she was in captivity — the return to Israel is still hard to comprehend. She visited her old home once and has learned the full scale of the Oct. 7 atrocities. She said her captors told her, repeatedly, that the attack was justified, and that it was only ‘an opening blow.’” [WashPost]

Nothing Could Prepare Them: New York Times reporter Sheera Frenkel accompanies ZAKA volunteers during their grim recovery work in southern Israel to capture an in-depth account of their experiences since Oct. 7. “At 76, David Weissenstern has collected the remains of the dead for most of his adult life. But after the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Hamas-led fighters killed about 1,200 people along Israel’s border with Gaza, he can no longer stand the smell of grilled meat. The odor, he says, reminds him too much of burned human flesh. His son Duby Weissenstern, 48, has lost track of time after working successive days and nights to recover those killed on Oct. 7. He now marks time in relation to that date. And his son-in-law Israel Ganot, 32, now gags at the smell of food that has turned rotten. He was in the second wave of recovery workers who reached bodies that had been trapped under rubble for weeks… Made up of more than 3,000 volunteers, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, the group says it is driven by a holy mission to give families closure after the violent death of loved ones. But there is little closure for the volunteers… ‘They see so many bodies, and work so directly with human bodies that have been torn apart, that they are all psychologically impacted,’ said Rony Berger, a psychology professor at Tel Aviv University, who has studied and worked with ZAKA volunteers for years. ‘They are very adept at handling stress, but it takes a toll,’ Mr. Berger said. ‘From confusion to disassociation, it is hard to get rid of pictures in your head once they are there.’” [NYT]

What’s in a (Building) Name: David Werdiger explores the impetus to secure naming rights on buildings and institutions — and whether that is the best use of Jewish dollars today — in an opinion piece in The Times of Israel. “The matter of naming rights in consideration for donations is, like most everything in Jewish life, subject to debate. The practice dates back to Talmudic times. Views on this come from both halachic and marketing sources, and often organizations need to walk a fine line, aiming for tasteful recognition… It has been suggested that our affinity for this comes from the desire to memorialize departed relatives, and particularly those killed in the Holocaust. This makes a building with a name on it something of a matzevah or tombstone. When it comes to donations for non-Jewish causes, it is also a push back against the time when Jews were not full members of society and our donations were not accepted… In the meantime, Muslim states — particularly Qatar — have been throwing billions of dollars at Western universities in the form of endowed chairs… The buildings funded by Jews are being used to teach subjects sponsored by our haters, with the goal of educating a generation of haters… It’s time for a rethink within Jewish philanthropy about where our priorities should sit, to widen the parameters of our giving strategy, and to be aware of the strategic goals of other philanthropic money.” [TOI]

Around the Web

The National Hockey League came out in support of the Israeli National Team after the International Ice Hockey Federation announced it was booting the Israeli team from competitions “until the safety and well-being of all participants (including Israeli participants) can be assured”…

Violinist Miri Ben-Ari, along with a gospel choir, performed at Temple Beth El in Jersey City, N.J., for Martin Luther King Day, performing both original and classic Israeli songs. The event was hosted by the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which said it “celebrates the historic bonds between the Black Christian and Jewish communities”…

In the Jewish Telegraphic AgencyShuly Rubin Schwartz, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminarydiscusses the effects that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel had on her father’s rabbinate…

Protesters brandishing Palestinian flags demonstrated outside of New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, shouting “Shame!” at patients and accusing the cancer hospital of being “complicit” in the deaths of Palestinians…

A new survey by the Jewish People Policy Institute found that 5% of Jewish Israelis agree with the American government’s proposal of having the Palestinian Authority take control in Gaza along with others. More than a third of Jewish Israelis — 36% — believe Israel should take full control of the Strip, and 26% support the reconstruction of the Gush Katif settlements

The Wall Street Journal editorial board also questioned the U.S. government’s desire for the P.A. to take control of Gaza, noting its continued payments to Palestinian terrorists and their families

Iron Nation, a volunteer emergency impact fund launched by Israeli entrepreneurs Chen Linchevski, Gil Friedlander and Jason Wolf, has raised $8 million toward its $20 million goal to support Israeli startups affected by the war…

Former Israeli Defense Forces international spokesman Jonathan Conricus is joining the Foundation for Defense of Democracies as a senior fellow…

Austrian heiress Marlene Engelhorn is looking to bring together a team of 50 strangers to work with her to determine how she should donate her $27 million fortune…

The Times of Israel spotlighted a brother-and-sister-run initiative, “Boots for Israel,” that is bringing high-quality boots from the U.S. to Israeli combat soldiers, reservists and civil defense teams…

Cricket South Africa removed the captain of the country’s Under-19 team, David Teeger, who is Jewish, just before a world championship competition. The organization cited security concerns as threats had been made against him…

American-Israeli chef Michael Solomonov’s Zahav Foods will begin selling its hummus at some 150 Whole Food Market locations…

The New York Times highlighted the fringe concept of “diasporism” — that Jewish life is intrinsically superior outside the State of Israel — in a think piece wondering “Is Israel Part of What It Means to Be Jewish?”…

The Detroit Jewish News assessed the local community’s response to the Oct. 7 terror attacks, notably the $30 million raised by the Jewish Federation of Detroit

Leon Wildes, an immigration lawyer made famous for successfully fighting the U.S. government’s effort to deport John Lennondied yesterday at 90…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Met Council

More than two dozen volunteers with Met Council and UJA-Federation of New York pitch in yesterday to pack supplies of halal and kosher emergency food supplies as well as literacy and stress-relief kits for children at a Met Council food pantry in New York City.

“At a time when there is so much divisiveness in our city, we believe that as Jewish leaders we can come together as a community to support our neighbors who are suffering from food insecurity in all our communities,” Met Council CEO David Greenfield said in a statement. “The message we are sending is that we have each other’s back even during the most difficult times.”

Birthdays

Screenshot/Royal Microscopical Society/YouTube

Physicist and professor of materials science at Oxford, he escaped Germany in 1939 on the Kindertransport, Sir Peter Bernhard Hirsch

Neurologist and psychiatrist, Maximilian Fink… Founder of Jones Apparel Group and a film producer, in 2001 he donated $150 million to Johns Hopkins University, Sidney J. Kimmel… Author and editor-in-chief for 35 years and then editor-at-large for 15 years, all at Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz… Author of 12 novels for young adults, sports journalist for The New York Times, ESPN, CBS and NBC, he served as the ombudsman for ESPN, Robert Lipsyte… Real estate developer, a superfan of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, he is known for sitting courtside at every home game, Alan “Sixth Man” Horwitz… Socially conservative talk radio host, relationship advisor and author, Dr. Laura Schlessinger… Chef, food writer, culinary editor for the Modern Library, host of PBS’s “Gourmet’s Adventures With Ruth,” Ruth Reichl… Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel and dean of Yeshivat Hazon Ovadia, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef… Uzbekistan-born Israeli industrialist, Michael Cherney… VP for government affairs and director of the Washington, D.C., office of Agudath Israel of America, Abba Cohen… CEO of Belfor Property Restoration with more than 500 offices spanning 57 countries, he appeared in an Emmy-nominated episode of CBS’s “Undercover Boss,” Sheldon Yellen… Founder, Chairman and CEO of RealNetworks which produces RealAudio, RealVideo and RealPlayer, Robert Denis “Rob” Glaser… First employee and subsequently first president of eBay, philanthropist and movie producer, Jeffrey Skoll… Founder and CEO of Cognition Builders, Ilana Kukoff… Senior editorial producer at CNN, Debbie Berger Fox… Chapter leader of the Los Angeles chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Amy Graiwer… U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Yael Lempert… San Francisco-based technology reporter for The New York TimesSheera Frenkel… Assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, he was a former speechwriter for House majority leader Steny Hoyer and Sen. Chris Dodd, Rob Goodman… Canadian actor and singer, Jacob Lee “Jake” Epstein… Attorney working in South Florida real estate development, David Ptalis… Left wing for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, he won the NHL’s 2019 award for leadership based upon his philanthropic efforts, Jason Zucker… Israeli actress and singer, the eighth winner of “Kokhav Nolad,” the Israeli version of “American Idol,” Diana Golbi… Israeli professional Muay Thai and kickboxing fighter, Nili Block… Joseph Bornstein…