Your Daily Phil: Lessons from Madoff + What’s new at MAZON

Good Thursday morning!

Bernie Madoff, whose unprecedented Ponzi scheme resulted in such dramatic losses among Jewish nonprofits that some, such as Yeshiva University, have yet to fully recover, died yesterday in prison. His death served to remind victims and the broader community of its losses in both dollars and a sense of trust, Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“Bernie Madoff was almost worshipped by the elite. The lesson we learned is that you don’t put your trust in princes,” Sarna said, quoting Psalm 146. Madoff’s swindle exploited Jewish feelings of trust and affinity, and in its aftermath, charities across the community worked to create more formal oversight of investment decisions, Sarna said. 

Washington Post investigation revealed in 2013 that Madoff caused almost $450 million in losses to Jewish institutions, including the Elie Wiesel Foundation and the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Individuals — some of whose assets had been invested with Madoff without their knowledge — also suffered losses. Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey State Senate majority leader, was one such person. “I’m not saying kaddish,” she said, in reaction to Madoff’s death, referring to the prayer of mourning. 

In March, the nonprofit work force — the third-largest in the United States — regained 81,000 jobs, the highest number since August, 2020, according to a new report from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies. Over half of the job gains were in educational institutions; the hardest-hit part of the sector, the arts, entertainment, and recreation field, gained 10,000 jobs. An estimated 820,000 jobs are still lost.

The Orthodox Union, which supports synagogues in addition to advocacy, youth groups, and other initiatives, has announced a $100,000 “Back to Shul” program. It will give grants of between $2,000 and $5,000 to fund “creative and replicable programming” that encourages renewed synagogue attendance as vaccination rates rise and people can safely gather in groups.

Christie’s will offer the private collection of recently deceased artists Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason at auction in May, with the estimated proceeds of as much as $7.4 million to benefit their foundations, which support art education. The collection contains about 100 works, including paintings and sculpture, many of them acquired by the couple from peers such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Lee Bontecou.


MAZON CEO Abby Leibman seizing the moment on hunger policy


Abby J. Leibman has worked in policy and direct service for more than 30 years, spending the last decade as president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Yet she says this moment is unique in her career, in part because the Biden administration is broadening the role of government in a way that she says is helpful to the work MAZON does as a policy advocate and a grantmaker on the issue of food insecurity broadly and also among veterans, Native Americans and LGBTQ seniors. “The Biden administration is a radical departure from its predecessors, including that of other Democrats, and this is where the comparisons to FDR come up,” she told eJewishPhilanthropy in an interview, referring to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal, the programs, projects and reforms he enacted in response to the Great Depression. “It’s the idea that the government is there to help people, that it is a solution, a partner and a support.” 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Helen Chernikoff: If you were sitting and talking to a friend over coffee about what’s new at MAZON, what would you say?

Abby J. Leibman: We have two new advocacy priorities: single mothers and Puerto Rico. When MAZON adopts one of these new priorities, the first thing we do is research the issues and then create awareness that there are food insecurity challenges that are unique for these populations. Single moms are an area in which I had both experience and an interest due to the work I did as head of the California Women’s Law Center. When you look at who the essential workers are, and who’s in poverty in this country, those categories are overlapping. These are women, and many of them are single mothers, and many of them are women of color. The pandemic is a moment of awareness, and we want to take advantage of that moment. The issue of Puerto Rico came up in the last six to eight months. During the pandemic, when we could see how critical food insecurity was in this country, it was evident that people in Puerto Rico were struggling in ways that they shouldn’t have to. 

HC: How do you define “food insecurity?”

AJL: It means a person doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. Parents might skip meals so that their children can eat. That term might lack the emotional impact that speaking about “hunger” has. I think people are sophisticated enough consumers of both policy and rhetoric to understand that when we talk about the tens of millions of Americans who are hungry we don’t mean that they haven’t had lunch yet, we mean that they may never have lunch. I don’t balk at using the term “hunger,” but “food insecurity” is the technical term. The new secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is making a further rhetorical change to talk about “nutrition insecurity” because he is concerned about the quality of food and nutrition as well.

Read the full interview here.


Of Oysters and Israel (Yom Ha’atzma’ut 5781)


“One article changed my whole view of Zionism. Since I’d grown up in a strongly Zionist environment, from home to day school to camp, believing that Israel could do no wrong, the article should have produced a crisis, and maybe even threatened my attachment to the Zionist idea. Yet, it did the exact opposite,” writes Andrés Spokoiny in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Celebration: “[T]his Yom Ha’atzma’ut I’m not celebrating Israel’s outstanding achievements, even though there are many. Actually, I willfully ignore them. You know what I celebrate? That one can celebrate a Jewish holiday without needing to request a vacation day, that one can fight with the next-door neighbor and not worry he’ll judge all Jews based on that behavior, that one doesn’t need to have a permanent, nagging feeling of being different, that Jews are finally entitled to their own mistakes and achievements, and yes, to right of royally messing up, as we many times do.”

Dayeinu!: “That’s the deceivingly epic goal of Zionism: … To start the slow but liberating process of healing the disease of exile and pathological self-awareness. As Ben Gurion beautifully said, “to be like all other peoples, enjoying self-determination in its sovereign nation.” All the rest — the Wazes, the medical achievements, the high-tech, the Nobel Prizes — all that is a bonus…”

Read the full piece here.


Boards bring campaigns to life


“In January 2021, The Lapin Group conducted a survey of Jewish lay and professional leadership and clergy across the country to learn and stay more current about the nonprofit community and their philanthropic and organizational needs and expectations. The feedback was clear: Board development and engagement is forever challenging – before, during, and anticipated after COVID,” writes Avrum Lapin in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Boards need to lead: It is something that we see and hear frequently, and as boards are constantly changing and – even as boards cede additional operational ground to professionals – the need for strong board development strategies remains critical and ever present. And yet with the resiliency, changes, and adaptations that we have all made and experienced, particularly over the past year, the importance of engaged and intentional board leadership remains constant and true. We still expect and count on boards to consider visions, to weigh real life options, and to lead by example.”

Process counts: “Board work is an ongoing process, and is both challenging and fulfilling. It is important to remember that an engaged board is critical. And when messaging, goals, and strategy are well planned, aligned, and clear, support among board members and beyond will generally follow, thus mitigating the challenge of navigating individual interests and agendas.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Building Bridges: Fuente Latina founder Leah Soibel is working to change the way the Spanish-speaking world views Israel by educating Hispanic journalists on the nuances of everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Jewish state’s national vaccination campaign, Gabby Deutch writes in Jewish Insider. “Hispanics, in general, don’t understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Soibel said. Part of the reason, she claimed, is that the Jewish and Hispanic communities view each other as unrelated, with little in common: “The Hispanic media aren’t covering what is going on in the Jewish community and the Jewish community isn’t talking about what’s happening in the neighboring Hispanic community,” she argued, but “we have so much in common.” [JI]

Listen Up: In an opinion piece for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jen Pauliukonis asserts that philanthropists should take last week’s announcement of a massive federal investment in gun violence prevention as a sign that there’s a big role for them to play. The existing movement of both national and grassroots groups focused on this issue paved the way for the new initiative, and philanthropies interested in mitigating the problem of gun violence should invest in them and learn from them, she said. “Top-down mandates and assumptions from large advocacy groups and well-intentioned foundations miss the point and the potential of these relationships,” Pauliukonis concludes. [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Go There: Austin Detweiler praises the cheesy fundraising pitch in Philanthropy Daily piece that encourages nonprofits to embrace that aspect of their work. While it’s not necessary during an in-person meeting, remote fundraising — which is most fundraising, these days — requires a heavier hand in order to create urgency and move a donor to “act now.” “A traditional salesman sells goods. The nonprofit fundraiser is selling a vision of the world,” Detweiler urges. [PhilanthropyDaily]

New Relationship: Philanthropy Together helps people start giving circles. Grapevine offers a donation technology. Now the two groups have formed a partnership, Alyssa Wright writes in Forbes. They had started talking about working together in 2019, the pandemic accelerated their collaboration, and they are launching the Global Giving Circle Directory this month. “Now, it will be easy to introduce a much broader range of donors to giving circles and give them the tools to directly discover and browse ways to participate and invest,” said Grapevine’s founder, Emily Rasmussen. [Forbes]

Community Comms

Apply: The Jewish Women’s Archive seeks a remote or Boston-based Marketing Manager.

Apply: Yachad Chicago is looking for a Director of Development Apply Here.

REGISTER! Join Pardes North America for a community e-gathering on April 19th! Register here and watch this!

Apply: The Jewish Council of the Emirates Community Centre seeks a Dubai-based Executive Director

Apply: The Kirsh Foundation seeks a full-time NY-based Program and Special Initiatives Coordinator.

Apply: Want to join the team at Jewish Insider/eJewish Philanthropy? We’re looking for a top-notch philanthropy editor. Learn more here.

Be featured: Email us to inform the eJP readership of your upcoming event, job opening, or other communication.

Word on the Street

The Wexner Heritage Program announced three new cohorts of volunteer leaders from Cleveland, New England and Portland, Oregon… The Jerusalem Cinematheque’s Israel Film Archiverecently launched a website featuring Israeli cinema through its generations… A group of students is demanding that Berkeley Law reject a recent $10 million gift from the Helen Diller Foundation to a university institute focused on Israel and Jewish studies… Harbor Compliance and Foundation Center released a white paper, “How Compliance Affects Grantseeking: A Guide For Foundations, Nonprofits and Fundraising Professionals”…

Pic of the Day

GPO video screenshot

73rd Independence Day official celebration in Jerusalem last night



Former deputy secretary of the Treasury and member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Sarah Bloom Raskin
Psychiatrist, movie producer and philanthropist, Dr. Henry George Jarecki… Former U.S. Solicitor General, now a professor at Harvard Law School, Charles Fried… Senior advisor at Covington & Burling, he was previously a fifteen-term member of Congress, Howard Lawrence Berman… Duke University professor, physician, biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate (2012), Robert Lefkowitz… Professor of German and comparative literature at New York University, Avital Ronell… Former City Controller of Philadelphia and a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Alan Butkovitz… CEO of DMB Strategic, David Brand… Founder and director of the graduate school in the decorative arts at Bard College in Dutchess County, New York, Susan Weber… Slingerlands, New York attorney, Deborah R. Liebman… Author and executive director at American Press Institute, Tom Rosenstiel… The Rebbe of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty, a position he assumed in 1984 at age 25, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer… Managing partner, CEO and chief investment officer of Hudson Bay Capital Management, Sander R. Gerber… CEO of the New Israel Fund, Daniel Sokatch… Actor, comedian, producer and director, Seth Rogen…  Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder of the Truman National Security Project, Rachel Kleinfeld, Ph.D…. Basketball coach of the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, Joe Pasternack… SVP of government affairs at Cross River Bank, Y. Phillip Goldfeder… Co-founder and co-CEO of theSkimm, Carly Zakin… Director of grants and operations at the Foundation For Middle East Peace, Kristin McCarthy… Founder and CEO of Stoop, Zach Ehrlich… Social entrepreneur, environmental activist and human rights activist, Erin Schrode