Your Daily Phil: Leveling the playing field in Israel’s high-tech scene

Good Thursday morning. 

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the Israeli employment nonprofit itworks helping Bedouin Israelis find work in the high-tech sector and on Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch’s fiery keynote address at the Re-Charging Reform Judaism conference in New York. We also look into the background of Yale’s new president, Maurie McInnis, and feature an opinion piece by Steven F. Windmueller, offering his vision for the Jewish communal sector in light of the community’s current challenges. Also in this newsletter: Rabbi Michael WaldenRachel Gildiner and Sam Altman. We’ll start with a photography exhibition by Tel Aviv high school students.

Hands raised to the sky, a holy book, a man wrapped in a tallit and tefillin, a statue of Jesus on the cross bathed in the yellow light of stained-glass windows, a person playing a drum.

These are some of the photographic interpretations of the concept of prayer — put on display at the Neve Schechter – Center for Contemporary Jewish Culture and Arts on Tuesday—  by the students of Tel Aviv’s Ironi Neve Tzedek, a high school for students with learning disabilities, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross from the exhibit opening.

For eight years, the high school has been encouraging students to explore photography. In recent years, this has expanded to other forms of visual art as well, including painting, graffiti, video art and animation, all of which were also displayed at Neve Schechter, a compound on the edge of Tel Aviv’s tony Neve Tzedek neighborhood that contains a Masorti/Conservative synagogue, a gallery space and a cafe.

The photography program was made possible with financial support from Adir and Tamara Waldman, who immigrated to Neve Tzedek from the United States and developed ties to the school as part of an effort to connect and strengthen the local community.

“Our students have learning disabilities, which makes it hard for them to express themselves verbally,” the school’s principal, Tirza Judelewicz, told eJP at the event. “So we looked for tools that would allow them to express themselves. The camera is particularly available, especially today when everyone has a smartphone.”

Judelewicz said the Waldmans made the initial purchase of the cameras for the school and continue to support the photography program, including by professionally printing the students’ photographs and having them put on display at Neve Schechter. Two of the Waldmans’ children have also done bar and bat mitzvah projects with the school, the couple noted.

“The kids see their photographs printed professionally, and then they can take them home and show their families. It’s really cool,” Adir Waldman told eJP, inspecting the photographs at the exhibit opening.

Getting misty-eyed at times, Judelewicz said the photography and arts classes gave the students a much-needed boost. She noted many of them come from Tel Aviv’s lower socioeconomic neighborhoods and communities, including children of foreign workers and asylum seekers. (The photographs on display also reflected that multicultural milieu, with many of the images featuring Christian and Muslim iconography.)

“We’ve found students who are very, very, very talented,” she said. “They experience success, and that is the most important thing for us. Because they face so much frustration and so much non-success and rejection. And this gives them a platform and a feeling of being capable.”

Tamara Waldman, who said she was partially drawn to the school because her own brother has a learning disability, also noted this point, saying photography is an area where the students are on equal footing with their peers. “It’s very empowering for them,” she said.

A mother of one of the students involved who spoke at the event, but asked not to be named, agreed with Waldman and Judelewicz about the power of the photography project for her son. “The photography project empowers him so much,” she said. “He waits for the day to start just so he can do photography. It does so much, so much. He’s always with a camera now.”

Read the full report here.


Israeli employment nonprofit itworks looks to even playing field, make high-tech jobs accessible to all

An instructor teaches Bedouin Israeli students as part of a course to prepare them for careers in high-tech run by the nonprofit itworks, in an undated photograph.
An instructor teaches Bedouin Israeli students as part of a course to prepare them for careers in high-tech run by the nonprofit itworks, in an undated photograph. Courtesy/itworks

Ifat Baron’s mantra, if she had one, would possibly be “employment is a vessel for social change.” It is a phrase she uses often to explain the how and why of itworks, the nonprofit social startup she founded in 2006. Today, itworks is an all-woman-staffed organization with 25 women from the different communities they serve, including Arabs, single mothers and new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine. The nonprofit has had 250 job placements every year within the Arab sector, roughly 120 job placements every year for single mothers and women under the poverty line and, more recently, has placed approximately 120 Russian and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants in high-tech jobs, reports Judith Sudilovsky for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Starting behind: Even if Arab students graduate as engineers with top grades from the same universities as Jewish Israeli students, they are typically at a disadvantage from the get-go because many of the Jewish students have spent three years in elite army intelligence units such as the famed 8200 Unit, Israel’s equivalent of the National Security Agency in the U.S., giving them connections and real-world experience. itworks’ “vocational boot camp” is structured to help the Arab students overcome those hurdles and is run in coordination with an employer to align the skills taught with the employers’ needs. If all goes to plan, at the end of the course the majority of the students are prepared to start work, she said. “I never talk with a company about ‘corporate social responsibility.’ I don’t want them to take my engineers because of social responsibility,” said Baron. “I want them to take my engineers because they are talented.”

A foot in the door: itworks recently opened a course for 20 participants from the predominantly Bedouin city of Hura in the Negev, in cooperation with Qualitest, a quality assurance engineering company that provides technology solutions from software to cyber and AI. Qualitest’s senior vice president, Avigdor Brachya, said that he was impressed with the 20 applicants that they have accepted to the training course. “itworks has a good resume with this kind of population and they really made a good connection between us and candidates in the city of Hura,” Brachya told eJP. “We don’t just want to train 20 people; we want at the end of the course to hire all those 20 people. The end of the course is only the beginning of their progress at Qualitest, it is just to help them put their foot in the door.”

Read the full report here.


At Re-Charging Reform Judaism, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch calls for movement to double down on Zionism as it looks to the future

Illustrative. Dan Brown/eJewishPhilanthropy

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch delivered a forceful keynote address yesterday at the Re-Charging Reform Judaism conference at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, calling for the Reform movement to reconsider its partnerships with progressive groups and double down on its Zionist commitments, and raising concerns about the next generation of Jewish leaders, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Dark times: “The world has changed dramatically since we last convened one year ago. The skies of Jewish life are cloudier, the horizons, darker. We had not planned to gather this year, but the cascading impacts of Oct. 7 on Israel and world Jewry, convinced us that the hour demands intense and focused attention by the North American Reform movement,” Hirsch said in his speech at the conference, which began yesterday and runs through today, featuring speakers from a wide array of national and international Jewish organizations.

If I could turn back time: “From within, while most American Jews are committed to Israel, and consider the Jewish state an important component of their own Jewish identity, the younger the generation, the greater the opposition, not only to specific policies of the Israeli government, but to the very existence of this, or any, Jewish state,” Hirsch said. “Had we known that five years, 10 years, after b’nai mitzvah some of our own graduates would be leading anti-Zionist campus protests in the name of the very Jewish values they said they learned from us — now, looking back, would we have changed anything in our curricula and other identity-building efforts?”

Clerical issues: “Are we comfortable with the ordination of anti-Zionist Reform clergy?” Hirsch asked the audience. “I am not opposed to anti-Zionist Jews receiving support from anti-Zionist clergy and educators. If a community wishes to hire such leaders, bless them. But why our movement? Let us leave that to other seminaries. Let us stand for the principles we have stated and restated since the mid-20th century: We are a Zionist movement.”


New Yale President Maurie McInnis received high marks from local Jewish leaders for handling of protests at Stony Brook

President Maurie McInnis attends 25th annual Stars Of Stony Brook Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on April 29, 2024 in New York City. John Lamparski/Getty Images

As Maurie McInnis prepares to take the helm at Yale University, Jewish leaders on Long Island and at Stony Brook University, where the art historian has been president since 2020, praised her for avidly defending free speech while also protecting Jewish students amid the anti-Israel campus protests that have roiled the New York school, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen for Jewish Insider.

Encampment approach: During her tenure at Stony Brook, a SUNY public university in Suffolk County, McInnis “handled the encampments very well,” Mindy Perlmutter, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council Long Island, told JI. When encampments sprung up in the spring — and included antisemitic activity such as inhibiting the ability of Hillel to host its annual Jewish American Heritage Month celebration — McInnis said that anti-Israel demonstrations that comply with school policy will be permitted to continue. Ultimately, she shut down the encampments on May 2 after 22 Stony Brook students, two faculty members and five others were arrested for violating various laws.

Balancing act: Stony Brook Hillel’s executive director, Jessica Lemons, said that McInnis, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale in the 1990s and will be the university’s 24th president — and first woman in the post — “will leave behind big shoes.” Lemons added, “Since October, our campus has seen dozens of protests, anti-Israel events and tables, incidents of doxxing, harassment and intimidation of Jewish students, and much of what other campuses around the country are seeing. It has never been our expectation that our university president would be able to eradicate antisemitism, but rather that she and her administration would do their best to support students on campus, abide by rules set forth by both the first amendment and Title VI, and create an excellent institution of higher learning. By our measure, I believe President McInnis has done that.”

Read the full report here and sign up for Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.


Reimagining the American Jewish communal model

Illustration by arthobbit/Getty Images

“As with all entrenched systems, the Jewish communal institutional model is resistant to change. Transitions often take decades to unfold. The events surrounding Oct. 7 and beyond require us to rethink the Jewish communal narrative, but the changes required must be more dramatic and direct than at any other time,” writes Steven F. Windmueller, professor emeritus of Jewish communal studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Looking back: “Communalism and progressivism have served as the framework of the Jewish community’s organizational system in the U.S. since the 19th century. This model served the community well for 125 years, delivering social services, promoting advocacy initiatives, establishing recreational and cultural activities and creating various religious and educational institutional options. This was a system of silo-based organizations, loosely held together through both federated and denominational umbrella structures. It was designed to compete in the marketplace for brand, member and financial standing… This nonprofit model emulated many of the behaviors and practices that defined the American business model, where competition represented a core behavior and value.”

Forging ahead: “What we are learning is that the existing communal structure and its cultural artifacts will not serve us well moving forward. We need to shift from a reactive communal model to a proactive one as we reframe the case for who we are and what we represent as American Jews, and how we redefine the case for Israel and Zionism as an integral part of Western civilization and the global human story… All that will be required as part of this communal remake begins with the creation of a distinctive 21st-century leadership paradigm.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Not So Compassionate Care: In Jewish Insider, Gabby Deutch explores the growing hostility felt by many Jewish mental health professionals in the United States since Oct. 7, as seen specifically through a blacklist of “therapists/practices with Zionist affiliations” that was created in March. “The only trait shared by the 26 therapists on the list is that they are Jewish. ‘When I saw this whole list created and my name on the list, I was so confused and in disbelief about how, in 2024, this is considered OK. It was a list of Jews,’ said Anna Finkelshtein, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago who immigrated from Russia as a child. ‘I do not post publicly about the conflict or about Israel at all, ever. It feels like the only way to feel safe as a Jew in the mental health field is to publically speak out against Israel and condemn it and call it a genocide.’ The anti-Zionist blacklist is the most extreme example of an anti-Israel wave that has swept the mental health field since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks and the resulting war in Gaza, which has seen the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians. More than a dozen Jewish therapists from across the country who spoke to Jewish Insider described a profession ostensibly rooted in compassion, understanding and sensitivity that has too often dropped those values when it comes to Jewish and Israeli providers and clients. At best, these therapists say their field has been willing to turn a blind eye to the antisemitism that they think is too rampant to avoid. At worst, they worry the mental health profession is becoming inhospitable to Jewish practitioners whose support for Israel puts them outside the prevailing progressive views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [JewishInsider]

Meeting of the Minds: In J. The Jewish News of Northern California, Rabbi Michael Walden of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, Calif., shares his experience bringing a small group of Reform teens to a Jewish law debate in New York. “We had been preparing for months for the Maimonides Moot Court Competition, named for the renowned Torah scholar. Exclusively using Jewish tradition and ethics, the teens focused this year on whether there should be limits on the types of data that social media networks can collect and for what purpose… The Reform Jewish world has its own events, youth groups, retreats and opportunities in abundance. But we intentionally chose to step outside our denominational boundary to engage with broader Jewish traditions and communities. We found that our teens had the opportunity to develop and enrich their Jewish identity without compromising the modern Jewish values that our synagogue is based upon. Current global and local events have made clear the importance of Jewish unity. Yet I hope we do not conflate unity with uniformity… The teens from my synagogue who went to New York now have anchors of Jewish experiences beyond their own and ties that go both ways. I hope, going forward, that we learn from their example.” [J.]

Around the Web

Rachel Gildiner has been hired as the next executive director of the SRE Network. Gildiner has previously served as Hillel International’s chief engagement officer and as executive director of GatherDC

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman joined The Giving Pledge, agreeing to donate the majority of his wealth — estimated to be more than $1 billion — to charitable causes…

Former President Donald Trump is considering giving Elon Musk an advisory role in his administration should Trump take back the White House in November, according to a Wall Street Journal report…

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) renounced his association with Harvard University, from which he received a master’s degree in public policy, over its “inability to stand up for the Jewish community” during his Yeshiva University commencement address yesterday. Fetterman made the remarks early in his speech, which culminated in him receiving the private Orthodox university’s highest honor, the Presidential Medallion, for his advocacy on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people…

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote an open letter to American college students, which he also tweeted out, in which he praised them for having “formed a branch of the Resistance Front” and advised them to study the Quran…

Meta removed from Facebook and Instagram hundreds of fake accounts linked to an Israeli tech firm that is suspected of having used AI-generated comments for pro-Israel messaging…

More than 300 people, including 60 faculty members and several major donors have signed a letter calling on the University of California, Berkeley to cancel the deal outgoing Chancellor Carol Christ made with anti-Israel protesters…

Indie band Bon Iver faced criticism — from both pro- and anti-Israel figures — after it announced it was donating to Israel’s Arab-Jewish grassroots coexistence movement Standing Together and the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Pro-Palestinian fans criticized the band for not condemning Israel, and Israeli fans urged them to speak out about the hostages still in Gaza…

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York held its annual gala last week, an ordinarily festive affair that this year focused on the Israel-Hamas war and rising antisemitism around the world…

The U.K.’s Charity Commission watchdog dropped its four-year investigation into political partisanship against the Campaign Against Antisemitism following a complaint by the liberal Jewish Voice for Labour, declaring that JVL had not demonstrated it has the required legal standing to make such an application…

The British Friends of United Hatzalah raised £1.9 million ($2.42 million) for the Israeli emergency response service at its annual dinner last week…

The U.K.-based The Together Plan raised £200,000 ($254,000) from 769 donors for a Holocaust memorial at the destroyed Jewish cemetery in Brest-Litovsk, Belarus. The crowd-funding campaign is part of an 11-year project that has included salvaging pieces of 1,249 Jewish gravestones…

A driver tried to run over students and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in Brooklyn yesterday as he allegedly yelled “I’m gonna kill all the Jews”… 

Pic of the Day

Patrick Pleul/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Jost Haberland of Haberland Architekten (left) looks on with emotion as Aron Schuster, director of the Central Welfare Office of Jews in Germany, holds a symbolic key to the new Potsdam Synagogue Center in Potsdam, Germany. Schuster was presented with the key at a ceremony on Tuesday celebrating the center’s completion. Construction began in August 2021 and cost around 16.5 million euros. 


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Real estate developer and former chair of the United Jewish Appeal, Larry A. Silverstein

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