Your Daily Phil: Looking toward Israel at 75 + Israeli tech moving stateside

Good Wednesday morning!

For Israel’s Independence Day, which begins there in several hours, the usual activities are planned along with some new ones — official ceremonies, unofficial gatherings, street dancing, a collective firestorm of barbecues at homes and parks across the country. There will be corresponding celebrations in Jewish communities across the Diaspora and even in the online gaming world, where Lost Tribe Esports, a Jewish group for teens and young adults, will be hosting a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on the platform Twitch with a popular Israeli gamer named Snacksss.

But two major Jewish groups in the U.S. are looking beyond this year — to Israel’s 75th birthday in 2023. Though predicting anything in Israel a year out is famously a fool’s errand, the American Zionist Movement and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are beginning to prepare for its next Independence Day — no matter who is prime minister or where COVID-19 stands — and they want to make sure American Jews coordinate their celebrations in a way that’s accessible to the spectrum of those who want to celebrate the state.

The initiative’s goal is to coordinate between Jewish umbrella groups —  JCCs, Jewish federations, religious denominations, youth groups and so forth — to make sure events don’t conflict. The goal is to create a range of options that “micro-target” different segments of Jews, in Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff’s words — a nod to the reality that American Jewish opinion on Israel, even among the vast majority who feel an affinity with the Jewish state, is increasingly diverse. 

“Part of organizing nationally is understanding that old models may not work,” Daroff told eJewishPhilanthropy. “In the past, there might have been one event at Madison Square Garden… As a community we have a more nuanced understanding of where the community is and how the community operates, and also more flexibility in terms of allowing for more creative ways to engage.”

There will be a master calendar, shared branding and a speakers’ bureau as well. AZM Executive Director Herbert Block told eJP that one big difference between the 75th anniversary and Israel’s 50th birthday in 1998 is “the ability to reach people through many platforms.”

Beyond that, Block and Daroff did not provide specific examples of what programming might look like. The website at present is relatively bare-bones; Block and Daroff stressed that the initiative has just launched, and that they’re hoping for a big lineup of celebrations, come what may. Block recalled that when Israel marked its 40th Independence Day, it was amid the First Intifada.

“A lot of the celebratory mood was tempered a little bit because of what was going on in Israel,” he said. “We hope we’ll be in a better situation this time.”


Many of the most valuable Israeli tech companies have major offices in the U.S., study finds


For decades, supporters of Israel in the United States have highlighted the Jewish state’s tech industry as an example of the country punching above its weight and benefiting the world. Now, on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, a new study shows that a large number of Israel’s most valuable tech companies are seeking a home in a new location: the United States, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

A financial boost: Research by the United States-Israel Business Alliance has found that there are 80 Israeli tech unicorns, privately owned companies valued at $1 billion or more, with global or regional headquarters in the United States. The study counts companies with at least one Israeli founder. The 80 companies appear to be the vast majority of all Israeli unicorns. “What we’re really seeing here is the next generation of Israeli tech founders descending on U.S. cities,” Aaron Kaplowitz, president of the business alliance, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “This infrastructure helps new companies raise [money] much more quickly.”

Brain drain: Israeli officials may not be as excited to see valuable companies decamp across the Atlantic. A 2019 study by the Shoresh Institution, an Israeli think tank, found that Israel had lower-than-average labor productivity, low wages and expensive cities. As of 2017, 5.8% of Israelis with a bachelor’s degree, and 11% of those with a Ph.D., had been living abroad for at least three years. The emigration rates “should ring alarm bells in all of the corridors that determine Israel’s national priorities,” that study said.

Read the full piece here.


Why are Jewish and Israel studies programs different from all other studies programs?

Public domain

“There are a growing number of people worried about the narrowing of methodological and political perspectives in the academy, especially in the humanities. This is true for Jewish studies as well,” writes Scott A. Shay, co-founder and chairman of Signature Bank of New York, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Basis of the problem: “As Jonathan Sarna wrote in the Sapir Journal (July 2021), the goal of the early Jewish and Israel studies programs was the objective study of Jewish history and civilization. Many scholars today would claim that even if previous generations were committed to objectivity, they failed to live up to this claim as they had all kinds of unrecognized biases. Today most Jewish and Israel studies scholars would argue that their new revisions are based on the questions and sources previous scholars missed. One could have imagined that such questions would have led to more vigorous debates and more pluralistic syllabi, as well as a range of faculty distinguished by their politics and methodology. But this is not what happened, though it is important to understand what the basis of the problem is and what it is not.”

Faculty position: “The core of the problem is not simply that scholars have become increasingly politically active and almost exclusively on one side of a party line. In May 2021 there was only one petition signed by over 200 scholars that expressed an opinion on the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Neither the petition itself nor the fact that scholars expressed critical views of Israel are the fatal problem. I and many people in the Jewish community disagree with these positions, but there is no question of the right of faculty to take such a stand. Theoretically even a highly and uniformly politicized faculty could do a good job teaching Jewish and Israel studies.”

Read the full piece here.


The fount of overflowing love


“Years ago, I was taking a private tai chi lesson. It was a freezing, late winter afternoon in New York City’s Riverside Park. Like many Jews of my generation, I was attracted to practices of the East. Martial arts have been a lifelong pursuit… The mystical exercise taught to me that cold afternoon by my teacher, Stephe, was called the ‘Wellfont of Overflowing Love.’ The idea was that rather than meet a threatening opponent in kind, with reptilian aggression, one should shower unconditional love on the would-be assailant,” writes Rabbi Andrew Hahn, known as the Kirtan Rabbi, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Moment in time: “‘Set yourself in a stance, and I want you to attack me and get me,’ Stephe instructed. I fully intended to spring on him and hit him. But, just as I was about to move, I felt a warm stream of air pierce the cold. I could not move. I could not attack. We both started to laugh. ‘How did you do… that?’ Stephe answered, ‘Just imagine with all your heart that you are someone who represents unconditional love, such as Jesus or the Buddha — or, since you’re a rabbi, someone from Judaism.’”

The Baal Shem Tov: “Years later, I realized that I could have thought of the Baal Shem Tov… Perhaps the major inside question asked in Hasidic circles is: How did the advent of the Baal Shem Tov change the world? How is all of history, the fabric of being itself, different since the Besht appeared?”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Philanthropy and Fast Fashion: The production of clothing has had a big impact on climate change, but “with its ability to take risks and move quickly, philanthropy can lead the way to carbon-neutral clothing,” Lewis Perkins writes in an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “The most significant portion of carbon emissions [in the clothing industry] — 96 percent — happens in the clothing-manufacturing supply chain. This involves the farms that cultivate the raw materials, the factories that process them, and the facilities that go on to produce the actual garments. But many of these suppliers are small to medium-size enterprises that are typically deemed too risky for traditional sources of capital. That poses challenges to attaining funding to address climate issues. Most clothing brands and retailers also cannot take on the risk of investing in early-stage climate-solution efforts. That’s because fashion brands produce clothing from a shared third-party supply chain of farms and factories, making it difficult for one business to directly invest in environmental upgrades… Philanthropy, however, is particularly well suited for that role. By funding this work now, grant makers can demonstrate what’s possible and then attract financing from commercial lenders and private equity.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Roblox Bucks for Mental Health
: The creator of the online game and social media platform Roblox, David Baszucki, has decided to turn his philanthropy toward mental health causes, particularly treatment of bipolar disorder, which affects 45 million people, Chase Peterson-Withorn writes in Forbes:  “To millions of tweens, Baszucki is better known as his avatar, ‘Builderman.’ He built Roblox into an addictive combination video game and social-media site that rivals YouTube and TikTok for engaging children. The $1.9 billion (revenues) business provides tools for kids to make and sell their own games, and sells a virtual currency, called Robux, that can be spent on games and digital trinkets, like avatars and in-game items. So far the 59-year-old Baszucki has publicly shifted little of his gaming fortune to charity–his known donations represent just a fraction of his estimated $2.1 billion net worth. But the relative newcomer to the world of philanthropy, who has not signed The Giving Pledge, has said both to Bloomberg and in regulatory filings that he will donate the proceeds from his Roblox stock awards to charity. And, thanks to his 9% stake in the company, there could be billions more to come.” [Forbes]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

A new report released by the London-based JPR| Institute for Jewish Policy Research calculates the size of the worldwide Haredi population at about 2.1 million people, out of a total global Jewish population of 15 million, with more than 90% living in Israel and the U.S.…

POGO, or the Power of Giving to Others, has been launched by three members of the London Jewish community. The goal of the online platform is “to integrate charitable giving into the everyday lives of the next generation, by making giving to charity a key part of the way we save and shop with our favorite brands”…

Offi Zisser has joined The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles as an on-the-ground consultant for its grantmaking in Israel. Over the past decade, the foundation and its donors have distributed over $180 million to more than 500 organizations in Israel. This includes $10 million in institutional grants focused on economic development and Jewish engagement…

Adra Lustig was named director of camper and staff experience at Camp Havaya…

Cleveland State University has conferred the honor of distinguished professor on Samantha Baskind for her contributions to the CSU department of art and design, its College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and to the university. Her research focuses on modern American art and Jewish American art and culture. This is the first such honor given by the university to any member of its faculty…

Monday night’s Met Gala, the annual fundraiser for the self-funding Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, raised a record $17.4 million…

Morton Mower, a philanthropist, cardiologist and the co-inventor of the implantable defibrillator, died at 89…

Pic of the Day


Israelis stand in silence in Jerusalem this morning, as sirens sound for two minutes to mark Remembrance Day for fallen Israeli soldiers.


Daniel Milchev/Getty Images

Medalist in the women’s halfpipe event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Arielle Townsend Gold

Former chairman and CEO of American International Group, now chairman and CEO of the Starr Companies, Maurice Raymond “Hank” Greenberg… Rabbi emeritus at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, Zvi Dershowitz… Former executive director of the Texas A&M Hillel, Peter E. Tarlow… Nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution for climate change, previously the U.S. special envoy for climate change in the Obama administration, Todd D. Stern… Former interim executive director of Chizuk Amuno Congregation & Schools in Baltimore, Lee Sherman… Partner at NYC-based Mintz & Gold, Lawrence “Lon” A. Jacobs… Northern Virginia-based portrait artist, Ilisa G. Calderon… Triathlete Joanna Sue Zeiger… Director of congregational education at NYC’s Park Avenue Synagogue, Bradley Solmsen… State attorney for Palm Beach County, Fla., Dave Aronberg… Chair and director at NYC’s department of city planning, Daniel Garodnick… President of national expansion at Veterans Community Project, Jason Kander… Managing director of food programs at NYC’s Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Jessica Chait… Co-founder of Vine and HQ Trivia, Rus Yusupov… VP at BerlinRosen, Allison Fran Bormel… Miami Beach and South Dade Director at AIPAC, Rebecca Leibowitz Wasserstrom… Assistant to the executive producer of ABC’s “General Hospital,” Steven A. Rosenberg… Deputy director of communications for House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Shana Mansbach… Director of client services for ESG at Everfi, Sasha Altschuler… Congressional affairs officer at the Israeli embassy in Washington, Elliot Miller… Chief executive officer of The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC in Cedarhurst, N.Y., Aaron Rosenfeld… Mechal Wakslak… Associate at The Boston Consulting Group, Olivia Breuer

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