Your Daily Phil: Making Jewish spaces inclusive for 5784 + N.Y. food assistance for Rosh Hashanah

Good Friday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on efforts being made across the country to make Jewish communal spaces more accessible and inclusive, and feature opinion pieces from Andrés Spokoiny and Rabbi Marc Eichenbaum. Also in this newsletter: Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Penny Pritzker and Sam Altman. We’ll start with food assistance programs in New York ahead of the High Holy Days. Shana tova u’metuka!

For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent Jewish Insider, eJewishPhilanthropy and The Circuit stories, including: Harriet Schleifer looks to maintain Jewish unity as new Conference of Presidents chair; Thirty years on, are the Oslo Accords still relevant?; The political lessons of Oslo reverberate on the Israeli right 30 years later. Print the latest edition here.

David Greenfield recalled his surprise when a neighbor in Brooklyn who had “always been successful” called recently to tell him he had made no money in the past year. “Jewish poverty is very real and it’s much more diverse than you would think,” Greenfield, CEO of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected financial stability for many, and Jewish New Yorkers were not spared. A study conducted by the UJA-Federation of New York in 2021 found that one in seven adults in Jewish households in the New York metropolitan area is poor. An additional one in 10 Jewish adults is “near poor,” defined by the study as living just above the poverty line in households that also struggle to make ends meet and often are not eligible for government benefits and services.

To prepare for Rosh Hashanah, Met Council, the 50-year-old New York City-based nonprofit, is distributing some $5 million in food at 141 locations in New York City’s five boroughs and parts of Long Island, upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Twenty of the sites are owned by the Met Council. The other sites are run through collaboration with nonprofits, synagogues and other groups.

Throughout the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, scores of volunteers and Met Council staff prepared food at distribution sites around New York, which will be delivered to roughly 200,000 people. The packages include Rosh Hashanah staples such as apples and honey, matzah ball soup and chicken. The distribution, which is the largest High Holy Day kosher food distribution in the U.S., is being funded through a recently launched emergency campaign.

Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, which has locations in Flatbush and Borough Park in Brooklyn and Forest Hills, Queens, has also spent the month in overdrive to feed New Yorkers in need for the High Holy Days.

Alexander Rapaport, Masbia’s executive director, told eJP that the group aims to raise $946,800 in September alone through a crowd-funding campaign where donors can choose exactly which meals they would like to sponsor at which location.

Throughout the High Holy Day season, Masbia plans to distribute approximately 10,000 food packages and serve 28 holiday meals in-house — at its three sites combined, for a total of 84 meals.

Read the full report here.

All Access

Illustrative. A father helps his son blow a shofar. (Geoff Manasse/Getty Images)

“Which of the following best describes the areas [in your synagogue] which are accessible to members of your community with physical disabilities? 1) The entrance, outdoor spaces, social hall, classrooms, and bathrooms; 2) The above PLUS the ark, bimah, and mezuzot on all doorposts; 3) The above AND we have a pushcart for the Torah for anyone to carry it; 4) None of the above.” This is but one question in a new interactive inclusion quiz for the Jewish community to assess its accessibility that was developed by Matan, an organization that works to improve inclusion for people with disabilities and their families. The launch is meant to dovetail with communities considering their intentions for 5784, which Matan leadership hopes will make the forthcoming year one of inclusion in Jewish spaces, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Make it a priority: “Whether disabilities are visible or invisible, statistically speaking, the prevalence is undeniable; in an era of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, we must live the Jewish value of being responsible for one another and making sure that we all experience true belonging,” said Dori Frumin-Kirshner, CEO of Matan. “Disability inclusion is too often an afterthought. Our hope is that, year round, inclusion and accessibility for people in the Jewish community with mental health challenges, neurodiversities, mobility issues, etc. become much less of an ‘us versus them’ and much more of a ‘we’ collective.”

COVID-19’s legacy: The pandemic taught Jewish organizations that they’d have to be nimble and think outside of the box. But even the most accessible congregations didn’t see COVID coming. “So many of the things that would make Jewish communal life more accessible for people with disabilities made it more accessible for the whole community during the pandemic,” Naomi Yadin-Mendick, a federation board member and chair of its disability inclusion committee, said, citing technologies that improved videoconferencing. “In some ways, it made things more isolating for some people with disabilities, especially depending on what the disability is and and where they are geographically. But on the other hand, I think it’s opened some things up radically.”

Read the full report here.

Powerful medicine

Yamim Noraim: A mirror to our hidden self-deception

Woman seated with her clasped hands, fingers laced, resting on an open book on her lap.
Ben White on Unsplash

“We think that our view of ourselves is the most accurate. After all, who can know me better than I know myself? We spend most of our argumentative power supporting these delusions, instead of considering the evident, often obvious holes in them,” writes Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Dangerously oblivious: “Like the proverbial frog in hot water, we change slowly and without awareness. First, we cross one moral boundary, then another, and little by little we become people that our former selves wouldn’t recognize. … The process of teshuva (critical introspection) asks a terrible question: Will my former self recognize me? What would he say about the person I have become? How horrified would he be about my moral lapses, or the things I tolerate in myself and others?”

The antidote: “This is not about returning to a mythical past. In fact, much of the political dysfunction we experience now is due to the fallacy that we can return to a past that never existed. Rather, the Yamim Noraim offer us a chance to imagine how a purer, less cynical self would evaluate ourselves. … Judaism creates a virtuous cycle of awareness, willingness and action. Going back to go forward; dancing a beautiful ballet of past and future, of promise and challenge. Trying to be again who we should have never ceased being, but also daring to be more and better. ”

Read the full piece here.

The Torah of Leadership

Harnessing hope on Rosh Hashanah

Getty Images

“In a world with increasing rates of anxiety and fear of an uncertain future, how do we remain so confident on Rosh Hashanah and embrace the uncertainty of our fate with happiness and joy?” writes Rabbi Marc Eichenbaum, a research associate for Yeshiva University’s Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership, as a guest contributor to Erica Brown’s weekly column for eJewishPhilanthropy, “The Torah of Leadership.”

‘Grounded hope’: “[Researcher C.R.] Snyder conducted a study in which community leaders were asked to name the most hopeful people they knew. The results showed three commonalities: goals, pathways (or plans), and a belief in human agency. Hopeful people aren’t those dealt a more favorable deck of cards. They are the people who are able to withstand the most difficulty because their goals and their belief in human agency propel them to focus on their suffering less. Because they keep their eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel and have a strategy to get there, they do not live with constant worry.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Strengthening the Ecosystem: In Jewish Boston, Kara Baskin looks at a new initiative in Bean Town to boost cooperation between Jewish day schools. “Stronger Together is aptly named: it’s a collaboration initiative designed in partnership with the leaders of Greater Boston’s 14 Jewish day schools, The Beker Foundation and Combined Jewish Philanthropies. It operates with a clear philosophy—schools are stronger when they work together toward common goals. The program is led by Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools… ‘We bring together schools of all different sizes, all points of view, with their own unique personalities, with the overall goal of strengthening the ecosystem through collaborative initiatives that help us do three things: provide consistently high-quality education at all the schools, bring that education to more kids and make our schools more efficient to drive further affordability,’ says Stronger Together director Aimee Close.” [JewishBoston]

[Insert Joke About Long Sermons Here]: In The New York Times, Sarah Maslin Nir profiles Michele Lowe, a former marketing executive who is helping 16 rabbis with their High Holy Days divrei Torah this year. “Call her the Rabbi Whisperer. Over the past eight years, Michele Lowe has emerged as a resource for dozens of rabbis, becoming — to her surprise — something like a college-essay coach for the rabbinate… ‘I call myself the “Jew in the pew,”’ Ms. Lowe said in a recent interview during a break between clients. ‘I come and say, “I am here, and what do you want me to be thinking about for the next 12 months?”’… Her advice does not come cheap. Ms. Lowe charges $400 for each one-hour coaching session. That fee includes her prep work: reading and editing the rabbis’ sermons… Some of Ms. Lowe’s clients are confidential, concerned to be seen as needing a crutch. At first, Dara Frimmer, a rabbi at Temple Isaiah on Los Angeles’s Westside, was reluctant to share that she had sought help on a sermon. ‘There is a fear that rabbis have to be wholly original and brilliant and poised and always have the right words,’ Rabbi Frimmer said. But she came to realize that turning to community in a time of need was a profoundly Jewish ideal.” [NYTimes]

Around the Web

In a Rosh Hashanah video greeting, Israeli President Isaac Herzog called on world Jewry to “open our hearts” and listen after a challenging year…

The Jewish Agency for Israel tabulated the global Jewish population at 15.7 million people, with 40.1% living in the U.S. and 45.8% in Israel…

Jewish Federations of North America’s campaign to get people to write Rosh Hashanah messages to imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has resulted in more than 2,100 letters being written since it launched last week…

The Jerusalem Post named Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, the most influential Jew of 2023…

President Joe Biden selected Penny Pritzker, the former commerce secretary and member of the prominent Jewish philanthropic family in Chicago, to serve as the U.S.’ special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery…

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed he will meet with Elon Musk next week amid the billionaire’s feud with the Anti-Defamation League and accusations that he amplifies antisemitism on his social media platform, X (previously known as Twitter)…

The Codex Sassoon — the oldest most complete Hebrew Bible — will go on permanent display in ANU: Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv beginning Oct. 11. The tome was purchased for the museum earlier this year by Alfred Moses

Earlier this month, Israeli President Isaac Herzog reportedly asked French President Emmanuel Macron for help in lifting European sanctions on Moshe Kantor, a Russian oligarch who has donated widely to Jewish causes in Israel and Europe and previously served as president of the European Jewish Congress…

Project Kesher, which supports Jewish identity and renewal in post-Soviet states, received a first-of-its-kind $50,000 grant from the Jewish LGBTQ Donor Network to support its efforts on behalf of LGBTQ refugees from Ukraine and Russia in Israel. The network also donated $50,000 grants to the Israeli LGBTQ+ Medical Society and U.S.-based Keshet

David Bocarsly, executive director of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California; Rabbi Noah Farkas, president & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, penned an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post arguing in favor of their state’s ethnic studies program, despite the fact that a “just a handful of districts are using or considering curricula we find problematic”…

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with dozens of Chabad rabbis in the country ahead of Rosh Hashanah, wishing them a happy new year and calling for greater support from Israel…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/JCC Greater Boston

Students from the JCC Greater Boston’s after-school program Discovery Club make Rosh Hashanah cards this week that will be scanned and sent to children at the JCC in Dnipro, Ukraine, one of Boston’s sister cities.

The Boston-area JCC is also planning to hold a Hanukkah celebration with its Dnipro counterpart in December “as a continued reminder for the children and families in Ukraine that they have friends thinking about and supporting them during difficult times,” a JCC Greater Boston spokesperson said.


Nina Jacobson attends the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA) which will honor outstanding members of the Los Angeles community at its annual Big Bash Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 15, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.
John Wolfsohn/Getty Images

Film executive, she produced “The Hunger Games” film series, Nina Jacobson

FRIDAY: Founder and former CEO of Elektra Records, he is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Jac Holzman… Professor at the Hebrew University and a leading scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Emanuel Tov… Chief rabbi of Migdal HaEmek, also known as the “Disco Rabbi,” Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman… Professor of education at Boston University’s Wheelock College, Diane Levin… NYC-based composer and multi-instrument musician, Ned Rothenberg… Business litigator in the Miami office of Gunster, Aron U. Raskas… Managing partner and chief technology officer at Differential Ventures in Philadelphia, he is also the founder of several kosher restaurants, David Magerman… NPR’s media correspondent, David Folkenflik… Actor, best known for his roles on “Sports Night” and “The Good Wife,” Josh Charles… Comedian, writer and actress, Kira Soltanovich… VP of leadership at the Anti-Defamation League, Deborah Leipzig… Chicago public schoolteacher, event organizer and fundraiser, Shayla Rosen… Author and longtime education correspondent at NPR, Anya Kamenetz… Data scientist, economist and author of the 2017 New York Times bestseller Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz… Model and Israeli beauty queen titleholder, Yael Markovich… Partner in CHW Strategic Advisors and managing director of Harmon Retail Holdings, Jonah Raskas… CFO at the Israel on Campus Coalition, Tomer Zvi Elias… Chief strategy officer at PW Communications, Amanda Bresler… Reporter at The New York Times on the Metro desk, Eliza Shapiro… Singer and actress, she was the 2009 winner of the Israeli version of “A Star is Born,” Roni Dalumi… Miss Israel 2012, Shani Hazan

SATURDAY: Argentinian physician, author of books on gender relations, Esther Katzen Vilar… Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives for multiple non-consecutive terms, in 2015 she became the president of Plaza Health Network, Elaine Bloom… NYC-based real estate investor and the founder of Cammeby’s International Group, Rubin “Rubie” Schron… Defense policy advisor to Presidents Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 and member of several D.C.-based think tanks, Richard Perle… Montebello, Calif., resident, Jon Olesen… Pompano Beach, Fla., resident, Shari Goldberg… Sheriff of Nantucket County, Mass., James A. Perelman… Founder and CEO of OurCrowd, Jonathan MedvedFern Wallach… Award winning illusionist, who has sold tens of millions of tickets to his shows worldwide, David Copperfield (born David Seth Kotkin)… Anthropology professor at Cornell, his work centers on Jewish communities and culture, Jonathan Boyarin… Director of stakeholder engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women, he is a nephew of former Senator Herb Kohl, Dan Kohl… President and rabbinic head of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in Riverdale, N.Y., Rabbi Dov Linzer… Writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine, Jason Zengerle… Israeli windsurfer, he won bronze in Atlanta 1996 and gold in Athens 2004, Israel’s first Olympic gold medalist, Gal Fridman… Founder and chairman of “Over The Rainbow – the Zionist Movement,” a World Zionist Congress faction, Tzvi (Tziki) Avisar… VP of public affairs marketing at Meta / Facebook, Josh Ginsberg… President of basketball operations for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Koby Altman… National field director at the Israel on Campus Coalition, Lauren Morgan Suriel… VP of growth at RubiconMD, Suzy Goldenkranz… NYC-based wealth reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Louise Ensign… Israeli actress who played the lead role in the spy thriller “Tehran,” Niv Sultan… Winner of an Olympic bronze medal for Israel in Taekwondo at the 2020 Games, Avishag Semberg

SUNDAY: U.S. Senator (R-IA) since 1981, Chuck Grassley… Investment banker who once served as a NYC deputy mayor, Peter J. Solomon… Newbery Honor-winning author of many young adult books, some with Jewish themes, Gail Carson Levine… Rochester attorney, he has held positions at the UJA-Federation of NYC and the Rochester Jewish Federation, Frank Hagelberg… Professional tennis player who achieved a world ranking of No. 5 in 1980, Harold Solomon… Comedian, writer and actress, she was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show,” Rita Rudner… Israeli businessman with real estate holdings in Israel and NYC, Mody Kidon… Author and graphic designer, Ellen Kahan Zager… Former member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Rina Frenkel… Rabbi of the New North London Synagogue with over 3,400 members, Jonathan Wittenberg… Consultant at Quick Hits News, Elliott S. Feigenbaum… Washington columnist for the British daily newspaper The Guardian and author of two books on the Obama presidency, Richard Wolffe… Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) starting two months ago, Mandy Krauthamer Cohen… Former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Obama, now a partner at Seven Letter, Adam Abrams… Elected official on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education, Nick Melvoin… Former Obama White House speechwriter who has since written a bestselling comedic memoir, David Litt… Senior global product manager for CathWorks, Adina Shatz… Founder of the Israel Summit at Harvard and leader of General Atlantic’s Israel office, Max August