Your Daily Phil: Marc Rowan on campus antisemitism, post-Oct. 7 philanthropy

Good Wednesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on Marc Rowan’s views on post-Oct. 7 philanthropy and campus antisemitism and a new initiative by the Jewish Braille Institute to get accessible Passover Haggadot to anyone who needs one, as well a newly filed bias complaint against a California school district. We feature an opinion piece by Ron Shor about the Israeli nonprofit sector and another by David Schraub and Jonathan Jacoby about the merits of adding context to definitions of antisemitism. Also in this issue: Noah FeldmanAaron Lansky and Ruth Fein. We’ll start with a new study of Jewish early childhood education in the Bay Area.

Jewish preschool education in the San Francisco Bay Area can be critically understaffed, hard to find, difficult to get to and challenging for parents to afford. These are among the findings of a new research study, “Exploring the Jewish [Early Childhood Education] Ecosystem,” shared with more than 180 participants who gathered across three locations last month, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

The survey, which was conducted by Rosov Consulting, is a joint research initiative funded by the Koret Foundation and EarlyJ, a collaboration between the Rodan Family Foundation and the Koum Family Foundation that launched in April 2023.

“There hadn’t been this level of research done in our community,” said Danielle Foreman, chief program officer of the Koret Foundation. “From our standpoint, this is a community resource that we wanted to have out there… Our hope is that we will inspire others through the research to be able to find something out of this to fund in collaboration with EarlyJ.”

The study found that 38% of Jewish ECE programs reported being understaffed, and that a sizeable majority — between two-thirds and three-quarters — have fewer students than they are capable of.

The researchers also found that a year of preschool tuition — 46 weeks of care per year on average — ranges from $9,900 to $35,400, with a median of $19,300 per year. In 2021-2022, one out of every five of all families applied for tuition assistance; of the families that applied for it, 93% received tuition assistance, according to the survey. And yet, perhaps counterintuitively, the study found that schools with higher tuition costs had more students.

“Everything starts with early childhood education. That’s where you create your friendships, that’s where you really have community,” said Sharona Israeli-Roth, founding president and executive director of EarlyJ. The Rodan and Koum family foundations provided a combined $12 million over five years to fund EarlyJ, with an additional $2 million for East Bay pilot projects.

The research study, Israeli-Roth added, identifies “what we have currently, what is needed, what we can do and what the world of philanthropy can do, and how to help move the needle in early childhood education.”

As EarlyJ draws interest from organizations outside the Bay Area, Roth-Israeli added, the organization is happy to share what they’ve learned.

“We created [the research], it’s there for the community,” she said. “Because this is our power, to empower others.”

Read the full report here.


Marc Rowan, in an undated photograph.
Marc Rowan, in an undated photograph.

Marc Rowan, who chairs UJA-Federation of New York’s board, said he has no regrets about leading the charge against the the leadership of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, over its handling of campus antisemitism, during an onstage interview with fellow investor David Rubenstein at the Economic Club in Washington, D.C., reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Fighting something else: Rowan said he was compelled to act after seeing that the university’s administration response to antisemitism was “completely misguided.” He said he was hopeful because he believes the antisemitism seen on campuses is driven by ignorance. “While we have an antisemitism problem, I don’t think we’re fighting antisemitism on these campuses. I think we’re fighting something else. We’re fighting anti-Americanism. We’re fighting anti-merit. We’re fighting anti-power. We’re fighting really for the soul of these institutions,” he said. “We went from being the envy of the world. Our academic institutions were the envy of the world. We produced academic excellence and amazing research and amazing students. And somehow we lost our way. That is not what we produce today.”

Mostly positive: Rowan said the responses to his activism have been mixed, but mostly positive from the wider public. “On the one hand, there clearly are members of the board of trustees who are unhappy that I went public. There are members of the faculty who are unhappy that I went public. But I got off an elevator at a hotel in Houston. And someone is looking at me and they’re saying, ‘Are you Mark Rowan?’ And I look at them because we live in a crazy world. I took a chance and said, ‘Yes.’ And all they did was hug me and say thank you. And that, by and large, is what’s happening,” he said. “Telling the truth feels great. You guys should all try it. It’s really good. It’s cleansing. It’s very clarifying. And I had no idea what the reaction was going to be from our employee base, from our partners, from our Middle Eastern partners and from others. And I have to be honest. The vast, vast majority of reaction has been incredibly positive.”

So much to do: Reflecting on the Jewish community’s response to the Oct. 7 terror attacks, Rowan said the ensuing rise in antisemitism has brought many people into the fold. “We are, in the U.S., in the Jewish community, going through a very interesting period of time. Anyone who was on the sidelines is no longer on the sidelines,” Rowan said during the nearly hour-long interview. “The normal budget of UJA is about $225 million a year. This year, they’ll raise $375 [million]. People are off the sidelines. The notion that we would ever see antisemitism in the United States of America is something that has hit people in the most visceral way, and they want to go and change it. The energy we’re seeing, the outpouring of support from people who heretofore had not been engaged in Jewish causes is actually one of the silver linings following Oct. 7, and it’ll be interesting to see how we, as people who are active in the philanthropic world, harness that energy, because there’s nothing but things to do right now.”

Read the full report here.


With new grant, Jewish Braille Institute hopes to get an accessible Haggadah to anyone who needs one

Illustrative. Batya Sperling Milner, who is blind, practices reading Torah with her aunt, Rachel Milner Gillers, and her friend Hannah Jaffee, during a rehearsal for her Bat-Mitzvah at Ohev Shalom synagogue in Washington, DC.
Illustrative. Batya Sperling Milner, who is blind, practices reading Torah with her aunt, Rachel Milner Gillers, and her friend Hannah Jaffee, during a rehearsal for her Bat-Mitzvah at Ohev Shalom synagogue in Washington, DC.

For Judith Schmeidler, a New Yorker in her 60s who has a visual impairment, the nonprofit JBI — founded as the Jewish Braille Institute in 1931 — has been “a very important part of life.” JBI’s services have helped her access large-print versions of Jewish books ranging from biographies of Abraham Joshua Heschel to writings on the weekly parsha. “Before I knew about JBI’s books, nothing was available, I couldn’t participate in a lot of things,” Schmeidler, who has limited eyesight due to Charles Bonnet syndrome, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Haggadot for all: JBI, a nonprofit serving individuals who are blind, have visual impairments or print disabilities, announced earlier this month that upon receiving a $200,000 two-year grant from the New York Community Trust (NYCT), it will be expanding its services to create custom accessible materials in Braille, audio and large-print formats to all New York City-based nonprofits — in most cases free of charge. Included in the updated offering will be a Haggadah campaign, which the organization said aims to get large-print, Braille or audio Haggadot to anyone who might need one at a Passover Seder.

Children’s books, too: Thompson told eJP that the grant will particularly aid Holocaust survivors who are losing their vision. JBI’s services also include children’s books — benefiting both visually impaired children and adults who are losing their eyesight but still want to read to their children and grandchildren. “This is just a launching pad for us,” she said, “we [plan] to increase accessibility around the country, not just New York.”

Read the full report here.


ADL, Brandeis Center file Title VI complaint against Berkeley school system for rampant antisemitism

Getty Images

Students chanting, “Kill the Jews.” Students asking their Jewish classmates what “their number is,” referring to numbers tattooed on Jews during the Holocaust. Teacher-promoted walk-outs in support of Hamas. A second-grade teacher leading a classroom activity where children wrote: “Stop Bombing Babies” on sticky notes to display in the building. Those are some of the incidents endured by K-12 Jewish students in the Berkeley Unified School District that have sparked a Title VI complaint filed today with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.

Willful inaction: The complaint, which was filed jointly by the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Anti-Defamation League, alleges that the district has failed to take action against “severe and persistent” bullying and harassment of Jewish students by peers and teachers since Oct. 7. It states that Berkeley administrators have ignored parent reports, including a letter signed by 1,370 Berkeley community members to the Berkeley superintendent and Board of Education, while knowingly allowing its public schools to become hostile environments for Jewish and Israeli students.

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


Israel’s third sector: A living leadership laboratory

“On Oct. 7, not one but two distinct Israeli forces simultaneously mobilized,” writes Ron Shor, head of the nonprofit management and leadership master’s program at the Rothberg International School of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Rising to the occasion: “With the same urgency as the IDF call-up, Israeli civilians stepped up as if undertaking their own reserve duty. An army of individuals and organizations, volunteers and professionals, began responding to the newly emerging challenges the war caused for civilian life.”

Powerful pivots: “For the past 130-plus days, Israel’s nonprofit sector — already robust prior to Oct. 7 — has galvanized in a show of incredible resilience, innovation and efficiency, demonstrating yet another side of the Start-Up Nation. This astounding and lightning-fast response not only addressed pressing challenges but introduced a host of new initiatives… Demonstrating rapid responses that highlight exceptional management practices, any of these examples could serve as a valuable case study for social impact organizations worldwide.”

Read the full piece here.


Why using more than the IHRA definition strengthens, not undermines, the fight against antisemitism

USC students attend an evening vigil on campus in support of Israel on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

“[D]espite widespread agreement on the need to combat antisemitism, many pundits, stakeholders, civil and human rights activists and Jewish American communal leaders are grappling with the seemingly simple question of ‘What is antisemitism?’” write David Schraub and Jonathan Jacoby of the Nexus Task Force in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

An established standard: “The National Strategy [to Counter Antisemitism] drew on multiple sources for understanding what antisemitism is, including the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition. The framers of the national strategy understood that support for the IHRA definition is widespread and well-entrenched amongst major Jewish stakeholders and civic and governmental bodies worldwide. As a ‘non-legally binding working definition,’ it has played an important role in training, educating and helping to identify instances of antisemitism… At the same time, the National Strategy’s framers also understood that the IHRA definition is too limiting to carry the weight of fighting antisemitism on its own, so they endorsed additional definitional resources — including the Nexus Document — to help sharpen and clarify the strategy’s application.”

Meeting a need: “One of the IHRA definition’s strengths, as the [Jewish Federations of North America] letter notes, is that it recognizes the importance of context. Each of the IHRA’s illustrative examples is a practice that the document says ‘could, taking into account the overall context,’ be antisemitic… This initial flagging of incidents of potential antisemitism is very important, but the IHRA does not provide any guidance beyond that regarding what sort of contextual elements point to a given incident being antisemitic or not. Nobody could look at the IHRA’s core definition — antisemitism loosely defined as ‘a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’ — and feel confident they have all the contextual tools necessary to adjudge complex and complicated cases. This is one of the places where the Nexus definition adds value.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Where Has All the Talent Gone?: In The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jim Rendon looks at the struggles facing nonprofits as C-suite executives are leaving the field in droves. “It’s been a challenge for nonprofits to retain and recruit staff at all levels since the height of the pandemic. CEOs are turning over at rates experts have never seen before. Inflation, high private-sector wages, and stubbornly high housing costs have made it harder to hang on to and attract entry-level and direct-service employees. Now senior-level staff members are leaving, too — and when nonprofits try to fill those roles, qualified people are hard to find… They are no longer willing to put up with the long hours, stress, and overwork that are common at many organizations. C-suite executives are re-prioritizing flexibility and their own quality of life… Organizations are getting creative as they try to lure top talent. Many are increasing salaries, often much more than they thought they would. They are using consultants to fill the gaps while they search, and they are offering more flexible schedules. Some groups are closing down for a week or two a year, says consultant David La Piana. He says one organization is closing down for a whole month each year.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

World’s Oldest Hatred: In the cover story of this month’s Time magazine, Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman examines the history of and current rise in antisemitism around the world. “It can be hard to think clearly and reason calmly about antisemitism. For 15 million Jews around the world, its resilience engenders fear, pain, sadness, frustration, and intergenerational trauma going back to the Holocaust and beyond. The superficial sense of security that many Jews feel on a daily basis in the contemporary world turns out to be paper-thin. Jews know enough of their own familial stories to realize that in historical terms, such moments of safety have often been fleeting, followed by renewed persecution… In the past, antisemites, whether medieval Crusaders or 20th century Nazis, were often proud of their views. Today, thankfully, almost no one wants to be accused of antisemitism… Just because antisemitism is a cyclical, recurring phenomenon does not mean that it is inevitable nor that it cannot be ameliorated. Like any form of irrational hate, antisemitism can in principle be overcome. The best way to start climbing out of the abyss of antisemitism is to self-examine our impulses, our stories about power and injustice, and our beliefs.” [Time]

Funding a Different Path: Billionaire Peter Thiel is extending a fellowship program he started in 2010 that offers $100,000 to students willing to skip college and develop a company instead, reports Gregory Zuckerman in The Wall Street Journal. “Some big successes include Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Ethereum, the blockchain network; Laura Deming, a key figure in venture investing in aging and longevity; Austin Russell, who runs self-driving technologies company Luminar Technologies; and Paul Gu, co-founder of consumer lending company Upstart. When he began his fellowship, Thiel … was disenchanted with leading colleges and convinced they weren’t best suited for many young people. His aim, at least in part, was to undermine the popular view that college was necessary for all students, and that top universities should be accorded prestige and veneration. Since then, public opinion has shifted toward his perspective.” [WSJ]

Around the Web

The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, Conn., received a $300,000 grant to improve security at local Jewish institutions from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

Though United Airlines will restart its daily New York to Tel Aviv flights next month, its offerings from San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., remain on hold…

The Chronicle of Philanthropy considers the success of the “$100 million bet” that George Soros put on Human Rights Watch in 2010…

Aaron Lansky, the president of the Yiddish Book Centeris retiring more than 40 years after founding what became a repository of more than 1.5 million books…

Jenni Asher, a student at the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion California in Los Angeles, is on track to become the country’s first Black woman cantor…

Sheila Weinberg won a seat on the Kiryat Tivon City Council yesterday, making her Israel’s first openly transgender elected official…

Writing in Quillette, Israeli historian Benny Morris accused The New York Times of misrepresenting the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its reporting…

The families of the remaining U.S. citizens being held in Gaza wrote to chaplains of the U.S. House and Senate asking them to offer a prayer for the hostages in each chamber before the State of the Union address…

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency profiles the plight of the thousands of Israeli soldiers who have been wounded — physically and mentally — during the war against Hamas in Gaza…

An event at U.C. Berkeley, featuring an Israel Defense Forces reservist, Ran Bar-Yoshafatwas forced to shut down after a mob of anti-Israel activists attacked the venue…

Ruth Fein, an “absolute giant” of the Boston Jewish community, who volunteered for years in its various institutions, died earlier this month at 96…

Pic of the Day

Over 50,000 people attend the traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City today, during Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days) of Sukkot.
Courtesy/Foundation for Jewish Camp

Members of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Educators Trip visit Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the communities hit hardest on Oct. 7, last week.

During the visit, they heard from the father of Sivan Elkabets, an NJY Camp alum who was murdered in the kibbutz during the attacks.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Lightrocket via Getty Images

President of The New York Public Library, Anthony W. Marx

World-renowned architect and designer, born as Frank Owen Goldberg, Frank Owen Gehry… Winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1972, professor (now emeritus) at Brown University since 1958, Leon Cooper… Israeli jurist, she was the first woman to serve as president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch… Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, San Diego, Linda Preiss Rothschild… Retired executive director of the Montreal chapter of ORT, Emmanuel Kalles… Actress and singer, Ilene Susan Graff… Former State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, now a visiting professor at Georgetown, Ira Niles Forman… New York Times op-ed columnist and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, he is the author of 27 books, Paul Krugman… Chief scientific officer at Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Samuel Klein, M.D.… Founding engineer and a large shareholder of Facebook, Jeffrey Jackiel Rothschild… Greensboro, N.C., businessman and past chairman of Hillel International, Randall Kaplan… Self-described as “America’s most notorious lobbyist,” Jack Abramoff… Editor-at-large of the Jewish WeekAndrew Silow-Carroll… Owner of a commercial lavender farm in New Jersey, she served as a member of the New Jersey State Senate until 2008, Ellen Karcher… Jerusalem-born businessman, he worked as a NYC taxi driver after completing his IDF service, started and sold several companies in the automotive field, Mordechai (Moti) Kahana… President and CEO of The New York Times Company, Meredith Kopit Levien… Political commentator Peter Beinart… Former member of the Knesset for the Blue and White party, Ruth Wasserman Lande… Mayor of Jersey City, N.J., Steven Fulop… National political correspondent for The New York TimesLisa Lerer… Former professional ice hockey goaltender, Dov Grumet-Morris… Managing director at Purple Strategies, Erica Goldman… Counsel in the Los Angeles office of Davis Wright Tremaine, Adam Sieff… Director of international innovation and partnerships at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Andrew H. Gross… Director in the Tel Aviv office of PwC, Li-Dor David… Israeli national fencing champion and fashion model, she represented Israel at Miss Universe 2015, Avigail Alfatov