Your Daily Phil: Mayyim Hayyim CEO returns to mikveh where she converted + Herzog in the U.S.

Good Wednesday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s meetings with President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and speak with the incoming CEO of the Mayyim Hayyim mikveh and education center, Julie Childers. Also in this newsletter: Brandon Farbstein, Ted Deutch and Scott and Debby Rechler. We’ll start with Gideon Taylor’s appointment as president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization’s board selected Gideon Taylor as the next president of the organization, effective immediately, a spokesperson for the group told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

According to WJRO, which works to recover Jewish property that was lost and stolen during the Holocaust, Taylor was approved unanimously by the board at a recent meeting. Taylor, who also serves as president of the Claims Conference, previously served as chief operating officer of WJRO. 

The appointment comes weeks after Taylor stepped down as CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, leaving after just over two years in the role.

“We have a limited amount of time available while survivors are still with us,” Taylor said in a statement. “Restitution is not just about property – every story is about bringing dignity to those who suffered, remembering those who were killed, and educating future generations.” (Taylor was not available for an interview.)

Last month, a WJRO delegation led by the organization’s COO, Mark Weitzman, and Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, traveled to Croatia to speak with the government about property restitution, meeting with the country’s deputy prime minister. “While there is still more progress to be made in resolving the outstanding issues in Croatia, we recognize the increasing urgency as Holocaust survivors grow older. This drives us to intensify our collaborative efforts not only in Croatia but with Eastern European countries,” Taylor said.

Delicate diplomacy

Haim Zach/Israeli Government Press Office

Following an Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden, Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday urged Israelis to take seriously Biden’s “deep concern” about Israeli affairs, reports Gabby Deutch from eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider in Washington, D.C. with the president. “We have to understand and respect this, that when the president of the greatest power on earth asks questions and interests himself, as he did in his conversation with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] yesterday, it’s not just for fun, not to gossip, to bother us,” Herzog told reporters outside the White House following his meeting with Biden. “It comes from deep concern.”

First stop of many: Herzog’s meeting with Biden was the first stop on his diplomatic visit, which also includes a speech to a joint session of Congress today at 11 a.m. Eastern Time and another stop in New York City. Both Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who also met with Herzog on Tuesday, celebrated U.S.-Israel ties at a time of strain and highlighted Jerusalem’s shared democratic values with Washington.

‘Heated debate’: As the ceremonial head of state, Herzog has sought to negotiate a compromise between the ruling right-wing Israeli coalition and the more liberal opposition. He said at the start of his meeting with Biden that Israel’s democracy is “sound, strong and resilient.” “It is a heated debate, but it is also a virtue of, and a tribute to, the greatness of Israeli democracy,” Herzog said of the ongoing political debate in Israel, noting that his “heart and soul are also in Israel.” Biden did not address the judicial reform matter in his remarks at the start of the meeting.

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

Tomorrow, Herzog will appear in New York, first visiting the United Nations and then speaking at an event with the Jewish community organized by UJA-Federation of New York. Haley Cohen will be covering the New York visit for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Runs on Dunkin’

Coming full circle, Mayyim Hayyim CEO returns to mikveh where she immersed to convert

Julie Childers, the incoming CEO of Mayyim Hayyim mikveh and education center in Newton, Mass. (Courtesy)

Julie Childers started her work as CEO of the Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh, the pluralistic ritual bath outside of Boston, in early July. But her history with the mikveh goes back to 2006, when she herself immersed there during her conversion to Judaism. The experience was “transformative,” she told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther Kustanowitz.

A lot of dunks: Childers takes the helm as the organization approaches its 20th year and expands its offerings. In 2019, Mayyim Hayyim celebrated its 20,000th immersion and 3,000th conversion, and as of this week — after a pandemic slowdown in 2020 and a burst pipe in February 2023 — the organization has been home to a total of 3,702 conversions or affirmation ceremonies and 23,513 immersions. She estimates that in the days leading up to the High Holy Days, Mayyim Hayyim — which has an annual budget of $1.3 million and 10 staff members — will probably do between 200-250 immersions for people who are looking for spiritual cleansing.

Expanding the mikveh: In addition to the mikveh itself, Mayyim Hayyim also runs an education center, which enables the organization to work with clergy and scholars to consider other ritual practices that can be incorporated with mikveh. Childers said these rituals include emerging programs for girls and gender-expansive people who are approaching the age of mitzvot that might include learning with the parents and then an immersion at the end of that. “It’s taking things that are already part of Jewish practice, and adding another ritual element that deepens and enhances meaning for them,” she said.

Physicality matters: While Mayyim Hayyim has expanded its online offerings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Childers said that in-person experiences were more needed than ever. “We’re still emerging from this trauma of COVID,” the new CEO said. “People need real, in-person, lived bodily experiences. Mikveh brings you to a particular kind of focus, and awareness of the moments that we don’t get in so many places. It’s a way for people to reconnect Jewishly to themselves and to community… renewing this practice for people can help them feel connected, and find places where they belong.”

Read the full story here.

Worthy Reads

Making the Holy Land Accessible to All: In The Times of Israel, Charlie Summers speaks with 23-year-old disability rights activist Brandon Farbstein, who is visiting Israel on a Birthright trip. “Farbstein had just finished a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City when he rolled up to the Holyland Café on his Segway, a trusted mobility aid, on a warm Sunday afternoon earlier this month. He was in Israel for the first time as part of an outdoor-focused Birthright trip, which takes participants to explore the country on ATV and whitewater rafting tours… Farbstein visited the Western Wall, a central experience of any Birthright program. While he was able to find a ramp that led him to the revered site and avoided a number of stairs, it was still a challenge navigating the cobblestones and crowded streets of the Old City… ‘However, in a city like Tel Aviv that’s recent and modern and has everyone in mind, you can really tell it is an open place for people with disabilities. There are ramps and there aren’t steps everywhere… Sometimes it’s the small things that make a profound difference in literally being able to get into a place to begin with,’ he said.” [TOI]

Or Just Delete Your Account Instead: In The Atlantic, Yair Rosenberg lays out the ways that new social media companies can avoid becoming toxic cesspools where “The Jews” can be highlighted as trending because of antisemites. “This moment of transition is also a moment of opportunity, in which they have the chance to reimagine what social media can be. New platforms such as Threads and Bluesky are still under construction, which means they can still be influenced and society’s options are still open. These sites don’t have to copy what came before and can learn from past mistakes. Older platforms relied on inflammatory engagement to boost their short-term profits, but this choice ultimately undermined the social networks from within, alienating users and advertisers. Today’s platforms can instead attract the next generation of users with new rules and features designed to engender trust rather than erode it, ensuring a site’s long-term viability.” [TheAtlantic]

Around the Web

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed — by a vote of 412 to 9 — a resolution condemning antisemitism and affirming American support for Israel, prompting cheers from U.S. Jewish groups. The resolution was proposed in response to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) calling Israel “a racist state” over the weekend. Jayapal, who later walked back her remarks somewhat, voted in favor of the resolution…

A new survey by Nonprofit HR found that more than half of the nonprofits polled — 53% — have a formal statement on their diversity, equity, inclusion and justice commitments, though only 38% report having designated budgets toward these efforts…

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote that President Joe Biden told him that Israeli leaders should not “rush” their plans to overhaul judicial powers and should seek “the broadest possible consensus” before making changes. The comments were made after a phone call between Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. A top Israeli official said Biden issued no demands during the call…

A group of neo-Nazis protested outside the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, Ohio, offices over the weekend. The demonstrators were apparently part of a large group protesting an event organized by a local LGBTQ organization…

Yeshiva University, working with the Philos Project nonprofit, which encourages Christian engagement with Judaism, developed a new Jewish studies master’s degree program for Christian students. The pilot class launched last month and includes students from Mozambique, Texas, California, Virginia and Nebraska…

Fourteen of the world’s leading Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and World Jewish Congress, called on the record company Bertelsmann Music Group to “reconsider its business relationship” with former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters

Jewfolk, Inc. launched a new expansion site, Cincy Jewfolk, for the Jewish community of Cincinnati, with funding from the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati

Scott and Debby Rechler donated $10 million to Northwell Health and the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to create large-scale data models and better use artificial intelligence in health care. Scott Rechler, who is Jewish, is a prominent New York-based real estate developer and is co-chair of the Feinstein Institutes’ board of directors…

Travel from the United States to Israel in the first half of 2023 surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 12%, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry. “We expect 2023 to be a banner year for Israel, especially from North America,” a ministry official said in a statement…

The Washington Post editorial board recommends that Israel form a constituent assembly to draft a constitution as a way to extricate the country from its current turmoil…

Leaders from the World Jewish Congress’ Latin American chapter met with leaders from the Muslim World League in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last week…

Pic of the Day

Twitter/Ted Deutch

American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch lights a candle yesterday in honor of the 85 victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as part of a 29th-anniversary memorial event at the Argentine Embassy in Washington.

The event was organized by the Argentine Ambassador to the U.S. Jorge Argüello and was also attended by AJC President Michael Tichnor, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah E. Lipstadt and others.

“The AMIA bombing was one of the darkest moments in modern Jewish history and serves as a stark reminder of how hate can lead to violence and destruction,” Deutch said at the event.


Kate Green/Getty Images

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