Your Daily Phil: Medical clowns bring smiles to Oct. 7 survivors

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the final sale of American Jewish University’s Familian Campus in Los Angeles to the Milken Community School and a new push by Jewish groups to get Congress to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We also profile Maj. Gadi Roz, an Israeli reservist fighting to get his son breakthrough life-enhancing — but costly — treatment, and feature an opinion piece by Philip Bendheim with advice for running successful emergency campaigns. Also in this issue: Natan Sharansky, NYPD’s Richie Taylor and Gyorgyi Nemes. We’ll start with Israeli medical clowns’ work with survivors of the Oct. 7 massacres and evacuees.

Just a few days after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, medical clowns Nimrod Eisenberg and Smadar Harpak — and their alter-egos, “Maximiliano” and “Shemesh” — went to the Dead Sea to visit members of Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest hit of the southern communities in the attack with 100 members murdered and 29 taken hostage into Gaza, reports Judith Sudilovsky for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Veterans of medical clowning, Eisenberg and Harpak, members of the Dream Doctors nonprofit, have worked with many communities who have suffered trauma due to natural disasters and war, most recently in Ukraine. But this time, it was different.

“I have very close friends in Be’eri. This time it was very strong emotionally and personally,” said Eisenberg, who is also the group’s head of development. “It was very clear because we were dressed up and had red noses, that we were clowns, but the first half-hour people avoided eye contact with us, the children were running around with excess energy. We were sad ourselves.”

And then an older woman took them aside, looked them in the eyes and told them: “Your sadness is our sadness. Only you can change this.” They hugged, in tears.

From that moment, they realized how they needed to work and how to be attentive and sensitive to the people’s reaction to them. “Maximiliano” — “Max” for short — who juggles with numerous colorful handkerchiefs, playfully tossed them out, and he and “Shemesh” began crying into them in a clown-y sort of way. That caught the children’s attention and they also started taking some of the handkerchiefs and mimicking the two clowns crying effusively into them, beginning to interact with “Max” and “Shemesh.”

“This is how clowns can connect sadness with happiness, with childish joy, bringing the strength to confront what is difficult to confront,” said Eisenberg. “The very clown thing evokes emotions, and provides the ability to deal with difficult emotions. If we play, we can turn the heaviness into lightness and deal with the heavy emotions.”

Since mid-October, Rinat Feniger-Schaal and Tamar Benbenishty of the University of Haifa’s Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies have been leading an observational study dealing with the role of the medical-humanitarian clowns on behalf of the Dream Doctors association, working with the families of evacuees from the south as part of the mental health system.

Initial conclusions from the study indicate that medical clowns have played an important role in healing the psyche of the population that experienced trauma on Oct. 7, uniquely helping to deal with emotional vulnerabilities, according to Feniger-Schaal.

“From the material we are collecting, a clear and strong picture emerges of the significant work of the medical clowns from Dream Doctors and the unique characteristics of their work, even compared to other professionals in the field,” she said.

Read the full report here.


A sign on the campus of the American Jewish University, with which Ziegler is affiliated.
A sign on the campus of the American Jewish University.

American Jewish University completed the sale of its Familian Campus in Los Angeles to the Milken Community School, two years after putting the 22-acre property on the market, the two institutions announced in a joint statement yesterday, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz. (Read more about the deal here.)

Win-win: The sale will allow the Milken Community School “to enhance current programs, grow to meet evolving educational trends, and realize its ambitious strategic goals,” the organizations said. And it will “enable AJU to channel significant resources to a wide range of educational efforts that address the evolving needs of the Jewish community – from supporting conversion and interfaith families, to developing cutting-edge online educational opportunities, to running vibrant public programs that convene timely and important conversations,” they wrote.

Mum on details: AJU will continue to keep its administrative offices on the Familian campus and will continue operating the community mikvah there. The organizations refrained from disclosing the final price of the campus and other technical details of the sale. The Milken school put in an initial bid of $60 million to purchase the campus when it first went on the market. But AJU instead accepted an offer of $65 million from the education company EF Education First, though that deal eventually fell through.


The Israeli reservist fighting for his son’s life

American politician Dianne Feinstein, her arms outstretched in celebration, in her office after she was elected mayor of San Francisco, at San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco, California, circa 1978.
IDF Major (res.) Gadi Roz with his two children. Courtesy

For Gadi Roz, a major in the IDF, the front line and the home front have collided, with life-and-death consequences. Since Oct. 7, Roz, a reservist, has spent months fighting in Gaza, while back home, his 6-year-old son Meitar is battling a degenerative condition known as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, for which there is no known cure. When he is not with his unit, Roz has been pressing the Israeli government — so far, to no avail — to approve a promising gene-therapy treatment for DMD, one approved last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Roz, 35, describes “fighting two wars” — one for the future of Israel and one for the life of his son, reports Lianne Kolirin for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Costly care: Meitar, the younger of Roz’s two children with his wife, Eliya, was diagnosed with the life-limiting condition when he was 3. “Our world collapsed,” Roz, who had never previously heard of the illness, told JI. Since his son’s diagnosis, the decorated soldier, who in his civilian life works in high-tech while also studying for a degree in electronic and electrical engineering, has been campaigning to convince Israel’s Ministry of Health and the health-care providers to authorize a pioneering gene-therapy treatment approved by the FDA last year. The problem for Roz and other families, however, is the eye-watering price tag. At $3.2 million per dose, Elevidys is one of the most expensive drugs in the world.

Thinking of others: Thinking about what will happen if the government does not approve the treatment is bearing down on Roz. “I could take the crowdfunding route and maybe I will have to eventually, but I’m scared to take this step because it’s a lot of money to recruit. Even if I sell my house, my parents’ house and my wife’s parents’ house, I still won’t get enough money.” And Roz is also extremely mindful of others in his position. “My son is not alone,” he said, referring to the 300 children who have the illness and the 15 eligible for the new medication.

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


Jewish groups push Congress to support IHRA definition of antisemitism

The U.S. Capitol building on Feb. 8, 2021.

A coalition of 17 U.S. Jewish groups wrote letters to House lawmakers this week expressing support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and urging against endorsing any alternative definitions. The letter comes as many major Jewish groups are lobbying Congress to pass legislation related to the issue and amid a countervailing expanded lobbying effort in favor of the Nexus Task Force’s definition, an alternative antisemitism definition written in response to the IHRA definition that leaves more room for criticism of Israel, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.

Definition wars: Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of North America, one of the groups leading the effort, told JI last month that an expanded lobbying effort for the Nexus definition — by a newly expanded group led by a former top J Street lobbyist — had heightened the importance of JFNA’s efforts to support IHRA. “It simply is an attempt to undermine the IHRA definition to advocate for a different definition, including the Nexus definition, which has been accepted by nobody and is not being used anywhere,” Fingerhut said. “Additionally the substance of it is simply wrong… We recognize that members of Congress and their staffs are likely hearing from people about the Nexus definition, so we’ll address it directly and explain to them why it’s a diversion, and not a substantive response to antisemitism.”

Read the full report here.


Raising money — and spirits — in times of emergency

A worker unloads an emergency airlift of medical and rehabilitation supplies flown into Israel by Yad Sarah.

“??In the less than five months since the war with Hamas began on Oct. 7, Yad Sarah has distributed a year’s worth of medical equipment as we strive to meet the growing needs of injured and disabled people from all sectors of society,” writes Philip Bendheim, director of Yad Sarah’s International Board of Overseers, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

New challenges: “But these efforts have left the organization — Israel’s largest healthcare and social services NGO — running low on many items, even as the war continues and the number of injured and those at risk for being injured continues to grow. Further complicating the situation is the fact that many cargo companies are avoiding the Red Sea and Suez Canal amid ongoing attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militias, delaying the arrival of needed equipment and supplies and raising the cost of shipping to Israel and elsewhere.”

In case of emergency: “With dire shortages of medical equipment, we at Yad Sarah recently launched an emergency fundraising campaign, “Breath of Life,” in order to airlift two of the most in-demand and vital devices… In some ways, raising funds for an emergency or unexpected need is a straightforward task and can often be successful as long as donors and the public can clearly see the need and feel its urgency. Like any fundraising, however, it also has challenges, and there are best practices that organizations can turn to when undertaking emergency fundraising.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Brothers in Fortitude: In Forward, Nora Berman interviews Natan Sharansky about his brief correspondence last year with Alexei Navalny, an outspoken political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin who died in a Siberian prison on Friday. “Having been given a Russian-language copy of Sharansky’s 1988 memoir, Fear No Evil, which he read in prison, Navalny, who spent nearly 300 days in solitary confinement during his last prison term, wrote to the former refusenik to express his admiration and gratitude. A total of four letters written between March and April 2023 were exchanged between the two legendary dissidents, which The Free Press published after Navalny’s death. I spoke to Sharansky, now 76, about their relationship… ‘From the very first words that he wrote, I felt that we are like kindred spirits. And the fact that he is writing it, because he read just now in prison, my book — it was really very meaningful. As he wrote, life repeats itself… This prophetic feeling of living inside history is, of course, very Jewish, but it was always the feeling of Russian intelligentsia or the best Russian fighters. When you go “through the valley of death and fear no evil,” it’s very Jewish, and that’s exactly the thing with which they live… His legacy is not to be afraid. And his courage is next to nobody that I know.’” [Forward]

The Timeline of Change: Thinking of meaningful political or societal change in terms of abrupt watershed moments of revolution is a fallacy — and one that does aspiring changemakers no favors, writes Nathan Perl-Rosenthal in The Atlantic. “Far from being composed of sharp ruptures, revolutionary change in the 18th and 19th centuries was a generational affair. The revolutionary transformations demanded a long and difficult apprenticeship in the practice of mass politics. It was a younger cohort of revolutionaries, acculturated to social mobility by its early experiences, that finally managed to create mass movements after 1800. Recognizing the incremental pace of political change in the age of revolutions should spur us to rethink our expectations of what revolution can do, both in the present and for the future… It is high time to abandon the deceptive, quasi-messianic vision of revolution that the early modern patriots proclaimed. Their dream of abrupt and complete revolutionary transformations, which could improve the world seemingly overnight, can easily become a dangerous mirage. Not so much, as right-wing critics might argue, because it leads to revolutionary overreach. Rather, because the fantasy of transformative change in an instant — a Bastille around every corner, if you will — spawns disillusionment and despair when it fails to materialize.” [TheAtlantic]

Into the Breach: The Southern Power Fund, a collaboration between funders and regional organizations launched in 2020, aims to address the “Southern philanthropy gap” in the United States, reports Martha Ramirez in Inside Philanthropy. “To date, the Southern Power Fund has raised $28 million and has distributed more than $22.5 million to more than 400 organizations across 13 states and Puerto Rico. Its goal is to raise and distribute a total of $100 million. Major backers include the Ford Foundation, JPB Foundation, Democracy Frontlines Fund and the Solidaire Network, among others… [T]he Southern Power Fund has three strategies for moving funds: ‘intervene,’ ‘fortify’ and ‘grow.’ To intervene, the fund distributes general operating support, taking a trust-based approach. Instead of winnowing through grant applications, it gives twice a year based on recommendations from people and organizations that have already received funds and is constantly expanding its circle of relationships… The second strategy — fortify — involves annual support to build up infrastructure and strengthen collaborative efforts. The third strategy — grow — is meant to both move resources quickly during immediate crises … while also balancing long-term investments such as land purchases, housing, community land trusts and infrastructure development.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

United Airlines will begin flying daily from the United States to Israel next month in a major, much-needed boon for the Israeli tourism industry…

The Bucksbaum family donated $25 million to the Art Institute of Chicago toward the creation of the Bucksbaum Photography Center among other projects…

The Anti-Defamation League recently launched two new partnerships: one with the Jewish esports community Lost Tribe to combat antisemitism online and in gaming fora, and another with the Orthodox youth group NCSY to provide resources to its members and staff…

Harvard Jewish leaders offered rare praise of the university for its firm response to a staff group sharing an antisemitism cartoon…

Hadassah launched a new campaign, “End The Silence,” to raise awareness about the systemic use of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks…

The Aspen Institute named Jinhee Kim its inaugural executive vice president for public events and engagement…

The Blavatnik Family Foundation gave a five-year, $5 million gift to New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System to help fund its work in organ transplantation…

George Washington University announced a new center for Jewish education known as The Collaboratory. The new center will have three branches: the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education, the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership and the graduate programs in Israel education and experiential Jewish education…

The Alvin Glick Foundation is distributing grants totaling $8 million to health-care causes in central Michigan, including $5 million to the Henry Ford Jackson Hospital, where Glick spent the last weeks of his life…

Stephen Fry and Lena Dunham star in the upcoming film “Treasure,” about a Holocaust survivor and his daughter visiting Poland to retrace their family history…

The Hollywood Reporter published an oral history of Schindler’s List, 30 years after the Academy Award-winning film’s release…

The Steven & Alexandra?Cohen Foundation pledged $3.78 million to the Abilis nonprofit, which supports people with disabilities and their families…

Inspector Richie Taylor, the highest-ranked yarmulke-wearing officer in the New York Police Departmentis being promoted to deputy chief. “Thank you Hashem!” he told Hamodia after the announcement…

The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation of Sarasota, Fla., announced grants totaling $11.8 million mostly for local organizations, including $560,000 to Jewish Family & Children’s Service of the Suncoast to help families of at-risk youth…

Steven Wise, a legal champion of animal rights, died last Thursday at 73…

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.

Sixth graders at Akiva School in Westmount, Quebec, watch on Tuesday as Gyorgyi Nemes, a Holocaust survivor, joins Jonny Daniels, founder of the nonprofit From the Depths, as he inscribes letters in a Torah scroll. The scroll, though damaged, managed to survive World War II; and Daniels aims to restore it, letter by letter, with the help of Holocaust survivors. 


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/Haifa University

Los Angeles-based philanthropist, she was a child survivor of Bergen-Belsen, Herta Amir

Retired justice and deputy president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Shlomo Levin… Music journalist and former board member for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, Rona Elliot… Co-chair of Wisconsin Jewish Democrats and author of three ‘Jewish Miss Marple’ books, Linda Frank… Dutch singer-songwriter especially popular in France, Helena “Lenny” Kuhr… White House counsel to President Obama, now a professor at NYU School of Law, Robert (Bob) Bauer… Marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles and founder of the Israel Institute for Diplomacy and Technology Advancements, Daryl Temkin Ph.D…. Chief strategist for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, now a senior fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and a CNN commentator, David Axelrod… President of the New York Yankees baseball club since 2000, executive producer for the YES Network, Randy Levine… Winner of five major golf championships and 24 other LPGA Tour events, she is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, now a golf course architect, Amy Alcott… Former member of the Knesset for the United Right party, Mordechai “Moti” Yogev… Former director of administration and special projects at Cincinnati’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Lisa Shusterman… Weaverville, N.C., resident, she will run the half-marathon in next month’s Jerusalem Winner Marathon for the 12th time to raise money for the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center, Tami Gross…Writer, editor and publisher, Clifford Lawrence Meth… Senior rabbi at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation in Mercer Island, Wash., Rabbi Jacob Herber… Actress, comedian and cast member of “Saturday Night Live” for seven years, Rachel Dratch… Past leader of the Israeli Labor Party, he is now the CEO of Partner Communications, Avi Gabbay… Emmy Award-winning television producer, he served as showrunner for four seasons of NBC’s sitcom “The Office,” Paul Lieberstein… Actor, author and academic, Ari Hoptman… Former soccer player on the Israeli national team and on European teams in both Spain and Turkey, Haim Michael Revivo… President of the University of Florida, he retired as a U.S. senator from Nebraska in 2023, Ben Sasse… British stand-up comedian and columnist for the Jewish Chronicle, Josh Howie… Winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in 2008, she has released six stand-up specials on Netflix, Iliza Shlesinger… Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s longtime diplomatic advisor and international spokesman, Yair Zivan… Partner in the appellate practice of Norton Rose Fulbright, Peter B. Siegal… VP at Oddity and SpoiledChild, Miranda R. May… Lead associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, Danielle Bella Ellison