Your Daily Phil: Minyan TLV serves up spirituality in Tel Aviv + Remembering Elissa Czuker

Good Thursday morning!

Ed. note: In celebration of Labor Day, the next Your Daily Phil will arrive Tuesday morning. Shabbat shalom!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new initiative to expose secular Israelis to Shabbat and Mazon’s voluntary recognition of its workers’ union. We also feature opinion pieces from Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz and Erica Brown. We’ll start with colleagues and friends remembering philanthropist and Republican donor Elissa Czuker.

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: Iran-focused Jewish groups mark first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death, prepare for new protests; With polished Hebrew, Germany’s ambassador to Israel draws inspiration from the job; At 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, past is present for many; Book Review: ‘The Controversialist: Arguments With Everyone, Left, Right and Center,’ by Martin Peretz. Print the latest edition here.

Elissa Czuker, a prominent philanthropist in the Los Angeles area who supported many Jewish causes, donated to several Republican presidential candidates and served on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition, died last Friday in Los Angeles, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen. Czuker was 53.

Czuker, a mother of nine, was an active member of Beverly Hills Synagogue (Young Israel of North Beverly Hills) and a well-known figure in the local Orthodox community. Together with her husband, Edward, Czuker supported a variety of organizations including the American Society for Yad Vashem, ArtScroll, Israel Bonds, Chabad, Grass Roots Neighbors and Early Alert Canines.

“Elissa Czuker was a powerhouse in leading the community at a crucial turning point in the life of our synagogue,” Rabbi Pini Dunner, who leads Beverly Hills Synagogue, told eJP on Wednesday.

Czuker was also involved in GOP politics, serving as a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and donating to Republican presidential campaigns.

“Together with Edward, she gave strength and vibrancy to many communal organizations,” the RJC’s CEO, Matt Brooks, told eJP in a statement. “Our thoughts are with her husband Edward and their children: Sarah, Elana, Abraham, Mimi, Ephraim, Isaac, Rivka, Yossi, and Chavi, in this difficult time. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Czuker was a client and board member of Early Alert Canines, a nonprofit that provides alert dogs for people with insulin-dependent diabetes. “She offered a logical, down-to-earth perspective during EAC board meetings and her point of view was greatly valued,” EAC wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “Leading by example, she demonstrated her belief in the importance of granting all individuals access to a life of dignity and well-being.”

Czuker is survived by her husband, Edward, chief executive of real estate developer Legado Companies, and their children.

Read the full story here.

keeping the faith

Lipaz Ela and Oz Fishman. (Gefen Reznik)

As the sun sets on a recent Friday evening in Tel Aviv, strangers — most newly or lifelong secular Israelis — trickle into a loft in the heart of Jaffa. They leave their bags — and phones — at the door, per the hosts’ instructions, and grab a glass of wine and begin to mingle. A meditation begins, bringing the group together in silence as they welcome the start of Shabbat. Tonight, a host explains in Hebrew, the night’s theme is “ritual,” tying the concept to the week’s Torah portion. The conversation continues over dinner, which was inspired by the Kurdish dishes that were Shabbat mainstays in the childhood home of Lipaz Ela, one of the hosts of the dinner and a co-founder of Minyan TLV, reports Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Shabbat in the White City: Israel’s secular Jews account for a sizable amount of the country’s total Jewish population. In a city that feels constantly “on,” it can sometimes be challenging to slow down for Shabbat, especially for young people who lack a strong Jewish community. With that in mind, Lipaz Ela and Oz Fishman invited a group of 10 friends, mostly secular, to a Shabbat dinner in March 2022. And thus Minyan TLV was born. “It consciously dawned on us that the coffee shop in Tel Aviv is people’s shul, more or less,” Fishman told eJP. “It’s not the depth of the spiritual experience that I think a lot of people are feeling. Maybe they get that in yoga, they get that in meditation, they get it in all these New Age-y things that people like, but we were looking for a space that knew how to handle both.”

A good start: The group’s seed funding came from the New York-based Julius Stulman Foundation, which issued a rare open request for proposals ahead of founder Steven Stulman’s 90th birthday. Fishman, who noted that small groups often struggle to find seed funding to get off the ground without deep relationships in the philanthropic space, put together a submission asking for enough for five dinners. Stulman was so impressed he not only gave them the grant but doubled the amount. That money, Fishman said, sustained the group for the entirety of its first year. Now, the group seeks to find additional sources of funding as it works to expand its offerings and reach larger numbers of people.

Read the full story here.

Jewish labor

Mazon voluntarily recognizes workers’ union, group says looking forward to partnership

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The management of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger “formally and voluntarily recognized” the organization’s newly founded union, Mazon United, on Monday, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Getting recognition: Last month, Mazon employees announced their intention to unionize through CWA Local 9003, offering the organization’s leadership 24 hours to recognize the union voluntarily before Mazon United began official legal proceedings through the National Labor Relations Board. At the time, Mazon’s management said it supported the unionization idea in theory but needed more time to consider it. This week, just over a month later, the organization recognized the union, before being required to do so by law.

Presidential support: “I respect and support our team members’ decision to organize, and I am confident that this agreement is in the best interest of the organization and our mission,” Abby J. Leibman, Mazon’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “For nearly 40 years, Mazon’s staff, board, supporters, and partners around the country have worked together to end hunger and seek justice… I welcome Mazon United as a partner in ensuring the effectiveness and integrity of our work.”

Contract negotiations: CWA Local 9003 President Marisa Remski said in a statement that the union was “pleased” to represent Mazon employees and was preparing for the next step: contract negotiations. “We are excited for the next step in the process which is to begin negotiating a successful first contract that demonstrates and rewards the value the employees bring to MAZON and is a positive step forward for all parties! Together, we can find common ground that will benefit all employees and the organization as a whole.”

Language skills

Hebrew learning in synagogues: A call for change

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“No need to go running for the ice buckets, but I’m officially throwing out a challenge to all involved in synagogue/part-time Jewish education to lower the emphasis on, and decrease the amount of time devoted to Hebrew decoding. We are a quarter of the way into the 21st century, but still holding onto a last-century Hebrew-learning goal — the fluent and accurate ‘reading’ of Hebrew prayers. No, I’m not suggesting that we stop teaching the Alef-Bet, nor Hebrew decoding skills. Rather, I am challenging us to expand our Hebrew learning goals,” writes Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz, director of #OnwardHebrew, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Unreasonable expectations: “Not surprisingly, students in synagogue settings do not have the prerequisites to achieve orthographic mapping in Hebrew, especially when the time is short and prayers and blessings offer a high level of linguistic difficulty. The goal of ‘fluent and accurate reading’ is a misnomer; our synagogue learners cannot be expected to read Hebrew.”

Call to arms: “And so, a call for change! Hebrew has the potential to touch our children’s hearts if we expand our learning goals, moving beyond an almost singular focus on prayers. I challenge educators and clergy to invite stakeholders to new conversations about Hebrew-learning goals and to reconsider their assumptions about successful Hebrew learning… The gauntlet has been thrown down! On behalf of our learners, will you accept the challenge?”

Read the full piece here.

The Torah of Leadership

Climb every mountain: Thoughts on Parshat Ki Tavo


“In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo, Moses gave the Israelites an unusual command: He told the people that after they crossed the Jordan River, they were to separate into two distinct groups; each group was charged with a different recitation. On one mountain, Har Gerizim, six tribes were to stand and bless the people: Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. On the other mountain, Har Eival, the remaining tribes – Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naftali – were to stand and articulate a set of curses. The Levites were then to respond to all the Israelites in a loud voice (kol ram)’ (Deuteronomy 27:14),” writes Erica Brown, vice provost for values and leadership at Yeshiva University and director of its Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks-Herenstein Center, in her weekly column for eJewishPhilanthropy, “The Torah of Leadership.”

Taking responsibility: “Each mountain experience represented a new stage of collective identity precipitated by an immersive, transformative experience. The Israelites first crossed a body of water as an act of liberation. They were going to cross yet another body of water to become a nation… Leaders cannot carry the full weight of accountability alone… Accountability requires courageous followers who have learned to stand up for what they believe in and commit to action. It often requires a strenuous climb.”

Mountain not necessary: “With the climb up their respective mountains and their recitation of curses and blessings, the Israelites figuratively and emotionally imitated Moses and became the masters of their own destiny. They had to be the mountain climbers. In his book, Studies in Spirituality, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that to be a committed Jew, you don’t always need a mountain: ‘The beauty of Jewish spirituality is precisely that in Judaism, God is close. You don’t need to climb a mountain or enter an ashram to find the Divine Presence.’ You need the light of Shabbat candles, the warmth of community or the kindness of strangers. For leaders to grow, they have to be willing, not only to climb mountains, but to identify the next mountain to climb.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Fried Artichokes? Sign Me Up!: In Condé Nast Traveler, Devorah Lev-Tov interviews author Leah Koenig about her new book on Italian Jewish cuisine and history. “There are three distinct groups of Jewish communities in Rome, each of which has contributed immensely to the city’s cultural and culinary treasure trove. The Italkim arrived back in the second century BCE, and have remained in the area ever since; the Sephardim of the Iberian Peninsula escaped to Rome during the Spanish Inquisition; and the Libyans moved here in the 1960s, when Jews were fleeing many Arabic-speaking countries (a large number of whom immigrated there because they already spoke Italian, given Libya was once a colony)… This history will be celebrated in Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen, a new cookbook exploring just that: la cucina Ebraica Romana. Written by Jewish food expert Leah Koenig… the book goes deep on the history, culture, and food of the community that helped shape so much of Roman cuisine.” [Traveler]

Recognizing The World’s Oldest Hatred: In Time, Rabbi Diane Fersko discusses her new book, We Need to Talk About Antisemitism, about modern Jew hatred and how it is often swept under the rug. “Think about the national conversation around antisemitism. When Kanye West went on his repugnant rant against Jews in October 2022, one of the internet’s first reactions was that he was not antisemitic, he was mentally ill. But both can be true. Or think about social media where anti-Jewish rhetoric has spiked, particularly on X (formerly Twitter). Yet some continue to insist it’s not antisemitism, it’s free speech. Or when, during a concert in Berlin in May 2023, Roger Waters, the outspoken critic of Israel and former frontman of Pink Floyd, donned a full length black coat with a red arm band and invoked the name of the murdered Jewish teenager Anne Frank, he explained that his actions were not antisemitic, they were ‘a statement in opposition to injustice.’ The Berlin police opened an investigation into Waters for suspicion of incitement. This tendency to diminish or even deny antisemitism in public discourse has damaging implications for everyday life. It can make people — both Jewish and not — feel hesitant to call out antisemitism when we see it.” [Time]

Around the Web

A new report by the National Council of Nonprofits found that nonprofits are still struggling to hire workers despite boosting pay and offering remote work opportunities…

Responding to reports that George Soros’ Open Societies Foundation was significantly scaling back its presence in Europe, his son and the new head of OSF, Alex Soros, writes in Politico Europe that while the organization is adjusting its operations on the continent, “we are not leaving. Europe remains of huge strategic importance to the work of OSF”…

Israeli Education Minister Yoav Kisch is reportedly looking to oust Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan and install a replacement of Kisch’s choosing…

The Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service in Palm Beach County, Fla., received nearly $2 million in state funding for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training in Florida…

The Herman and Walter Samuelson Foundation donated $1 million to Stevenson University outside Baltimore, Md., to construct a 225-seat black-box theater in the campus’ new performing arts center…

Tsach Saar officially took up his post as the deputy and acting consul general of Israel in New York…

Soprano and philanthropist Sharon Azrieli sat down for an in-depth interview with Montreal’s The Suburban weekly newspaper, discussing — among other things — her love for Jewish music… 

Reuben Sinclair, Canada’s oldest veteran of World War II and a member of the country’s Jewish community, died this week at 111…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Yael Foundation

Jewish children from across Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania play in a swimming pool at the Hilton Hotel in Warsaw, Poland, during an all-expenses-paid camp organized by the Yael Foundation, a new nonprofit funded by Uri and Yael Poliavich.


Gary Miller/Getty Images

World-renowned violinist and conductor, Itzhak Perlman

Howard Crim… Attorney and a member of the boards of UJA-Federation of NY, JCRC-NY and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Joseph Rafalowicz… Screenwriter for theatre, television and film, Lowell Ganz… Member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff… Health care policy expert, his brother is Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), David Blumenthal… 2004 Nobel laureate in Physics and professor at California Institute of Technology, Hugh David Politzer… Professor emerita of journalism and women’s studies at American University and author of seven books on marriage and relationships, Iris Krasnow… Rabbi Jonathan I. Rosenblatt… Owner of thoroughbred racehorses including the 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Ahmed Zayat (a/k/a Ephraim David Zayat)… Television host including “Antiques Roadshow” and “Temptation Island,” Mark L. Walberg… Israeli film director and screenwriter, Yossef (Joseph) Cedar… Gold medalist in volleyball at the Maccabiah Games in 1997, she is currently the athletic director at Seattle University, Shaney Fink… Physician assistant now serving as a senior clinical director at NYC’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, Lyudmila Milman… English golfer, he won five tournaments on the PGA European Challenge Tour, Sam Little… Israeli poet, translator and literary editor, Sivan Beskin… Communications director at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Jessica Levin Raimundo… Israel’s former consul general in New York from 2021 until earlier this year, Asaf Zamir… Group director at W2O Group, Nick Horowitz… Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, colloquially known as MBS, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud… SVP for critical infrastructure at Venn Strategies, Bennett E. Resnik… Correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, Thomas Kaplan… Southwest regional political director of AIPAC, Deryn Sousa… Israeli fashion model, Yael Shelbia Cohen