Your Daily Phil: Moishe House acquires Embark to expand offerings for interfaith couples

Good Thursday morning!

Ed. note: The next Your Daily Phil will arrive Monday morning. Shabbat shalom!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a Jewish Federations of North America mission to Ukraine and feature opinion pieces from Rabbi Joel Seltzer and Erica Brown. Also in this newsletter: Bradley Cooper, Janet Wisbaum and Eugene Shvidler. We’ll start with Moishe House’s acquisition of Embark, a group that works with interfaith couples.

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: The race to save Mosul’s last synagogue; In 2022, AIPAC opposed Shri Thanedar. This month he went to Israel with the group; Egypt eyeing rapprochement with Iran amid Tehran’s warming ties with UAE, Saudi Arabia. Print the latest edition here.

Seventy-two percent of non-Orthodox American Jews intermarry, according to the 2020 Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews. A new collaboration between two programs is aimed specifically at keeping this demographic engaged and involved in Judaism, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Moishe House, a nonprofit serving Jewish young adults in their 20s and 30s, on Monday announced its acquisition of Embark, a program that educates about Jewish life and rituals to young interfaith couples.

“Being able to provide high quality and scalable programming to connect young interfaith couples with each other and rabbis is a wonderful opportunity for the entire Jewish community,” David Cygielman, the CEO of Moishe House, said in a statement. “We feel fortunate to be able to build out Embark to serve more couples and cohorts.”

Laura Lauder, a venture philanthropist who founded Embark in 2022, told eJP that through the Moishe House collaboration, “there will now be a launching pad and home base for all young couples who are celebrating Jewish life and celebrating holidays once they finish the Embark program. [The program] is not like a synagogue or Jewish Community Center where they have to pay dues and there are no expectations like family,” Lauder continued.

Embark programs run between three to six months, with weekly or biweekly classes. Cost for couples is around $300.

With Moishe House acquiring Embark, a two-day retreat is set to be added upon completion of Embark programs, allowing all couples who participated to meet. Moishe House will offer interfaith couples the option to live in “pods,” which are subsidized homes in exchange for hosting Jewish programming for fellow Jewish young professionals.

Read the full story here.

Show of Support

Visit to a Jewish Agency for Israel summer camp in Ukraine during JFNA-led mission, August 2023 (Courtesy/JFNA)

Eric Fingerhut was prepared to go into a war zone. Still, waking up to air raid sirens at 4 a.m. and spending the next several hours hunkered down in a bomb shelter came as a surprise to the Jewish Federations of North America chief executive. Fingerhut, along with 11 other participants, spent four days last week on a JFNA-led mission to war-torn Ukraine, the first Jewish-sponsored trip inside Ukraine since Russia’s invasion 18 months ago, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Taking shelter: “We went to bed in Lviv on Monday night and our security folks warned [us] to keep passports and clothes by our bed,” Fingerhut, who just returned, told eJP. “None of us thought [rocket attacks] were likely to happen [in western Ukraine]. Sure enough, in the middle of the night, sirens went off and we were taken to bomb shelters. Three people were killed, buildings were destroyed. The next morning we talked to Ukrainians about that experience and they shared that this is their life; they are constantly in fear.”

Pure happiness: During the visit, participants were briefed by representatives of organizations supported by federations’ philanthropy on the ongoing challenges they face, including a Jewish Agency overnight summer camp for Jewish children ages 7 to 12 in Polyana. “This was a pilot program, and they had no idea how many kids would actually show up when the camp was first contemplated,” Brett Tanzman, co-chair of JFNA’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, told eJP. “What we saw were over 60 kids from towns all over Ukraine. These kids were experiencing pure happiness. Programs like this that give children and their families a brief respite from the horrors of the war are so impactful, bringing a brief sense of normalcy to their lives. This critical work in Ukraine will require a sustained effort for many years to come.”

Read the full story here.

Pipeline construction

Exploring camp from a different perspective

Rabbi Joel Seltzer leads prayers at Ramah Poconos in 2023. (Courtesy)

“When I told my daughters last September that, after serving as Camp Ramah in the Poconos’ executive director for over a decade, the previous summer had been my last, they paused for a moment, and then asked, ‘Does this mean we can take the bus with our friends?’ This set the stage for a year of thoughtful transition, allowing me to say goodbye to a beloved organization while seeking new professional opportunities. After several months of exploring various possibilities, I returned to another cherished institution and my alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), as the vice chancellor for institutional advancement,” writes Rabbi Joel Seltzer in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Doing the rounds: “This personal change led to a unique summer. Now, as a former camp director, I witnessed camp life from the other side… With each visit, and with my guitar in tow, I inspired campers to think spiritually about their world and their lives through musical prayer experiences. I taught a class about the difference between memorizing the words of the Shema and living the words of the Shema. And I was privileged to have many conversations with teens and college-age adults about their aspirations, their futures and their desires to lead meaningful lives with Judaism at the center.”

Fixing the plumbing: “Pipeline development doesn’t end with visits to summer camp. JTS is also taking an active role in responding to this current challenge… The #jtsramahconnection is strong and our future leaders are out there. As a former camp director and the current JTS vice chancellor, I see it in the faces of our students, and I saw it in the campers I interacted with. May the pipeline continue to grow and prosper, just as my children did this past summer.”

Read the full piece here.

The Torah of Leadership

Leadership and favoritism: Thoughts on Parshat Ki Teitzei


“Many sensitive interrelationships are mentioned in the opening chapter of this week’s sedra, Ki Teitzei. The first is the status of the captive woman who was taken in battle and captured the fancy of a soldier in that war. She was completely vulnerable and, in principle, unprotected. The Torah understood that the situation was one of natural exploitation and thus placed parameters around her care,” 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.”

Who’s your favorite?: “The second situation in chapter 21 of Deuteronomy brings sensitivity to bear to another human tangle not commonly experienced today. A man had two wives. He loved one, but the other was unloved. Both women had sons, but the first child born was the son of the unloved one… Normally, the first son would inherit a double portion… In our situation, justice trumps partiality in Jewish law, even though, with our first Jewish families in Genesis, this was usually not the case. Maybe the law in the last of our five books of the Torah is there as a future corrective. Favoritism can do permanent damage within a family dynamic.”

Not always bad: “While favoritism can have tragic consequences in families, as the Torah and modern research suggest, it can contribute in positive and significant developments in leadership when kept in check. Those chosen or appointed for leadership roles are most often those who demonstrate a higher degree of responsibility, obligation and drive to action than others. Their selection for leadership roles validates this and generates more leadership possibilities as leaders assume more responsibility. They then get selected for more authoritative roles. This leadership cycle of selection can create higher and higher aspirations. This, I believe, is why favoritism is a repeated trope in the families of Genesis. Genesis is not a family manual. It’s a leadership manual.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Let My People In: In Tablet, Armin Rosen outlines the difficulties facing new immigrants to Israel from Russia and Ukraine who fled their countries in the wake of Moscow’s invasion last year. “According to [Avichai Kahana, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration], the unexpected rush of immigrants to Israel meant that the Aliyah Ministry had a backlog for placing new arrivals in Hebrew language and employment programs. ‘We couldn’t have the opportunity to give the olim the service that we always give them to help them integrate in Israel,’ said Kahana… ‘People have started to go back to Russia, and with big numbers, because we didn’t do anything to integrate,’ said Kahana… Israeli society must prove to these new immigrants that Israel is a viable place for them to live and work, or else the country will fail to capture the opportunities they represent.” [Tablet]

Saving Mosul’s Jewish Past: Writing for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider, Rebecca Anne Proctor describes the international efforts underway to restore the last remaining synagogue in Mosul, Iraq, to its former glory. “The graceful pointed arches and brickwork in muted earth tones — azure blue, burnt sienna and yellow ochre — evoke a long-ago Jewish past in the now nearly ruined Sassoon Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of this northern Iraqi city. It is the only surviving synagogue in Mosul, which, prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, was home to a thriving Jewish population of nearly 6,000. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the synagogue has been used to dump garbage, its mikveh transformed into a barn for horses… Now, an effort led by several Iraqi Jews is underway to preserve the synagogue, and with it the Jewish heritage of Mosul that is in peril of being lost forever. The effort comes as numerous international cultural organizations dedicate funds and manpower to rebuilding the city’s important historic landmarks.” [JewishInsider]

What Did You Do With Your Bar Mitzvah Money?: In the Israeli news publication Ynet, Nitzi Yakov describes an Israeli teenager’s efforts to raise money for Uganda’s Jewish community. “Elchanan Kuchar from Pardes Hanna celebrated his bar mitzvah last December and chose to use part of his gifted money to make a meaningful impact. He consulted with his parents and his great uncle, who is very involved in teaching and guiding African Jewish communities, and they connected with the Jewish community in Putti. Their goal is to help complete the construction of the Jonathan Netanyahu Memorial School, which has served Jewish children for over a decade… Through a series of donations and crowdfunding campaigns, funding began to pour in. ‘The establishment of the Jewish Center will be a home for the Jews of Putti and the surrounding area,’ says [Enosh Keki Mainah, a central figure in the local Jewish community], ‘and also for Jews from all around the world, including Israeli travelers who visit Uganda. For us, this guarantees the continuity of Judaism in Uganda.’” [Ynet]

Around the Web

The University of California Los Angeles and Hebrew University of Jerusalem received a $1.3 million grant from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and an anonymous donor to develop strategies to prevent school violence and “turn campuses into safe and welcoming places for children worldwide.” The universities will begin recruiting research teams this coming fall…

California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a letter to educators in the state against using ethnic studies courses that promote bias and bigotry. The letter was in response to a request from local Jewish leaders who expressed concern that some districts were using courses that promote anti-Israel ideals and espouse antisemitism…

The Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee said that Bradley Cooper’s use of a prosthetic nose in the forthcoming Leonard Bernstein biopic was not antisemitic…

In a new joint opinion piece in The Times of Israel, Matti Friedman, Yossi Klein-Halevi and Daniel Gordis call for Diaspora Jews to support Israel’s protest movement and to no longer treat “Israel’s present leadership as a normative government”…

Jewish Federations of North America have distributed some $249,000 in Maui wildfire relief through four Jewish communal organizations in Hawaii…

A vacant synagogue in West Hartford, Conn., could soon become an apartment building offering affordable housing as part of a new initiative by Trout Brook Realty Advisors, the nonprofit development arm of the West Hartford Connecticut Housing Authority

The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists filed an amicus brief application with Israel’s High Court of Justice, arguing that the government’s judicial reform law limiting the use of a “reasonableness” standard will impede Jewish immigration to Israel…

Jewish climate activists said they are disappointed that the March to End Fossil Fuels will be held on Rosh Hashanah this year but that they understand the High Holidays make scheduling weekend events difficult this year…

The Jewish National Fund-USA invited 150 philanthropists from “high-net-worth families” to a retreat at a swanky resort in Carlsbad, Calif., to discuss “impactful philanthropic giving”…

Eugene Shvidler, Jewish Russian billionaire and major donor to the British Jewish community, failed to have the sanctions imposed on him with the outbreak of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine removed after appealing to the British High Court

Massachusetts Jewish groups received $2.85 million in funds from the commonwealth as part of a nonprofit security grant program…

The Eisenberg Family Foundation donated $3 million to Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in memory of Lea and Leon Eisenberg to create a new writing center on the campus…

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed a bill that would require the state to provide kosher and halal meals in public schools and hospitals, drawing criticism from some local Jewish groups. Pritzker, who is Jewish, said he was not opposed to the concept but to certain technical aspects of the bill…

The MIT Technology Review looked at the Jewish history of the Cambridge, Mass., university, beginning with a Menorah Society — a Hillel forebear — that planned to collect data to do better matchmaking in the 1930s…

A Russian court extended the pretrial detentions of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich until at least Nov. 30…

J. The Jewish News of Northern California profiled the Bay Area’s Jewish Baby Network, an organization that helps local new parents connect to one another and to relevant resources…

David Bernstein, a former executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, died last week at 92…

Clive Marks, a major donor to British and international Jewish educational initiatives, died on Monday at 92…

Janet Wisbaum, a mainstay in the Buffalo Jewish community, died last week at 83…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Alex Kolomoisky

Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk (center) stands with MK Zeev Elkin, who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine (left), and former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, during an event celebrating the country’s 32nd Independence Day last night at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.


Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1986 for her role in “Children of a Lesser God,” she is the first deaf performer to have won the award, Marlee Matlin

Dean of the Yeshiva Gedola of Passaic, Rabbi Meir Stern… Rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, he also teaches at Cardozo Law School and is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Yehuda (The Yorkville Synagogue) in NYC, Rabbi J. David Bleich… Author, speaker, geriatric care manager and online counselor for seniors in Scottsdale, Ariz., Lois G. Tager… Co-founder and president of Infinity Broadcasting, later the CEO of CBS and then CEO of Sirius Radio, Mel Karmazin… U.S. senator (D-WV), Joe Manchin… Celebrity furniture designer known for his eponymous furniture brand, Dakota Jackson, Inc., he was born in Rego Park, Queens, N.Y., as David Malon, Dakota Jackson… President of Harvard University until his retirement at the end of June, Lawrence Seldon Bacow… Rabbi of the Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, England, since 1980, Dr. Jonathan Romain… Senior counselor to the secretary of homeland security, Ricki Seidman… Former governor of Arkansas and twice a candidate for U.S. president, Mike Huckabee… Co-chair of the real estate practice and the infrastructure practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, he is the vice-chair of Birthright, J. Philip Rosen… Essayist and longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik… Actor, producer and director, Steve Guttenberg… President of Pace University, Marvin Krislov… Professor of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, Jonathan E. Aviv… President of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Marc Terrill… Professional organizer, Donna Barwald… Founder and CEO of Gawker Media, Nick Denton… President of MetalMart International, Inc, William Lippman… Former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff… President of the Jewish United Fund / Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Lonnie Nasatir… CNN political analyst, David Gregory… U.S. senator (R-IN), Todd Young… Israeli cinematographer and film and television director, Avigail Sperber… Director of content at the U.K.-based Brainstorm Digital, Miriam Shaviv… GM of MLB’s Texas Rangers until 2022, now a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, Jon Daniels… Founder and executive director of the bipartisan group New Politics, Emily Cherniack… Attorney who represents high-tech clients in cross-border intellectual property disputes, Michael M. Rosen… Israeli actress and musician, Meital Dohan… CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway, Jennifer Hyman… Head coach of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team, Jon Scheyer… CEO of the JCommerce Group, David M. Perelman… Strategic communications executive at The Lede Company, Galia Slayen… Director of operations at Maree Pour Toi, Samantha Rose Feinstein… SVP at Edelman, Natalie Strom… Film and television actor, Griffin Gluck