Your Daily Phil: Moving Traditions’ new strategic plan + The problem of counting American Jews

Good Thursday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we have an exclusive on a new strategic plan on teen mental health, and feature op-eds by professors Ira Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky on Jewish demographics, and by Footsteps’ Lani Santo on inclusive communities. Also in this newsletter: Dalia Lister, Gregory S. Weiner, Judith Alperin and British Home Secretary Grant Shapps. We’ll start with the screening last night of an HBO documentary on the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. 

Near the end of a new documentary on the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha synagogue four years ago, two of the survivors are walking down the street when they hear a loud bang. A look of shock briefly crosses their faces, then one informs the other that it was just a motorcycle backfiring. They continue walking.

Moments like those fill “A Tree of Life,” the new film from director Trish Adlesic that will premiere on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 9 p.m. on HBO. At the heart of the film are the testimonies of survivors, as well as those of the relatives of the attack’s 11 victims, about the attack itself and its wrenching aftermath.

“I had to go, I had to live, I knew she wasn’t going to survive,” Andrea Wedner, who survived the attack, says in the film regarding her mother Rose Mallinger, who was killed beside her. Later in the film, another survivor, Dan Leger, describes how he “moved in the direction of the gunfire” in order to try to help people. As he was being taken to the hospital, he said, he thought he was in the hands of the chevra kadisha, the Jewish burial society.

Speaking alongside the film’s subjects at a screening last night at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, Adlesic described how she was trained in trauma-informed care before making the film. She also lived in Pittsburgh for three years while filming and conducting interviews, and showed cuts of the film to its subjects to make sure they felt depicted fairly.

“I worked with one of the survivors, initially, on which questions to ask so that they weren’t triggering and they were questions that were comfortable for the participant,” she said. “I strongly felt that those that lived it should tell it… I stayed in Pittsburgh full-time, and when they felt comfortable, I was there to respond.”

The film covers a dense amount of material from the day of the attack and the four years that have followed, giving an overview of modern antisemitism in America, background on Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill, the attacker’s motivations and the reaction to the shooting locally and nationally. A short segment of the film shows a Pittsburgh-area gun shop located in a restored former synagogue, where racks of rifles stand in front of Jewish-themed stained-glass windows.

But the audience’s most powerful reactions were reserved for the interviews with the survivors and relatives, who paid tribute to those they lost and projected their own resilience.

“It really is a call to action, but the action, as I said in the film, is making peace happen,” said Audrey Glickman, a survivor of the attack, at last night’s event. “We have to talk to each other, we have to stop being divided and start living together and working toward the good of all.”


Moving Traditions’ new strategic plan aims to build teens’ confidence while addressing contentious topics

Children at a Moving Traditions event.


How do you teach teenagers to feel comfortable with who they are at a time when norms of identity are shifting? And how do you help them maintain that sense of self as they project their passions onto an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile wider world? Those questions lie at the center of a new strategic plan from Moving Traditions, which guides Jewish preteens and teens through discussions surrounding adolescence, gender and discrimination, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Sense of self: “If we want to authentically engage young people today with Judaism, there’s a very small group of things that they’re feeling connected to,” Moving Traditions CEO Shuli Karkowsky, who took the post earlier this year, told eJP. “Finding their own sense of self and well-being and identity is a really good way to connect people back to Judaism… The other thing is giving them the tools to be leaders in the causes they care about.”

Sensitive questions: Reaching more teens, and promoting the group’s emphasis on teen mental health and identity across the Jewish community, are the centerpieces of the strategic plan, which is being published today, and which eJP obtained ahead of its release. But beyond building the teens’ confidence, the organization will also work with the adolescents and their parents and teachers to address a series of sensitive topics — from teens’ gender and racial identities to discussing Israel in progressive spaces.

A growing emphasis: The strategic plan comes at a time when teen mental health is commanding increasing national attention and resources. It has also become a focus of the Jewish community. BeWell, a $2.75 million program launched this year by the Jewish Federations of North America, brings local Jewish agencies to address the issue. Mental health programs and funding for campers and staff have also grown at Jewish camps, in addition to local Jewish programs helping teens with mental illness.

Read the full story here.


23 and us: The problem of counting American Jews in 2022


“The headline of this piece could easily be, ‘According to the recently released volume of the American Jewish Year Book, the Jewish population of the U.S. stands at 23.’ That’s because 1654 is the last time we had an accurate count of American Jews, when 23 Brazilian Jews first landed on these shores. We agree with our friend and colleague Professor Sergio DellaPergola that, for the most part, in generations past, being Jewish was a binary designation: you either were Jewish or were not Jewish,” write Ira M. Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky, co-editors of the American Jewish Year Book, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Multiple identities: “Such is no longer the case. Today, many people have multiple identities. These multiple identities arise for two main reasons. First, a significant number of American Jews have only one Jewish parent. Second, being Jewish can represent both being a member of a religious group and or being a member of an ethnic or cultural group.”

Numbers game: “The question that is raised is whether the 7.5 million American Jewish population estimate from the Pew study is correct. Does it only count people who ‘should’ be counted as Jews? By the way, the Pew study excluded people of Jewish background who do not consider themselves Jewish in any way and [those in] the Jewish Affinity group who describe themselves as Jewish or partially Jewish but did not have a Jewish parent and were not raised Jewish. Professor DellaPergola opines that Pew included too many people who are really not Jewish and suggests a U.S. Jewish population of only 6 million. This is despite the fact that all respondents to the Pew survey answered a question affirmatively about being either religiously or ethnically Jewish. This is also despite the fact that the vast, vast majority of the Pew respondents are exhibiting Jewish behaviors, even if only minimally.”

Read the full piece here.


May we do better


“For many, this time of year is a time to reflect on how we can do better, prompted by the changing seasons, heading back to school or rooted in ritual connection to the holidays. We take an accounting of how we live our lives, and consider the ways we want to change for the upcoming year. We look at ourselves and our relationships – and reflect on how we can be a better friend, partner, family member or leader,” writes Lani Santo, CEO of New York City-based Footsteps, which provides services for those who have left Haredi communities, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Disappointment: “This particular year, the time of reflection finds me overwhelmed with disappointment and even devastation at segments of the Jewish community… No matter what community you align yourself with, it is painful to see Jews tossing young people aside who by no choice of their own exist on the communal margins.”

The power to create change: “There are many ways to react to this misalignment of values and community. Some people may feel that they want to throw up their hands and retreat or bury the hopeless feelings because they feel like it’s not appropriate nor their responsibility… I would argue that we must each believe in our power to create change.”

Footsteps: “I have the privilege of working at Footsteps, where we have spent 20 years lighting up paths that at first seemed impossible to navigate. Our mission is to support those who make the decision to leave their communities and live as their authentic selves. They come to us with a myriad of needs: unstable or unsafe housing, limited education and skills to navigate the world, and some are threatened with the loss of their children. We create a supportive, loving community for those who have been cast out or who have never felt accepted by those around them.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Friday Night Fun: In Jewish Insider, Jenni Frazer interviews Dalia Lister, the host of ‘Not Your Mum’s Friday Night Dinner,’ a social event for millennial and Gen Z Jews in London. “During her adolescence, she told JI, she was never allowed to go to parties with her non-Jewish school friends on Friday nights. But once out in the world of work, she discovered different options: “religious events, in synagogues, which I do go to, and charity events. ‘But some people don’t feel comfortable in a shul, or perhaps haven’t grown up going to shul,’ Lister added. ‘On the other hand, there are charity events that I’ve also gone to, and they’re also great, and I support many of them and am an ambassador for a couple of them. But again, they don’t attract everyone. And then there are singles events, but there isn’t actually anything for connecting people, whether you are single or not.’” [JI]

If I Were a Rothschild: 
A new biography of the Rothschilds reveals that eight generations of women in the family were as accomplished as their male relatives, Moira Hodgson writes in The Wall Street Journal, including Miriam Rothschild (1908-2005), a zoologist known as “The Queen of Fleas” for her work on the insects. “[She was a] pioneering environmentalist, advocate of animal rights, and, among other pursuits, had worked as a code breaker at Bletchley Park [during World War II]. Looking at fleas under a microscope, she said, was even more enjoyable than smoking marijuana. One interviewer wrote of her: ‘Imagine Beatrix Potter on amphetamines and you come close.’… Nica (1913-1988), Miriam’s feisty younger sister, wore furs and drove a silver Rolls-Royce. She fought with the Free French in Africa during World War II, piloted airplanes, and drove ambulances in Italy. In the early 1950s she went to New York to “get in on the jazz scene.” Hers was not exactly the dutiful, industrious life the Rothschild patriarchs had anticipated for their women. She drag-raced Miles Davis across Manhattan, Charlie Parker died in her suite at the Stanhope Hotel, and she took up with the pianist Thelonious Monk, ‘the most beautiful man I [had] ever seen.’ Monk lived with her for several years in a modernist mansion in Weehawken, N.J., alongside a Steinway grand and more than a hundred cats.” [WSJ]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Mapping Jewish Chaplaincy, the most comprehensive study of Jewish chaplains to date, found that nearly 1,000 Jewish chaplains are providing essential spiritual and emotional services to Americans of all faiths. The chaplains are working in healthcare, prisons, higher education, eldercare and other organizations. They serve the sick, incarcerated and those struggling with substance abuse. Yet the report finds they are underrecognized and excluded from leadership positions and decision making in major Jewish organizations…

The Jewish Fertility Foundation, an organization providing financial assistance, emotional support and educational programming to individuals with medical infertility, opened its Washington, D.C.-area location with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It is the sixth location in the group’s ongoing national expansion…

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan and its wholly owned affiliate, JewishGen, are establishing the Peter and Mary Kalikow Jewish Genealogy Research Center. Museum visitors will be able to access Jewish genealogy resources, data and collections via computer stations. It will have printers for visitors to bring their research home, and will contain hundreds of Yizkor books and print materials. There also will be on-site volunteers and content experts to assist users…

The Blue Card, a New York-based organization that assists Holocaust survivors in need, is partnering with the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon. The Blue Card has been a charity partner since 2009 and has raised over $2 million to date via the marathon. This year’s marathon takes place on Sunday, Nov. 6…

Gregory S. Weiner has been elected president of Assumption University in Worcester, Mass., the first Jewish president of a Roman Catholic university in the world. Weiner is currently an active member of a Conservative synagogue and was raised Orthodox… 

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has named Judith Alperin as chief development officer, effective Nov. 3. Alperin comes to Hadassah from the Jewish Federation, Foundation and JCC of Greater New Haven, Conn., where she served as CEO…

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will spend more than $1 billion on a national plan to improve math education over the next four years…

The Galileo Foundation launched its inaugural “Faith and Philanthropy” Summit hosted at the Vatican on Oct. 14 to 15, which brought together 145 leading philanthropists from five different faiths who pledged to join forces across faith lines in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges…

The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross announced grants totaling $80 million from the Lilly Endowment to fund increased disaster relief needs caused by climate change…

The Ballmer Group is committing to fund $149 million over three years through its new climate-change portfolio…

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced an additional $50 million commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), reinforcing its dedication to GPEI’s mission to complete the global eradication of polio…

Pic of the Day

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Member of Parliament Grant Shapps leaving 10 Downing St. on Wednesday following his appointment as the U.K’s home secretary, a senior cabinet position, by Prime Minister Liz Truss, who just announced that she would resign. Shapps previously served as transport secretary in the Boris Johnson government. He is a former national president of the Jewish youth organization BBYO.


Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Israeli-born actress, she is a recurring character on CBS’s “Seal Team,” Alona Tal

Economist who earned the nickname “Dr. Doom” during his tenure as the chief economist at Salomon Brothers during the 1970s, Henry Kaufman… Poet, essayist and literary critic, he is a professor at Boston University, Robert Pinsky… Professor emerita at Ben-Gurion University, she is the daughter of former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres, Tsvia Walden… One of two grand rebbes of Satmar, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum… Miami Beach-based real estate developer, Russell W. Galbut… Actress and director of film and television, Melanie Mayron… Music composer for many films, winner of six Grammys and an Emmy Award, Thomas Newman… Former longtime House Budget Committee staff director, now an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University, Thomas Kahn… U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)… Managing director and partner at Beacon Pointe Advisors, Jordan Heller… Former rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Katamon area and a leading figure at the Israel Democracy Institute, Rabbi Binyamin (Benny) Lau… Russian TV and radio journalist, Vladimir Solovyov… Vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris… U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)… and his identical twin brother, the executive director of the University of Hawaii’s P-20 programs, Stephen Schatz… Israeli actress, Hilla Vidor… Classical violinist and a 2008 winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship, Leila Josefowicz… Film and television writer, David Caspe… Israel Policy Forum media advisor Martin Irom… Long Island regional director at AJC Global, Eric Post… Fashion designer, best known for her eponymous line of women’s ready-to-wear, Misha Nonoo… Israel Policy Forum board member Thomas Kahn… Manager at AIPAC’s political action committee, Michael Clark… Associate in the New York City office of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Evan G. Zuckerman… Twins from Raanana, Avi and Rafi Granoff…

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