Your Daily Phil: New Birthright Foundation CEO’s five-month report card

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new Hillel International survey of college students about antisemitism and profile the Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C. We feature an opinion piece by Jonathan S. Kessler and Steven M. Windmueller on rethinking Israel engagement for young adults who reject the views of prior generations. We’ll start with an interview with Birthright Israel Foundation CEO Elias Saratovsky.

Elias Saratovsky was only five weeks into his new job as CEO of the Birthright Israel Foundation when the Oct. 7 terror attacks rocked Israel. Those attacks, and the ongoing war against Hamas, have radically altered the field of philanthropy, Israel travel and Jewish communal life around the world.

This week, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross spoke with Saratovsky about his first few months in his position and how Birthright Israel has responded to the Oct. 7 attacks and ongoing war in Israel.

JAG: In the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7, Birthright put its Israel trips on hold. But how has the foundation had to shift or pivot since the start of this war?

ES: I’ll get to the fundraising piece in a second. But I want to address what we did in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7 because I think it’s really important in terms of what we’re working on… We ran a pilot [program] of giving our alumni — and then all Jews between the ages of 18 and 40 — the opportunity to go to Israel to volunteer, to provide them an opportunity to assist in food rescue operations and also in logistical centers. And we were blown away at the response. We initially thought that we would have about 200 participants in the first two months, and it turns out we had 1,000 volunteers… And we also have participants on our 10-day trips on the ground right now — we have about 1,000 participants this winter — and then hopefully many, many thousands this summer.

In terms of fundraising, we had a record year in 2023. We had more donors than we’ve ever had before. We raised over $85 million for our efforts. We continue to attract new donors at all levels through our direct marketing campaign, including new seven-figure donors that are inspired by our work and want to be part of our community.

JAG: How much of that record fundraising came from pre-Oct. 7 and how much was post-Oct. 7?

ES: That money was raised throughout the year, but certainly after Oct. 7, we saw a number of people realize that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to advance the Jewish community and to ensure that our young people have the confidence and the pride to talk about Israel and to experience Israel, and that Birthright Israel is a huge part of that solution. So we’ve had a number of new donors that came after Oct. 7 and we continue to see that happen every single day.

JAG: Is Birthright altering its trips going forward to account for the Oct. 7 attacks and how Israel as a country has changed? Of course, the trip included visits to serious places like the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the Har Herzl military cemetery, but they were also meant to be fun and exciting. How will you factor the current mournful state of the country into the trips?

ES: I’ve been to Israel since Oct. 7 and I’m actually going again this week. It’s not an understatement to say that the country has totally changed, and our trips reflect that.

One, on every single trip there’s a volunteer component now. Two, every single participant is bearing witness… They’re meeting with survivors of the Nova Music Festival and survivors from the kibbutzim and the towns that were impacted. We’re also meeting with family members of the hostages. That’s a very critical component of our trips, to make sure that the participants understand what’s happening with those family members and the centrality of the hostage families in Israel.

We’re also providing a lot more time for the participants to reflect on what they’re experiencing and ensuring that there’s time for conversations between the participants from the Diaspora and the Israeli participants to make sure that they both understand the shared experiences that they’re going through.

Read the full interview here.


Students participate in a protest against Israel outside of Columbia University in New York on Nov. 15, 2023.

Most Jewish college students — 57% — said they are not satisfied with how their university’s administrators are responding to antisemitism on campus, up slightly from 50% in October, according to a new survey by Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of Hillel International. A third of students say they are satisfied with how administrators have responded to antisemitic incidents, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Incident report: According to the survey, 56% of the 300 Jewish college students who were polled said they have been directly affected by antisemitism on campus since Oct. 7, with roughly a third — 32% — saying they have experienced antisemitic violence or acts of hate. In addition, 37% have said they felt the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus and 7% said they have considered transferring or leaving their school because of the climate for Jewish students. The survey has a 5% margin of error.

What to do?: While there was not a consensus on how to respond to antisemitism on campus, a number of solutions received significant support. Of the respondents, 44% said schools should provide more education to non-Jewish students about antisemitism; 39% said schools should more strictly enforce existing codes of conduct; and 36% said more visible support from non-Jewish students and organizations on campus would make them feel more safe. The increasingly prevalent solution of antisemitism task forces got low marks however, with 16% of respondents saying such a body would improve their sense of safety.

Step up: “New data reveals what we already know to be true: Four months after Oct. 7, Jewish students are still feeling the aftershocks of Hamas’ attack on Israel and Israel’s response through the pervasively hostile environment toward Jewish and Israeli students that universities have allowed to persist on college campuses,” Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman said in a statement. “Our work is far from over. Even as Hillels do everything possible to support Jewish students on campus facing these unacceptable conditions, we need our university partners to do the same.”


‘If it’s Jewish, we have it’: Inside D.C.’s new Jewish history museum

Display at the Capital Jewish Museum.

In the century after the first synagogue in Washington, D.C., was built in 1876, the small building housed many things — various churches, a motorcycle shop and, ironically, a pork barbecue store. Now, for the first time in more than 100 years, that building is again a gathering place for Washington’s Jews. This time, it’s the home of the new Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum, the first museum dedicated to examining the history of Jewish life in the nation’s capital and the ways Jews engage with Washington in the present, reports Gabby Deutch for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Overlooked no more: “It’s this massive Jewish community, but there’s never really been a book or any primary sources used to write about its history. It’s always Jewish members of Congress, Jewish members of the Supreme Court. It’s the national story,” said Jonathan Edelman, collections curator at the museum. “We felt this responsibility to not only teach the wider community about our Jewish community, but also to teach the Jewish community about itself.”

Take action: Edelman said the museum’s mission is threefold: connect, reflect, act. “The ‘act’ part is really, I think, what sets us apart from, ‘Let’s just collect documents and artifacts.’ This is Washington. This is a place where important decisions are made. You can have an impact on these decisions,” said Esther Safran Foer, the museum’s president. Safran Foer was previously the CEO at Sixth & I, the pathbreaking downtown synagogue and cultural center that she helped revitalize.

History is now: On the top floor is perhaps the most surprising area of the museum: A small section focused on Israel-related activism since Oct. 7. “It’s just showing people, telling them, ‘You are also living through history,’” said Edelman. He recalled sitting on his phone, “doomscrolling,” a couple days after the Hamas attacks, when he realized he needed to start collecting objects from the protests that were happening. He’s used to showing up at protests and rallies, asking people if he can keep their signs to display in the museum. The items “reflect the museum’s goals of recognizing and amplifying the wide variety of opinions among D.C.’s Jewish community,” a placard on the wall reads.

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


Stop selling and start channeling

“We can no longer ignore the significant and growing schism between older and younger generations of American Jews in perception, attitude and affinity towards Israel. Many Jewish households have become generational battlegrounds, with parents and children fighting over Israel as never before,” write Jonathan S. Kessler, founder and CEO of Heart of a Nation, and Steven M. Windmueller, professor emeritus of Jewish communal studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

How we got here: “For folks over 45, Israel’s formative years significantly shaped their Jewish consciousness. The miracle of its creation, its ability to successfully defend itself and its commitment to the pursuit of peace inspired global Jewry and garnered its support… By contrast, the Israel-consciousness of Jews born after the first Lebanon War in 1982 was forged during the First Intifada (1987-1993) and Second Intifada (2000-2005). Many Millennials, Gen Z-ers and Gen Alphas have only known an Israel led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, racked by internal divisions and unable to forge peace with the Palestinians… Two additional factors that came into play in the past 20 years have also contributed to this significant generational divide: the ubiquity of negative Israel messaging on social media and toxic campus environments where Israel is presented in the worst possible light.”

A new approach: “Jews have long been committed to bettering America, strengthening Israel and supporting the U.S.-Israel alliance. These values have been nurtured within families and passed from generation to generation. The problem is that many young Jews no longer see their own yearning and aspiration to fix things that are broken reflected in the Israel programs that were created to engage them. They don’t feel respected and valued by these programs because they are treated as spectators and consumers rather than potential contributors of passion, talent and effort to make Israel and the world better than it is today. It is incumbent on our community to provide critical young Jews opportunities for self-actualization as changemakers — show them how they can better, not batter, the Israel they are encouraged to support.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Renaissance of a Gold Rush Relic: In Tablet, Nomi Kaltmann tells the story of the Ballarat Synagogue. Consecrated in 1861, it is the oldest continuously used synagogue in mainland Australia. “Ballarat, located in the Australian state of Victoria, rose to prominence during the mid-19th century after gold was found there in 1851, igniting a gold rush; over the next year, the city drew approximately 90,000 people from around the world… The city attracted Jews from England who were seeking their fortunes as well as other European Jews who were escaping antisemitism. In 1853, a minyan was established on the Ballarat goldfields for the High Holidays and by 1859, the town boasted a Jewish community with more than 300 men… [A]bout 15 years ago, Max Lasky, a resident of Melbourne, began coordinating monthly Shabbat services at the shul. It’s not just local Jews who attend these services; Jews from farther afield in the wider goldfields region — in the cities near Ballarat that also had gold rushes, such as Bendigo — will pop in for services, as well as occasional Shabbaton groups from Melbourne… The synagogue committee and community know the importance of preserving such a historic and important building. ‘Once these places are gone, they don’t come back,’ said [synagogue treasurer Mark] Schatz. ‘I think that the Hebrew congregation in Ballarat, during the times of the goldfields, were important contributors not just to the social fabric, but also to civil life. I think that for that reason, the shul needs to be maintained so that the impact that the Jewish community has on the goldfields’ region continues to be recognized.’” [Tablet]

Rural Philanthropy’s Challenge: A surge of billions of dollars stemming from the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act is headed toward rural and tribal infrastructure and innovation initiatives, but there is a dearth of the technical expertise and local resources needed to put that money to effective use, writes Jerry Neal Kenney in Inside Philanthropy. “For more than a decade, leaders in philanthropy have understood the need for a new rural model to strengthen rural capacity. Warnings and recommendations about the role of philanthropy in rural development have not changed much over time, and it starts with neglect… When rural people have access to 1% of the philanthropic support as some metro populations, there’s obviously a systemic failure that creates dilemmas and forces tough choices among those philanthropies that continue investing in rural places… Whether it’s broadband connectivity, healthcare access, viable water and wastewater systems, transportation options, entrepreneurship ecosystems, or available child care, philanthropies focused on rural development must move beyond funding the thing and invest in the capacity of the systems that do the things… As the once-in-a-generation federal funding wave crests, rural places are desperate for these robust rural development triangles where philanthropy, multisectoral intermediaries and federal and state agencies interact, coordinate and layer technical assistance and investments.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Putting Pressure to Bear: In the Wall Street Journal, Benoît Morenne and Andrew Restuccia report on the role of philanthropy in a successful campaign to halt new approvals of liquefied natural gas exports from the U.S. “The Rockefellers, along with other wealthy donors including the philanthropy of Michael Bloomberg, have provided millions of dollars in recent years to front-line environmental groups that are campaigning against fossil-fuel projects, including [liquefied natural gas] terminals that have been proposed on the Gulf Coast… Biden last month effectively froze the approval process for new LNG terminals while his administration takes stock of the country’s newfound status as the world’s largest LNG exporter. ‘They got our attention,’ a senior Biden administration official said of the activists’ efforts, describing the campaign as intense… Community leaders have for years fought the expansion of LNG facilities, but some large donors steered away from funding a fight they perceived as having low odds of success, environmentalists said. Sparking some of the funders’ new interest in a campaign was a realization that a push to reduce greenhouse gases in the U.S. was prompting oil-and-gas companies to export more of their products abroad, which still increases overall global emissions, according to people familiar with the matter.” [WSJ]

Around the Web

A group of 400 actors and entertainment industry figures signed a letter supporting the European Broadcasting Union’s decision to allow Israel to participate in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest amid pressure to ban its participation over the war in Gaza…

The Israel Prize this year will not be awarded in its regular categories — humanities, science, culture and lifetime achievement — in light of the ongoing war. Instead, it will be given to six recipients in only one new category: “Civilian bravery and mutual responsibility”…

Rabbi Renee Bauer was chosen to serve as the next president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and will be installed on March 3. Bauer, the director of spiritual care and outreach at Jewish Social Services of Madison, Wis., is the first rabbi who primarily works as a chaplain to serve in the role…

European Jewish groups are railing against a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that upheld a Belgian ban on ritual animal slaughter. The ruling cannot be appealed…

British Jewry’s Community Security Trust recorded 4,103 antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom last year, which is more than twice the figure in 2022 and the highest number since the organization started tracking the data 40 years ago…

The Ballmer Group, funded by Steve and Connie Ballmergave a three-year $5.6 million grant to the education nonprofit NAF to expand its activities in southeast Michigan…

The Tech Transparency Project found that the social media platform X has taken subscription payments from accounts linked to terror groups, including Hezbollah and the Houthits, in a potential violation of U.S. sanctions…

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington opened a new security division, JShield, to improve community security. The division, which will be led by former FBI agent Rusty Rosenthal, recently brought on board three new staff members: Shay HaLevi, Laura Katzif and Adam Bronstone

Alex Soros, chair of Open Society Foundations, and Huma Abedin, the former top aide to Hillary Clintonwent public with their relationship in a Valentine’s Day post on social media…

In Tablet, Israeli Columbia University professor Shai Davidai and his wife, Yardenne Greenspandescribe their experiences on the campus and in their social circles after speaking out against the Oct. 7 terror attacks and Hamas…

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.
Courtesy/Jewish Federation of Orange County

At a “Countering Hate” summit held on Feb. 8 in Orange County, Calif., Jeff Margolis, chair of the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s Rose Project, right, warned that “Orange County has been used as a laboratory for pushing contemporary forms of antisemitism and hate over the past several decades, and countering these insidious efforts requires recognition, awareness and containment by local officials.” He added: “Through our long-standing partnership with UCI, our community is one of the first to convene a high-caliber audience and panelists with national and local expertise to actively pursue the elimination of hate, and forge models to ensure residents of Orange Country and beyond can live free of prejudice.” 

With Margolis are, from left, Jon Gould, dean of UCI Irvine’s School of Social Ecology; Howard Gillman, UC Irvine Chancellor; and Erik Ludwig, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Orange County.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Christian Peterson/Getty Image for World Athletics

Australian racewalker, she competed in the women’s 20 kilometer walk at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and is a life member of the Maccabi Victoria Athletics Club, Jemima Montag

British actress Claire Bloom… Professor of cognitive science at Indiana University, Pulitzer Prize-winner, Douglas Hofstadter… Former Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives for 26 years, Elliott Naishtat… Cartoonist, editor, teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and long-time contributing artist for The New YorkerArt Spiegelman… Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Melissa Manchester… Television and movie actor, he stars as the IRGC’s head of investigations in the Apple TV Israeli series “Tehran,” Shaun Toub… SVP of communications at Philip Morris International, Marian Salzman… Professor at Yale Law School and author of two best-selling novels, Jed Rubenfeld… Host of the radio program “Jewish Moments in the Morning” since 1983, Nachum Segal… Principal at Catalyzing Philanthropy, Karen Paul… Developer of the Miami Design District and other properties in South Beach, Craig Lewis Robins… Writer, Elizabeth Ives (“Beth”) Solomon… Founder and editor-in-chief of Talking Points MemoJosh Marshall… Investor, he founded and then sold the Rockstar energy drink, Russell Goldencloud Weiner… Founder and director of Areyvut, Daniel Rothner… Actress, writer, producer, and comedian, Alexandrea Borstein… Director of business development at Treetop Companies, Eric Distenfeld… Director of education at the Orthodox Union and host of the “18Forty” podcast, David Bashevkin, Ph.D. … Deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Alex Siegel… Former offensive lineman on three NFL teams, he is now a regional sales manager at Sirtex, Ben Gottschalk… Beauty pageant titleholder who represented Israel at the Miss Universe pageant in 2016, Yam Kaspers Anshel… Actor and voice actor, Zachary Adam Gordon