Your Daily Phil: New JFNA trip teaches educators how to talk about Israeli turmoil

Good Wednesday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we profile an internship program through the Israeli religious advocacy nonprofit Itim, and feature an opinion piece from Hillel David Rapp. We’ll start with a new Jewish Federations of North America trip to Israel for Jewish educators to learn about the current debate in Israel over the government’s proposed judicial overhaul.

Having just returned from a five-day jaunt through Israel led by Jewish Federations of North America and designed for educators who work with Jewish teens and millennials, Jewish educator Elyssa Hurwitz said she feels “reenergized,” reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

“What role does Israel play in our communities? How are we supporting the young adults we work with all over the world in having any kind of relationship with Israel in all of its facets? I’ve been thinking about these questions for a while but they have fallen on the back burner,” Hurwitz, who coordinates Jewish programming at Moishe House in New York City, told eJP. 

The initiative, called Israel Intensive for Engagement Professionals, brought 33 Jewish professionals who work with teens and young adults from around North America to Israel last month. It was the first trip of its kind, a joint venture together with UJA-Federation of New York, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the One8 Foundation.

“It was wild,” Hurwitz said of the Knesset meeting. “It was a broad range of perspectives and I couldn’t tell you the last time I spent time in a room with someone who was on [the] opposite end [of the judicial reform debate] as the person I was about to spend the next 30 minutes of my life with.”

According to Shira Hutt, executive vice president of JFNA, the trip was designed to give participants deeper context to issues being debated in Israel and to equip them with tools to bring complex topics back to the teens, college students and young adults they teach.

“This trip came up because of the moment that we are in,” Hutt told eJP, adding that the program was organized in about six weeks. “We reached out to a number of federations and national partners like BBYO and OneTable and identified professionals that were working on a local level to do the work I mentioned.”

Read the full story here.

shul and state

From left, Rebecca Massel, Kayla Bellin and Racheli Dubizh meet with Susan Reiter and Rabbi Seth Farber. Reiter sponsors their internship at Farber’s Itim religious advocacy nonprofit. (Courtesy)

Rebecca Massel, Kayla Bellin and Racheli Dubizh all grew up in a Modern Orthodox framework in New York City, studying in Jewish day schools and spending ample time in Israel. But it wasn’t until this summer — the summer after each of their freshman years at university – that they said they fully realized that religion works differently in Israel than it does in the United States. “It was really fascinating to me to see this thing that I’ve lived with my whole life take a political and legal shape in Israel,” Bellin told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross this week.

A nuanced approach: Bellin, Massel and Dubizh are the third and latest cohort of the Reiter Family Internship Program at the nonprofit Itim, which helps people navigate the intersection of religion and state in Israel, mostly through lobbying, lawsuits and advocacy. Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder and director of Itim, said the goal of the internship is twofold: one, to teach the participants about Israeli society so they can “present the nuance of Israel’s delicate democracy on campus” when they return home; and two, in the longer term, to prepare them for leadership positions so that they can “play a role in making Israel more respectful and responsive to the Jewish needs of the Jewish people.”

Leadership development: Within Itim, the internship program is funded by the Reiter family. Susan Reiter said she and her husband, Allen, who died two years ago, have long donated to Itim, seeing the organization as sharing “all the values that I believe in for helping people find their place as members of the Jewish community.” She said that she hopes the internship program will “develop Jewish leadership for the Diaspora and to bring particularly Americans to Israel to learn and to contribute in order to enhance their identity, but not to encourage aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) particularly.”

Read the full story here.

Hit the books

What Jewish high schools get wrong about student happiness

Illustrative. Students at a religious high school in Israel celebrate Rosh Hodesh on March 28, 2017. (Dan Porges/Getty Images)

“Jewish high schools, and high schools broadly, have a mental health problem. In my experience, that problem is often rooted in, among other factors, students failing to fully master what they are meant to learn in school. Instead of addressing the problem at its root and fixing the processes we have for adolescent learning, Jewish high schools have largely responded by attempting to remove learning as an important piece of the high school experience for most students in favor of other forms of engagement directed at student happiness. Yet the data implies we have not meaningfully impacted our students’ overall mental well-being. Instead, the problem keeps getting worse,” writes Hillel David Rapp, principal of Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Connection not knowledge: “Over the last 20 years or so Jewish learning in high school has progressively shifted away from academics and focused instead on engagement and identity. Judaic studies teachers are increasingly valued for their ability to form meaningful connections with students and to inspire their commitment to Jewish traditions and practice above core skills and literacy. The goal has been to create enjoyable and meaningful informal learning experiences focused largely on Jewish identity and living… For its part, general studies has become progressively results-oriented, in part a natural response to pressures coming from an increasingly competitive university landscape.”

Have your cake; eat it too: “Must we accept… [that] meaningful engagement comes at the cost of quality learning? Is it not possible to have both exceptional engagement and exceptional learning on a broad scale? I would argue that not only is it possible, the models are already out there. The movements in Mastery Based Learning, Universal Design Learning and Student Centered Learning, to name a few, are relatively new structures already used by innovative schools across North America.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Give me your tired, your (not so) poor: In The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Elchanan Poupko calls for Jewish groups to start helping the European Jews flocking to the United States from their home countries in the face of growing antisemitism in Europe. “Living in New York, I meet European Jewish refugees — daily. No, they are not showing up in tattered clothing, crowded boats, and empty-handed. They are often well-to-do, well-educated, and know English. They are still refugees. And we are failing them. I meet young French Jews who see no future for themselves in France, Jews who left Berlin, Belgium, Holland, and more. They come here because they have no choice. Yes, they can pretend they are not Jewish and live happily in their home countries, but they can’t live there as Jews. They come here because they want to be able to identify as Jews and not live in fear… Who is helping them? I do not know of one Jewish organization in New York City whose purpose is to help French Jews or any other group of European Jews and that stains my self-image of a proud New York Jew.” [JPost]

Comparisons Are Odious: In the Tampa Bay Times, Mike Igel, board chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum, argues against universalizing the Holocaust and focusing on its uniqueness. “As antisemitic incidents surge to new highs, our role to share the lessons of the Holocaust with the public is more important than ever — but it has also become more complicated. People recognize how overtly antisemitic hate crimes connect to the Holocaust’s targeted violence, but the rise of Holocaust equivalencies threatens public understanding of the Holocaust as a unique historical event… The Holocaust should never invite comparison, even when used to better understand the characteristics of genocide at large… While it shares features with other genocides, any representation of the Holocaust that does not center on antisemitism is at best incomplete, and at worst offensive. Respecting victims and their descendants requires us to be honest about not only what happened to them, but why… To do anything less would be unfaithful to the victims and survivors of Nazism, along with their families.” [TampaBayTimes]

Around the Web

A new study by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research found that low fertility rates appear to be a more significant factor of Jewish population sizes than the rates of interfaith marriages…

Anna Marx was named the next executive director of the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia

The jury in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting trial is deliberating whether the gunman deserves the death penalty or life in prison…

The Associated Press looked at how the Memphis, Tenn., Jewish community’s security preparations prevented a potential mass shooting in the city’s Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South on Monday…

Americans for Peace Now is circulating a letter calling on the Biden administration to make the United States’ “special relationship” with Israel “less special” in light of the Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul…

The Anti-Defamation League denounced former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign for comparing his latest indictment to persecution under Nazi Germany…

A long-simmering feud between rival Jewish communities in Hungary has again come to a boil after the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Israelite Faith found themselves locked out of their synagogue in Budapest as the Chabad-affiliated community (EMIH) had determined the building required renovations…

Pic of the Day


Benny Gustafson, a 20-year-old Jewish college student from Wisconsin, stands in front of a Magen David Adom ambulance. Gustafson, who also works as an emergency responder in the U.S., is volunteering with MDA this summer through Israel Experience, motivated by the death of his older brother four years ago.

“It is important for me to help people because my brother’s death was preventable,” Gustafson said in a statement. “I feel that by working in an ambulance, I could prevent unnecessary deaths. If someone had helped my brother and turned him around so he wouldn’t have choked, maybe he would still be alive today.”


Thos Robinson/Getty Images for USO of Metropolitan New York

Retired colonel in the U.S. Army and a recipient of the Medal of Honor and seven other medals, he taught at West Point and serves as a military analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, Jack H. Jacobs

Co-founder and chairman of NYC-based real estate development firm, Rockrose Development Corporation, Henry Elghanayan… Professor emeritus of Bible at London’s Leo Baeck College, Jonathan David Magonet… Former member of Knesset for 28 years, he then served as chairman of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems until this past April, Uzi Landau… Longtime librarian, now residing in Albuquerque, N.M., Irene Seff… Nationally syndicated radio talk show host, author and public speaker, Dennis Prager… Ambassador and permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations, Robert Keith Rae… Author and former columnist at The New York Times, Roger Cohen… U.S. senator from Nevada, Jacklyn Sheryl “Jacky” Rosen… Psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and brain researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yoram Yovell… Chief marketing and communications officer at Meals on Wheels America, Amy Aronoff Blumkin… Former mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., for 8 years until 2022, Richard David “Rick” Kriseman… Owner of Newton, Mass.-based MPG Promotions, Elliot Mael… VP and general counsel of Yeshiva University, Andrew J. ”Avi” Lauer… ATP professional tennis player, who was once ranked sixth best in the world, Aaron Krickstein… Former member of the Knesset, first for the Labor party and then the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Leon Litinetsky… Senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Steven A. Cook… EVP for Hearst Television and chair of the NBC Television Affiliate Board, Eric J. Meyrowitz… Senior director for global trade and public affairs at confectionery, food, and pet care firm, Mars Inc., Jay Eizenstat… Pulitzer Prize-winning, D.C.-based national security reporter for The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg… Senior executive communications lead at Adobe, Stephen L. Rabin… Labor law attorney in the Nashville office of Holland & Knight, he is on the national board of JFNA, Aron Zwi Karabel… Freshman U.S. senator (R-OH), James David (J.D.) Vance… CEO of Make It Real, co-founder and chair of The Jewish Entrepreneur (a mentoring program), Isaac William “Zevy” WolmanJulia Nayfeld Schulman… Actress best known for her 1999 “Pepsi Girl” role as a seven-year-old, and later for subsequent teen roles, Hallie Kate Eisenberg… Baseball pitcher, he played for Team Israel in 2017 and now manages a baseball training facility for young players in Philadelphia, Kenny Koplove… British media personality, model and social media influencer, Eyal Adi Booker