Your Daily Phil: Nigel Savage on what’s next after Hazon + Incorporating Surfside into Tisha B’Av liturgy
Good Monday morning!
The collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla. on June 24 was mourned along with traditional themes at Tisha B’Av services across the country yesterday.
Tisha B’Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the ancient temples in Jerusalem along with other historical tragedies, came as teams continue to search the Champlain Towers site for human remains. Authorities put the official death toll at 97. On Friday, rescuers found the body of Dr. Brad Cohen, 51. The remains of his brother, Dr. Gary Cohen, who was visiting from Alabama, was found July 7.
The Shul of Bal Harbour, a Chabad community about a mile north of the Champlain Towers complex, held a memorial event. The Conservative movement offered a livestream of a Tisha B’Av service, which featured a reading of Eicha, or the Book of Lamentations, held at its Ramah day camp in Nyack, N.Y.
“Raised on summers at Camp Ramah, Conservative Jews know that Tisha B’Av is meaningful when Eicha is chanted on the tennis courts, as bugs bite your ankles and tiny candles drip wax on your fingers,” said Rabbi Ilana C. Garber, the Rabbinical Assembly’s director of global rabbinic development. The service also included new prayers written by rabbis specifically about the tragedy in Surfside.
The Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization for the Orthodox community, also live streamed its kinot, or elegies, including two live services. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb hosted a lecture titled “Ever to Remember, Never to Despair,” which touched on the Surfside tragedy, rocket attacks on Israel during a recent conflict with Hamas and the deadly crowd crush in Meron, Israel during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Nigel Savage looks back on two decades at Hazon
In 2000, Nigel Savage founded Hazon, an early Jewish environmental organization, around the idea of raising awareness by combining issues like sustainability and justice with bringing people together to enjoy the outdoors. Now, the group is merging with the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Baltimore County, Md., and Savage will step down as CEO to fulfill a yearslong dream of spending a shmita, or sabbatical, year in Israel. He spoke with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoffabout the growing Jewish environmental movement and the challenges that face it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Helen Chernikoff: You started your career in finance in London. How did you end up starting and running a Jewish environmental organization?
Nigel Savage: I didn’t think I was leaving finance. I took a yearlong sabbatical to go and learn at Pardes [a pluralistic yeshiva in Jerusalem], and I never recovered. I thought, “Why would I want to commute on the Northern Line [train] wearing a pinstriped suit? So I stayed in Jerusalem, and the wheels came off the bus. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
HC: And you figured it out that year?
NS: I got invited on a hike. I’d never done anything like that before. So I did this hike with four other guys and I was very nervous, and I loved it. It led to me doing a lot of stuff outdoors, and not accidentally in Israel, and I started to see that we didn’t enter human history in a synagogue or in a JCC or in a day school. We entered human history as an indigenous people, and the Torah is, to a considerable extent, a record of that encounter. I came alive outdoors, and I started to see that the Jewish tradition came alive outdoors, and that pushing oneself physically was good for a person. And a final piece of the jigsaw puzzle was that I realized that bringing people outdoors was a great way to bring them together across differences.
HC: And how did Hazon emerge out of this?
NS: A friend told me she was biking across America, and I said, “We need a Jewish bike ride across America.” [Hazon’s Cross-USA Jewish Environmental Bike Ride launched in 2000.] I felt the Jewish community was too bothered by antisemitism and attacks on Israel, and I wanted to make a statement about not just what we are against, but what are we for? What’s our vision? Antisemitism is an issue today. But the overall perspective is the same. There’s a closed loop in Judaism, where we are Jewish so you can marry a Jewish person, and you marry a Jewish person so you can send your kids to Jewish day school. I’m not against that. I support it. But there’s no external referent. Either Jewish tradition should address the greatest issues of our time, or else why should anyone care? Hazon wants to turn Jewish life outwards, to engage on the issue of environmental sustainability. Hopefully, those things will be true of Pearlstone as well.
Exploring Black narratives
“One year ago, amidst a national swell of energy spurred by the urgent need for racial justice, numerous Jewish organizations around the country including Jewish day schools, JCC’s, and Jewish foundations pledged to work toward a more racially just society… As a journalist, I have interviewed many exceptional and diverse artists, and I believe that stories hold a unique power in illuminating the lives of individuals and communities,” writes Lonnie Firestone in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Mindset: “With this mindset, I began to envision a program for students to expand their study of Black playwrights and to interview talented actors and directors who have brought such plays to life onstage. Conversations with artists open a window into the creative process and facilitate a deeper understanding of the stories they depict. As a corollary, interview preparation encourages students to be curious, thoughtful and well-prepared.”
The idea: “I developed the idea with my co-director Kendell Pinkney, a Black Jewish theater artist and JTS rabbinical student. Our program, now titled, Exploring Black Narratives, involves script reading, performance viewing, scene study, historical discussion and workshops with professional actors and directors.”
First run: “This past year, we brought our program to three Jewish day schools across the US, and in March we were awarded a grant from UJA Federation of New York. In our second year, we will expand to 7+ Jewish day schools as well as workshops for adults and at the university level.”
Journey to camp
“For the past seven summers, my 14-year-old son Max has loved attending Camp Solomon Schechter… Over the years, Max has been able to make deep connections and friendships with kids all over the Pacific Northwest – from Oregon, Washington, and California. In fact, none of his close camp friends lived in our hometown, just over the border in Vancouver, Canada. So, when we fully understood the challenges of COVID, and the impossibility of camp in summer 2020, we were, like so many families, disappointed,” writes Jessica Formsn in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Crossing Borders: “As we headed towards summer 2021, we were not sure if camp would run and again prepared him for that reality… So, when the vaccines started to roll out, and camp announced that they were planning on running, we were still doubtful. As the weeks went by, Camp Solomon Schechter did everything they could to help Canadian campers get to camp. After exploring our options, I drove to the border and confirmed that, as dual citizens, Max and another child could walk from the Canadian border across to the American side.”
Against the Current: In The Wall Street Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley speaks with Elise Westhoff, the president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, to describe the “powerful tide” Westhoff’s organization is swimming against as progressive activists and government officials challenge the independence of philanthropists. In recent years, major foundations like the Ford Foundation have shifted their missions, while the Whitney Museum of American Art’s board has forced its vice chairman to resign because his business sold tear gas to law enforcement and members of Congress are waging war on “dark money” donations to nonprofits, Riley writes. “I think when you start imposing those ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds,’ you really limit human generosity,” Westhoff said. “There are people who want to help animals, and they should be able to do that.” [WSJ]
Tiny But Mighty: Annette Bloch, called “one of Kansas City’s grande dames of philanthropy,” died on Saturday at the age of 94, reports Cortlynn Stark in The Kansas City Star. The widow of Richard Bloch, who founded the tax preparation firm H&R Block with his brother Henry, Annette was a breast cancer survivor who, along with her husband, who had survived lung cancer, founded the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, now dissolved and replaced by the Richard & Annette Bloch Family Foundation. “She was tiny but mighty,” said her youngest daughter, Linda Lyon. “She got so much more, she thought, out of being able to give to others. It just made her feel so good.”?? [KansasCityStar]
Impossible Standards: Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Hans Taparia notes that the inclusion of tobacco company Philip Morris in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which screens for companies that meet certain environmental, social and governmental (ESG) standards might mean that those standards are too low. The problem, he writes, is that the ratings measure the risk posed to a company by ESG factors, not the actions it takes to minimize ESG harms it might itself cause. “The system as it stands gives a pass to a large number of harmful actors, driving large fund flows to them and lowering their cost of capital, while CEOs and Wall Street executives celebrate a lucrative movement that they hope will improve their public image,” Taparia writes. [SSIR]
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Word on the Street
The BIRD Foundation is investing $6 million in six new Israeli projects… Disability Futures, an initiative launched last October with the aim of increasing the visibility and elevating the voices of disabled artists and creative practitioners, announced a commitment of an additional $5 million from the Ford and Andrew W. Mellonfoundations… The Pew Charitable Trusts announced grants totaling $3.48 million in support of efforts to help Philadelphia-area residents and organizations recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic… The California Budget Act of 2021 includes $14.9 million for restoration of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, a landmark on the National Register… Israel’s first NBA player, Omri Casspi, announced his retirement from basketball yesterday at the age of 33…
Chairman emeritus of Starbucks Coffee Company, Howard Schultz…
Retired Israeli airline pilot, he successfully thwarted an in-flight hijacking by Leila Khaled in 1970, Uri Bar-Lev… Johannesburg resident, Monty Lasovsky… Interactive designer, author and artist, he married Caroline Kennedy in 1986, Edwin Arthur “Ed” Schlossberg… Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, he served in the Dutch Senate and later as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Uriel “Uri” Rosenthal… Entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer, Ian Schrager… Co-founder of Limmud FSU, Sandra F. Cahn… Past president of the UJA/Federation of Westport, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk, CT and VP and executive board member of the Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, Connecticut, Linda Meyer Russ… Sportswriter for The Athletic, he is the author of three books on baseball, Jayson Stark… Retired judicial assistant at the Montgomery County (PA) Court of Common Pleas, Deenie Silow… Rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, N.J. and rosh yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in NYC, Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger… Former chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings, Edward Scott “Eddie” Lampert… Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times reporter and author of “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men,” Eric Lichtblau… Israeli actress and film producer, Yael Abecassis… Spokesperson to the Arab media in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office, Ofir Gendelman… Co-chairman and CEO of CheckAlt, Shai Stern… Senior writer and NBA Insider for ESPN, Ramona Leor Shelburne… Inductee of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for his years as a soccer star at the University of Virginia, he is now a senior director at Unified Women’s Healthcare, Chad Prince… Former deputy mayor of the city of Haifa, Shai Abuhatsira… Ultra-marathon runner, he performs as a mentalist and magician, Oz Pearlman… Engagement manager at McKinsey & Company, Alexis Blair Wolfer… President of Brightside Academy Ohio, Ezra David Beren … ProPublica reporter covering national politics, Isaac Arnsdorf… South Africa director for Innovation: Africa, Caroline Mendelsohn… Last week he became the first ever Orthodox Jewish player selected in the MLB Draft, picked number 77 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jacob Steinmetz… Former EVP and CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, Dr. George Ban…
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