Your Daily Phil: On the ground at JFN conference + JFNA unveils plan for aid to Ukraine

Good Monday morning!

Ed. note: Today and tomorrow, the eJewishPhilanthropy team will be sending this newsletter from the sunny environs of the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where Dan Brown and Ben Sales are covering the Jewish Funders Network International Conference. If you’re in Florida with us, come say hi!

Hello from Palm Beach, where the weather is perfect, the business-casual dress code leans toward the casual, everyone is happy to see each other and people can’t stop talking about COVID-19.

Yesterday was the kickoff of the first in-person Jewish Funders Network conference since before the pandemic, and that fact has pervaded the speeches, sessions and hallway talk so far. The vibe here, in the words of one attendee, is “vacation-y” — people in polo shirts and sleeveless dresses, and almost entirely without masks — schmoozing on a balcony overlooking a swimming pool, with a sense of relief at finally being able to see each other in person. At a camp-themed soiree in the balmy Florida evening (serving hamburgers, tacos, fries and alcoholic “bug juice”), the overarching topic of conversation was about how happy everyone was to meet face-to-face after two years — pandemic or not.

Nevertheless, the pandemic did loom large, though at the opening plenary, it was discussed almost in the past tense: the focus was on steps forward and lessons learned. American-Israeli comedian Benji Lovitt, who emceed the session (and name-checked eJewishPhilanthropy and our colleague, Dan Brown), cracked jokes about business casual meaning “fancy sweatpants.” In the keynote speech, Harvard University lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar, who studies happiness, discussed trauma, resilience and the power of philanthropy.

A subsequent address by JFN CEO Andrés Spokoiny (whose text also appears below) focused on “a crisis… of potentially devastating consequences,” born of the pandemic, in the Jewish community. He called for Jews to unite around areas of broad consensus — what he called “a coalition of the sane” — when it comes to Jewish advocacy and the fight against antisemitism.

He also said that organizations should view the fact that they survived the pandemic as an opportunity to challenge their assumptions. “We failed to dream big,” he said, “to use the pandemic as a moment to reimagine the community and make bold philanthropic bets.” Spokoiny, as well as participants in a session titled “The Future of Philanthropy,” also encouraged greater trust and cooperation between funders and grantees.

But COVID-19 didn’t dominate all the speeches. Jeffrey Schoenfeld, one of the conference co-chairs, left it out of a list of priorities the community needs to address — which included antisemitism, climate change, threats to democracy and the mental health crisis. But the top of his list — and something on the top of many attendees’ minds — was the war in Ukraine.

Speakers and attendees made clear that the gathering in Palm Beach, despite the overall laid-back mood, was an opportunity for funders to collectively mobilize around humanitarian aid, refugee advocacy, immigration to Israel and more. The conference, which was announced months before the Russian invasion, now includes multiple sessions about Ukraine.

One topic that didn’t appear in speeches at the plenary is the handful of Russian Jewish billionaires who have been sanctioned due to their ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During brief remarks, Genesis Philanthropy Group CEO Marina Yudbrovsky lamented “the fighting ravaging the country where I was born.” But unsurprisingly, no one on stage mentioned that GPG’s co-founders resigned from its board after being sanctioned. GPG’s future, however, did come up in sideline conversations, with one person speculating over whether the foundation’s grants will now come with a stigma.

Some organizations are using the conference as a platform to announce major initiatives for Ukraine, one of which, from The Jewish Federations of North America, eJP reports for the first time below.

Meanwhile, a short 25-minute drive away, another group of bigwigs — including some leading Jewish philanthropists — convened on Sunday for the NFL’s Annual League Meeting, held at the Breakers Palm Beach. TBD if Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, or Mark Wilf, co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings, plan to say hello to the JFN crowd.


JFNA sets long-term plan for aid to Ukraine

A JDC staffer helps Ukrainian Jewish refugees in Chisinau, Moldova on March 15, 2022, before they head to the airport to board a plane to Israel.


As Jewish organizations have raised tens of millions of dollars on behalf of Ukraine in a matter of weeks, one question has hovered over the effort: What happens if the conflict lasts for months — or longer? Now, The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) has drafted a plan to answer that question, which its president and CEO, Eric Fingerhut, shared exclusively with eJewishPhilanthropy on Sunday.

A major shift: The plan marks a shift in how Jewish funders are viewing the war — no longer as a short-term emergency demanding a flood of dollars, but rather as an ongoing project that will command Jewish organizational attention, funding and volunteers for at least the next year. “This is obviously going to be a long-term crisis,” Fingerhut told eJP. “Whatever actually happens with the war, the impact of the refugee crisis and the devastation is going to be with us for a long time.”

‘Nine figures’: JFNA initially set a goal of raising $20 million for Ukrainian relief efforts, which it has since more than doubled. Now, it’s jumping an order of magnitude: Fingerhut did not provide a slated dollar amount for the plan, but said it would be in “the nine figures,” that is, more than $100 million.

Refugee aid and rebuilding: The plan has four prongs and is slated to last at least 12 months: refugee relief and resettlement; Jewish immigration to and absorption in Israel, known as aliyah; aiding Jews in Russia and Belarus; and, eventually, rebuilding Ukraine when the war is over. Fingerhut said the first two items on that list were the highest priorities. For most of the effort, JFNA will work through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and The Jewish Agency for Israel, which have set up operations on Ukraine’s border, as well as in Russia and Belarus.

Calling (some) volunteers: It will also aim to mobilize volunteers who want to travel to the Ukrainian border, though at this point that initiative is limited to Russian or Ukrainian speakers who have skills — such as social work training — that are of use to refugees. JFNA began recruiting those volunteers 10 days ago, and plans to send as many as 25 to the border next week. That number could expand to 100 over the next three months.

Read the full story here.


Being decisive in the face of uncertainty: Andrés Spokoiny’s address to JFN 2022

Jewish Funders Network

“The shock of the pandemic wasn’t so much about recognizing our own mortality but rather the fragility of our lives and the broader societies we are embedded in. I’m always afraid of some new blow,” said Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, in his annual presidential address delivered yesterday at the opening plenary of JFN 2022.

Ukraine: “This feeling, of course, was compounded by the brutal invasion of Ukraine. That permanent state of alertness is exhausting, and that’s why during the pandemic we suffered from ‘languishing,’ that sense of feeling ‘blah’ all the time.”

Relationships: “One of the themes of the pandemic was the strain on relationships. Some relationships suffered because of distance, others because of the lack of distance, some became less functional, some were recalibrated… Relationships were challenged on the individual level, but if we look at the Jewish people as a whole, the basic relationships that make us a people also were challenged.”

Read the full address here.


What comes next after the Ukraine war?


“While many well-meaning and magnanimous donors have stepped up to the plate to help the immediate needs of Jews and non-Jews in war-ravaged Ukraine, we will need to pivot to strategic planning beyond this crisis soon. As a Soviet-born JCC CEO in the United States whose parents brought him from Minsk, Belarus, to the U.S. in the late 1980s, I feel that I have that visceral feeling I have seen this communal movie before. As a Russian-speaking American Jew, I am hopeful that we can address some history lessons to avoid potential pitfalls in the future,” writes Leonard Petlakh, CEO of the Kings Bay Y and JCC Brooklyn, N.Y., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The process of absorption: “While the Jewish community excels in mobilizing during a crisis, the example of the 1990s Soviet aliyah (repatriation) exposed one proverbial truth articulated by many newcomers — that Israel loved aliyah, but not olim (immigrants). For example, thousands of egregious absorption mistakes initially resulted in many doctors and scientists sweeping the streets instead of finding retraining programs. These excesses were corrected some years later, resulting in the overall success of this enormous Jewish people’s project, but it also exposed any lack of proactive planning. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the process of absorption of these new olim 30 years later, as many of these haphazard approaches are playing out for these olim after they get rescued, greeted and processed in the Ben-Gurion Airport.” 

The day after: “The sizable Soviet immigration wave to the U.S. was a result of successful American Jewish advocacy efforts and fundraising efforts. While ultimately, it has become a financial and American success story, there is a palpable dearth of integration into the American Jewish communal structure. Since there was no American Jewish czar appointed to ensure that 700,000 newcomers would integrate into the American Jewish community, it was ostensibly no one’s job to be responsible for long-term, spiritual and communal planning… Therefore, it is imperative to learn from our past communal failures to anticipate some potential scenarios for the ‘day after,’ when the hostilities subside and donors develop inevitable fatigue.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

And the Oscar Ad Goes To…: The program at 94th Academy Awards, held last night in Los Angeles, included a moment of silence for Ukraine, followed by slides with a call to action and an ad for, promising to match donations to the cause, Jordan Julian reports in the Daily Beast. In the ad, a list of different resources needed by the Ukrainian people flashed on a plain black screen, including bread, blankets, medicine, bandages, batteries and… hope: “While film is an important avenue for us to express our humanity in times of conflict, the reality is millions of families in Ukraine need food, medical care, clean water and emergency services…Resources are scarce and we — collectively as a global community — can do more. We ask you to support Ukraine in any way you are able. #StandWithUkraine.”[TheDailyBeast]

Funding DNA Justice: Crowdfunding sites are raising money to sequence DNA in pieces of genetic evidence, toward solving cold cases, Kashmir Hill writes in The New York Times: “[Carla] Davis is part of a growing cohort of amateur DNA detectives, their hobby born of widespread consumer genetic testing paired with an unquenchable desire for true crime content. Why just listen to a murder podcast when you can help police comb through genealogical databases for the second cousins of suspected killers and their unidentified victims? So far donors around the country have given at least a million dollars to the cause. They could usher in a world where few crimes go unsolved — but only if society is willing to accept, and fund, DNA dragnets.” [NYTimes]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

The British Museum will remove the Sackler name from galleries, rooms and endowments. The museum said it had mutually agreed on the move with trustees of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation, which has supported the museum for more than 30 years…

Sharon Davies has been named president and CEO of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation. Davies served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Spelman College until last fall…

One hundred Jewish leaders and philanthropists in their 30s and 40s — members of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Young Leadership Cabinet — fly to Israel this week for “New Mission for a New Generation,” the first such mission since the pandemic…

Planned Parenthood Federation of America is the beneficiary of a $275 million gift from MacKenzie Scott to its national office and 21 Planned Parenthood affiliates. This represents the largest gift from a single donor in Planned Parenthood’s history…  

Ellen L. Hanson and Richard E. Perlman committed $10 million to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to help establish an Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition program focused on instructional learning for current students and hands-on mentoring and opportunities after graduation… 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced a $10 million gift from the Winston Family Foundationto establish a center that will examine the long-term effects of technology and social media use on teen social and emotional development…

The Global Fund for Children received a $5 million gift from the LEGO Foundation in support of a new initiative to help children overcome COVID-related education disruption…

Co-Impact has launched the Gender Fund, a $1 billion effort aimed at advancing gender equity and women’s leadership worldwide. To date, more than $320 million has been raised…

Pic of the Day

Jewish Funders Network

More than 550 participants gathered in Palm Beach, Fla., yesterday for the opening day of the Jewish Funders Network 2022 conference. JFN’s board chair, Marcia Riklis said, JFN was the first Jewish organization to cancel a large event and is the first Jewish organization to hold a large in-person event in two years.



Israeli journalist and radio presenter for Reshet BetKeren Neubach… 

Professor emeritus of physics at MIT, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in physics, Jerome Isaac Friedman… Chairman and CEO of the Hartz Group and Hartz Mountain Corporation, Leonard Norman Stern… Israeli electrical engineer and business executive, he was the founder and first general manager of Intel Israel and the inventor of the EPROM chip, Dov Frohman… Expert on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, supporter of women’s health issues and wife of former U.S. Sen. and VPOTUS-candidate Joe Lieberman, Hadassah Lieberman… Glenview, Ill. resident, Genie Kutchins… CEO of Los Angeles-based toy company MGA Entertainment (maker of Little Tikes and “Bratz” and “Lalaloopsy” dolls), Isaac Larian… Former member of the Knesset and leader of the Israeli Labor party, Shelly Yachimovich… Diplomatic counselor to the secretary general of the OECD, James Phillip Rubin… One of four hostages held at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Jeffrey R. Cohen… Presidential historian and former White House Jewish liaison and deputy HHS secretary, Tevi Troy… President and CEO of Hillel, Adam Lehman… Film producer and director, Brett Ratner… Journalist, crime writer and blogger who has spent most of his career in Japan, Jake Adelstein… Author of eight best-selling novels including in 2003 The Devil Wears PradaLauren Weisberger… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Makhlouf “Miki” Zohar… Los Angeles-based, Israeli-born fashion designer, Yotam Solomon… Retired MLB outfielder, Ryan Kalish… Director at Tradepoint Atlantic, a 3,300-acre global logistics center near Baltimore, Michael Hurwitz… VP of asset management at Hackman Capital Partners, Zachary David Sokoloff

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