Your Daily Phil: On the ground at the IAC conference
Good Friday morning!
In today’s Your Daily Phil, we recap the opening day of the Israeli-American Council’s National Summit in Austin and feature a column by Y.U.’s Erica Brown on the weekly Torah portion. Also in this newsletter: Doug Emhoff and SBF.
For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent Jewish Insider and eJewishPhilanthropy stories, including: Inside the Shabbat dinner at Davos; Daniel Gordis’ blunt message at AIPAC’s confab; Third time’s the charm for Michigan’s John James; With Israel committed to expanding hours at its border crossing with Jordan, an upgrade is next; White House, Congress standoff over F-16 sale to Turkey returns to the fore; Spiritual care documentary ‘A Still Small Voice’ debuts at Sundance; and Nearly three years later, these Jewish programs created for the pandemic are still running. Print the latest edition here.
He wasn’t on the schedule, but WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann was the celebrity guest last night at the opening night of the Israeli-American Council’s National Summit, which concludes Saturday night and has drawn an estimated 2,700 people to Austin, Texas. Neumann — whose rise and fall at WeWork was recently portrayed on Apple TV by Jared Leto — was at the conference to declare his ongoing devotion to Israel and to promote his new startup. He was interviewed by Israeli journalist Danny Kushmaro.
Neumann was characteristically colorful, describing a three-hour meeting with Leto (whom he called “kind of short, no?” in a Hebrew aside) after the actor sent him a series of inquiries. Neumann introduced Leto to his family, and said that Leto told him afterward, “I’m going to make you look like a rock star, but I also promise you — don’t watch the show.” Neumann claims never to have seen it, but said it boosted his career.
Before the show premiered “we had a lot of deal flow,” Neumann said. “After the show it was unstoppable. I’m not sure what the intention of the creators of the show was, but the result of the show was very positive for us.”
Neumann was ousted as CEO of WeWork in 2019 due to reports of reckless practices, nearly a decade after co-founding the company and growing it into a behemoth. He told the crowd that of the company’s eight original employees, five were friends of his from his time serving in the Israel Defense Forces. He claimed to have never obtained American citizenship.
“We came to the U.S., and we came to New York, and we didn’t know a lot about a lot, but we did know about Israel and we did have the Tel Aviv energy,” he said. “And we just wanted to bring it to New York City and we wanted to bring community, because growing up in Israel, community is a natural thing.”
Neumann said his family office invests in 49 companies, five of which had a presence at the IAC conference. His new startup, Flow, aims to reimagine the home rental market and made headlines after receiving a roughly $350 million investment from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Neumann declined to give details about the startup.
Referring to his time at WeWork, Neumann said, “There’s things we did that I’m very proud of and there’s things we did that I’ve learned a lot of lessons from.”
The opening night, which followed half a day of breakout sessions, also included an interview with Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli (more on that below); Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf, who chairs the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors; and former Israeli intelligence official Udi Levi. It also featured speeches by Noa Tishby, the actor, producer and Israeli government envoy to fight antisemitism; IAC CEO Shoham Nicolet, a video address by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and others.
Amichai Chikli on amending the Law of Return: ‘We’ve got to do it slow’
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, appearing last night at the opening night of the Israeli-American Council’s National Summit, said that any change to Israel’s Law of Return would happen after a slow process that would include consultations with a range of people, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.
Public stage: Chikli, the highest-ranking Israeli government official to appear at the conference, which began on Thursday in Austin, made the comments in an interview with Israeli journalist Miri Michaeli. Michaeli asked Chikli about proposals from members of the newly elected governing coalition to abolish the law’s “grandchild clause,” which allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent to obtain citizenship in Israel. The proposal has sparked opposition from Diaspora Jewish leaders, among others.
Facing the challenge: “No one, no one is going to cancel the Law of Return, which is fundamental for the state of Israel,” Chikli said. “Israel will always remain [a] safe haven for every Jew, everywhere on earth.” He said, referring to the section of the law containing the grandchild clause, “We’re not saying [we’re] about to cancel chapter four tomorrow morning… There’s going to be a committee to determine how can we deal with this serious challenge… We need to tackle this challenge. We’ve got to do it slow. We’ve got to do it by listening to every aspect.” Chikli added that he spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before coming to the conference, and said regarding reforming the law, “We’re going to do it very, very responsibly. And I think we can relax and we can rely on this government to do the best for the Jewish people.”
Go-between: At an earlier session with Jewish leaders, Chikli said he sees himself as a liaison of sorts between the Israeli government and Diaspora communities. “I don’t see my role as a political role,” he said. “I am not here to convince the audience [of] the values or the agenda of the Likud [party] although I’m from the Likud and I’m proud of it, and I’m not here to bring you the conflicts that we have in politics in Israel.” He said his job is “to listen and to bring the things that I hear and the voices of the Jewish communities back to the government and also to try and explain the best I can the policy of the government, and to maybe keep things a bit more calm, a bit more relaxed about what’s going on in Israel.”
talking it out
At IAC conference, Jewish leaders ponder how to integrate Israeli Americans into their communities
The biggest difference between the Israeli-American Council’s national conference and other major Jewish gatherings isn’t the subject matter — antisemitism, Israel-Diaspora relations and engaging the youth remain mainstays — but the language heard in the hallway. While most sessions are in English, the sideline conversations are overwhelmingly — and perhaps unsurprisingly — in Hebrew. Yesterday, approximately 100 Jewish leaders gathered, essentially, to ask: “Is that a good thing?” reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.
Joining together: The program, which met at the IAC National Summit in Austin, Texas, on Thursday afternoon, explored what separates Israeli Americans from the mainstream American Jewish community and how to better integrate the two. Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, who spoke to the gathering, lamented the small fraction of Jewish children in day schools, and suggested that Israel could take measures to make Jewish education more affordable, though he did not explicitly say that Israel would subsidize tuition. “It is very, very expensive to get Jewish education when you are outside of Israel,” he said. “That’s one mission, that we want to help those communities who want to have Jewish education for their children, to make Jewish education more affordable and to help people get Jewish education for their children.”
Kickoff event: The program was planned as the first in a series of similar roundtable discussions that aim to strengthen the bonds between Israeli Americans and other American Jews, and better integrate Israelis into American Jewish communal leadership. Participants sat at tables with name cards that featured pictures either of Theodor Herzl or the Statue of Liberty, and were given small bags of Bamba peanut snacks during the event.
Giving differently: One participant, describing a small-group discussion, said that there is also a divide between Israelis in America and other American Jews when it comes to philanthropy. “We also spoke a lot about the expectation on the American side about a pay-for-play mentality, that institutional involvement in American Jewish life often comes with making charitable contributions,” the participant said, adding that that way of thinking “is not always part of the same cultural phenomena that first-generation Israeli Americans tend to have.”
the torah of leadership
When you discover you’re like no other: Parshat Va’era
“There is no one like God – ain od milvado. That is made clear in this week’s parsha, Va’era. I only truly understood the significance of this statement when I visited Egypt myself at the age of 19. Walking through the Temple of Karnak near Luxor and the acres of ancient ruins that were a testament to the power of polytheism was the first time I glimpsed what the ancient Israelites were up against. The statues towered over me. I pondered how difficult it must have been to erect all these altars and prayer spaces and how hard it was to believe in an alternate spiritual reality. Was it my people, I wondered with each step, who were forced to construct these buildings to honor visible gods all the while holding on to an invisible God that Pharaoh failed to acknowledge?” writes Erica Brown in her weekly column for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Monotheism solid as a rock: “The statement of God’s singularity and uniqueness appears elsewhere in Tanach. In Jeremiah, we read, ‘There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might’ (10:6). In the first book of Samuel, Hannah intones a prayer upon delivering Samuel to Shiloh: ‘There is no one holy like the Lord; indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God’ (2:2). In difficult times and in times of great joy, our people has held steadfastly to a belief in monotheism even when we suffered for it, even when no one around us believed in one God.”
Iconoclastic fantastic: “I believe that this iconoclasm – the capacity to challenge cherished beliefs and reigning institutional norms – rubbed off on the Jewish people as well. Believing something no one else believes and challenging existing ways of thinking and being can also help mold the way we generate new ideas, invent new medicines and chart new pathways in science and the arts. Could belief in a God who is like no other extend to a belief in personal human singularity as well? There is no other God. God is unique. There is no one else like me. I am unique.”
Lessons from Crisis: When facing economic insecurity, companies can learn from initiatives launched during the pandemic, and use corporate philanthropy and social responsibility to set an example, Srinagesh Vitthanala writes in Forbes. “The pandemic was a bellwether for change. Because a global crisis of such magnitude was unprecedented, it gave those that could help the imperative to do so, often in novel ways. Anheuser-Busch and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, for example, repurposed distilleries for the production of hand sanitizer. Gap Inc., Adidas and Carhartt began making gowns and masks for first responders. Likewise, a number of companies contributed funding to at-risk populations that were hit especially hard by Covid-19. Regardless of sector, many companies came forward to offer what they could. Participating in social impact initiatives doesn’t have to look like one particular thing. Some companies engage via corporate giving, scholarships or the funding of local programs that give back, while others sponsor workplace volunteer programs, provide time off for employees to do good or match their workers’ donations to charitable foundations. Regardless of the approach a company takes — some even include both corporate and employee programs — a visible and intentional commitment to philanthropy can make a difference in impact as well as in market perception.” [Forbes]
In ‘23, Values, Not Just Valuables: Asset donation, trust-based philanthropy and collective giving are among the charitable giving trends in 2023 predicted by Stephen Kump, writing in Kiplinger. “Disconnection and isolation are the problems of our time, especially post-COVID. Many people are searching for meaningful communities, especially where they can express shared values with others. Giving is an expression of values, and it can bring people together around something collectively ‘bigger.’ As technology is making it more and more frictionless, collective giving is rising. Collective giving can take many forms. From collaborative funds where donors combine their giving power to maximize influence and impact, to giving circles where donors democratize decision-making, collective philanthropy will continue to increase its role in giving.” [Kiplinger]
Around the Web
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff met with Jewish students at Arizona State University to discuss antisemitism on college campuses…
AmazonSmile, the ecommerce giant’s charitable giving program, will shut down in the near future so the company can “focus its philanthropic giving to programs with greater impact.”…
Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Global Holdcofiled for bankruptcy, citing “market turmoil” in the aftermath of the collapse of FTX, the exchange founded by Sam Bankman-Fried…
Vancouver’s JWest, a Jewish community center, announced a $36 million capital campaign matching challenge by the Ronald S. Roadburg Foundation and the Al Roadburg Foundation. The gift marks the single largest donation given to the JWest project…
Pic of the Day
Rio de Janeiro’s first memorial to victims of the Holocaust opened this week.
Israeli politician, refusenik during the 1970s and 1980s who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, he served as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky celebrates his birthday today…
FRIDAY: Claremont, Calif., resident, Adar Belinkoff… Distinguished professor of physics at Texas A&M University, he won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics, David Morris Lee… Former State Department official and later president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ambassador Morton I. Abramowitz… Moroccan-French rabbi and founder of the organization Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France, Michel Serfaty… Pleasant Hill, California resident, Daniel L. Fisher… Elected four times as a Republican at-large member on the Council of the District of Columbia, Carol Schwartz… Travel editor at CBS News, Peter S. Greenberg… Former congresswoman from Nevada, now SVP for the Touro University system, Shelley Berkley… Member of the board of governors of The Jewish Agency, he is the CEO of Chair King and Fortunoff furniture retailers, David Barish… Host of HBO’s political talk show, Bill Maher… Board member of Israel’s largest refining and petrochemical firm, Bazan Group, he was previously the deputy chief of the general staff of the IDF, Major General (Res.) Moshe Kaplinsky… Actress and television host, she is the only child of comedian Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2019 (D-MN), Dean Benson Phillips… Coordinator of community education and support at JCFS Chicago, Diane Kushnir Halivni… Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina, Ambassador Nikki Haley… Founder and CEO of Everywoman Studios, Abigail (Abby) Greensfelder… U.K. cabinet minister and former MP, he is a member of the House of Lords, Baron Frank Zacharias Robin (Zac) Goldsmith… Former prime minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman… Philanthropist, professional equestrian, author and daughter of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Georgina Leigh Bloomberg… Israeli actress, model and musician, Hen Yanni… Senior consultant at Deloitte government and public services practice, Paul Mandelson… Senior director at Purple Strategies, Alec Jacobs… Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, Jason Berger…
SATURDAY: Writer specializing in modern Judaism and women, Blu Greenberg… Co-founder of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Lynn Schusterman… Owner of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and chairman of Delaware North, Jeremy Maurice Jacobs… Literary critic and writer, Elaine Showalter… 82nd attorney general of the U.S., now a senior counsel at Covington & Burling, Eric Holder… Actor, director and producer, he is the voice of Beast in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Robby Benson… Chairman of the Zionist Organization of America and chair of the real estate group at the NY/NJ law firm of Sills Cummis & Gross, Mark Levenson… U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)… Chairman and CEO of Norfolk, Va.-based Harbor Group International, Jordan E. Slone… Executive editor digital at the Washington Monthly, Matthew Cooper… Chief operations officer of OneTable, Andrea Greenblatt… Senior fellow at the USC Annenberg School, Cindi Leive… SVP and Washington bureau chief for CNN, Sam Feist… President and CEO of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Rachel Garbow Monroe… Director, producer and screenwriter of films, best known as the producer or director of the eight films in the “Paranormal Activity” series, Oren Peli… Dean of school at Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn… Peruvian model and TV host, Karen Schwarz… Congressional reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Jennifer Haberkorn… Israeli actress, screenwriter and filmmaker, Romi Aboulafia… Chief of staff at HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration, Jordan Grossman… Samuel Z. Eckstein…
SUNDAY: Co-founder in 1965 of the Japanese video game company Sega, David M. Rosen… Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry in 2000, he is a professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara, Alan J. Heeger… Los Angeles resident, Ruth Lynn Kopelove Sobel… Managing director and founder of Brave Warrior Advisors, an investment advisory firm, he is the son of Hall of Fame baseball star Hank Greenberg, Glenn H. Greenberg… Rabbi Mark Samuel Hurvitz… Brooklyn-born conductor, who during his tenure as artistic director of the Kraków Philharmonic became friends with Pope John Paul II for whom he later conducted multiple Papal concerts, Gilbert Levine… Senior political law counsel and consultant at Akin Gump, Kenneth A. Gross… Founder and executive director of the Brooklyn-based Bridge Multicultural and Advocacy Project, Mark Meyer Appel… Publisher at Chicago Public Square, Charlie Meyerson… Partner in the Cleveland law firm of Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis, Lisa Arlyn Lowe… Former director-general of the Israeli Defense Ministry, he is a retired major general in the IDF, Ehud “Udi” Adam… Systems engineer, Charles Ovits… Recently retired member of the Knesset for Likud, Katrin (Keti) Shitrit-Peretz…
Justice on the Supreme Court of Israel, Noam Sohlberg… Michael S. Marquis… EVP and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Gideon Taylor… Actor best known for his role as Harvey Specter on the USA Network series “Suits,” Gabriel Macht… Sportscaster and podcaster in Washington, D.C., Bram Weinstein… Rabbi at the Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, N.Y., Joel Mark Levenson… Director of the Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal, Rabbi Yechezkel “Chezki” Lifshitz… News editor at Mishpacha Magazine, Yochonon Donn… Senior project specialist for the International Rescue Committee, Heidi Rosbe… Managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, Kendra Barkoff Lamy… Financial services editor at Politico, Zachary Warmbrodt… Houston native and philanthropist, Serena Hines… Corporate associate at Covington & Burling LLP, Mark Donig… NYC-based managing director at Politico, Jesse Shapiro… Tax reporter for the Washington Post, she is also a professional balloon twister and was a 2018 “Jeopardy!” contestant, Julie Zauzmer Weil… Israeli singer known by the mononym Netta, she was the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Netta Barzilai… Jewish hockey player now playing for a Russian team, he was a first-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2014, Josh Ho-Sang… Associate at Mayer Brown, Matthew Lustbader…