Your Daily Phil: One group’s quest to build more mikvahs + Yom HaAtzmaut in quarantine

Good Tuesday morning!

The National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia is one of the groups spearheading the commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month for the second year, its interim CEO, Misha Galperin, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Celebrated annually in May since it was proclaimed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006, responsibility for the heritage month shifted to the museum after a nonprofit that had handled it shut down in 2018. Government entities such as the Library of Congress and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum support the effort.

The pandemic had just hit last year, spurring the museum to turn the month into a digital event. They worked with a digital marketing agency and decided on the theme “Crisis and Resilience,” creating videos for social media on such subjects as the 1918 influenza epidemic and the history of Jewish nursing.

The experience helped the museum create more digital content. “Since last May, a million people have tuned in — that’s as many who have visited the museum in the previous six years,” Galperin said.

This year, the theme is the sage Hillel’s famous aphorism: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

The schedule will feature “Spiritual Audacity” a documentary film about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and a conversation with Susannah Heschel, his daughter; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Natan Sharansky, the Russian dissident and former head of the Jewish Agency.


Mayyim Hayyim wants to help build more mikvahs

Mayyim Hayyim

Since it was founded in 2004, Mayyim Hayyim has served as not just one mikvah, but as the leader of a movement dedicated to making practice of immersion more accessible. Its leaders have created rituals around the mikvah, trained guides and helped communities build their own. It’s this last aspect of their work that Mayyim Hayyim is focusing on now in a new way, with the ratification by its board of a new three-year plan that uses the Boston-based organization to lead growth internationally, Carrie Bornstein, the group’s CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy. The work could cost as much as $5 million over a five-year period, Bornstein estimated.

Living waters: Immersion in a mikvah, which must contain a certain percentage of water derived from a natural source such as a lake or rain, was a common practice for both men and women before the destruction of the Temple in ancient Israel. The rabbis negated most of the laws after the Temple fell, but expanded those related to women and menstruation. Most immigrants to the United States abandoned the ritual, but it remains an important part of Orthodox Jewish life, and some Jewish feminists have also reclaimed the practice. Mayyim Hayyim, the brainchild of Red Tent author Anita Diamant, is used by women for traditional purposes, but also by men and people of any other form of gender identity who wish to celebrate a joyful moment, mourn a difficult one or mark a transition, like a conversion to Judaism.

Positive change: “There is still a lack of understanding of the potential of mikvah,” Bornstein told eJP. “I can see so clearly from my vantage point in Boston that we are a different city because of Mayyim Hayyim. It fosters a respect and a sense of pluralism in the community, and a Jewish identity that has a strong grounding.”

A healing ritual: At present, there are about 400 mikvahs in the United States, including 36 that are members of Mayyim Hayyim’s Rising Tide Open Waters Mikvah Network, in such communities as Atlanta, Cleveland and Scottsdale, Ariz. Three more are under construction. Ohev Sholom, an open Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C., is in Mayyim Hayyim’s network, said Maharat Ruth Friedman, who purchased the organization’s ritual materials and made them available in the mikvah’s dressing rooms. Her congregants, especially those struggling with infertility, use them, although some of the liturgy doesn’t comport with Orthodox norms. In Waterville, Maine, Mayyim Hayyim is helping Beth Israel Congregation explore the possibility of building a mikvah in their basement. Conversations about it started over the summer at a virtual bagel breakfast, when the community realized that the synagogue’s founding family had a mikvah in its home, which had been torn down, said Rabbi Rachel Isaacs. “At first I thought, ‘We can’t do this,’ but then I thought, ‘Wait, we are about to renovate the bathrooms,’” Isaacs said.

Read the full article here.


Yom HaAtzmaut in quarantine


“One of the beautiful things about Independence Day fireworks in Jerusalem is that without a body of water nearby, they are launched from the heart of the city, creating beautiful images of light reflecting off the Jerusalem stone and glass towers,” writes Rabbi Harry Pell in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Bidud: “Those images of fireworks against the Jerusalem skyline were readily visible to some of my students whose ‘mirpeset (balcony) time’ coincided with the fireworks last week. They were somewhat less visible, however, to those confined to rooms with only a decent view, and just barely visible to still others who had to lean their heads out their windows, craning their necks to the right, and trying to get a good angle between our hostel and the neighboring building. But such is life in bidud (isolation) – a new Hebrew phrase I’ve added to my repertoire – on Yom HaAtzmaut.”

The $64,000 question: “The biggest question all year for the senior class at the Leffell School in Westchester, N.Y., was: Will we be able to go to Israel? Since the high school’s founding twenty years ago, it has been a rite of passage for the senior class to finish their academics by January of twelfth grade and spend two months during second semester traveling, first with a week in Poland, and the balance of the two months in Israel. As a result of the pandemic, it was clear that visiting Poland would not be possible, but we wondered if there was a way for the senior class to get to Israel, with whatever precautions and Ministry of Health requirements would be necessary.”

Read the full piece here.


Four lessons on leadership with a COVID twist


“The transition back to life and work after the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be a tricky one. People are scared. Folks have gotten used to working from home. School schedules remain inconsistent which means childcare problems persist. And many of us are still in mourning, grappling with losses of the past year,” writes Yoshi Fenton in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Model it: “[B]e the change you wish to see. When we ask our reports to do things or work in ways we don’t want to ourselves, our leadership is compromised… If you want your team to support each other, collaborate and trust one another; it starts with you. If you expect professionalism and an attention to detail, you are the best example of what that looks like for your team.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Think Big: Social enterprises that try to do good while running a robust business should look to the government as possible customers and clients, urges Eva Varga in a blog post on the website of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the European Union, Varga points out, governments spend more than 14% of the union’s gross domestic product procuring goods and services, and the combined efforts of officials, activists, lobbyists and consumers have produced policy stipulating that an increasing percentage of that amount goes to socially responsible companies. The movement is spreading, she concludes: “Encouraged by these new directives, many local authorities and cities are now requiring public procurement officers to take social considerations into account.” [SSIR]

Gift Dip: First Book, a charity that provides free or low-cost books to low-income families, is worried about their fundraising despite a surge in gifts during the pandemic, reports Eden Stiffman in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in a portrait of the group that reflects a broad concern about how many donors who gave money during the pandemic will do so again. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s data shows that the overall number of donors in the United States grew by 7.3% in 2020, Stiffman writes, but donor retention rates also dropped a record low that year. Experts say that nonprofits who can sharpen their understanding of donor identity and motivation, and then engage them online, should be able to bring at least some of those donors back, but that will be difficult for smaller groups without high-end fundraising tools. “Once they feel that the crisis has subsided, I think it’s going to be hard to keep them on board,” said Christa Evans, First Book’s vice president for development [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Looking Back: On the five-year anniversary of the creation of Project Include, the nonprofit that fights sexism and racism in the tech industry, Ellen K. Pao shares what the group has meant to her and other co-founders in a post on Medium. All of them feel that their work has raised awareness and changed the definition of what is acceptable behavior in the tech sector, although women still struggle to secure investment for their projects. “When we first came together to create Project Include, I didn’t foresee how the work would become foundational for DEI conversations throughout tech,” said bethanye McKinney Blount. [Medium]

Proud Mom: In The New York Times, Jenny Block interviews Sara Cunningham, who founded the nonprofit Free Mom Hugs in 2018 after realizing that her actions negatively affected her son when he came out to her as gay at age 21. Now she embraces not only him, but other children who are estranged from the parents due to their sexuality, as part of the work of her organization. She also attends weddings and organizes local chapters of the group, and has written How We Sleep at Night: a Mother’s Memoir. “I missed the entire adolescence of my son’s life. I shamed him with the best of intentions,” Cunningham said. “It alienated us for a long time. But I’m fortunate that we have a relationship now.” [NYT]

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Word on the Street

Dan Senor says he felt as though he “boarded a DeLorean and time-traveled to the future” as he takes listeners of his Post Corona podcast around Tel Aviv, where life has resumed and the streets are bustling… In honor of the 54th anniversary of Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) has released four photos from the days of the British Mandate… Hadassah International, Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) have confirmed a joint collaboration between the Argentinian government and HMO in Jerusalem, aimed at providing Argentina with assistance to control the spread of COVID-19… The head of the Israeli government’s tourist office in the U.K. has confirmed tourists will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and will have to take a separate antibody test before being allowed entry into the country… The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation has dedicated $20 million in additional funding to support 25 nonprofit organizations addressing the ongoing healthcare and health-related needs of New Yorkers as a direct result of COVID-19… Enterprise Community Partners announced commitments of $20 million from Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and $5 million from the Community Investment Guarantee Pool in support of efforts to advance racial equity in housing… New York Life announced a $1 billion impact investment initiative with the aim to address the racial wealth gap by investing in underserved and undercapitalized communities…

Pic of the Day

Eitan Asraf

Jerusalem as you’ve never seen before: A just-released film spotlighting the Holy City from artist, photographer and filmmaker Eitan Asaraf.


Wikimedia Commons

Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and Canada’s first special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, Irwin Cotler on Saturday…

FRIDAY: Investor who converted Chris-Craft Industries from a small boat business into a large media holding company that later sold to Rupert Murdoch for $5.3 billion, Herbert J. Siegel… Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989 and a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and chemistry at Yale University, Sidney Altman… Member of the New York State Assembly since 1993, Sandra R. “Sandy” Galef… Senior member of the Mobile, Alabama law firm of Silver, Voit & Thompson, Irving Silver… Napa-based media executive and podcast host, Jeffrey Schechtman… Theatrical producer at Press the Button Productions in Monterey, California, Jane J. Press… Former member of the Knesset for the Shas party, Rabbi Meshulam Nahari… Former Deputy Secretary of State and earlier Deputy National Security Advisor, now a professor at Syracuse University, James Braidy “Jim” Steinberg… Director of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking and Clueless, Amy Heckerling… Professional poker player and hedge fund manager, Daniel Shak… CEO of Rationalwave Capital Partners, Mark Rosenblatt… Emmy Award-winning director, Adam Bernstein… Founder of JewBelong and the co-founder of Starch Branding, Archie Gottesman… Member of the Virginia House of Delegates and candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in the 2021 election, Mark H. Levine… Congressman from Florida, Theodore Eliot “Ted” Deutch… Director of floor legislative operations for Speaker Pelosi, Keith Stern… Member of the Knesset for the Yamina alliance, Ayelet Shaked… AIPAC national board member and regional political chair for AIPAC’s Northeast Region, Yana J. Lukeman… Head of platform sales at Stripe, Rob Saliterman… Director of state and county affairs in the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, Arthur L. Mandel… CEO of Austin-based Harris Media, Vincent Robert Harris… Las Vegas-based fashion blogger, model and writer, Bebe Zeva

SATURDAY: Retired senior British judge, Baron Leonard Hubert “Lennie” Hoffmann… MIT biologist and 2002 Nobel Prize laureate in Medicine, H. Robert Horvitz… Former MLB pitcher, Lloyd Allen… Rabbi in Dusseldorf, Rabbi Raphael Evers… Former director of the USDOJ’s Office of Special Investigations focused on deporting Nazi war criminals, he is now the Director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy at USDOJ, Eli M. Rosenbaum… Chief Financial Officer for The Manischewitz Company, Thomas E. Keogh… Past president of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, Georgia, Janice Perlis Ellin… President at Central Illinois Home Furnishings and a member of the JFNA Board of Trustees, Barry Seidman… President of Clayton, Missouri-based JurisTemps, Andrew J. Koshner, J.D., Ph.D… CEO and founder of NSG/SWAT, Richard Kirshenbaum… Author of “If I Could Tell You” and a movie critic for The Jerusalem Post, Hannah Brown… Co-founder and CEO of the disability advocacy nonprofit RespectAbility, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi… Journalist and host of the Israeli investigative program Uvda (“Fact”), Ilana Dayan-Orbach… Mediator and political fundraiser in Florida, Benjamin W. Newman… Canadian social activist and documentary filmmaker, Naomi Klein… Chairman of the World Likud, he previously served as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Danny Danon… Stand-up comedian, actress and author, Jodi Miller… COO at West End Strategy Team’s DC office, Ari Geller… Director of strategic initiatives at J Street, Josh Lockman… Founder and CEO at Axion, Daniel First… Speechwriter for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Ami Fields-Meyer

SUNDAY: Owner of St. Louis-based Harbour Group Industries and a former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Sam Fox… Budapest-born philanthropist and social activist who marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eva Haller… Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter, James L. Brooks… Guitarist and record producer, best known as a member of the rock-pop-jazz group “Blood, Sweat & Tears,” Steve Katz… Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, he is a professor of structural biology at Stanford University and lives in both Israel and California, Michael Levitt… Pianist, singer-songwriter, composer and one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, Billy Joel… Physician in Burlington, Vermont, she was the First Lady of Vermont from 1991 until 2003, Judith Steinberg Dean… Sharon Mallory Doble… Principal of crypto-asset development firm Bitzerland and CEO of PlayMedia, Brian D. Litman… Film director and producer, Barry Avrich… DC-based, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, Mark Leibovich… Co-managing partner of Bain Capital and an owner of the Boston Celtics, Jonathan Lavine… VP of global public policy at Facebook, Joel D. Kaplan… Political and election law attorney, she served as senior counsel at Biden for President, Danielle Elizabeth Friedman… Opinion columnist and podcast host at The New York Times, Ezra Klein… Jenna Weisbord… Director at 25Madison, Nathaniel Rosen… J.D. candidate at Harvard Law School, Mikhael Smits

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