Your Daily Phil: PJ Library looks to boost Sephardic stories

Good Tuesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a gathering of pro-Israel Christian college students in Washington, D.C., and the launch of a new study of Jewish educators by Rosov Consulting and the Jim Joseph Foundation. We feature an opinion piece by Andrea Hammel marking the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport and how it offers lessons for today’s philanthropic community about effectively supporting refugees. We’ll start with a new PJ Library initiative to encourage more books by and about Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.

At age 6, Gail Carson Levine’s father was sent to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. He had grown up in a Sephardic household, but at the orphanage, he was bullied for his background and grew disconnected from his heritage. His daughter, the author of the novels Ella Enchanted and Dave at Night, is trying to reconnect to her family’s roots. She is one of seven Sephardic and Mizrahi published authors involved in PJ Library’s Sephardic Stories Initiative, which was announced early last month, reports Jay Deitcher for eJewishPhilanthropy.

“The need for diverse Jewish stories, coming from diverse Jewish communities, has been around for a while,” Catriella Freedman, the director of PJ Library’s Author Stewardship program, told eJP.

PJ Library, a Harold Grinspoon Foundation program, distributes over 148 titles for free to over 670,000 subscribers worldwide who are raising Jewish children. “We have some really great titles already in our library, but they don’t nearly represent the number of Sephardic and Mizrahi families that we have in our subscriber list,” Freedman said.

The first year of the three-year initiative focuses on the experienced, published author cohort, which will meet online regularly and participate in an all-expense paid trip to Israel  which is currently on hold due to the security situation in the country. They also will have access to experts to help with research for their projects. Their initial meeting, held during the first week in December, focused on Sephardic voices from Israel and featured guest authors Sarah Sassoon and Ran Cohen Harounoff.

During the second year of the initiative, the original authors will mentor 20-40 emerging authors, and the third year will focus on virtual programming for the larger Jewish community. The final component is a Sephardic Stories manuscript prize that will be open to any unpublished manuscript with the winner receiving a financial prize as well as a PJ Publishing contract.

The original $195,000 grant was provided by the Samis Foundation, which has historically been involved in philanthropy in Israel and Seattle — the city with the third largest Sephardic population in the United States. Although it supports all kinds of initiatives throughout the Jewish community, many have a Sephardic bent.

“We look out for opportunities to support areas which we think are game changers,” Al Maimon, a Samis Trustee, told eJP. “PJ Library is a flagship of [bringing] Judaism to the kids, but the library bookshelf is pretty empty when it comes to anything having to do with a Sephardic or Mizrahi family’s culture. So families who are Sephardic don’t have much for their kids to see, and the broader Jewish community doesn’t get a chance to see a different view of what’s happening.”

Read the full report here.

ALLY EFFORT

‘Passages’ brings pro-Israel Christian college students to Washington

Christian college students gather in Washington, D.C., for the Passages conference in January 2023.
Christian college students gather in Washington, D.C., for the Passages conference in January 2023. Courtesy/Mykenzie Johnson

For the 300 Christian college students who gathered in Washington, D.C., the conference over the weekend was something of a rite of passage — a three-day crash course in modern-day Israeli history, society and culture at a fraught moment for the Jewish state. The gathering was organized by Passages, a group that runs trips to Israel for Christian college and high school students, often referred to as “Christian Birthright,” reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

Trip replacement: The conference, held in multiple locations around the city, was held in place of winter trips to Israel that were canceled due to the country’s ongoing war with Hamas. Scott Phillips, the CEO of Passages, said that because the group has postponed Israel trips until the summer, the weekend was “an opportunity for us to bring Israel to them.” “It was a chance to give the Passages mission in three days,” Phillips told eJP, adding that the mission is “discovering the roots of Christian faith, which exists in Israel, connecting to that and connecting them to modern Israel and what’s happening right now in Israel.”

Turning the tide: The conference took place at a critical moment for the Christian community as it relates to Israel. Polling shows that evangelical Christians between the ages of 18 and 29 are less supportive of Israel than their elders. Phillips called the decreased support for Israel among young evangelicals “alarming,” but noted that views are far more pro-Israel among Passages participants. “We polled a diverse sample of our alumni and found that, because of Passages, the views are much more favorable to Israel,” Phillips told eJP. Compared to about one-third of the general Christian public ages 18-29 who say they are following the war closely (at least weekly), 92% of Passages alumni say the same.

Read the full report here.

SURVEY SAYS

Rosov Consulting launches ‘first-of-its-kind,’ long-term study of Jewish educators with backing from Jim Joseph Foundation

American politician Dianne Feinstein, her arms outstretched in celebration, in her office after she was elected mayor of San Francisco, at San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco, California, circa 1978.
Getty Images

The Jim Joseph Foundation is funding a “first-of-its-kind” study by Rosov Consulting tracking the professional development of Jewish educators and educational leaders over the course of five years to better understand the field and the career paths of those in it, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Data needed: “This unprecedented study will help grow the pipeline of talented, highly skilled leaders and educators who are vital to Jewish communities. We are grateful to all of the educators that take part in the study as we all learn together,” Stacie Cherner, director of learning and evaluation at the Jim Joseph Foundation, said in a statement.

Tracking progress: Throughout the longitudinal study, Rosov Consulting will periodically survey educators and educational leaders from a variety of organizations “to follow their continued professional learning and career trajectories,” the pollsters said. The participating organizations include: Birthright Israel, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Hillel International, M²: Institute for Experiential Jewish Education, Jewish New Teacher Project, Institute for Jewish Spirituality, Leading Edge, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, Repair the World, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, SVARA, The iCenter, The Jewish Education Project, UpStart and The Wexner Foundation.

TIMELY LESSONS

The Kindertransport’s complex legacy

This sculpture in London commemorating the Kindertransport is part of a series created by Jewish architect and artist Frank Meisler. Each of the five pieces are located in different European cities, roughly representing key points from Meisler’s own journey in 1939. Photo by Steve Daniels via Wikimedia Commons

“Last month marked the 85th commemoration of the Kindertransport. Compared to the anti-refugee rhetoric and policies some politicians or governments espouse today, the Kindertransport looks like a model of a successful state-run rescue mission. But is that true?” asks author Andrea Hammel, director of the Centre for the Movement of People at Aberystwyth University in Wales, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Into the breach: “After Kristallnacht in November 1938… the British government was under pressure from the public to help continental Jewish citizens. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government was reluctant to offer refuge to Jews, however, fearing for the U.K.’s security and concerned about the financial cost and the xenophobic and antisemitic sentiments of some of the electorate. The government refused to commit financial or organizational help, but came up with the compromise of admitting unaccompanied minor children into the U.K.… What ultimately made the Kindertransport possible? It was the generosity and commitment of private citizens, charities and voluntary organizations in the U.K.”

Improve on the past: “Often, the foster parents were not well-prepared for their task. The way that foster placements were approved and allocated was not in accordance with established criteria, nor was the process overseen by trained professionals. Additionally, most foster families were not Jewish, as the Jewish population in the U.K. was small. These factors and more led to inevitable misunderstandings due to the different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds of Kindertransport refugees and foster families… Volunteers are essential for the integration of refugees, but trained professionals and stable policies are also needed. It is important to acknowledge the complex legacy of the Kindertransport, to honor those who were affected but also to learn lessons for the future. ”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Not Biting on the Big Apple: The New York Times reports that local philanthropists are opting against directing their giving toward addressing some of the city’s biggest challenges. “To hear Mayor Eric Adams tell it, the city is teetering on the edge of fiscal calamity, prompted largely by the costs of sheltering and feeding soaring numbers of migrants coming into the city. He has asked New York’s millionaires and billionaires to step in and help fill some of the budget holes that have prompted major cuts to schools, libraries, parks and the police. But even under a mayor who has explicitly cast himself as a pro-business leader eager to work with philanthropists, wealthy New Yorkers accustomed to seeing returns on their investments and clear results from their giving are confronting the limits of how much their generosity can truly shape a struggling city… In some cases, donors are choosing instead to spend their money on uncontroversial local causes or on issues outside the city. They worry that the city’s complex tangle of crises — migrants, homelessness, housing and the cost of living — cannot be easily fixed, even if philanthropists band together to help.” [NYT]

A Critical Network: Charlotte Hays profiles Christine Herrera, president and CEO of Philanthropy Roundtable, in Independent Women’s Forum, highlighting ideological tensions Herrera says she observes in the nonprofit space. “[S]he was struck by the number of people working for nonprofits who hated philanthropy. ‘Many of them regarded philanthropy as just another way for the wealthy to impose their views on society,’ Herrera says, ‘and they loathed capitalism, which is, after all, what makes philanthropy possible.’ Many major foundations now put a heavy focus on addressing ‘systemic racism’ and promoting ‘equity.’ Herrera believes that injecting identity politics into philanthropy misses the mark. ‘It all goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville… He visited America two hundred years ago and revered it. He wrote about the thriving civil society that’s made up of charities, religious institutions, and all of our voluntary associations. That charitable network exists today… It’s a lifeline for churches, educational institutions, the arts, museums, culture. And philanthropy is everything to them. And we need to preserve it rather than tear it down, which sadly many in the sector are trying to do.’” [IndependentWomen’sForum]

Around the Web

The Israeli American Council appointed Tal Shuster and Dr. Avi Almozlino as the organization’s new co-chairs. Yossie Hollander and Alon Mor were appointed secretary and treasurer, respectively, and Lydia Yomtovian Frankel was elected to the national board…

New York police clashed with a group of rogue Chabad students who had constructed an illegal tunnel into the 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. A Chabad spokesperson denounced the construction of the underground passage, saying the students had “vandaliz[ed] the sanctuary, in an effort to preserve their unauthorized access”…

Eight European airlines — Air Europa, Air France, Bluebird Airways, Bulgaria Air, LOT, Transavia, Tus and Vueling — will resume partial service to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in the coming weeks…

Americans for Peace Now called on the White House “to push Israel to adopt and implement an immediate exit strategy from the war in the Gaza Strip,” which it said must provide for Israel’s security, lead to the return of the hostages, address the humanitarian crisis in the Strip and “set out a vision for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.” The group stressed that it was “not simply calling for a ceasefire”…

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin examines how and why China is fueling antisemitism on social media as part of its fight against the West and the United States…

Former Harvard Hillel Director Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg wrote in The Jerusalem Post opposing his predecessor’s recent opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson that claimed antisemitism was being “weaponized” to stifle criticism of Israel…

The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University released a new issue of its journal, Jewish Educational Leadership, titled, “Jewish Education Amidst Rising Antisemitism,” featuring articles and videos about the surge in antisemitism following the Oct. 7 attacks…

Congregation B’nai Israel in Orange County, Calif., is facing internal criticism for keeping on staff a preschool teacher who shared anti-Israel content on her private social media accounts…

Norman H. Finkelstein, a longtime educator at Massachusetts’ Hebrew College and the author of 20 nonfiction books, died on Friday at 82…

Jerome J. Neff, a retired furniture magnate and philanthropist who was active in the Philadelphia Jewish communitydied on Saturday at 93…

Stella Lucas, the founder of the British chain of charity shops All Aboard and a mainstay of St John’s Wood United Synagoguedied this weekend at 107…

Pic of the Day

Amir Levy/Getty Images

Avida Bachar and his son Rotem visit their home in Be’eri, Israel, yesterday, surveying the damage it sustained during Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on the kibbutz. Avida’s wife and Rotem’s mother, Dana Bachar, along with son and brother Carmel Bachar, were murdered by terrorists in the home’s safe room. Avida also lost his leg in the attack.

Birthdays

Annie Liebovitz smiles
Dan Porges/Getty Images

Former governor of the Bank of Israel, she served from 2013 to 2018, Karnit Flug

Hungarian-Israeli retired gymnast, she won 10 Olympic medals, Ágnes Keleti… Advertising executive and author, Jerry Irving Reitman… Law professor at Georgetown University, Peter Edelman… Former member of the Swiss Federal Council and president of the Swiss Confederation in 1999, Ruth Dreifuss… Rabbi emeritus of Kehilath Israel Synagogue in Overland Park, Kan., Herbert Jay Mandl… Vice chairman of the private equity firm Gilbert Global Equity Partners, Steven Kotler… Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times for 40 years, she is now a lecturer and senior research scholar at Yale Law School, Linda Greenhouse… Retired MLB umpire, he worked in 3,392 major league games in his 26-year career, his family name was Sklarz, Al Clark… Presidential historian, spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, Alvin S. Felzenberg… Composer, singer, radio show host, he has released seven albums under the name “Country Yossi,” Yossi Toiv… Actress, singer and songwriter, she is the half-sister of Barbra Streisand, Roslyn Kind… Australian author of more than 40 books of children’s and young adult fiction, including a five-book series about a 10-year-old Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Poland, Morris Gleitzman… Investment banker, Joel Darren Plasco… Justice of the High Court of Australia, James Joshua Edelman… Filmmaker, she is the second lady of New York State, Lacey Schwartz Delgado… NFL insider and reporter for the NFL Network, Ian Rapoport… Founder and CEO of Skydance Media, David Ellison… Israeli actress and model, Rona-Lee Shimon… Director of development and community relations at Manhattan Day School, Allison Liebman Rubin… Pulitzer Prize-winning staff writer at The New YorkerBen Taub… Account executive on the enterprise corporate sales team at Tableau from Salesforce, Madeline Peterson… Television and film actress, Nicola Anne Peltz Beckham