Your Daily Phil: Planning advances for Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life memorial + Reality and perception clash on campus antisemitism
Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Your Daily Phil, we take a look inside the efforts to secure federal funds to build a Tree of Life memorial. And below, we’re on the scene at the launch of Repair the World’s new L.A. community service program.
On Tuesday evening, about 40 people from the greater Los Angeles Jewish community sipped specialty cocktails and snacked on bourekas on the rooftop deck at the BAR Center at the Beach to learn about the launch of Repair the World’s local fellowship program and meet Cate Mandel, its inaugural fellow.
The Repair the World Fellowship is a mix of AmeriCorps and a peer-to-peer model more similar to Moishe House or Hillel in style, and enables fellows to serve full-time for two years, Repair’s chief strategy officer, Kate O’Bannon, told eJewishPhilanthropy.
Run in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the fellowship connects the participants (ages 21-26) with local partner organizations for two-year stints working full-time.
Fellows receive an annual stipend ($25,000-$36,000 a year, depending on location) from Repair to cover the living expenses, as well as health and other benefits to enable them to focus on their work — meeting with local partners, planning local programs and engaging in the Jewish community toward social change and Jewish meaning.
“When the pandemic started and we saw differences in experiences of young adults especially, with delays in college, being at home more and having more time and wanting to be active, it was evident that the volunteer initiative that we had before needed to change,” said Melissa York, director of outreach at the L.A. federation.
RTW and the federation started their partnership in the summer of 2020, launching a part-time service corps; RTW had started other such service corps nationally in previous years, but the new initiative specifically engaged the issues and needs on the ground in L.A.
For instance, O’Bannon said, with so many people in the greater L.A. area experiencing homelessness, the issue emerged as a pressing local need, and several fellowship service partners will be among those who are actively working with or adjacent to the issue.
“We wanted young Jews to be able to take actions and support their neighbors and show up for the exacerbated needs that were happening for service [during the pandemic],” O’Bannon said.
Inside the efforts to build a Tree of Life memorial
Nearly four years after 11 people were killed in a mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the congregation remains shuttered. A nonprofit that is redeveloping the Tree of Life site wants to see to it that worshippers return — alongside tourists, community members, mourners and more, if a memorial-museum complex planned for the site moves forward, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Lobby look: Tree of Life, the nonprofit overseeing the project, recently enlisted a team of 10 lobbyists from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to help secure federal funding for the project, Politico reported. “It can have the effect of making or breaking where we need to be,” said Michael Bernstein, chair of Tree of Life’s interim governance committee. Bernstein declined to share the budget for the project, which will include a memorial, a museum focused on antisemitism and a synagogue. Last year, the state of Pennsylvania awarded $6.6 million to the nonprofit, and major local philanthropies including the Hillman Family Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation have contributed undisclosed amounts. Tree of Life intends to begin a national fundraising campaign soon, but the federal funds will contribute to major costs like security.
Design goals: Tree of Life hopes to break ground on the project in early 2023 and open to the public by fall 2024, which will be the sixth anniversary of the massacre. The compound was designed by noted architect Daniel Libeskind in conjunction with Pittsburgh firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. There is no exact model that Tree of Life is trying to replicate, in part because the atrocity in Pittsburgh was so unique — it was the most deadly act of antisemitism on American soil — but also because such ambitious projects are not always seen to completion.
Lofty ambitions: “It’s an ambitious program, and so seeking federal sources, as well as local and state resources, are, I think, fairly essential for us to be successful,” said Bernstein. The museum will tell the story of what happened on Oct. 27, 2018, in the context of antisemitism and other forms of hatred in the U.S. “Our focus is antisemitism, but it’s antisemitism as an animating force behind many aspects of other forms of hate,” Bernstein said. “The other aspect that happened on that day and weeks after was the community response. I think that the way the Greater Pittsburgh community responded to the tragedy as a rejection of that ideology and support and being held by our neighbors — that’s a universal.”
Reality vs. perception on college campuses
“As a professional working with Jewish students at NYU, and as an active member of the Jewish community, I have heard many stories of Jewish students encountering antisemitism on college campuses. According to some, the problem has gotten so bad that there are those who now advocate that Jewish students eschew college education altogether. For my doctoral research, I decided to speak with students on three campuses … to understand how they view their own experiences. What I found painted quite a different picture than the one constantly portrayed in news reports and social media,” writes Sara Fredman Aeder, director of development at NYU Bronfman Center, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Echo chamber: “Many of the students I spoke with echoed the messages that are now so familiar to anyone concerned with Jewish life on campus. They spoke of their fear of ‘outing’ themselves as Jewish on campus. One young woman told me she chose not to hang a mezuzah on her dormitory door, so as not to identify her room as one occupied by a Jew. Another young woman pulled her Star of David necklace out from under her shirt, where she told me she hid it so as not to attract attention. Yet another student told me that he had decided not to wear a yarmulke outside of the Hillel building. These behaviors all speak to the major issues that we have learned to fear.”
No first-hand experience: “Yet despite these fears about exposing their Jewish identity, most students also claimed that they personally never experienced antisemitism and did not know of any antisemitic occurrences on campus. Their fear of antisemitism was informed not by their own experiences, but by what they read online and on social media.”
What ‘Philanthropy’ Means: During a Fulbright sabbatical in Edinburgh, Scotland, David P. King discovered that what defines ‘philanthropy’ may differ across cultural context, he writes in a piece for The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving: “Presuming that we know what our constituents or other audiences mean by philanthropy or giving may be one of our biggest blind spots. If we avoid the hard work of defining and reflecting on our traditions of philanthropy, we run the risk of limiting our understanding and impact. One of my greatest learnings from my time abroad studying philanthropy was realizing that the new contexts in which I found myself were significantly different from those to which I was accustomed, and I needed to take time to listen and learn…It’s worth stopping to think: what words do you use? Why? Where do you engage philanthropy and generosity in your daily life? When have you taken time to stop and ask someone why they give or volunteer? Have you taken a few minutes to stop and reflect on what it means to be a neighbor, a helper, an advocate? …It may be less important to come to terms with just the right name or definition for philanthropy, but more important to take the time and make the effort to consider how we live into the giving traditions of which we are a part and to appreciate all the other forms of generosity around us.” [LakeInstitute]
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Word on the Street
In a program that begins today, travelers returning to Israel can avail themselves of PCR tests before leaving the airport. The tests are being funded by the government and are currently voluntary…
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Duke University in Durham, N.C., received a $15 million bequest from an anonymous alumni couple to support scholarships for students pursuing degrees at Duke University School of Nursing, Duke Divinity School and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences…
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