Your Daily Phil: Preparing for the new Pew + Meet KAHAL’s new executive director

Good Monday morning!

Tomorrow, the Pew Research Center will release “Jewish Americans in 2020,” the follow-up to its first-ever comprehensive survey of the American Jewish community, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” released in 2013.

Like the 2013 report, the new one will provide information about the population’s size and ethnic makeup, in addition to attitudes about religious practice and Jewish identity. While the Jewish community does its own studies at the local level by federations and nationally by such academic centers as Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Pew’s survey is the biggest in terms of the number of people surveyed, and the number of questions asked.

The last report had an impact on the behavior of Jewish philanthropists, spurring a more open approach to intermarried families and investments in diverse sources of Jewish identity, such as arts and culture, Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, told eJewishPhilanthropy, adding that such studies are valuable tools, but should be used carefully: “Studies shouldn’t be taken in isolation,” he said. “One has to consider the limitations of every survey-based study.”

The Pew studies shape Jewish understanding of communal needs and preferences and are used by professionals and funders to set strategy and make decisions. It is itself the product of philanthropic support, made possible by the Pew Charitable Trusts with a contribution by the Philadelphia-based Neubauer Family Foundation.

“I’m always eager to have reliable quantitative data, especially from well-respected sources. The more that Jewish communal decision-making can be based on empirical evidence, the better,” said Felicia Herman, director of the JCRIF Aligned Grant Program, the consortium of foundations created at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic for the purposes of rapid response.

Several major Jewish organizations are holding webinars to discuss and analyze the findings, starting with the Jewish Federations of North America, whose web event tomorrow will be held in partnership with the Pew Research Center. Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research, will moderate a discussion on Wednesday for the Jewish People Policy Institute. 

The Jewish Funders Network will hold a program next week, as will the Orthodox Union. The Cohen Center at Brandeis University will hold a series of briefings for federations, organizations and funders to help them draw out the report’s implications for policy and program planning in the Jewish community.


The group that supports Jewish students abroad is getting a new leader


KAHAL, the nonprofit created to help students studying abroad find a sense of Jewish community, adjusted its programming to adapt to the cancellation of most student travel due to the pandemic. It’s now facing another seismic change — a new leader. “The pandemic gave us a period of pause and planning,” Arya Marvazy, KAHAL’s new executive director, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “Now we’re thinking about our next chapter.”

Home away from home: Alex Jakubowski, KAHAL’s founding executive director, told eJP he created the organization while still a student at Northwestern University in Illinois, after studying abroad in Bologna, Italy. He had struggled to make personal connections with the local Jewish community and wanted to make that process easier for other Jewish students. KAHAL has served about 11,000 students through its website and app, he said, which connect Jewish students abroad to the locals and to each other, and provides them with resources to help them create their own community.

A crisis and an opportunity: Jakubowski, who will enter the pharmaceutical cannabis industry, had been thinking for a few years about stepping down from KAHAL. “Recognizing the unique opportunity brought on by the extended pause in international travel, we found that this would likely be our best opportunity to turn the challenge of transition into a strong opportunity for growth, he said. When Marvazy takes over, Jakubowski will take a position on the board of directors.

Career path: After graduating from the University of San Diego, where he held a leadership position in the school’s Jewish community, Marvazy was hired at San Diego State University’s Hillel. With a degree in psychology, he was interested in the field of industrial organization, so he pursued a master’s degree in organizational behavior at New York University and then went into human resources work. “I asked myself, ‘Do you really think this is why you’re here on this earth?’ and the answer was ‘No,’” he said. 

That sent him back to campus, working at Hillel International for four years in Washington, D.C. 

Read the full article here.




“While some of us are eager to ‘return’ to our previous lives, many of us are frightened. As COVID vaccinations increase and the CDC issues new guidelines, we may be excited about social interactions or travel, but we are also afraid,” write Rabbi Jen Gubitz and Dr. Betsy Stone in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

We’ve changed: “We believe that re-emergence will be deeply challenging for many of us. We have gotten used to our isolation, with its quiet time and narrowed commitments. Our worlds have shrunk to a more manageable size. Our griefs have been private and profound.”

Spiritual life: “The first task facing us as reopening progresses is to find a place and space to mourn. How will your Jewish community acknowledge all the losses and gains of the past year?”

Read the full piece here.


The pivoting present


“It’s been over a year of shifting, rethinking, creating, visioning, and reinventing,” write Rabbi Ilana C. Garber and Jennifer Stofman in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Being present: “Cantor Jen Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, N.J., took a walk in her neighborhood during the first few days of the pandemic. When she realized she was near a congregant’s home, she texted to see if that person wanted to come outside to say hello. Eager for fresh air and fresh faces, the congregant came outdoors with her children. Cantor Cohen took a selfie of her and the family – socially distanced, of course – and posted it on Facebook.” 

Small gestures: “Presence. Torah. Experiencing Judaism at home. This kind of creativity and innovation is both simple and extraordinary. To perceive the needs of members of the community and to meet and exceed their expectations, that is the pivoting present and the presence of our rabbis and cantors.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Secondary Argument: President Joe Biden’s attempts to generate support for his plan to raise capital gains taxes on the wealthy have mainly focused on the argument that high earners can and should pay more to the government in order to boost the living standards of low-income people, writes Jim Tanksersley in The New York Times. However, his aides are making the argument that even if affluent people don’t sell their assets and pay the new, higher tax rates, the policy will still benefit the needy because those assets will likely end up being given to charity in order to reduce the owners’ tax burden. “It kind of gives you an out with the kids and the grandkids,” said Patrick M. Rooney, an economist at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “‘I’m not going to give it to you, because so much will be taken out in taxes — and you can help me decide who to give it to.’” [NYT]

Return To Form: George Soros’ $20 billion philanthropy, Open Society Foundations (OSF), is undergoing a restructuring, including cuts to jobs and existing grant programs, in order to shift resources from its base in the United States to activists fighting authoritarianism in its global network of 45 national or regional offices, reports Alex Daniels in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The president of OSF’s board, Mark Malloch-Brown, casts the changes as a return to the decentralized style that characterized Soros’ early philanthropy before the fall of the Soviet Union, but Daniels points out that some of the changes will be in line with more current trends, such as more multi-year grants and bigger investments. “I still think we’re an American foundation with an international network,” said Malloch-Brown. “And I want us to move that next step to being a global foundation.” [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Kindest Cut: People who lost hair due to illness during the pandemic were left in the lurch for months as the manufacture of wigs halted due to rising costs and factory closures, but now that production has started again, the supply of donated hair is plentiful due to a surge in donations during the pandemic, reports Joan Gralla in Newsday. Suzanne Chimera, the co-founder of Hair We Share who works at a wigmaker, told Gralla that she and her employer created the charity because they hated telling parents of ill children how much wigs cost. The size of Hair We Share has more than tripled during the pandemic, she said: “I think people were sitting at home feeling helpless, they wanted to do something.” [Newsday]

Point Counterpoint: Elise Westhoff, the CEO of the Philanthropy Roundtable, responds in a blog post on the organization’s website to those who criticized a USA Today opinion piece in which she said that the prevailing emphasis on race and gender in philanthropy has become intellectually limiting, and risks depriving some groups of needed help. She acknowledges that dark moments in the United States’ history have created problems that persist today in communities of color and that philanthropy has a role to play in remedying them, but insists that donors should not change their missions under pressure. “Support for rural America is plummeting even as it faces the opioid crisis, a poverty rate that’s 25% higher than urban areas, an epidemic of single motherhood and many other challenges,” Westhoff concludes. [PhilanthropyRoundtable]

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Word on the Street

Rohr Chabad at Duke University Undergrads has acquired the former King’s Daughters Inn in Raleigh for its new home and renamed it Fleishman House in honor of professor Joel Fleishman… The world’s first online-only Jewish community center has opened in Prague… As the world slowly reopens, Limmud Oz, Sydney, Australia’s Jewish festival of ideas and culture, will hold a multi-day in-person event in June… Jewish Quarterly, a journal of essays, reviews and opinions based in London, has relaunched… Rabbi Aravraham Hamra, Syria’s chief rabbi until making aliyah in 1994, died at age 78…

Pic of the Day

Wikimedia Commons

Today is Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. Here, crowds stroll on the city’s pedestrian mall, Ben Yehuda Street.


Alex Harden via Wikimedia Commons

Israeli rock musician, Aviv Geffen
Former U.S. Ambassador to both Australia (1989-1993) and Italy (2001-2005), Mel Sembler… Scion of a Hasidic dynasty and leader of the Beth Jehudah congregation in Milwaukee, Rabbi Michel Twerski… and his twin brother, who is a professor at Brooklyn Law School, following a career as dean at Hofstra University School of Law, Aaron Twerski… Real estate developer and principal owner of the Miami Dolphins, Stephen M. Ross… Founding rabbi of Chavurat Aytz Chayim in Connecticut and creator of Shalom TV, Mark S. Golub… Leading Democratic pollster and political strategist, Stanley Bernard “Stan” Greenberg… British film, theatre and television actress, she was a harsh critic of Jeremy Corbyn and other members of the British Labour Party in recent years, Dame Maureen Lipman… Israeli businessman and philanthropist, his family founded and owned Israel Discount Bank, Leon Recanati… Founder and CEO of OPTI Connectivity, Edward Brill… CEO of Medical Reimbursement Data Management in Yanceyville, NC, Robert Jameson… American-born Israeli singer songwriter, Yehudah Katz… Claims examiner at Chubb Insurance, David Beck… Anchor for SportsCenter and other programs on ESPN since 1979, Chris “Boomer” Berman… Former NBA player whose career spanned 18 seasons, Danny Schayes… U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi)… Brazilian businessman, Ricardo Samuel Goldstein… Senior Rabbi of Houston’s Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Brian Strauss… Editor-in-chief of Fleishigs kosher food magazine, Shifra Klein… Video games reporter at Bloomberg News, Jason Schreier… Manager of government affairs at the American Forest & Paper Association, Fara Klein Sonderling… Senior communications manager in the DC office of Pew Research Center, Rachel Weisel… National correspondent for New York MagazineGabriel Debenedetti… Editorial director at The Record, Adam Janofsky… Actress Halston Sage
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