Your Daily Phil: Rabbi Jennie Rosenn’s new environmental org + USY stops tracking membership

Good Tuesday morning!

The Center for Rabbinic Innovation (CRI) has named eight spiritual leaders to its newest class of Fellowship for Rabbinic Entrepreneurs, Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, CRI’s executive director, told eJewishPhilanthropy. CRI is a project of the Office of Innovation, which is fiscally sponsored by Hillel International, the Jewish campus life organization.

A mix of ordained leaders and students, the class includes a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, Yonason Perry, whose project creates Torah study opportunities for Black Jews; and Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas, ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, who is exploring the use of social media.

Madeline Cooper, a student at Hebrew Union College in New York City, is focused on serving small Jewish communities outside major metropolitan areas, and Rabbi Kyle Savitch, who received ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, is leading “Kehillat Harlem,” a community in Manhattan.

The Pew Research Center’s recently released study, “Jewish Americans in 2020,” highlights the need for clergy who work outside traditional synagogues, Epstein said: “With 52% of American Jews never attending synagogue, and only 20% attending more than a few times a year, the Center for Rabbinic Innovation is dedicated to redefining and reimagining how our clergy serve the Jewish people.”

The JWB Jewish Chaplains Council held its first memorial service on Sunday for Jewish Gold Star families who lost a loved one in combat in the post-9/11 period.

The service, made available to the public on Facebook Live in partnership with the National Museum of American Jewish History, highlighted the service of three Jewish military members, as told by their families through stories and pictures.


Social justice leader Rabbi Jennie Rosenn takes on climate change


Rabbi Jennie Rosenn had already dedicated her career to the Jewish pursuit of social justice when she experienced an awakening to the climate crisis, and started to think about creating a new Jewish organization that would focus on environmental policy and ground its work in Jewish values, text and ritual. The result was Dayenu, which launched in April 2020. “People had been talking about this for years,” she told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff. “How did I not get this?”

Mapping the field: Before starting Dayenu, Rosenn surveyed domestic organizations already working on domestic policy and the environment. She found groups focused on food, farming and education, like the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and Jewish Farm School, and political organizations that worked on social justice issues — such as those who are members of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, but no group that had climate change and Jewish spirituality as its mission. “This was not something to do lightly,” Rosenn said. “I don’t have thick skin. And it would be disruptive in certain ways. But we all need to be doing uncomfortable things right now to respond to this moment.”

Enough is enough: She hired Phil Aroneau, who co-founded the environmental advocacy organization, to supply the expertise that would complement her knowledge of the Jewish nonprofit world, and suggested the name “Dayenu,” which means enough, to convey both anger and hope. It’s a statement of resistance against further environmental damage, but also a reference to the Passover Seder song that thanks God for various actions taken on behalf of the Jews, such as taking them out of Egypt and providing food in the desert, and states that each one of them would have been enough in itself, Rosenn said.

Support from Spielberg: Early funders include the Dorot Foundation, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Foundation and the Leichtag Foundation, among other grantmaking organizations and individuals, Rosenn said. It also received $200,000 as one of 10 racial and economic justice organizations named recipients of Steven Spielberg’s $1 million Genesis Prize, which Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, also matched, Rosenn said. Dayenu had a $1.4 million budget in its first year. 

Read the full piece here.


The issue is not ‘the issues,’ but the spiraling collapse in our ability to discuss them


“I am a proud Jew, a proud Israeli and a proud Zionist. I am also a proud educator with immersive experience and unyielding appreciation of the global Jewish community. This personal confession, however, should not lead any reader to even assume where I stand on any issue involving politics, religion, ideology etc., for it is wholly irrelevant,” writes Zohar Raviv, Taglit Birthright Israel’s international vice president of educational strategy, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Missing dialogue: “While COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and its considerable offshoots, Israel, Palestinians, terror attacks, occupation and Judea & Samaria (West Bank) are all part of undeniably important and heart-wrenching issues, they are arguably not the core obstacle in our midst. For the core issue we should all concern ourselves with is the spiraling collapse in our ability to discuss such and many other issues amongst ourselves.”

Echo chambers: “More and more individuals steep themselves in ‘echo chambers of consent’ in social media and elsewhere, and in that opposition-deprivation space they a) convince themselves that their particular ideology governs public opinion, and b) lose the intellectual integrity and emotional maturity needed to responsibly engage voices of dissent.” 

Safe places: “It is therefore our obligation as a community to awake and rise to our role as counter-cultural agents of positive disruption: to ensure that in this contemporary climate of inflammatory rhetoric, intellectual dishonesty and paralyzing polarization, such safe and brave spaces exist in our institutions, and that thoughtful pedagogies engage members responsibly, intelligently, respectfully and decently.”

Read the full piece here.


How USY ‘killed’ membership (and why it had it coming)


“Eliminating membership enables USY to develop a system to define success and engagement on our terms,” writes Rabbi Joshua Rabin, the senior director of United Synagogue Youth, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Counting: “What we choose to count is not trivial. What we choose to count tells a great deal about how an organization defines success and where it wishes to go. Counting the wrong things and devoting tremendous resources to counting them can be fatal for any organization that wishes to reinvent. Regarding this, the eternally quotable management theorist Peter Drucker wrote that, ‘There’s nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.’”

New freedom: “Starting in July, USY, and more importantly USYers, are free. Free to measure what matters. Free to engage in mutual accountability not based on who signs up the most teens, but who can demonstrate that they transformed the most Jewish lives. Free to empower Jewish teenagers through creating exceptional Jewish experiences.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Rethink Tank: The think tanks that aim to provide intellectual grounding for policy movements through research and analysis must change in order to empower the participation of those people whose lives are most affected by policy, writes Emma Vadhra in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Think tanks that evaluate job applicants only through the prism of educational attainment should reconsider such requirements as college degrees in order to bring in diverse perspectives and experience that will enhance the quality of their policy recommendations, Vadhra says: “However, it’s also critical that, once a think tank has successfully recruited new people to its team, the organization must support these voices through investments in quality onboarding, ongoing training, and skills development—areas that are not priorities in the think tank sector.” [SSIR]

Middle Class: As the definition of who constitutes a “mid-level donor” is growing from someone who contributes around $10,000 to include gifts as high as $50,000, fundraisers are focusing more on how to make such donors feel appreciated, even though they don’t merit the attention of major-gift officers, writes Eden Stiffman in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. While in 2014, few organizations had someone dedicated to this group, many now have several people doing so, with a focus on offering more donors a personalized experience. World Relief, a Christian humanitarian organization, sees major-gift potential in mid-level givers: “We add them to a ‘lead list’ for the major-gifts officer,” Karen Bryant, head of World Relief’s mid-level program, told Stiffman. “The donor remains in the mid-level program until the officer connects with them and establishes a relationship.” [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Difficult Choices: In Forbes, Kris Putnam-Walkerly reviews the philanthropic debate over the differences between responsive and strategic grantmaking, and says the two categories provide useful distinctions to funders who can use them to make better decisions. Responsive grantmaking empowers any nonprofit operating within the funder’s named issue areas to apply for funding, and makes more sense when the funder is getting started either as a foundation or in that area, while in strategic grantmaking — also called “proactive” — the funder drives the agenda even as it enlists the help of potential and current grantees when setting its goals. “The beauty of philanthropy is that it’s not restricted to one method, and a good many funders use responsive and strategic approaches in tandem to pursue promising solutions while keeping the door open to new ideas,” Putnam-Walkerly concludes. [Forbes]

Tenure Spat: Walter Hussman, Jr., who contributed $25 million to UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school in 2019, lobbied the school not to hire Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times reporter known for her work on the “1619 Project,” reports John Drescher in Assembly. Emails from Hussman, who is the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, obtained by Assembly reveal his concern that Hannah-Jones manipulated historical fact in essays for the “1619 Project,” and that her tenure would embroil the school in controversy that would distract from its educational mission. Hannah-Jones, whom UNC-Chapel Hill hired as its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, does not have a doctoral degree, but neither did predecessors of hers who were offered tenure. “We can’t have donors influencing decisions like this,” a trustee told Drescher. “We also don’t want to poke them and have them withdraw their contribution.” [Assembly]

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Word on the Street

Israel’s government announced today that it is lifting most public restrictions connected to the coronavirus pandemic… The Foundation Source, which advises smaller corporate and family foundations, recently surveyed its members and found that 39 percent of respondents had shifted their foundations’ missions in response to the events of this year, while 42 percent had increased their giving… The National Library of Israel’s Franz Kafka Collection is now online following an intensive years-long process of conservation and restoration work, cataloguing and digitization…  Filmmaker Eva Lanska has directed and produced her first documentary titled “The Abraham Accords Change History: Women in the Middle East”… Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles was vandalized shortly before Shabbat…

Pic of the Day


Just weeks from summer and the opening of camp, Capital Camps has unveiled its brand new LIT Village.


Getty images

Actress and film director, Danielle Harris
Theatre, film and television actress, Joan Maxine Miller Copeland… Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and conductor, Yehudi Wyner… Holocaust survivor, he served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel (1993-2003) and twice as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv (1993-1998 and 2005-2017), Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau… Founder and dean of Beth Jacob Jerusalem, Rebbetzin Bruria David… NYC-based attorney, author of two books regarding the history and operations of El Al, owner of 40,000 plus pieces of memorabilia related to El Al, Marvin G. Goldman… Grammy Award-winning classical pianist, Richard Goode… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Shimon Ohayon… Retired attorney in Berkeley, California, Thom Seaton… Pediatrician in the San Francisco Bay area, Elliot Charles Lepler, MD… Former member of the Knesset for the Shinui and the Hilonit Tzionit parties, Eti Livni… Founding editor of The American Interest, Adam M. Garfinkle… Former editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, Matthew Winkler… London based political scientist and journalist, Ahron “Ronnie” Bregman… Former member of the Knesset for the Shas party, Amnon Cohen… Majority owner of MLB’s Oakland Athletics, his parents were the co-founders of Gap, Inc., he is the chair of Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Foundation, John J. Fisher… Poet, performance artist and essayist, Adeena Karasick, Ph.D… Founding editor and publisher of the Dayton Jewish ObserverMarshall J. Weiss… Television personality and matchmaker, Sigalit “Siggy” Flicker… Contributing editor at the Daily Beast, Spencer J. Ackerman… Comedian, actress and producer, Amy Schumer… Musician, actor and author, Ari Seth Herstand… Executive director of MoveOn[dot]org Political Action, Ilya Sheyman… Political reporter for NBC News and MSNBC, Alex Seitz-Wald… Naomi S. Kadish… Isabel Keller
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