Your Daily Phil: Remembering Mt. Meron victims + Views on MJH and DeSantis

Good Thursday morning!

Last Lag B’Omer, 45 men and boys were killed in a stampede on Mt. Meron, a pilgrimage site in northern Israel that hosts an annual festival on the night of the spring holiday.

Now, one year later, the family of one of the victims hopes to commemorate him not in a center of Israeli religious life but nearly 7,000 miles away — in the stretches of the American Mountain West where there are few Jews. The family of Yossi Kohn, an Orthodox Cleveland native who was 22 when he died, plans to build two mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths, in his memory — in Jackson Hole, Wyo. and Boise, Idaho.

In Jewish practice, mikvahs represent family life, and Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, who serves as the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement’s emissary in Boise along with his wife, Esther, said Kohn’s family chose to build them because Yossi didn’t have the chance to get married or become a father.

“Yossi unfortunately did not have the ability to build his own family,” Lifshitz told eJewishPhilanthropy. “The understanding of the family is that this would bring a lot of joy, a lot of sanctity and tranquility, peace to many families, which is what a mikvah symbolizes.”

At present, Jews in Boise who want to immerse in a mikvah — traditionally a Jewish legal obligation for many women — need to travel five hours each way to Salt Lake City, Utah. There are only a couple thousand Jews in and around Idaho’s largest city, Lifshitz estimates. Jackson Hole, a ski resort town, has 500 full-time Jewish residents, another 500 with homes there and some 60,000 Jewish visitors per year, says Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, a local Chabad emissary.

The mikvahs will take approximately 10 months to build, and the total construction budget for both is about $2.5 million, of which $500,000 has yet to be raised. Mendelsohn said that once built, the mikvahs will each have a monthly maintenance budget of around $5,000 for cleaning, heating, towels and keeping the water fresh.

“I eagerly awaited and looked forward to watching what he would accomplish—all the people he would touch, the family he would build, which is why this project is so meaningful to us,” Kohn’s mother, Chaya Gitty Kohn, said of her late son at a recent event, according to Chabad[dot]org. “A mikvah represents potential. It symbolizes the future of the Jewish nation.”

In Israel, the celebration on Mt. Meron last night was smaller, more regulated and relatively subdued. Attendance at the festival was limited for the first time to around 120,000 people, entry was staggered and improvements were made to the pilgrimage site, which surrounds the tomb of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Forty-five candles were lit in memory of the victims and their names were read.


Two years after COVID began, a London JCC’s emergency food bank is still running

Volunteers at JW3 in London prepare food in 2020.


On any given weekday, volunteers stream in and out of a sleek rectangular building in northwest London, toting supplies and food, sorting and packing groceries, cooking, packaging and delivering meals to locals struggling with food insecurity or mental health issues. The building also regularly hosts blood donation drives and pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics, but is not a government agency, nor a food bank. It’s JW3, the London Jewish community center, which expanded its social service programs during the darkest days of the global COVID pandemic, and maintained them even after restrictions eased, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

In the trenches together: As of May of 2022, the JW3 volunteers have delivered more than 250,000 meals — a mix of ready-to-eat dishes and food parcels with staples — to households struggling with food poverty in North London. Some of the volunteers are using their professional skill set, while others are  exploring a new interest or skill. And many, JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson added, felt a sense of camaraderie while working “in the trenches together.”

Valuable contributions: “Volunteering isn’t purely an altruistic act of giving of oneself completely selflessly,” Simonson told eJP. “When we bring in volunteers, we are not asking them a favor. We are giving them a meaningful opportunity to make a valuable contribution. We are enabling them to use their talents, or their interest, or their time in a way that they feel rewarded by doing something good.”

Read the full story here.


The Museum of Jewish Heritage made a choice about politics: Will it keep its word?

Wikimedia Commons

“The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan overlooks the harbor of New York with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the distance. From the grounds, visitors are reminded of potent American symbols and values that drew so many to this nation’s shore before and after the Shoah. And one of the most sacred American values for those ‘yearning to breathe free’ is that of open and unrestricted expression — the ability to question, debate and disagree without state threat,” writes Samuel J. Abrams, professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Mission contradiction: “As such, the collective Jewish community should be appalled over reports that the museum was said to have banned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from speaking at the Tikvah Fund’s upcoming Jewish Leadership Conference, which was intended to host a variety of writers, politicians and thought leaders to talk about conservative ideas that ‘can help strengthen the Jewish people, the Jewish nation, and the American civic future.’ This move is a direct contradiction of the museum’s stated vision and Jewish tradition.”

Forum for debate: “The very mission of the museum, which the institution describes as ‘crucial,’ is to educate ‘diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust’… The museum should be a forum for debate and host progressive, polarizing politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) along with the Tikvah conference and conservatives like DeSantis.”

Read the full piece here.


Why the Museum of Jewish Heritage was right

iStock/Getty Images

“A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Elliott Abrams and Eric Cohen of the Tikvah Foundation (also covered in eJewish Philanthropy) castigated the Museum of Jewish Heritage for canceling the 2022 Tikvah Leadership Conference because of the planned appearance of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. I believe the museum was both entitled to do so and correct in doing so,” writes Sherwin Pomerantz, former board chair of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Renters’ obligation: “The Tikvah Foundation, which I support and did, in fact, participate in their 2018 Leadership Conference, has every right to invite whomever they choose to appear before their supporters. However, when a choice is made to hold the conference in an institution that has a mission other than one simply providing neutral space for public events, the renting organization runs the risk of conflicting with the mission of the host venue.”

Not a neutral space: “This is, in fact, what seems to have happened this year. The event space of the museum is not a neutral space. When the Museum of Jewish Heritage is the host venue for an event of any organization, the museum itself cannot totally disassociate itself from the potential assumption by the public that they endorse and support the decision of the renters to invite controversial speakers.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Battling Cancer While at War: Olya Kudinenko, founder of Tabletochki Charity Foundation, a Ukrainian organization for children with cancer, was about to announce a capital campaign when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Drew Lindsay writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “We started to treat kids with cancer outside of Ukraine because it’s not safe for them to go through the treatment while rockets are flying all around and hitting hospitals and apartment buildings. So we have evacuated more than 800 families who have kids — more than 2,000 people over all… So we provide drugs and logistical help to the hospitals and psychological support for families. The stress they face is not just double the stress they faced before; it’s 10,000 times worse. Basically, these families fight two wars at the same time. The first one is against cancer. The second one is with the Russians. That’s not easy for them.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Running Circles Around Philanthropy: 
Philanthropy Together CEO Sara Lomelin wants the concept of a giving circle — in which people pool their time and money and collectively decide where to donate it — to become as well-known and mainstream as crowdfunding, writes Glenn Gamboa in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: ?“‘This is not about replacing big philanthropy,’ Lomelin said. ‘It’s about involving more voices and involving more people taking action to support their communities. With giving circles, we’re moving a lot of people, but we’re not moving the billions and billions of dollars that some can move by themselves. So, by all means, they need to keep doing it. But I think there are many lessons from giving circles that big philanthropy could learn…How do you create community? How do you take away a lot of those obstacles to giving? How do you engage further and support the cost to set up an organization that you believe in?’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Community Comms

Fellowship funding available. June 20 is the deadline to apply for Spertus Institute’s accelerated Master’s program for communal executives.

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Word on the Street

Amar’e Stoudemire revealed on Instagram on Wednesday that he quit his position as an assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets because of difficulties fulfilling his job as a Shabbat-observant Jew…

A federal judge delivered a setback to American Muslims for Palestine in a case surrounding the death of teenager David Boim, who was killed by Hamas terrorists in 1996…

An Arab-Israeli lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz party, Rinawie Zoabi, has quit the country’s governing coalition, leaving it with a minority of seats in Knesset…

The Jewish Education Project announced the 2022 recipients of its Robert M. Sherman Young Pioneers Award. This year’s recipients are recognized for their innovative work in early childhood education, Jewish arts programming, LGBTQ teen empowerment, family education and social emotional learning in the New York area…

World Jewish Relief, the U.K. Jewish community’s international development and humanitarian organization, has obtained 501(c)3 status in the U.S.… 

Alon Beer has been appointed CEO of the Jewish volunteer organization Shalom Corps. He previously served as director-general of the Society for International Development Israel… 

A screenplay by Bosnian-American filmmaker Sabina Vajraca, inspired by the true story of a Muslim family that saved their Jewish friends during the Holocaust, won a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany that will help it become a film…

Comedian and “Borat” star Sacha Baron Cohen is creating an animated series for children about the shtetl of Chelm. The series will air on HBO Max…

The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum received a $1 million pledge from the Tilles Foundation. The gift will fund the creation of an Impact Lab in which visitors will consider the lessons of the Holocause for the present day…

Pic of the Day


Religious Jews take part in the annual pilgrimage to the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the northern Israeli village of Meron today, during the holiday of Lag B’Omer, which commemorates the second-century Jewish scholar’s death. 


Brian Ach/Getty Images for Sabra

Israeli-born chef, owner of multiple NYC restaurants, Einat Admony

Retired senior counsel in the DC office of Blank Rome LLP, Harvey Sherzer… Retired New York State judge, including six years as chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, now of counsel in the NYC office of Latham & Watkins, Jonathan Lippman… Clinical psychologist, author, teacher, public speaker and ordained rabbi, Dennis G. Shulman… Former member of the California State Senate, Hannah-Beth Jackson… Israeli novelist and journalist, Edna Shemesh… Nurse and former member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Sandra “Sandy” Pasch… Harvey D. Harman… Retired chief of the general staff of the IDF, Gadi Eizenkot… Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, born in Milan, now chief rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Shlomo Dovber Pinchas Lazar (better known as Berel Lazar)… Journalist, teacher and playwright, Gersh Kuntzman… Professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago, Alex Eskin… Author of 28 novels that have sold over 40 million copies in 34 languages, four of which have been adapted into Lifetime Original Movies, Jodi Picoult… Business manager and spokesperson for NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, Estee Portnoy… Former CEO of Bend the Arc, Stosh Cotler… Israeli actress and fashion designer, Dorit Bar Or… Canadian food writer and cookbook author, Gail Simmons… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Ofir Katz… Former professional baseball player, he pitched for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and is now pitching coach for the Santa Barbara Foresters, Zachary “Zack” James Thornton… Activist, advocacy educator, engagement strategist and TED speaker, Natalie Warne… Professional ice hockey forward currently playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, Brendan Leipsic

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