Your Daily Phil: Remembering North Americans killed in Israel

Good Friday morning. 

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we profile the La’aretz Foundation and how it pivoted after Oct. 7, and feature an opinion piece by Livia Thompson about proactive inclusion for people with disabilities. Also in this newsletter: Eden Golan, Haim Saban and Sharon S. Nazarian. We’ll start with the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel’s memorial ceremony for North Americans killed in Israel over the past year. Shabbat shalom!

Over the course of 103 years, from 1920 to last spring, 360 North Americans fell in battle or were killed in terror attacks in what is now the State of Israel. Their names are inscribed on a memorial wall in a pine forest just off the Route 1 highway leading into Jerusalem, beginning with Jacob Tucker and William Scharf who were killed in the famed Battle of Tel Hai in 1920.

The names of 77 more North Americans were added to the wall this year, 75 of them killed following the Oct. 7 terror attacks. More names are expected to be added from Oct. 7 as the fates of those still deemed hostages in Gaza become known. It is, by a wide margin, the largest number added to the wall in a single year in that now 104-year history. They represent nearly 5% of the 1,594 soldiers and civilians killed in combat or terror attacks since Israel’s last Yom HaZikaron, or Memorial Day, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

The 77 names were unveiled yesterday evening, ahead of Sunday night’s commemoration of the somber day at an annual ceremony organized by the Associations Americans and Canadians in Israel, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew, Jewish Agency Chair Doron Almog and Canadian and Israeli diplomats, as well as the families of fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

In addition to unveiling the past year’s additions to the memorial wall, which is overseen by both AACI and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund, on Thursday, AACI also formally launched a new website with Israel’s National Insurance Institute — — dedicated to the memories of North Americans killed in Israel. 

The common theme of the evening was the potent combination of grief and pride: pain at the loss of loved ones alongside firm belief in the justness of the cause — Zionism — for which they died.

“In my short time as ambassador, I’ve had many very hard conversations with families of fallen soldiers, kidnapped hostages and innocent people murdered on Oct. 7,” said Lew, who entered his role some six months ago. “Many mixed pride with grief as they shared stories of loved ones who lost their lives for a cause they believed in.” 

Joseph Gitler, the American founder and chair of the Israeli food security nonprofit Leket, delivered the evening’s keynote address, speaking about the loss of his son-in-law, David Schwartz, an IDF reservist who was killed in January while fighting in the Gaza Strip.

In his speech, Gitler, who made aliyah in 2000, noted the “unique position of North American olim [Jewish immigrants to Israel],” coming from countries that are — by and large — comfortable for their Jewish communities. He highlighted the “vital role” that North American olim have played in Israel, particularly in the field of nonprofits.

“Our community has changed the face of the State of Israel, tackling time and again its most difficult societal problems,” he said.

Self-effacingly, Gitler joked that his family worked hard to not integrate into Israeli society, living in a city — Raanana — with a large English-speaking population, sending their children to summer camps in the United States and making friends with other English-speaking immigrants. But he said the family started integrating when his children enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and continued when his eldest daughter, Meital, married “a real Israeli.”

“And that was our David,” Gitler said, tearing up. “And he was so beloved by all. The perfect catch: gentle, humble, and so in love with our daughter that our worries as parents almost disappeared.”

The Gitler family’s “third and most difficult integration into Israeli society” came on Jan. 8, when Schwartz was killed in battle “fighting for his beloved homeland,” he said. 

“And now we are one of ‘those’ families,” he said. “Like all mishpachot shekulot, bereaved families, our family will have two days of mourning going forward: One national, Yom HaZikaron, and one personal, the 27th of Tevet, when David and his best friend, U.S. citizen, Yakir Hexter, were killed.”

Gitler, who described himself as a “very optimistic person,” said he hoped and prayed that “all this pain and suffering that has befallen our nation will lead to positive change,” adding that only if that occurs will he “know that David and all our other soldiers and civilians didn’t die in vain.”

Read the full report here.


Started a year earlier to help people move to Israel, La’aretz Foundation pivoted to help individual families affected by Oct. 7

Shelly Harel Pitman, founder & executive director of La’aretz, speaks at the “Women Behind the Reserves Project” event benefiting IDF Unit 669 at Eden Gallery in New York City on March 26.
Shelly Harel Pitman, founder & executive director of La’aretz, speaks at the “Women Behind the Reserves Project” event benefiting IDF Unit 669 at Eden Gallery in New York City on March 26. Haley Cohen/eJewishPhilanthropy

If you’d have asked Shelly Harel Pitman on Oct. 6, 2023, she’d have told you that her fundraising days were on pause. The most important thing in her world was her 2-month-old baby. On Oct. 7, everything changed in an instant. Having already formed the nonprofit La’aretz Foundation one year earlier with her husband, Mike Pitman, the couple — both of them from Israel — quickly decided to fundraise for victims of the terrorist attack and subsequent war effort, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

‘Back to it’: In La’aretz Foundation’s first year, it had helped some 100 individuals and families either make aliyah or move back to Israel for humanitarian reasons — including cancer patients, the elderly and families facing bureaucratic or economic challenges. “It was just me; I’d just had a baby and it was very hard to compete with all of the big nonprofits,” Harel Pitman said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d ever go back to it.” In the days after Oct. 7, though, Harel Pitman went right “back to it,” she said, with assistance from a small team of volunteers. Their first project was to provide financial support for army reservists flying back to Israel. “This was the immediate need we felt Israel needed,” she said. “We financed entire planes and flew 600 reserves to Israel.” 

Expanding vision: “Since then, we’ve kept growing,” she continued, noting that “donors really like the direct approach. Each donor receives a report of the families that they helped… This is La’aretz [now]. We know we will never go back to being just aliyah and return to Israel. We feel that this direct support to families is needed forever. Each year, we will choose a new project. But we are currently still in the immediate trauma of Oct. 7 and the war.”

Impactful feelings: “Ninety percent of our donations come to us, not us reaching out to them,” Harel Pitman said, expressing that, perhaps surprisingly, it’s easier to fundraise as a small, lesser-known organization than to be tied to a larger one. “A lot of donors pulled out their donations from big organizations because they weren’t getting the feeling of immediate support, and they decided instead to support smaller organizations that draw a big impact. We are falling in this category.” She continued: “To find a foundation run by Israelis that gives direct support allows each donor to feel like they really helped support a family.” 

Read the full report here.


Living the Jewish value of inclusion

A girl using braille to chant her Torah portion. Courtesy/JBI

“Inclusion in religious and other communal settings for people who are blind or have low vision is not just about physical accessibility. It is about fostering a sense of belonging, understanding and love,” Livia Thompson, executive director of JBI (originally established as the Jewish Braille Institute), in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

People of the books: “[T]rue inclusion is opening the door before the person knocks, and finding the right communication tools so that there are no barriers to accessing Judaism’s beauty and complexity. True inclusion requires intentional efforts to accommodate the needs of all members and ensure that everyone who seeks to learn more about Jewish life, culture, ritual and community can do so easily and without having to ask. This is particularly true for the ‘People of the Book,’ as individuals with visual impairments or print disabilities often face significant challenges accessing the books and texts that are so critical to engaging in Jewish life.’’

Practical measures: “As we count the Omer and prepare to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Shavuot, we are reminded that inclusion aligns with our core values of justice, compassion and love for all and enables all of us to fully engage as Jews. Leviticus specifically notes that we must not ‘put a stumbling block before the blind’; this verse is usually applied metaphorically, but we can and should be mindful of its literal meaning as well. How do we do this?”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Stand for Unity: In The Times of Israel, Saul Singer, whose brother, Alex, died in the First Lebanon War, writes about the determination bereaved Israeli families share that the sacrifices of their family members not be in vain. “How should ‘not in vain’ be translated into action? The answer lies, I believe, in the greatest imperative of this moment, which is to not tear ourselves apart. We can withstand wars, we cannot withstand being divided. This is because our solidarity as a people, now and throughout Jewish history, is our source of strength and hope. Other countries have the luxury of being able to survive despair. We don’t… Prioritizing unity is also our moral obligation to those who, to borrow from Lincoln, ‘gave the last full measure of devotion.’ As the sirens of Yom Hazikaron command us to stand and remember, let us ‘highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this [Jewish] nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom’ and that the hopes and dreams of the Jewish state ‘shall not perish from the earth.’” [TOI]

‘I Was Lucky’: In a genre full of stark horror and heavy questions, the Holocaust-era recollections of artist Saul Steinberg, shared by Bill Tonelli in Tablet, read like an absurdist novel. Then a 26-year-old Romanian architecture student and cartoonist studying in Milan, Steinberg was temporarily successful at evading the Italian authorities before being caught and eventually shipped off to an internment camp — in a seaside villa. “Steinberg turned the threat of arrest into a game of cat and mouse. To avoid capture, he began waking up a little before 6, jumping on a borrowed bike, and riding through the streets of Milan as though he were headed to work. After a while he would return home, have breakfast, and go back to bed… One morning while he was still home, one of the four sisters who owned the bar came to his room to warn him, ‘They’re here, downstairs.’ Steinberg managed to flee without being seen by the police. Then: ‘When I got back at eight, after telephoning to be sure they left, I was welcomed like a hero, like someone who’d had a narrow escape. They told me that one of the policemen, like a real Sherlock Holmes, had felt the bed and said, “It’s still warm.”… As soon as I was put in prison I saw myself as an important character. In history, all important characters have gone to prison. … Because I was young, this was all a great adventure for me. I liked to think I was participating in life in such an intense fashion: I wasn’t just a reader of novels but a real hero, as I’d always wished.’” [Tablet]

Do Less, Better: In The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Ben Gose reports on some of the challenges nonprofit CEOs report facing and potential steps to make their roles more manageable. “The Chronicle commissioned an exclusive survey of nonprofit CEOs to learn how they feel about their jobs, what they like about the work and their greatest challenges. More than 350 chief executives shared their experiences. The results include some surprising findings. While charity CEOs overwhelmingly say they love their jobs, they’re simultaneously confronted with major challenges that range from work-life balance to the strains of fundraising and attracting strong talent. A third say they’re likely to leave their job within two years… CEOs can make their own jobs more manageable by working with their boards to narrow their organization’s scope. Jordan Shenker has worked for Jewish community centers for more than 30 years, including a stint as an executive consultant for the national association of such centers. ‘I would say that in almost every JCC that I went in and consulted with, one of my observations to the senior leadership was, “Do less, but do it better,”’ Shenker says.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Around the Web

The Russell Berrie Foundation paused its donations to Columbia University over the school’s handling of anti-Israel activity on campus, following months of exchanges between President Minouche Shafik and the president of the foundation’s board; the foundation has given roughly $86 million to the school…

Israeli singer Eden Golan will have a chance to win the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend, after her performance of “Hurricane” at last night’s semifinals in Malmö, Sweden, advanced her to Saturday’s finals, despite fierce protests against her… 

Israeli-born Democratic donor Haim Saban sent a message to President Joe Biden decrying his administration’s decision to withhold offensive arms sales to Israel if it proceeds with a major ground invasion of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, saying it was a “bad, bad, bad decision on all levels” and urging him to reconsider… 

Ahead of next week’s Israeli Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports that the country’s population stands at 9.9 million, an increase of some 189,000 since last year…

The Weingart Foundation awarded $3.9 million in grants to 25 nonprofits that “promote strong and healthy communities” in Southern California…

A nonprofit that recognizes significant places in American Jewish history is installing markers throughout New York’s Catskill Mountains as part of the Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project

The Anti-Defamation League’s Media & Entertainment Institute partnered with Common Sense Media to create two curated film lists — “Movies that illustrate and celebrate the Jewish experience” and “Movies about the Holocaust” — for Jewish American Heritage Month…

Aaron Troodler was named the next editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent community newspaper…

Philanthropist Sharon S. Nazarian, whose family foundation supports an eponymous Israel studies center at UCLAthanked the university for releasing a statement rejecting calls from anti-Israel protesters to cut ties with the center…

California’s Sacramento State University announced that it planned to divest from companies that “profit from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and activities that violate fundamental human rights” by Israel, making it the first school in the state and one of the few in the country to do so; the divestment decision came just after the university opened a new Hillel-affiliated Jewish life and resource center…

Cornell University President Martha Pollack will step down next month after seven years leading the Ivy League school, after a tumultuous year that included widespread campus protests, faculty that praised the Oct. 7 terror attacks and a death threat made to the campus’ Jewish community…

Semafor explores Princeton University’s efforts “to position itself as an arbiter in reducing tensions between Iran and the U.S.,” despite two of its students having been taken hostage by Tehran and its proxies in recent years…

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro called on officials at the University of Pennsylvania to disband the school’s anti-Israel encampment, saying it was “past time for the university to act.” The school called in police to do so this morning…

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved an additional $20 million in security funding each for Jewish schools and for Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state…

Dr. Herbert Pardes, who led New York-Presbyterian Hospital for 11 years, died on April 30 at 89…

Barbara Cohen Rosenberg, a major donor and volunteer in the San Francisco Jewish community and beyond, died last Saturday at 91…

Pic of the Day

Shlomie Amsalem

Brit Yaakobi reads from Israel’s Declaration of Independence at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall last night as part of an annual event organized by the World Zionist Organization ahead of Israeli Independence Day, which begins on Monday night. 

Yaakobi is joined by WZO Vice Chairman Yizhar Hess; former Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy; former Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber; Rabbi Donniel Hartman; attorney Nitzan Kahana whose grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence; and Haim and Tal Sharett, son and granddaughter of Israel’s second Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett, who also signed the Declaration in 1948.


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix

Reform rabbi living in Israel, she is the sister of comedians Laura Silverman and Sarah Silverman, Susan Silverman… 

FRIDAY: 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 NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Stephen M. Ross… Leading Democratic pollster and political strategist, Stanley Bernard “Stan” Greenberg… British actress, she is a vocal supporter of Israel, 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 Chapel Hill, N.C., Robert Jameson… American-born Israeli singer, songwriter and music producer, 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 on seven teams, Danny Schayes… U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)… Brazilian businessman and partner with Donald Trump in Trump Realty Brazil, Ricardo Samuel Goldstein… Special education teacher, Neil Winchel… Attorney general of Colorado, elected in 2018 and reelected in 2022, Philip Jacob Weiser… Senior rabbi of Houston’s Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Brian Strauss… Israeli rock musician, Aviv Geffen… Editor-in-chief of Fleishigs kosher food magazine, Shifra Klein… Video games reporter at Bloomberg NewsJason Schreier… Manager of government affairs at the American Forest & Paper Association, Fara Klein Sonderling… Associate director of communications in the D.C. office of Pew Research Center, Rachel Weisel Drian… National correspondent for New York magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti… Editorial director at The Record by Recorded Future, Adam Janofsky… Actress who has appeared in many films and television series, Halston Sage… Scriptwriter and actress, she is the daughter of Larry David, Cazzie Laurel David… Mollie Harrison… Israel-based journalist, Melanie Lidman

SATURDAY: Israeli optical and kinetic artist and sculptor, Yaacov Agam… Sociologist and author of numerous books, Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D…. Israeli social activist focused on issues of women’s and human rights, Iris Stern Levi… Treasurer and receiver-general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Deborah Beth Goldberg… Past president and then chairman of AIPAC, Dr. Morton Zvi Fridman… Copy chief at Random House until 2023 and the author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and StyleBenjamin Dreyer… Brian Mullen… Howard M. Pollack… CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, William Albert “Bill” Ackman… Senior fellow and a Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institute, Michael Pregent… Member of the California State Senate since 2016, his district includes San Francisco and parts of San Mateo County, Scott Wiener… Co-founder and president of Omaha Productions, which he started with Peyton Manning, Jamie Horowitz… U.S. senator (D-CA), appointed in 2023 to fill the seat of the late Dianne Feinstein, Laphonza Romanique Butler… Filmmaker and podcast host, Dan Trachtenberg… Deputy chief of staff in the Office of the President at Carnegie Mellon University, Pamela Eichenbaum… Senior cost analyst at the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Michael Jeremy Alexander… PR and brand manager for overseas resource development at Leket Israel, Shira Woolf… Founder and CEO of the digital asset technology company Architect, Brett Harrison… Staff writer at Time magazine, Olivia B. Waxman… Senior associate in paid search at Wavemaker, James Frichner… Israeli actress, she appeared in 30 episodes of “Shtisel” and played the lead role in the Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox,” Shira Haas… Paralympic track and field athlete, he is also a motivational speaker and disability rights advocate, Ezra Frech

SUNDAY: Co-founder and the first CEO of Home Depot, Bernard “Bernie” Marcus… Israeli agribusiness entrepreneur and real estate investor, he was chairman and owner of Carmel Agrexco, Gideon Bickel… World renowned architect and master planner for the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, Daniel Libeskind… Former member of the California State Senate for eight years, following six years as a member of the California State Assembly, Lois Wolk… Investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff… Former Washington correspondent for McClatchy and then the Miami Herald covering the Pentagon, James Martin Rosen… SVP and deputy general counsel at Delta Air Lines, Matthew Knopf… Professor at Emory University School of Law, he has published over 200 articles on law, religion and Jewish law, Michael Jay Broyde… Actress known for her role as Lexi Sterling on “Melrose Place,” she also had the lead role in many Lifetime movies, Jamie Michelle Luner… Founder of strategic communications and consulting firm Hiltzik Strategies, Matthew Hiltzik… Communications officer in the D.C. office of Open Society Foundations, Jonathan E. Kaplan… First-ever Jewish governor of Colorado, Jared Polis… Israeli pastry chef and parenting counselor, she is married to former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Gilat Ethel Bennett… Senior advisor at the Center for American Progress, Joshua Cohen… Senior writer at Forbes covering the intersection of technology and society, Alexandra S. Levine… Senior director of government affairs at BridgeBio, Amanda Schechter Malakoff… Civics outreach manager at Google, Erica Arbetter… Haifa-born actress and model, she is known for her lead roles in “The Giver,” “Goosebumps” and “Dumplin,’” Odeya Rush