Your Daily Phil: ‘Reverse tashlich’ for Rosh Hashanah + Interview with Conference of Presidents’ new chair

Good Thursday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we spotlight a new beach cleanup initiative dubbed “reverse tashlich” and report on Rosh Hashanah preparations in Ukraine. We also feature opinion pieces from Jenni Zeftel and Rabbi Lori Schneide Shapiro. We’ll start with an interview with Harriet Schleifer, the recently elected chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP), the largest Jewish organization in the U.S., elected Harriet Schleifer on June 1 as the organization’s new chair.

Schleifer enters the new role during a particularly fraught period, with rising antisemitism, deepening partisan divisions in both the U.S. and Israel and a growing disconnect between American Jewry and the Israeli government, if not the State of Israel more generally.

Schleifer recently sat down with eJewishPhilanthropy‘s Haley Cohen to discuss how she plans to unite the Jewish community in her new role as chair of the umbrella organization that represents 50 diverse American Jewish organizations.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Haley Cohen: What are your specific plans in the new role? What are a few top areas you plan to focus on?

Harriet Schleifer: As the new chair of the Conference, my goal and my calling is to bring together the various myriad Jewish voices in the United States to educate ourselves and derive a consensus as best as possible, to promote the Jewish voice on issues of antisemitism, stopping Iran from its interference in state policies and uranium enrichment. [I] also seek to come together and help our government implement the White House strategy to fight antisemitism.

We have to be vigilant about keeping Jewish identity and Jewish pride alive. Our younger generations of Jews have experienced somewhat of a golden age in this country to the extent that we have achieved so much as American Jews, in some respects we may be disconnected or less informed about the Jewish perspective on all the things we hope to achieve to make the world better. The connection is not necessarily front of mind for young people so we’d like to develop opportunities to enhance our identities and that should lead to a connection with Israel.

Our Israel-Diaspora relations need a healthy boost. We don’t always understand each other’s sensibilities. The Conference can play a role in uniting the two largest hubs of the Jewish community.

Most importantly is to bring together our 50 member organizations to educate ourselves and to listen to each other because we are not monolithic. We come from various political sensibilities, we come from different cultural backgrounds, we are different genders and different observances. We need to find what keeps us together and celebrate that. My goal is to celebrate what we have together so our future is more certain.

Read the full interview here.

Sea change

Participants in a 'reverse tashlich' stand in front of the garbage they collected from a beach in New Zealand, in an undated photograph.
Participants in a ‘reverse tashlich‘ stand in front of the garbage they collected from a beach in New Zealand, in an undated photograph. (Courtesy/Repair the Sea)

Every year, during the High Holy Days, Jews gather at rivers, oceans or other bodies of water for a ritual that gives physical form to the act of repentance: throwing sins (traditionally, bread crumbs or pieces as iniquity proxies) into the water and watching them wash away. This is tashlich, a ritual that comes with liturgical texts and rich symbolism that makes an emotional impact, but also pollutes the marine environment. The leaders of Repair the Sea, a global organization that envisions a clean ocean with abundant marine life through a Jewish lens, have proposed a “reverse tashlich” — a beach cleanup to remove human “sins” from the water, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

No bread, please: “Doing a reverse tashlich in 2023 ensures that we lift the burden of pollution off of animals and ecosystems a little, giving them a greater chance of a healthy existence and us a greater chance for a healthy planet,” Shayna Cohen, engagement and expansion director of Repair the Sea (also known as Tikkun HaYam in Hebrew), told eJP. Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, the organization’s founder and CEO, said that in addition to the cleanup, he recommends using pebbles or seashells during the tashlich service, instead of the traditional bread. “We tell people, don’t use bread, it’s not the natural food of the fish or the birds,” he said.

Around the world: The initiative is growing, said Cohen: 289 communities have officially registered to participate in 22 countries on 6 continents — 27 communities in California and another 27 in New York, and 39 across Florida. New Zealand has nine communities registered, and — “despite being in the midst of a war,” Cohen said — six Ukrainian Hillels have committed to join this initiative to repair their local environment. The communities range from synagogues, Jewish community centers and youth organizations. Participants hail from across the Jewish denominational spectrum and beyond (some participants are not Jewish), and range in age from 5 to 92.

Read the full report here.

New Year, same war

Still under fire, Ukrainian Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah with help from nonprofits

An unnamed American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee worker gives an apple and honey to Zoya Nagorskaya, a 69-year-old retired kindergarten teacher from Poltava, Ukraine, ahead of Rosh Hashanah in 2023.
An unnamed American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee worker gives an apple and honey to Zoya Nagorskaya, a 69-year-old retired kindergarten teacher from Poltava, Ukraine, ahead of Rosh Hashanah in 2023. (Misha Kovalev/JDC)

In Mykolayiv, in southern Ukraine, elderly Jews can tune into the virtual tour of “Rosh Hashanah in Fine Arts.” In Odesa, participants of Active Jewish Teens, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) youth network that is part of BBYO, can partake in a Rosh Hashanah celebration in the Black Sea port city. As Ukrainian Jews prepare to celebrate their second Rosh Hashanah amid a still-raging war, they are not only surviving “but building Jewish lives,” as well. That was the hopeful but realistic message delivered by Inna Vdoivichenko, the head of JDC in Odessa, at a press briefing on Wednesday in Manhattan, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

In Ukraine and worldwide: On Rosh Hashanah, JDC is encouraging Jewish communities worldwide to reflect on the grinding war in Ukraine. The group released a special holiday supplement earlier this month highlighting issues of global Jewish needs, ranging from Ukraine to various other crises impacting Jewish communities around the world. On the ground in Ukraine, JDC is providing thousands of elderly and impoverished Jews with food packages ahead of the holiday, funded in part by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Vdoivichenko noted that before the war, JDC aided mostly the disabled and elderly. Now, many middle-aged Ukrainians are out of work and need assistance.

Chabad too: In addition to JDC, Chabad’s Jewish Relief Network Ukraine is also distributing food and other basic necessities to the country’s Jewish community. An estimated 50,000 people will receive such relief packages from JRNU, according to Chabad. Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, who along with his wife, Miriam, leads Chabad-Lubavitch of Kharkiv, said he was expecting more than 500 people to attend Rosh Hashanah services this weekend. “Since this war began, we’ve seen such a reawakening here of the Jewish soul,” Moskovitz told Chabad’s website. “It’s more than it’s ever been, and we’ve been here for 33 years.”

Read the full report here.

Take action

You’ve heard why you should invest in Jewish day camp. Now explore how.

Young female camper in yellow tshirt dances along with other children.
Campers sing and dance at Camp Yachad at the JCC of Central New Jersey. (Courtesy/Foundation for Jewish Camp)

“Recently, eJewishPhilanthropy published an opinion piece by Aaron Greenberg, ‘Jewish Day Camps Work: Are They in Your Investment Portfolio?’ He brings much-needed attention to the vital issue of equitable investment in day camps, a cause that FJC agrees with and has been passionately championing for over a decade,” writes Jenni Zeftel, director of day camp initiatives at Foundation for Jewish Camp, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Next steps: “As we review the Day Camp Satisfaction Insights and our annual Camp Census, analyzing data from the 160-plus day camps representing 90,000-plus campers and staff in the FJC network, there’s an opportunity to go a step beyond acknowledging the need for investment. I’d like to suggest some data-informed, concrete ways in which funders and philanthropists can contribute to the growth and sustainability of Jewish day camps.”

Read the full piece here.

Welcome to the Lab

How radical ritual empowers a new spiritual community

Vibrant sunset on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California.
Viviana Rishe/Unsplash

“As someone who returned to Judaism in my 20s, without any awareness of Jewish ritual practice or education growing up, I envisioned the Open Temple, founded in 2013 in Venice, Calif., as a spiritual playground, a place where seekers from the periphery could wander in along with their Ph. D.s, J.D.s and M.D.s and not feel at odds or shamed because their Jewish literacy didn’t match their Ivy League pedigree. Open Temple’s radically inclusive High Holiday Ritual Lab exemplifies how we accomplish this, and offers a template for other communities seeking to create a compelling and enchanting ‘on-ramp’ for the High Holidays,” writes Rabbi Lori Schneide Shapiro in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy, presented in partnership with the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI).

The call: “For the Open Temple community, Elul is filled with shofar blasts around town. As the rabbi, I carry the shofar with me throughout the month – stopping at crosswalks, in the middle of the famed Venice Boardwalk and even as I stroll down Abbot Kinney Boulevard en route to a lunch meeting – and invite others to awaken their slumbering souls. The idea of Elul must be carried by the community.”

The work: “Open Temple posts ‘30 Days of Elul’ kavanot (intentions) on social media as daily meditations and prompts for a daily deepening. The goal is to awaken the seeker for the journey. Each post is inspired by something I see in real time in our neighborhood, and represents the concept of hirhur t’shuvah, or ‘awakening to return.’ The lens of the camera frames the work of t’shuvah in the world around us, and brief explanations on social media provide jewels of Jewish wisdom as we prepare our souls for turning. Like running a marathon – or, in our part of the world, going to Burning Man – our experience of the upcoming event is only as deep as our preparation for it.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Loving Judaism, Not Hating Antisemitism: In The New York Times, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism  Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt encourages Jews (and other minorities) to actively embrace their heritage, not get pushed into it by their haters. “A few years ago, while teaching at Emory University, I noticed one of my students was wearing a kipa, or skullcap, something he had not done previously. Before I could consider whether to comment on his new attire, he pointed at his kipa and proudly — if not gleefully — proclaimed that, with antisemitism rising, he was intent on showing haters they could not frighten him… I appreciated his moxie, but my heart broke a little bit. He had handed our oppressors power over his identity. He had been pushed, not pulled, closer to his tradition. For those of us who fight antisemitism in our personal and professional capacities… our job should be to flip that equation on its head — to encourage students, and their parents and grandparents and siblings and peers, toward a proactive embrace of all Judaism has to offer: its values, its moral teachings, its pursuit of justice.” [NYTimes]

How to Do Good Better: In the global development-focused publication Devex, Naomi Lipstein, communications director of OLAM, calls for her peers to think seriously not just about how to raise money or awareness but how to do so in an ethical way. “In 2017, singer Ed Sheeran became another example of a celebrity whose campaign to raise funds for children in Africa sparked a backlash. A Comic Relief video that featured Sheeran vowing to help children orphaned by an Ebola outbreak in Liberia raised accusations of ‘poverty porn’ and ‘white saviorism’… As a communications professional for more than two decades who is relatively new to the field of global development, I was torn when I learned of this controversy: The campaign was a clear success, raising over $100 million. But as the communications manager for OLAM, a network of Jewish and Israeli organizations that work in low- and middle-income countries, I’ve come to realize that the impact of our work extends far beyond the money we raise.” [Devex]

Ponder Your Own Mortality: In The New York Times, David DeSteno argues that the focus on death in the High Holy Days offers a profound opportunity to consider what really matters as we prepare for the coming year. “Unlike so many other New Year’s traditions, the Jewish holiday asks those who observe it to contemplate death. The liturgy includes the recitation of a poem, the Unetaneh Tokef, part of which is meant to remind Jews that their lives might not last as long as they’d hope or expect. ‘Who will live and who will die?’ the poem asks… The particular brilliance of Rosh Hashanah is that it combines thoughts of death with a new year’s focus on a fresh start. As work by the behavioral scientist Katy Milkman and her colleagues has shown, temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day offer an effective opportunity for a psychological reset… There is a lesson and an opportunity here for everyone. Contemplate death next Jan. 1 (or whenever you celebrate the start of a new year). Any brief moments of unease will be well worth the payoff.” [NYTimes]

Around the Web

Mikhail Gershkovich, the father of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, visited the United Nations to call on world leaders to urge Russia to release his son at next week’s General Assembly…

The Israeli High Court of Justice permitted the rollout of a controversial food security program that prioritized Haredi families over other segments of society for this year but ordered the government to review its criteria for 2024. Ishai Menuchin, the Israel director of Mazon, praised the ruling for getting assistance to families in need and ensuring that next year it “will be distributed fairly and equitably”…

Tens of thousands of Jews have arrived in the Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in honor of Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, despite warnings from the Israeli and Ukrainian governments against making the pilgrimage this year due to the ongoing war in the country…

Former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh was named the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s special envoy to combat antisemitism. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum was named its special envoy for innovation…

Ronald Lauder penned an opinion piece in the New York Post condemning antisemitism on college campuses and vowing to hold university presidents and boards accountable for it “with legal action if necessary”…

Speaking of which… the University of Pennsylvania is facing criticism for hosting a Palestinian cultural festival next week featuring several controversial figures, such as Roger Waters, who have espoused antisemitic rhetoric and called for the destruction of Israel…

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released its annual population statistics yesterday, finding that there are 9.8 million people living in Israel, with the number expected to climb past 10 million by the end of next year…

In a new joint project by Sefaria, publisher Koren Jerusalem and the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust — with funding from the William Davidson Foundation — all of the former British chief rabbi’s writings will be made available for free in the digital library, including previously unpublished material…

The California State Legislature passed a bill supported by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California to include $1.5 million for Holocaust education in the state budget. The bill will now head to the governor’s desk for signing…

A Reform synagogue in Brooklyn, Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, is organizing Rosh Hashanah services specifically geared toward expat secular Israelis in an effort to reach out to a population that often does not get involved in the local Jewish community…

The estate of philanthropist and art collector Emily Fisher Landau, who died earlier this year, will go up for auction at Sotheby’s in November…

Philanthropist Janet Cohen, who donated heavily to the Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Naples, Fla., died earlier this month at 98…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Aviya Cohen

Students from the inaugural class of HaMidrasha HaYisraelit, the Israeli Seminary, pose at the start of the school year earlier this week in the Israeli town of Pardes Hanna. The program, which was created by the Modern Orthodox Ohr Torah Stone network, brings together religious and secular recent high school graduates to study Jewish and Israeli thought, Zionism, spirituality, philosophy and Jewish and Israeli identity.

“In the face of the widening rifts in Israeli society, the existence of a seminary that will serve as a home for religious, traditional and secular young women is the kind of step that can serve as a bridge and increase unity,” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, said at the opening ceremony of the seminary.


Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps arrives in Downing Street to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting in London, United Kingdom on September 05, 2023.
Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images

British secretary of state for defence starting two weeks ago, he was a national president of BBYO, Grant Shapps

Actor, writer and director, first known for his role as Chekov in the original “Star Trek” television series, Walter Koenig… Basketball coach enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Lawrence Harvey (Larry) Brown… Executive chairman of MDC Holdings and the primary supporter of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, Larry A. Mizel… Partner at San Diego-based CaseyGerry, Frederick A. Schenk… Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava… Plastic surgeon and television personality, Dr. Terry Dubrow… Chairman and chief investment officer of The Electrum Group, he is the world’s largest private collector of Rembrandt paintings, Thomas Scott Kaplan… Founder of Mindchat Research, Amy Kauffman… Founder of Vermont-based Kidrobot and Ello, Paul Budnitz… President of Strauss Media Strategies, during the Clinton administration he became the first-ever White House radio director, Richard Strauss… Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ketanji Brown Jackson… Managing director at Gasthalter, he is also a past president of the Young Israel of New Rochelle, Mark A. Semer… Comedian, television actor, writer and producer, Elon Gold… Managing partner of Berke Farah LLP, Elliot S. Berke… Senior White House reporter for Bloomberg, Jennifer Jacobs… CEO of San Francisco-based Jewish LearningWorks, Dana Sheanin… Public relations professional, Courtney Cohen Flantzer… Governor of Florida and 2024 presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis… Israeli-American actress, Hani Furstenberg… Artist, photographer and educator, Marisa Scheinfeld… Staff writer at The Atlantic, Russell Berman… Co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, Leah Greenberg… Los Angeles-based attorney working as a senior contracts specialist at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Roxana Pourshalimi New York Times reporter covering national politics, Matt Flegenheimer… EVP at Voyager Global Mobility, Jeremy Moskowitz… Founder and owner of ARA Capital, a British firm with holdings in e-commerce and energy, Arkadiy Abramovich… MSW candidate at Yeshiva University, Julia Savel… Artistic gymnast, she represented Israel at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Lihie Raz