Your Daily Phil: RootOne expands offerings as Israel trip enrollment drops 90%

Good Friday morning.

Ed. note: The next edition of Your Daily Phil will arrive on Wednesday, May 1. Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we travel to Gaza border towns with a Jewish National Fund-USA volunteering mission, and feature an opinion piece by Aya Shechter on the need for a coordinated approach to addressing antisemitism and anti-Israel activism on U.S. campuses. Also in this newsletter: Rabbi Dennis C. SassoRochelle Ford and Abigail Idan. We’ll start with RootOne expanding its offerings this year in light of a drop in Israel program enrollment.

RootOne, which typically subsidizes extended Israel programs, will offer vouchers for shorter trips and for domestic programs that include large numbers of Israeli participants this year in light of a roughly 90% reduction in the number of North American teens expected to come to Israel this summer on their normal trips, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

This year, the organization will also provide vouchers for two-week trips to Israel this coming winter, a break from its normal requirement that trips last at least three weeks in order to be eligible for the subsidy.

“We expected to bring 6,500 [teens to Israel] this summer, and we’re on track to bring 650 this summer [on full three-week trips],” Simon Amiel, the executive director of RootOne, told eJP.

Amiel said RootOne is primarily focused on the power of one-on-one encounters, or mifgashim, between American and Israeli teenagers. While the organization still believes that “an Israel experience is the ultimate opportunity” for that, the current realities have forced the organization to be “more flexible” about its approach, he said.

So this summer, the organization, which is primarily funded by the Marcus Foundation, will subsidize five other programs, including shorter volunteer programs in Israel through BBYO and Alexander Muss High School in Israel. 

“We will also offset costs for domestic experiences, which is really something we never thought we’d be doing,” Amiel said.

The two domestic programs — the Hadracha and Merkaz programs at Young Judaea’s Camp Tel Yehudah in Barryville, N.Y. — are the result of a joint initiative by RootOne and the Israeli government-backed Mosaic United. Under the partnership, Mosaic United offered to bring Israeli teenagers to the United States if RootOne would offset the costs for the American participants, Amiel said. 

“Our managing committee came to a decision that we would invest in modified vouchers for the North American teens… but that the focus needed to be on Israel and that a significant number of Israeli teens need to be involved,” Amiel said.

An additional 350 North American teens are expected to participate in these new and newly subsidized programs this summer, according to Amiel. Another 250 are expected to come on winter trips, he said, but added that this estimate may change. 

The organization views these expansions as a “one-off,” in light of the specific post-Oct. 7 circumstances, not a change in policy, Amiel said. But he added that some aspects of this summer’s offerings may serve as a “pilot” for future years.

“Our ambition is for every Jewish teen to arrive on their college campus with a deep connection to the Jewish community and to Israel,” Bernie Marcus, the chairman of the Marcus Foundation, said in a statement. “We are building RootOne to be the engine of innovation that will get us there. This expansion initiative will be the first of many.”

Read the full report here.


JNF-USA volunteering in war-hit Gaza border towns let Americans pitch in, Israelis share struggles

Michal Uziyahu, director of the Eshkol region's community center, speaks to volunteers on a JNF-USA mission in Kibbutz Urim on April 24, 2024.
Michal Uziyahu, director of the Eshkol region’s community center, speaks to volunteers on a JNF-USA mission in Kibbutz Urim on April 24, 2024. Haley Cohen/eJewishPhilanthropy

Undeterred by the record-breaking 105-degree heat and the threat of rocket fire, a group of some 150 American visitors traveled from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Wednesday to Kibbutz Urim, which was came under fire on Oct. 7, and Pri Gan, a moshav infiltrated by Hamas terrorists. On the mission, which was organized by the Jewish National Fund-USA, participants planted, painted, farmed and heard firsthand accounts from residents whose lives were upended on Oct. 7, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen from the scene.

Change of pace: Aviva Kaufman, 19, from Chapel Hill, N.C., participated in the mission with her father, Jeffrey. She told eJP that she felt it was important to volunteer, rather than only observe the sites, because it gave her a way to “recognize the past, while trying to be positive about the future, and to help out while so many people around the world see Israel [negatively.]” Brooke Verschleiser, a third-year student at Brown University who runs Brown Students for Israel, told eJP that she “felt so much happier and safer” spending the day volunteering on kibbutzim near the Gaza border, and in Israel in general, than she does on her campus. 

Time to vent: For the residents of the communities, the JNF-USA mission also provided a sense of solidarity as well as an opportunity to discuss the ongoing challenges facing their communities. Tali Medina, whose husband was shot by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 and who has been officially recognized for her efforts running Urim’s dairy farm throughout the war, said she was frustrated by the lack of government support for her community, which is too far from the border to be eligible for the benefits. “If they recognize me as a war hero, why doesn’t [the government] recognize our kibbutz for the budget for safe rooms? It’s not fair,” she said. “I’m a little angry.” 

Read the full report here.


We need to fight campus antisemitism differently

Protesters in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business on April 22, 2024 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

“Make no mistake: There is nothing spontaneous, grassroots or student-led in what we are seeing at universities today. We face an incredibly well-funded, organized anti-Israel machine across the country. And to stop the antisemitic, anti-Israel machine, we need to create a more effective, stronger machine of our own,” writes Aya Shechter, chief program officer at the Israeli-American Council, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy

‘Know your opponent’: “As the great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu details in his classic work The Art of War, the first step to waging a successful campaign is to know your opponent. After Oct. 7, we were taken aback not only by the depth of Jew-hatred but by the strength of the Israel-hating forces. That is why I delved into the landscape of pro-Palestinian mobilization, subscribing to newsletters, following pro-Hamas activists on social media and seeking out anti-Israel professors and campus lectures nationwide.”

A coordinated effort: “[W]e need to make clear that the daily reality of Israel actually aligns with and represents the same progressive and universal concerns and values that students and faculty hold; and that Jews are in fact a tiny, even endangered, ethnic minority, not some powerful force as antisemitic conspiracists claim. We need to forge new connections with other groups, just as the anti-Israel groups did. At the same time, Jewish community institutions must stop working in silos and duplicating efforts. In order to effectively counteract campus antisemitism, the Jewish community must mount a coordinated, robust and strategic campaign with a long-term vision that seeks systemic changes.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Maintaining Our Connection: In The Times of Israel, Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso writes about his concerns for the future of the Reconstructing Judaism movement. “I was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), along with my wife, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. She was the first woman ordained by the movement and we, the first rabbinical married couple in world history… Today, there is a deep feeling among many graduates and students of the RRC that the values of Jewish peoplehood, Zionism, religious naturalism, and civilizational understanding of Judaism that informed the religious project that Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan and his disciples inspired and modeled are unfortunately not core components of the culture of the College and many in the movement at large… Several students and colleagues have expressed that the College has deemphasized its role as a rabbinical academy for the training of Reconstructionist rabbis to serve in congregations, and instead has become a center for the teaching and training of far-left social activism… We so often quote Kaplan’s iconic saying: ‘Tradition has a vote but not a veto.’ That does not mean, ‘anything goes.’ Being post-halachic is not an endorsement of antinomianism. It does not mean abdicating standards. It is not permissive Sabbateanism… As we nurture our personal spirituality, the need to find mystery in the mundane, renewal in the stagnant, let us not lose touch with a Judaism that is historically tested and intellectually coherent.” [TOI

Lean In: In The Harvard Crimson, student Maya Shiloni argues that rising antisemitism at the school shouldn’t be a reason for Jews to avoid Harvard but why they should attend. “Being a Jewish student at Harvard can be hard. Recent events on our campus not only surfaced antisemitism from Harvard students and faculty, but also demonstrated the administration’s failure to protect its Jewish students. Since Oct. 7, antisemitism has surrounded us… However, antisemitism at Harvard is not a new phenomenon. It is rooted in our institution… [Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell who created a task force to limit the number of Jewish students in the 1920s] would have been content with the current situation. Nowadays, the administration doesn’t need to intervene to solve their Jewish problem: Jewish students are scared to commit to Harvard. But the rise of antisemitism and the escalation of recent events are precisely the reason that you, a Jewish admit to Harvard, must come to this University. To not attend is to let the antisemites win. We have been working for two thousand years — since we were exiled from our ancestral land — to have the right to belong. Our presence is not the cause of antisemitism at Harvard, but the cure for it.” [Crimson]

Curators to the Rescue: In The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, Molly Dubin, the chief curator of Jewish Museum Milwaukee, posits that museums are a key element in the fight against antisemitism. “Along with libraries, museums are the most trusted sources for information. Their collections and exhibits represent and speak to heritage, hardship and resilience, and as storytellers, they inspire connection and empathy. For Jewish museums, furthering these unique abilities is tied to re-thinking our traditional narratives and approaches to addressing antisemitism. One of the oldest forms of prejudice, antisemitism has waxed and waned while remaining omnipresent in the U.S. for centuries. The distinguishing feature underlying hatred of and hostility toward Jews lies in its conspiracy theory origins… Jewish museums have begun an important dialogue about strategies for affecting sustainable change. Through narrative modifications, using our collections to address and engage with current events, and continuing to inspire the trust our communities have instilled in us, we can meaningfully grow our role as essential resources and supporters of our communities.” [JewishChronicle]

Around the Web

The Washington Post spotlights the efforts by Rochelle Ford, president of New Orleans’ Dillard University, a historically Black college, to revive a research center into Black-Jewish relations and her ties to Yeshiva University

The United States and 17 other countries that have citizens who were taken hostage on Oct. 7 issued a joint statement yesterday calling on Hamas to unilaterally release all the captives…

The Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, N.C., has hired the Chicago-based executive search firm Evolve Giving Group to lead its search for a new CEO…

Writing in The Hill, former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) lays out — in the spirit of Passover — four questions for the college students participating in anti-Israel protests

Yeshiva University announced it is reopening its admissions portal in light of “the public protests laced with antisemitism” on college campuses…

Brandeis University is extending its transfer deadline, appealing to students frustrated by their universities’ responses to campus antisemitism…

The University of Southern California canceled its main commencement ceremony, slated for next month, citing the advanced security measures that would need to be in place for the event…

In The Chronicle of PhilanthropyManu Meel, who runs a nonprofit that facilitates dialogue on college campuses, offers recommendations for donors looking to calm the tempers at universities…  

Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Mike Lawler (R-NY) are planning to introduce a bill — the the College Oversight and Legal Updates Mandating Bias Investigations and Accountability (COLUMBIA) Act — that would allow the Department of Education to impose a third-party monitor for antisemitic activity on any campus receiving federal funding…

The Times of Israel spotlights the work of Leket Israel and B’nai B’rith Israel to provide food to Israelis in need…  

GQ interviews Jerry Seinfeld about his new movie, “Unfrosted,” as well as his reaction to rising antisemitism in the United States after Oct. 7…

A federal appeals court vacated a $7.8 million judgment against Kars4Kids, which was sued by a Texas organization with a similar name — Cars for Kids — that had sought to bar the Jewish nonprofit from fundraising in the state… 

Israel21c looks at the activities of the Jewish-Arab sports program The Equalizer, which is backed by investor and philanthropist Josh Harris, in the aftermath of Oct. 7…

Sylvia Freyer, a major donor to religious Zionist causes, died this week at 97…

Pic of the Day

White House

President Joe Biden holds 4-year-old Abigail Idan, whose parents were killed in front of her in the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks, in the Oval Office on Wednesday. She was held captive for more than 50 days in Gaza before being released to surviving relatives. Biden met with a number of Israeli children who were held hostage in Gaza, as well as their siblings. 

“The president spent, I think it was over an hour with the family, and just let Abigail play as a 4-year-old girl does,” a senior White House official told reporters on Thursday. “She played in the Oval Office, she crawled through the door in the Resolute Desk as [in] the famous picture of John F. Kennedy’s little boy.” 


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/Conference of Presidents

Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Harriet P. Schleifer … 

FRIDAY: Computer expert, author, lecturer, Jewish genealogy researcher and publisher of Avotaynu, the International Review of Jewish GenealogyGary Mokotoff… Retired Federation executive in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento, Loren Basch… Investment banker best known as the chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers through its bankruptcy filing in 2008, Richard S. Fuld Jr.… Professor of computer science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hal Abelson… President of Brandeis University since 2016, Ronald D. Liebowitz… Moscow-born journalist and political activist in Israel, Avigdor Eskin… Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and contributing editor of The AtlanticJonathan Rauch… London-based interfaith social activist, she founded and chaired Mitzvah Day International, Laura Marks… Journalist, biographer and the author of six books, Jonathan Eig… Former member of the Maryland House of Delegates for four years and then the Maryland State Senate for eight years, Roger Manno… Former member of the California State Assembly where he served as chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Marc Levine… Member of the New York City Council for Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Gravesend, Kensington and Midwood, Kalman Yeger… General partner of Coatue Management, Benjamin Schwerin… Senior staff editor of the international desk of The New York Times, he is based in Hong Kong, Russell Goldman… Senior director of federal government affairs at Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Karas Pattison Gross… Media relations manager at NPR, Benjamin Fishel… London-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal covering finance, he is the co-author of a book on WeWork, Eliot Brown… Fashion model and actor, Brett Novek… Head coach of the UC Irvine Anteaters baseball program, he played for Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic, Ben Orloff… Associate account director at Real Chemistry, Alisha Katz… Subscription services for new business and product strategy at Apple, Kenneth Zauderer… Washington correspondent for The Epoch TimesJackson C. Richman… Board liaison at American Jewish World Service, Ross Beroff… Ahron Singer…

SATURDAY: Financial executive, Harvey Hirsch… Nonprofit executive who has managed the 92nd Street Y, the Robin Hood Foundation, the AT&T Foundation and Lincoln Center, Reynold Levy… Physician and a former NASA astronaut, she is a veteran of three shuttle flights with more than 686 hours in space, Ellen Louise Shulman Baker, M.D., M.P.H…. Former director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, he was previously a member of Knesset and deputy director of the Shin Bet, Yisrael Hasson… Biologist and professor of pathology and genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, he won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Andrew Zachary Fire… Vice president at Covington Fabric & Design, Donald Rifkin… Co-founder of Casamigos Tequila, Rande Gerber… Former member of the Knesset for the Shinui party, Yigal Yasinov… CEO of ZAM Asset Management, Elliot Mayerhoff… Showrunner, director, screenwriter and producer, Brian Koppelman… Founder and CEO of NYC-based Gotham Ghostwriters, Daniel Gerstein… Attorney and journalist, Dahlia Lithwick… Author, political analyst and nationally syndicated op-ed columnist for the Washington PostDana Milbank… U.S. senator from New Jersey since 2013, Cory Booker… Israeli television and radio journalist and former member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home party, Yinon Magal… Professor of science writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Seth Mnookin… Cinematographer and director, Rachel Morrison… Identical twin brothers, between the two of them they won 11 Israeli championships in the triathlon between 2001 and 2012, Dan and Ran Alterman… Israeli screenwriter and producer, Savion Einstein… Deputy regional director for AIPAC, Leah Berry… Television and film actress, Ariel Geltman “Ari” Graynor… Basketball coach, analyst and writer, profiled by Sports Illustrated in 2018 as “the smartest basketball mind outside the NBA,” Benjamin Falk… Senior creative director at Trilogy Interactive, Jessica Ruby… Head of data and climate science at Watershed, Jonathan H. Glidden… Law clerk at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, David Jonathan Benger… CEO at Carob Capital, Noah Swartz… MD/MPH candidate in the 2025 class at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Amir Kashfi

SUNDAY: Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., he also served four terms in the Knesset, Zalman Shoval… White House chief of staff for Presidents Reagan and Bush 41, secretary of the Treasury and secretary of state, James Baker… Retired judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, Judge Irma Steinberg Raker… Businesswoman, philanthropist, art collector and co-founder of Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts, Elaine Wynn… Retired four-star United States Marine Corps general, Robert Magnus… senior vice president and COO of IPRO and former president of the Bronx/Riverdale YM-YWHA and the Riverdale Jewish Center, Harry M. Feder… Cantor who has served in Galveston, Houston and Buffalo, Sharon Eve Colbert… Criminal defense attorney, Abbe David Lowell… Director of congregational engagement at Temple Beth Sholom of Miami Beach, Mark Baranek… Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Elena Kagan… American-born Israeli writer and translator, David Hazony… Director of criminal justice innovation, development and engagement at USDOJ, Karen (Chaya) Friedman… Retired soccer player, she played for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team from 1997 to 2000, Sara Whalen Hess… Founder of GlobeTrotScott Strategies, Scott Mayerowitz… Actress and film critic, she is the writer and star of the CBC comedy series “Workin’ Moms,” Catherine Reitman… Co-founder of the Arena, he is also the founder and CEO of Lost Debate, Ravi Gupta… Freelance journalist, formerly at ESPN and Sports IllustratedJason Schwartz… Senior editor at Politico MagazineBenjamin Isaac Weyl… President of Saratoga Strategies, a D.C.-based strategic communications and crisis management firm, Joshua Schwerin… Israeli artist and photographer, Neta Cones… Marketing director at College Golf Experience, Jeffrey Hensiek… Associate in the finance department of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, Robert S. Murstein… Cybersecurity reporter, Eric J. Geller… Founder and CEO of Diamond Travel Services and CEO of A Better Way ABA, Ahron Fragin