Your Daily Phil: R&R looks to help nonprofits shut down for a week

Good Monday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new initiative by R&R to get nonprofits to shut down for a full week and efforts by the family of Elizabeth Tsurkov, who is being held hostage by an Iran-backed Iraqi militia, to secure her release. We also report on the death of biotech entrepreneur and philanthropist Joseph Walder, and feature an opinion piece by Alex Roth-Kahn about ways to not only support but embrace vulnerable members of the Jewish community. Also in this newsletter: Lesley MatsaEric Robbins and Joe Lieberman. We’ll start with the Jewish Agency for Israel updating the Israeli government on its activities since Oct. 7

The Jewish Agency for Israel has distributed over $63 million to victims of the Oct. 7 terror attacks and ongoing war and to communities in northern and southern Israel affected by the violence, the executive chairman of the organization, Doron Almog, told the Israeli Cabinet yesterday, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

The bulk of that funding came from the Jewish Federations of North America, along with Keren Hayesod, HaRuah HaYisraelit (the Spirit of Israel) and individual donors.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented mobilization of Jewish communities from around the world, not only in the donations at an enormous scale, but also with volunteers and the aid and solidarity missions that have been coming to Israel constantly,” Almog told the ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.

“The entire Jewish people, around the world, are united in the mission of strengthening the citizens of Israel at this time and praying for the quick return of all the hostages,” he said.

Through its existing partnerships with local communities, the Jewish Agency distributed some NIS 200 million ($54.4 million) to cities and towns near the Gaza and Lebanese borders. The organization, which has run the Fund for Victims of Terror for the past two decades, had distributed an additional NIS 33 million ($9 million) to some 8,500 families, with more expected to be allocated in the coming months, Almog told the Cabinet.

Through its SparkIL platform and other partnerships, the organization has also been part of a more than NIS 40 million ($10.9 million) effort to keep some 2,000 small businesses afloat during the war, through grants, low- and no-interest loans and professional mentorship, he said.

In his review of his organization’s efforts since Oct. 7 — and those of Diaspora Jewry in general — Almog noted that 14 new immigrant lone soldiers, those serving in the military without family in the country, have so far been killed in the war. This is by far the largest number of immigrant lone soldiers to fall in battle in recent decades. For comparison, three foreign-born lone soldiers were killed in the 2014 Gaza war, and there was a similar number in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“We will remember them and their bravery forever,” he said.


R&R launches new initiative to get U.S.-based nonprofits to shut down for a week

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To encourage Jewish nonprofits to embrace organization-wide time off, R&R: The Rest of Our Lives, is launching Breakweek, a new initiative offering 10 U.S.-based organizations the opportunity to fully shut down for one week between August 2024 and February 2025. The program will provide implementation guides, coaching support, customized evaluation tools, peer-to-peer engagement and a $5,000 grant to the participating companies, R&R said. “We know that there are times of year where it’s not realistic for organizations to shut down, and we wouldn’t want them to do so during those times,” Josh Feldman, R&R’s CEO, told Jay Deitcher for eJewishPhilanthropy. “The idea is…for them to choose when the right part of the yearly work cycle would be correct to do this kind of intervention.”

Work harder, not longer: There is a “myth of productivity,” Feldman said, which says that “people with butts in seats are going to get the most and best work done.” Employers believe that workers simply being present and clocked in leads to higher output, but in reality, “People get their best results when they’re well rested, emotionally regulated, being cared for.” Offering a break week “democratizes rest,” Feldman said, so it’s not just higher-ups who are able to care for themselves, but hourly workers getting paid to rest. “All boats rise when you do that, especially people experiencing a double burden in their lives. That might be an identity-based double burden, across race, gender, across disability.”

Leaving crisis mode: Jewish nonprofits are in a moment of “great crisis” after Oct. 7, Feldman said. He hopes nonprofits will be proactive, “So that three years from now, unfortunately, when there’s some other crisis that affects the sector, the organizations have built a culture that’s resilient, that’s equitable, [so] the most vulnerable workers that are working within their system are supported.”

Read the full report here.


Sister of Elizabeth Tsurkov, kidnapped Russian-Israeli Princeton academic, urges Biden admin to pressure Iraq

American politician Dianne Feinstein, her arms outstretched in celebration, in her office after she was elected mayor of San Francisco, at San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco, California, circa 1978.
In this Sept., 2018 selfie image provided by Emma Tsurkov, right, she and Elizabeth Tsurkov are shown in Santa Clara Valley, Calif. Eric Tucker/AP Photo

The sister of Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Russian-Israeli doctoral student at Princeton University who was kidnapped a year ago in Iraq by an Iranian-backed militia group, is urging the Biden administration to pressure the Iraqi government to secure Tsurkov’s release, reports Marc Rod for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Use the leverage: Emma Tsurkov’s call for the Biden administration to push the Iraqi government to secure her sister’s release comes ahead of a visit to Washington by the Iraqi prime minister later this month. Emma Tsurkov noted, in an interview with JI last week, that the Iran-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, holds an official role in the Iraqi government and thereby benefits from U.S. funding. “Although my sister is not a U.S. citizen, she is, first of all, a graduate student of Princeton, was there on Princeton business,” Emma Tsurkov said. “But also the U.S. has a unique leverage point and responsibility to her because the U.S. is essentially indirectly funding the people who are holding my sister hostage.”

Read the full report here and sign up for Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.


Joseph Walder, biotechnologist behind first COVID-19 tests and philanthropist, dies at 73

American politician Dianne Feinstein, her arms outstretched in celebration, in her office after she was elected mayor of San Francisco, at San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco, California, circa 1978.
Joseph Walder. Courtesy/The Walder Foundation

Joseph Walder, the leading provider of synthetic RNA and DNA for life-sciences research, who started a private family foundation from the sale of his biotechnology company and was viewed as a “cornerstone” of Jewish education in Chicago and beyond, died on March 26 at his home in Highland Park, Ill. He was 73, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen.

‘An open heart’: After his company, IDT, was acquired by Danaher Corporation for a reported $1.9 billion in 2018, Walder and his wife, Elizabeth Walder, used the profits to start the Walder Foundation, based in Skokie, Ill. The couple was known equally for its contributions to cutting-edge science, as well as within the Orthodox Jewish community in Chicago and worldwide. The couple also supported many orphans, including several whom they adopted. “He had a brilliant mind and an open heart,” Rabbi Daniel Raccah of Ohel Shalom Torah Center in Chicago said in a statement.

Humility in action: “The humble billionaire you’ve never heard of” was how Shalom Goodman, a Wall Street Journal SEO editor who personally knew Walder, referred to him in an essay over the weekend. “Dr. Walder was one of the most unassuming men you’d ever encounter,” Goodman wrote. “If I were to show you a lineup of men, you’d never be able to identify the billionaire. He didn’t show off. He didn’t boast. In fact, he lived in quite a modest house considering his means, and drove his famous ole’ Buick for many years.”

Read the full report here.


A place to call home

Illustration by Benjavisa/Getty Images

“Stereotypes perpetuate a myth that the Jewish community is uniformly populated by educated, well-off, stable and ever-resilient people from strong and healthy homes. The reality is much different: Need is pervasive and challenges are vast,” writes Alex Roth-Kahn, managing director of the caring department of UJA-Federation of New York, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Hidden hardships: “Our neighborhoods, synagogues, schools — our own homes — are filled with complex people living complex lives. Too often, we don’t realize how scared or lonely the people around us are. Too often, shame, stigma and the fear of being an outcast prevent people from sharing the reality of their lives. If they reveal their pain, their points of vulnerability, they become risks. Can a child play at a home where there is known drug abuse? Can a mother with depression drive a carpool? Will anyone invite me for Shabbat if they know I have an eating disorder? Will someone still take me as their bridge partner now that I officially have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis? And so they stay quiet, their truths unheard and their struggles hidden.”

How to help: “If our Jewish communal spaces are experienced as compassionate, and if the images and messages we project acknowledge a wide range of lived realities, I believe many more people will walk through the doors of our institutions. If we can help people feel safe and secure in their identities, imagine how resilient the Jewish community as a whole will be as a result… Yes, it is essential for best-in-class support services to be available within Jewish institutions and be provided by culturally competent professionals; but we also need to build a caring community from the bottom up. Funders, educators, clergy and service providers need to shift the paradigm together.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

An Adaptive Mindset: Global philanthropy adviser Kris Putnam-Walkerly, writing in Forbesoffers advice for funders grappling with how to become more agile and stay relevant. “In an era where change is the only constant, funders must cultivate adaptability and resilience as core competencies. Rather than allowing the idea of an ‘unknown future’ to paralyze you, let it free you. You can’t possibly plan for every contingency, so stop trying. Decide to be flexible and agile instead, recognizing your plan will likely change along the way. By adopting a mindset that welcomes change, you position yourself to seize unforeseen opportunities and innovate in response to new challenges… Often what slows funders down is they embark on extensive data collection prior to any philanthropic planning. Digging into data is critical — but only to a point… Funders likely already know 80% of what they need to know about an issue. Leverage that existing knowledge by brainstorming what you currently understand. Then identify the critical gaps in your understanding and limit your research to obtaining that specific information. Base decisions on the best available information, with the confidence that you will keep learning and adjusting as you go.” [Forbes]

‘Charitable Misgiving’: In an opinion piece in The Hill, Joel Zivot questions the idea that philanthropy helps to address financial inequity. “By the time of his death, [John D. Rockefeller] had given away $540 million (unadjusted for inflation)… We are meant to be impressed by this. No doubt, this capital redistribution was helpful. But the real question is not why he gave away 33% of his wealth — why did he not give away 99%? Assuming for a moment Rockefeller did give away 99% of his wealth, he would have been left with $14,000,000. Translating that to today’s dollars, that would be approximately $300,000,000… Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky won the Nobel prize for a seemingly simple idea they called Prospect Theory. It states, ‘losses hurt more than gains feel good.’ Kahneman and Tversky advanced the concept of ‘loss aversion.’ In this idea, losing money — be it $100 or $500 million — is far more painful than the joy gained by finding the same amount… Today, there are more billionaires, and therefore more philanthropists, than ever before. Each year, billions of dollars are given away, yet inequity continues to rise. Barely one-fifth of all donations by the big givers ends up in the hands of the poor. It is commonly assumed that philanthropy results in a redistribution of money. This is wrong… Will a cohort of future doctors now freed from the debt burden of expensive medical school turn around and give more generously to needy communities, or will it just be a faster track to wealth accumulation?” [TheHill]

Around the Web

Lesley Matsa was hired as the next chief operating officer of Moishe House. Matsa most recently served as the chief strategy officer of Honeymoon Israel

The Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity raised $66,811 through its annual March Madness-based fundraiser Mensch Madness, which it has run since 2014…

Eric Robbins, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlantaannounced he is stepping down after seven years in the role to “consider how best to contribute to the future of the community’s health and healing.” The organization will launch a national search for his successor…

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, Pa., was vandalized with a swastika…

Writing in PoliticoRabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman of the European Jewish Associationargues that European governments’ statements of support for their Jewish communities need to be backed up by concrete action against antisemitism…

The city of Amsterdam is donating at least $108,000 — and potentially more in the future — to local Jewish groups in order to return money that the municipality said it “should never have received” from the Nazis for deporting its Jewish population…

The University of Washington’s Stroum Center for Jewish Studies is offering a fellowship to study in Israel in memory of Hayim Katsman, who earned a doctorate from the university in 2021 and was murdered by terrorists in Kibbutz Holit on Oct. 7…

Harvard University saw a 5% drop in applications this year, continuing a trend from 2023, though the cause is not clear. Other Ivy League universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, saw significant increases in applications…

A lecture by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) on democracy at the University of Maryland was disrupted by anti-Israel activists who accused him of being “complicit in genocide”…

National Public Radio spotlights the 92nd Street Y in New York, which opened 150 years ago…

The Adelson family’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. filed a petition to legalize casino gambling in Texas; Miriam Adelson and her son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, recently purchased the controlling stake in the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks…

Paula Weinstein, a Hollywood producer and activist, died last week at 78…

Pic of the Day

Screenshot NBC 10 WBJAR

Rabbi Ethan Tucker, the president and rosh yeshiva of the Hadar Institute, speaks on Friday at the funeral of his stepfather, Sen. Joe Lieberman, at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Conn.

“His gleaming countenance was not a well-executed politeness. It reflected the inner joy he truly felt when he encountered each person. As my sister said, there was no person, no matter their station, their seniority, their origin, their ideology, who was not capable of evoking this response from him,” Tucker said in his eulogy.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Producer and director for film and television including the “Men in Black” trilogy, Barry Sonnenfeld

Physicist and 1997 Nobel Prize laureate, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji… Psychotherapist in South Florida, Annie Schlachet Garfield, LCSW… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, he is a nephew of Moshe Dayan, Uzi Dayan… Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem and former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar… Adjunct research professor at Boston University noted for her studies in relation to parrots, Irene Maxine Pepperberg, Ph.D…. Former president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, she was previously a Democratic member of the Michigan Senate, Gilda Z. Jacobs… Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S. since 2006, Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr.… Professor at SUNY New Paltz, Nancy Kassop… Singer-songwriter best known as the original lead guitarist for Sha Na Na and as the youngest person, at age 18, to play on the main stage at Woodstock in 1969, Henry Gross… Lecturer at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, he is a columnist for Straus Media, Jonathan P. Friedman… Six-term former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida, he is the founder of the Ben Gamla Charter School in Florida and now lives in Ra’anana, Israel, Peter Deutsch… President of HealthSource Distributors, Jerry L. Wolasky… Author of over 200 children’s books, Mark Shulman… Former member of the Knesset for the Kadima party, she made aliyah from the Soviet Union in 1979, Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich… VP of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and a leader of the Jewish community of Kyiv, Alexander (Aaron) Levin… Lawyer turned political thriller novelist, Brad Meltzer… Israeli writer, speaker and blogger, Daniel Ravner… Senior policy adviser to VPOTUS, she was the COO at J Street, Jessica “Jess” Smith… Venture capitalist and former four-year star basketball player at the University of Maryland including a national championship (2006), she was drafted by the WNBA but played mostly in Israel, Shay Doron… Associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, Noah L. Schwartz… Former deputy White House communications director in the Trump administration, now on the staff of Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Julia Aviva Hahn… Ronald Lippman…