Your Daily Phil: Ruderman event examines internal, external threats to Jews

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new climate action initiative by Repair the World ahead of Passover and Earth Day, and  feature an opinion piece by Rabbi Sid Schwarz calling on American Jews to set aside their preconceived notions when thinking about post-Oct. 7 Israel. Also in this newsletter: Rabbi Aaron PotekRabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Lisa Hacker. We’ll start with the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies annual conference.

The focus of the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies annual conference on Tuesday was the external threats to American Jewry and the State of Israel posed by rising antisemitism, but perhaps its most poignant moment dealt with internal turmoil facing the Jewish people, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross from the event.

Rabbi Doron Perez, the executive chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement and a graduate of the school’s master’s degree program, cut through the academic and political lectures and discussions with an emotional plea for unity and intra-Jewish compassion as he described the moment that he and his wife learned that their son Daniel, a platoon commander in the Israel Defense Forces, had indeed been killed while defending the Gaza border after he’d been designated as missing for months.

“The whole world is going towards extremes. In every society there’s extremists. The Jewish people have extremists. But you know where the extremists should belong? In the extremes,” Perez said, speaking at the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies annual conference on Tuesday. “When the extremes start setting the tone for the majority, then we tear our society apart.”

The religious-Zionist leader also criticized parts of the global Jewish community who did not personally, specifically identify with the suffering of Israel on Oct. 7 and instead lament the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives equally, comparing them to the “wicked son” from the Passover Seder, who earns that description for having removed himself from the rest of the Jewish community.

“If they don’t have a love for our people, who have been through so much together, if they’ve got no empathy for them, they’re not part of our family,” Perez said. “There has to be love for all people. Because all people are created in the image of God, and all the families of nations are all part of God’s people, and therefore there has to be love for everyone. But you have to first and foremost, with your family, your spouse, your children.”

Perez began his address by recalling a conversation that he’d had with his wife shortly after they learned of their son’s death. “I said to my wife on the Shabbat of the shiva, ‘Shelley, how are you feeling?’” Perez recalled. “She said to me, ‘Doron, in what world do we live that I’m feeling lighter and easier [knowing] that my son is dead? [That] on some level it’s a relief? I don’t even have to worry about him. I never had to worry about him. He didn’t suffer. He’s not suffering and he won’t suffer. I only have my own grief, but I can deal with it because it’s my loss. I can deal with my pain. I couldn’t deal with the nonstop concern about whether he’s being tortured, whether he’s eating, whether he’s sleeping. He hates the cold as well. I couldn’t deal with that. And not only I couldn’t deal with that, I didn’t know when it was going to end.’”

The daylong conference primarily focused on the external threat posed by rising global antisemitism and its potential effects. “Sadly, this year, the core theme of our conference was obvious based on the growing rise of antisemitic sentiment around the world, especially after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said in a statement. “We can’t side-step this issue, as it has profound implications for American Jews and will impact their future as well as the relationship between the United States and Israel.”

The conference featured discussions about antisemitism from a number of vantage points. Tal-Or Cohen, executive director and founder of the online antisemitism tracking nonprofit CyberWell, discussed the growing prevalence of anti-Jewish rhetoric across different social media platforms before and since Oct. 7. The several dozen attendees of the conference — most of them alumni of the Ruderman Program — also discussed what constitutes antisemitic content based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition.

Academics from a number of backgrounds discussed antisemitic trends around the world: Pamela Nadell of American University explored America’s history of antisemitism; David Hirsh, CEO of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, discussed the phenomenon in Europe in recent years, particularly post-Oct. 7; and Izabella Tabarovsky, a senior advisor at the Wilson Center think tank, described the connections between Soviet-era and contemporary antisemitic anti-Zionism.

Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism, and Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Zvika Klein also discussed antisemitism in the media.

Read the full report here.


Repair the World aiming for 5,000 acts of service with Passover Earth Day Challenge

Courtesy/Repair the World

To mark this year’s convergence of Earth Day and the start of Passover, the social justice nonprofit Repair the World is launching a Passover Earth Day Challenge for the 10 days leading up to April 22. Beginning on Saturday, participants are tasked with performing easy acts of service based on modern day environmental plagues including water pollution, “fast fashion,” deforestation and energy consumption. “There’s a beauty that so much of the Jewish calendar is both based on the environment and agriculture,” Eli Greenstein Jacober, senior director of growth strategy for Repair the World, told Jay Deitcher for eJewish Philanthropy.

So hot right now: The challenge is aimed at social media savvy 18- to 25-year-old Americans who may not have witnessed the sea part or locusts rain down, but can be engaged in the holiday by incorporating their passions. “Climate change is a huge cause for Gen Z and for young adults across the country right now,” Greenstein Jacober said. A digital workbook was created for the initiative, including environmental facts and prompts for journaling. Participants have the opportunity to win gift cards and sustainable use care packages when they post about their acts of service to Instagram and TikTok. Additionally, popular Jewish influencers, including Raven Schwam-Curtis, will hold their own version of the challenge, spotlighting followers based on their involvement.

Spreading light: As a way to increase their reach, Repair the World is also teaming with Jewish Service Alliance partners including the AEPi fraternity and Moishe House. They created a custom AEPi workbook with curated challenges and prizes including AEPi swag. “This year especially, our undergraduate members are looking for ways to do good things in their communities and on their campuses,” Jonathan Pierce, media spokesperson for AEPi, told eJP. “To do something positive in light of all the negativity about Jewish communities, about Jews, about Israel.”

Read the full report here.


Visiting Israel post-10/7: Learning humility

Photo taken from inside a car of a billboard with the slogan “Together we will win” on the side of Highway 461 in Israel, taken in Jan. 2024. Chenspec/Wikimedia Commons

“I’ve had many opportunities to speak to my congregation and to others about 10/7, about the Israel-Hamas war, about the future of the State of Israel. Like many, my views have changed several times since 10/7,” writes Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founding rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Md., and director of the Clergy Leadership Incubator, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A new reality: “This was my first visit post-10/7, as a volunteer on a service mission with the organization Adamah. Like many American Jews who care about Israel, I was consuming hundreds of articles, podcasts and news stories about the war against Hamas, the fates of the hostages, the humanitarian crisis affecting civilians in Gaza, the growing hostility in the world toward Jews and Israel, and much more. I am no stranger to the country. I visit almost every year. But I found Israel to be, definitely, a changed country.” 

Key takeaways: “I returned from Israel with a healthy lesson in humility. I will still offer my opinions, hopefully well-reasoned. But I will try to listen more, speak less and hold my opinions more lightly. Jewish professionals are facing a community whose views span a wide spectrum, and I am finding that a posture of listening without judgment is the only way to keep the widest possible range of Jews in the communal tent. The one conviction that I will hold with greater force is this: We say in Hebrew Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh, ‘All of Israel is responsible, one for the other.’ In other words, we are family. We must show up for one another.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Mostly Feeling Sad: For National Public Radio, Leila Fadel interviews Rabbi Aaron Potek, the senior rabbi at Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington, D.C., about how the American Jewish community is faring six months after the Oct. 7 attacks based on his personal experiences and a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. “I think two things struck me most. The first was just, I think it was 83% of Jewish Americans feel sad. And that’s just a massive number. And the idea that so many people in this community are sitting with that sadness – that makes me sad. You know, I’m getting teary even now just saying that out loud. Like, that is a vast majority of American Jews. And then the second piece is just the fear, the rising antisemitism. I think it was close to nine-tenths of American Jews have felt an increase in antisemitism in the wake of October 7. And I think that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of making this world a more just place. And I think that Jews overwhelmingly are allies and sympathetic to the cause of promoting justice and equality across the world. And I hope that we are invited to be a part of that ongoing conversation of how to make this world a better place.” [NPR]

A Learning Experience: Writing in The Times of Israel, David Kanotopsky, an Israeli shaliach (emissary) who has been juggling teaching responsibilities at a Philadelphia Jewish day school with multiple tours of reserve duty in the Israeli military, describes the support he has received from his host community. “Once I decided to return to Israel to join my unit, I had to tell Perelman’s administration about my decision. The Head of School made it crystal clear: I had their support. It was not just the school’s administration either; I was moved by the solidarity I felt from Perelman parents, faculty, and staff, the Philadelphia Jewish community, and the American Jewish community at large… In Israel, at times we take our immersive Jewish existence for granted. Most of the people around us are Jewish, we live by the Jewish calendar, and the rhythm of our everyday lives is filled with Jewish holidays, customs, and traditions. Here in the US, Jewish life is a choice. And in an environment where there are many other options, as educators, we have a responsibility to make a Jewish identity worth choosing… When I return to Israel after my shlichut (emissary service), this is what I will bring with me: A rich Jewish life is not a given, but rather a choice that demands time, resources, and courage.” [TOI]

Funders Beware: In Inside Philanthropy, Dawn Wolfe reports on Crappy Funding Practices, a “naming-and-shaming” account on LinkedIn that provides a platform for nonprofit staff to anonymously complain about funders. “Via a web form, nonprofit leaders who have been the victims of 24 enumerated ‘crappy’ funding practices can report their experiences to the CFP team. Once their practices have been verified, that funder is publicly named and shamed on the page. Nonprofit staff who file the complaints remain anonymous. If the response to Crappy Funding Practices is any indication, this development is long overdue. As of this writing, the page has more than 11,000 followers — that’s 3,000 more than were following it when I began reporting this piece in early March. Further, when I posted on LinkedIn asking for feedback about the Crappy Funding Practices page, I received a flood of emails, comments and direct messages… Notably, in a sector filled with people with strong opinions, not a single individual reached out to me to criticize CFP’s tactics. But while the page is definitely making a stir, the question is: Will naming and shaming funders make a real difference, when decades of softer approaches haven’t moved the needle sufficiently?” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

The Jewish Education Project announced the five recipients of its Robert M. Sherman Young Pioneers Award for 2024: Shoshana Balk, Alana Gelnick, Jessica Jobanek, Anya Morgulis and Stessa Peers…

Sefaria will include all of former British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ works that were published by Koren onto its digital library, as a result of a partnership with the Jerusalem-based publisher and the Rabbi Sacks Legacy and funding from the William Davidson Foundation

The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati hired Lisa Hacker as its next director of philanthropic planning. Until recently, Hacker served as the senior director of the Jewish Volunteer Network at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland

The Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs sued the Canadian government on behalf of the Canadian relatives of Oct. 7 victims to block its plan to renew funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, despite evidence that the organization employed Hamas members, including several perpetrators of the massacres…

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency looks at the Jewish organizations that are starting to donate toward relief efforts in Gaza…

A new study by the progressive Institute for Policy Studies think tank calculated that $11 million has been spent on lobbying efforts since 2018 on behalf of the donor-advised fund industry…

Israeli mathematician Avi Wigderson was awarded the 2023 Turing Award for Outstanding Contributions in Computer Science for his research into the relationship between randomness and computer algorithms…

Thirteen men were arraigned on charges ranging from criminal mischief to obstructing governmental administration in connection with the construction of an illegal expansion to the basement synagogue of Chabad-Lubavitch’s Brooklyn headquarters earlier this year…

Writing in TabletAllison Tombros Korman explains her decision to resign from the DC Abortion Fund over its staff and board’s response to the Oct. 7 terror attacks…

Yeshiva University opened the Belz Gallery last week, which features the $6 million collection of Judaica and Jewish art of Jack Belz and his late wife, Marilyn

Harvard’s student government approved a petition for a campus-wide referendum calling for divestment from companies that support “Israel’s occupation of Palestine”…

The dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, and his wife, professor Catherine Fiskclashed with anti-Israel students at their home during a celebratory graduation dinner when one of them grabbed a microphone and gave an unauthorized speech about the plight of Palestinians. In a statement, Chemerinsky defended their actions and criticized the “blatant antisemitism” that he has recently faced…

Cornell student arrested in October for making violent threats against Jewish students and institutions pleaded guilty, claiming to have done so in order to garner sympathy for Jews and citing a recent autism diagnosis…

A number of Jewish organizations and institutions in California are among the recipients of grants through the state’s $39 million Nonprofit Security Grant Program

The Chronicle of Philanthropy checks in on recent guaranteed-income projects and their viability…

The Israeli public policy Taub Center think tank published its “State of the Nation Report 2023,” with chapters on the Israeli economy, health system, social welfare, education and demography, including a special chapter on the impact of the war against Hamas on Israel’s society and economy…

Trina Robbins, feminist comic book creator and self-styled “herstorian” of the field, died yesterday at 84…

Pic of the Day

Alison Gardy/AFMDA

A mix of religious and lay leaders from 10 large Conservative, Reform and Modern Orthodox American Jewish communities were recently in Israel on an American Friends of MDA Rabbinic Solidarity Mission. This was the inaugural initiative of the AFMDA Rabbinic Advisory Council, a body which serves as a non-political, nonpartisan resource to positively engage U.S. Jewish communities about Israel in general and AFMDA in particular.

From left: Rabbi Harold Loss (Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Mich.), Rabbi Max Weiss (Oak Park Temple, Ill.), Rabbi Gail Swedroe, (Congregation Agudas Haim, Austin, Texas), Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner (Temple Emanu-El, Closter, N.J.), Rabbi Michael Siegel (Anshe Emet, Chicago), Rabbi Jacob Herber (Herzl Ner Tamid, Mercer Island, Wash.), Rabbi Andi Merow (Jewish Center Princeton, N.J.), Rabbi Felipe Goodman (Temple Beth Shalom, Las Vegas), Rabbi Jonathan Berkun (Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, Miami) and Rabbi Daniel Burg (Beth Am, Baltimore) pose in front of an MDA helicopter at Sde Teman helipad in Beersheva, Israel.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Dimitrious Kambouris/Getty Images for BCRF

Executive chairman of The Estée Lauder Companies, he serves on charitable boards including the University of Pennsylvania and the 92nd Street Y, William P. Lauder… 

Actress who played the title character on the 325-episode soap opera satire “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Louise Lasser… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and syndicated columnist, she is the co-founder and director of “The Conversation Project” focused on end-of-life care, Ellen Goodman… Founder and CEO of the USA Network in 1977, she is the co-founder and chairman of Springboard Enterprises, Kay Koplovitz… West Bloomfield, Mich.-based inventor on more than forty patents, Barry Schwab… Actor, director and screenwriter, he played the role of a crooked politician in “The Sopranos,” Peter Riegert… Sarita Dery… Former deputy director of WomenStrong International, Sydney Rubin… Managing partner and a founder of LA-based law firm Glass & Goldberg, Marshall F. Goldberg… Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 1999 from the Pittsburgh area, Dan B. Frankel… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, he is the director of the narrative medicine program at the Temple University medical school, Michael Vitez… Australian industrialist, executive chairman of Visy Industries and Pratt Industries US, Anthony Pratt… Interim provost of Harvard University, John Francis Manning… General counsel of the Department of Homeland Security, Jonathan E. Meyer… Professor at Sarah Lawrence College, he is a scholar of Eastern European Jewry, with a focus on the social history of Hasidism, Glenn Dynner… Retired Olympic breaststroke swimmer, Vadim Alekseyev… Co-founder of Caracal Global Strategies and founder and CEO of Brigadoon, Marc A. Ross… Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Ezra Y. Schwartz… Israeli-based angel investor and entrepreneur, he is a partner at Tel Aviv-based Accomplice Blockchain, David Galper… Head of fixed income sales at Citadel LLC, he was previously a Major League Soccer midfielder, Jordan Cila… Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University and a dayan (judge) at the Beth Din of America, Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig… Youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona House of Representatives, Alma Hernandez… Larry Engelhart…