Your Daily Phil: Schusterman cuts programs to focus on grantmaking

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on progressive Jewish leaders’ response to the Conference of Presidents’ criticism of Sen. Chuck Schumer and a new push to make the National Museum of American Jewish History part of the Smithsonian network. We feature Andrés Spokoiny’s address from this week’s Jewish Funders Network conference in Tel Aviv, and an opinion piece by Zvi Weiss about the meaningful bonds formed between a group of visiting teens from southern Israel and his San Diego day school community. We’ll start with the Schusterman Family Philanthropies ending some of its programs to focus on grantmaking.

Beginning this summer, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies will cut its Reality program of Israel trips and its leadership development Schusterman Fellowship and scale back its ROI Community initiative as its U.S. office looks to dedicate its efforts and resources solely to grantmaking, the organization’s co-president told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross this week.

“We stepped back to say, ‘Where are we having the most unique impact? With our dollars, where can we make the most difference?’ And we made a decision that we can have the most unique, ‘value add’ as a grantmaker,” Lisa Eisen told eJP on Monday ahead of the organization’s announcement to its alumni and communities this morning.

As a result of this decision, which officially goes into effect on June 30, the foundation will be terminating the staff that run those programs. “We are very focused on providing them the support they need to have a smooth transition and a good runway and even helping them find their next move,” Eisen said. She declined to say how many people this affected, citing their privacy.

Eisen stressed that the organization was not scaling back in terms of giving. “We will not be changing our grantmaking at all,” she said. “All of our grant making portfolios — the Jewish ones, the Israel ones and the secular ones — will continue. It’s an important year in the United States as well [with the upcoming presidential election], and we invest in democracy and voting rights, in gender equality and reproductive rights — those are really crucial issues.”

Foundation leaders said that the decision to cut the Reality program and Shusterman Fellowship was not out of dissatisfaction with the programs but rather an understanding that there were other, similar initiatives that could fill a similar role, and the foundation therefore no longer needed to operate in that space itself.

“Since we started those programs 15 years ago those fields have really matured,” she said. “So we’ve determined that we are going to invest in those fields as grantmakers and no longer operate our own programs.”

As part of these new changes, the ROI Community will continue to exist but will focus almost exclusively on Israel, specifically on post-Oct. 7 rebuilding and recovery efforts. This will be seen at the ROI Community’s upcoming summit in Israel in September. Eisen said that the foundation will also support some non-Israeli members and initiatives through the program.

“We’re trying to be as strategic and agile as we can as grantmakers,” she said. “The ROI program will be focused mostly on Israel and Israelis. But one of the areas [it addresses] will also be combating antisemitism and anti-Zionism, so it won’t exclude other people [outside of Israel], it will just be more focused on doing work that’s that’s complementary and additive to to the grantmaking work that we’re doing here in Israel to help the country rebuild its resilience and its strength — and just rebuild society post-Oct.7.”

Read the full story here.


Progressive Conference of Presidents’ members grumble at Daroff and Schleifer’s criticism of Schumer: ‘Does not reflect [our] views’

Members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations with Israel President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, in the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Feb. 20, 2024.

The heads of eight progressive groups in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a joint letter denouncing a statement made by the conference’s CEO and chair against Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recent speech that was critical of the Israeli government. The signatories said the Conference of Presidents’ statement, which they called “unduly harsh” and “divisive and unfair,” was released without their consent and in opposition to their beliefs, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross and Haley Cohen.

Slamming Schumer: On Tuesday, Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff and Chair Harriet Schleifer released a statement calling Schumer’s criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government divisive and gave fodder to Israel’s detractors. They added: “Our member organizations, representing the broad swath of American Jewry, remain distressed that an American official would tell a sovereign, democratic ally when to conduct its electoral process and assert that the U.S. should possibly ‘play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change present course.’’’

They’re not distressed: In response, the top leaders of eight organizations (out of 50 members of the conference)  — the Union for Reform Judaism, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Association of Reform Zionists of America, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jewish Labor Committee, Women of Reform Judaism and HIAS — signed a joint missive specifically criticizing Daroff and Schleifer for citing the conference’s membership in their statement “when in fact it clearly fails to reflect the diversity of views within the COP.” They added: “Their statement does not reflect the views of several member entities who support much of the important content of Sen. Schumer’s speech, or even those who disagreed with some of what he said but understood that this speech was a constructive critique made by one of the U.S. Congress’ most passionate champions of a strong and safe Israel.”

Reflecting diversity: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who helped spearhead the response, told eJP that Daroff and Schleifer issued the statement “without checking in with key leaders of the conference” and encouraged them to “regard [Schumer’s] deep and longstanding commitment to Israel as an asset to the Jewish community.” Jacobs added: “We have worked closely with William Daroff and see him as an effective leader of the COP. We are, however, counting on more accurate reflections of the diversity of views of organizations in the conference, especially when making public statements.”


Lawmakers seek to bring Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History under Smithsonian umbrella

exterior of The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History.

Nine Senate and House lawmakers announced on Wednesday that they’re taking the first steps toward potentially moving Philadelphia’s Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History under the Smithsonian umbrella. The museum, which documents American Jewish history dating back to the arrival of Jews in North America, is currently affiliated with but not part of the Smithsonian Institution. If formally transferred to the Smithsonian, the museum would be the Smithsonian’s only museum focused on Jewish Americans, reports Marc Rod for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

Educate all Americans: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), one of the sponsors of the bill, said that the move would help support education about Jewish Americans and fight antisemitism. “Jewish communities have made astounding contributions to America’s noble experiment in building a more perfect union,” she said. “Educating all Americans, from all over the country, about these amazing Jewish impacts on our nation’s history, not only raises awareness but helps dispel harmful prejudices about our community.”

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


Rising to the moment: Andrés Spokoiny’s address to JFN 2024

Jewish Funders Network CEO Andrés Spokoiny addresses the organization’s international convention at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on March 17, 2024.

“In Jewish history, every generation has had a moment in which it had to decide between victims or victors, a challenge that defined them and determined how history judged them. Two generations ago, it was the creation of Israel. For the previous generation, it was the Six-Day and Yom Kippur War. For us, this is it — this is our 1948 moment,” said Jewish Funders Network president and CEO Andrés Spokoiny in his address to the 2024 JFN Conference this week in Tel Aviv, shared with eJewishPhilanthropy.

Who we really are: “It is no secret that Israel was on a path that could have led to internal dissolution before Oct. 7. That’s why the unity, the unwavering patriotism and the solidarity we saw surprised us. It shouldn’t have. Crises don’t change people, they reveal who we really are. Our natural inclination is not to become mean and selfish in a crisis. It is to trust our neighbors, to love them, to think less in terms of ‘me’ and more in terms of ‘we.’”

Dream big: “In Hebrew, the word for ‘dream,’ chalom, has the same root as the word lehachlim, ‘to heal.’ To heal, as individuals and as a people, we need to continue dreaming, to develop a positive vision of what we want to be. As Victor Frankl said, ‘Those who have a “why” to live, can bear almost any “how.”’ In some ways, suffering stops being suffering when it finds a meaning and a purpose. To develop a vision is our task, too… Now is the time to have bold philanthropic visions, to imagine the impossible. Unprecedented crisis, unprecedented responses. Let’s not talk only about small, incremental changes; let’s imagine completely new realities, let’s be idealistic and utopian, because there’s no limit to what we can achieve. And don’t be cowed by the enormity of the challenges we face, because we have always been the people for whom only the impossible is worth doing.”

Read the full piece here.


The power of people-to-people experiences

From left: Heidi Gantwerk, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of San Diego, and Zvi Weiss, head of school at San Diego Jewish Academy, with students from SDJA and Sha’ar HaNegev Regional High School. Liat Feco/San Deigo Jewish Academy

“I am seldom speechless, and yet last month I found myself without words as I witnessed 150 guests from Israel arrive on our campus at San Diego Jewish Academy, the K-12 community day school with an early childhood center where I am head of school,” writes Zvi Weiss in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A longstanding relationship: “Sha’ar HaNegev and San Diego’s Jewish communities established close ties more than for 25 years ago, and last year the city of San Diego and Sha’ar HaNegev formalized a sister city relationship. Since Oct. 7, we had been aching to do something tangible to support the Sha’ar HaNegev community.  My colleagues in Israel were busy fighting to protect their communities, relocating their population and building a functional educational network to support the displaced, all while they were also burying their dead and worrying about family and friends who were taken by the terrorists, many of whom are still held hostage. At some point in late October, they responded to my earlier offer to help in any way I could with the idea of bringing students to SDJA.”

Strengthening bonds: “The presence of the Israeli students in our classes, their interactions with our students and host families, and the genuine connections forged with each community member quickly turned us into one big family. Witnessing the exchange of stories, the shared laughter and even the tears shed together was truly inspiring. Through sightseeing, joint workshops, engaging in tikkun olam projects, memorable trips, parties and connecting with host families, bonds were formed that transcended cultural boundaries… I am convinced that more of these experiences — both on a large and small scale — will strengthen Jewish peoplehood… Funders and community leaders should look for more ways to facilitate cross-community exchanges among people of all ages, but especially between the young people who will lead us into a thriving Jewish future.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

In Defense of Mitzvot: In CCAR Journal, Rabbi Leon A. Morris critiques the treatment of personal freedom as the value rather than value central to Reform Judaism today. “If we understand idolatry as the worship of one aspect to the exclusion of the whole, we have arrived at a moment where we in the Reform Movement have turned personal autonomy into an idol. We have isolated one aspect of contemporary Jewish life from all the other values that need to live alongside of it… The early Rabbis themselves embraced a nuanced understanding of the interplay between commandment and the self… What at first glance seems to be the polar opposite of freedom — the law literally written in stone — is, in fact, the very basis of freedom. The mitzvot also allow us to transcend our mortality by committing our lives to a system that will outlive us, and to a God who is eternal. Commandment and freedom are not polarities. Rather, freedom expresses itself most fully through the opportunity to hear and live the commandments. It is as though the ancient Rabbis anticipated the project of post-modernity in undermining this overly rigid dichotomy between personal choice and an outside commanding presence, paving the way for a healthy dialectic between ourselves and our textual tradition to emerge… Instead of denigrating the observant life as one of oppressive constraint, I propose Reform Judaism adopt a theology that sees mitzvot as the embodiment of our positive freedom.” [CCARJournal]

Cash Plus Coaching: In Inside Philanthropy, Connie Matthiessen reports on LIFT, a nonprofit celebrating 25 years of working to help families break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. “Participants, who LIFT calls members, receive $150 in direct cash payments every three months; up to $1,200 over two years. LIFT also helps families build community by hosting workshops and regular gatherings. [LIFT CEO Michelle] Rhone-Collins explained that these program elements reflect LIFT’s pillars: Hope. Money. Love. ‘Hope is about attending to the trauma of being in poverty — the increased stress and anxiety that can get in the way of reaching your goals. We ask members, what are your hopes? What are your dreams? It’s often the first time parents have been asked these questions. The dignified partnership and loving support we’re able to provide with the coaches enlivens hope.’ Money, in the form of regular cash payments, helps ease families’ immediate needs and allows them the space to identify and pursue longer term goals. But coaching is the centerpiece of LIFT’s approach. ‘The crux of our model is about financial and educational and employment coaching,’ Rhone-Collins said ‘These are integrated because we know that one influences the other. We want to see our members in living-wage jobs, not just getting any old job that doesn’t pay enough, because that will just increase the volatility and the tenuous nature of life.’ Finally, love is provided through important social connections. ‘We put our members in touch with each other and with others who have different lived experiences to drive that social capital and that loving support.’” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum and Aish HaTorah are hosting a “global hour of Jewish unity,” beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET, during which the families of captives will hold a prayer service at the Western Wall…

The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation awarded a grant of $116.2 million to LaGuardia Community College in New York City to create a 160,000 square-foot workforce training center, the Cohen Career Collective

Jewish Insider examines the Israeli government’s public relations struggles…

The U.S. Department of Education reached an agreement with the Park City School District in Utah based on the department’s investigation of seven complaints across three schools, regarding at least 27 antisemitic incidents from 2021-2023, including Nazi salutes and the drawing of swastikas…

More than 1,200 Jewish actors and other entertainment figures have signed a statement rejecting a speech criticizing Israel by “The Zone of Interest” director Jonathan Glazer at this year’s Academy Awards

A new survey by the Hebrew University at the initiative of the World Zionist Organization, which was presented to the Knesset this week, found that roughly 80% of Israeli expatriates do not plan on returning to Israel despite rising antisemitism around the world…

MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving announced $640 million in new grants to 361 community-led nonprofits across the country, including $1 million to the Jewish legal advocacy organization Tzedek DC

Police in Newton, Mass., are investigating as hate crimes a rash of vandalism that has targeted at least seven homes with pro-Israel signs

More than 10,000 people have signed a Change[dot]org petition, demanding the reinstatement of Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy after the Prime Minister’s Office announced his suspension…

A number of Jewish donors signed a letter from more than 100 Democratic funders calling on President Joe Biden to impose conditions on U.S. aid to Israel in light of the ongoing war in Gaza…

Martin Greenfield, a master tailor who learned to sew in Auschwitz and dressed presidents and celebrities, died yesterday at 95…

Pic of the Day

Over 50,000 people attend the traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City today, during Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days) of Sukkot.
Courtesy/Ohr Torah Stone

Nine women stand on stage earlier this week after sharing their stories about being in unwanted marriages as agunot, or so-called “chained women,” whose husbands refused to give them a religious divorce, or get, in the “Let’s GET Loud” spoken word event at the Jerusalem Theater. Most of the women asked to remain anonymous.

The event was organized by Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center of the Ohr Torah Stone network. In addition to the stories, the gathering also included a panel discussion with the speakers, as well as social workers and toanot rabbaniyot — female rabbinical court legal advocates — in which they discussed their experiences and the issue further.

“We wanted to give those who attended the performance a way to process the difficult material they just experienced,” Pnina Omer, the director of Yad La’isha, said in a statement. “The voices of agunot must be heard.”


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Lars Niki/Getty Images for NYCWWF

James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef from Miami, Michelle Bernstein

Retired Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, the first woman ever appointed to that court, Ellen Ash Peters… Rabbi emeritus of Manhattan’s Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and former principal of the Ramaz School, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein… Harvard professor, biochemist, physicist, molecular biology pioneer and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in chemistry, Walter Gilbert… Scholar of Jewish mysticism and a retired dean at the Hebrew College in Boston, Arthur Green… Far Rockaway, N.Y., resident, Samuel Gross… First Jewish member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Hampshire, he is of counsel to the law firm of Shaheen & Gordon, Paul Hodes… Former executive director of The Charles Bronfman Prize, Jill Collier Indyk… Chabad rabbi, martial artist and chaplain for 13 years in the Israel Prison Service, Fishel Jacobs… President of KWR International, Keith W. Rabin… Retired director general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was previously Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem… Istanbul-born entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer, Izak Senbahar… Co-founder of Wynnefield Capital Management, Joshua H. Landes… Award-winning actor and singer whose roles include the title role in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Matthew Broderick turns 62… Israeli rock musician and record producer, Shlomi Bracha… Hedge fund manager, philanthropist and former chairman of the board of the New York City Opera, Roy Niederhoffer… Partner in the Los Angeles office of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, Michael Blacher… Founding editor of The Dispatch and author of three NYT bestsellers, Jonah Goldberg… Emmy-award winning CNN anchor, John Berman… IDF general, he is one of the highest-ranking Druze in the IDF, Ghassan Alian… President and founder of Bully Pulpit Interactive, Andrew Bleeker… Stage and voice actress, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld… Director of community relations at the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, Hadas Alterman… Clinic fellow at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Addison Caruso