Your Daily Phil: ‘Shmita’ competition explores land sabbatical through art + Israel’s first Druze shlicha

Good Monday morning!

The size and scope of the organized Jewish community’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expanding as the fighting enters its second week. The Jewish Federations of North America is planning a 25% increase in its emergency fundraising goal, pushing the total from $16 million, established last week, to $20 million to provide humanitarian relief in the embattled Eastern European country, home to some 200,000 Jews.  According to a JFNA source, The Jewish Agency for Israel, one of the federation umbrella group’s key partners, will open six aliyah processing stations in countries bordering Ukraine for some of the 10,000 Ukrainians the Israeli government expects to immigrate to the Jewish state in the coming weeks.

“Jewish federations and our partner organizations are working together more closely than ever, monitoring the changing situation and adapting our responses to ensure that we are delivering vital humanitarian relief effectively and efficiently despite the chaotic situation on the ground,” said Mark Wilf, chair of JFNA’s board of trustees.

The United Nations estimates there are already 160,000 internally displaced people in Ukraine as well as over 368,000 who have fled to neighboring countries. JFNA has worked to bolster support for Ukraine’s Jewish community for decades, in partnership with The Jewish Agency for Israel, the JDC and World ORT; their efforts have included bringing Israeli shlichim, or emissaries, to Ukraine and supporting aliyah; running Jewish youth programs and hesed centers; and providing educational and vocational training.


‘Shmita’ competition winners explore Jewish land sabbatical through art


The Shmita Prizes, an inaugural art competition named after and themed on the Jewish custom of taking a land sabbatical every seventh year, named its winners, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz reports. The competition, sponsored by Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability — an organization that has centered on Judaism and the environment since its founding in 2000 — challenged artists, teachers, and religious leaders from around the world to explore what a “shmitaritual” might look like amid a changing world and global pandemic.

‘Sleeping Huts’: Artist Mira Burack, a first-place winner for “Sleeping Huts,” a vision of three permanent artistic, cabin-like spaces designed for personal retreat, restful contemplation and communion with plant life and natural elements, said the prize will “support the growth of my art practice and propel my first large-scale, land-art project into being… [and] allow me to conduct on-site research and engage collaborators [such as architect, artists, designers, healers] in developing building plans and drawings for the project.”

A contemporary issue: Shmita offers a unique and timely framework for addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time,” Hazon’s founder, now global ambassador, Nigel Savage told eJP. “Shmita is about our relation to land and food; to community and boundaries; to work, overwork and rest; and to debt relief and the amelioration of inequality. Each of these topics is a significant issue in contemporary life. So it is especially vital that we take the topic of shmita out of the realm of religion, narrowly construed, and begin a wider conversation on the topic. That’s why it is so necessary to involve artists of all sorts when we think about shmita — and why it is so exciting to see how these Shmita Prizes have unfolded.”

Read the full story here.


The Druze emissary ‘bringing the complexity’ of Israel to American Jews

Elad Gutman Photography

Through her career as the first Druze woman to anchor a Hebrew program on Israeli TV, and then as the first female Druze member of the Knesset, Gadal Kamal-Mreeh drove an hour home from Jerusalem each night to her village near Haifa, Daliyat al-Karmel. But during a recent Zoom interview with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch, she was not sitting in her home in Israel. She was thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., her first time living outside of her village of 17,000. Kamal-Mreeh, 37, is in the U.S. as a shlicha, or emissary, of The Jewish Agency for Israel, which sends thousands of Israelis to the U.S. each year to serve as a representatives of Israel in American Jewish communities. She is the first non-Jewish Israeli to serve as a senior emissary with the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental agency that deals with Diaspora affairs.

Diaspora connection: Israel has had non-Jewish diplomats before — the first Arab Israeli diplomat was Ali Yahya, a Muslim appointed to be ambassador to Finland in 1995 — but Kamal-Mreeh’s position is different. She does not represent the government of Israel, nor is she tasked with advancing Israel’s interests in matters of foreign policy. Her goal is more straightforward, but perhaps also more complicated: strengthening the relationship between American Jews and Israel. 

Diverse perspectives: She arrived in the U.S. in July of last year, weeks after a period of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas that touched off a wave of anti-Israel rhetoric and antisemitic attacks in the U.S. The majority of American Jews say they have a connection to Israel. But American Jews, particularly young Jews, have a wide array of views on Israel. “Bringing the superficial propaganda of, ‘We are good, trust us, we are wise, we are good, we are the absolute’ — [that] advocacy, I don’t believe it works anymore. What worked in the ‘80s or in the ‘90s, it doesn’t work anymore,” Kamal-Mreeh explained. 

High praise: “For her, Israel isn’t only a home, but a mission and a calling for both Israeli society at large, and Druze society in particular,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who served with Kamal-Mreeh in the Knesset, told JI in a statement. “I see the great work she’s doing and I’m sure she’ll make changes both big and small.” 

Read the full story here.


In Ukraine’s crisis, our shared responsibility is the spark of hope


“In the face of the current dread and doom that grows exponentially by the hour, it’s easy to feel useless, to wallow in the assumption that there’s nothing we can do. But even in the darkest moments, our tradition teaches us that something unshakable links us all — a sense of responsibility to each other, an unbroken chain of Jewish mutual care,” writes Alex Weisler, senior video and digital content producer, at JDC in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy

One survivor’s story: “When the invasion began, all the bowls in the cabinet started to rattle and shake, and the chandelier suddenly swung wildly. At midday, the sky turned black, the sun blocked out by military planes. Anatoliy Ginzburg was only 9 in 1941 when war ravaged Ukraine, but he was already old enough to know he was living through hell… The explosions began, and weeks of war began, Ginzburg, now 90, told me when I interviewed him in Kharkiv two years ago. ‘G-d forbid that anyone should witness such horror with their own eyes.’”

Jewish resilience: “Now, of course, Ginzburg is facing another war — just like tens of thousands of other Jewish seniors and millions of their neighbors in Ukraine. They’re in big cities like Kharkiv and Kyiv, and they’re in tiny outposts like Koshary and Konotop. All are afraid, and for many, the events of this week are a return to the deepest, most base traumas of childhood… Look too quickly, and you might assume these babushkas and dedushkas are simple pensioners — carefully parceling out tiny fixed incomes, hanging up heavy carpets and wearing winter coats inside to keep out the bitter Ukrainian cold. But come closer and you’ll find Superman and Wonder Woman. They can offer us a master class in Jewish resilience, and they are treasures we must move heaven and earth to protect.”

Read the full piece here.


My Ukraine

Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

“When I was becoming a U.S. citizen, I was asked to put down my ‘Place of Birth’ – to be recorded on my naturalization certificate and, consequently, on my passport. I was born and raised in the city of Odessa in the Soviet Union, the USSR (not the former Soviet Union, just the Soviet Union). The USSR was still very much a world power in 1988, despite [Andrei] Amalrik’s prediction in a famous book at the time (with an obvious homage to George Orwell), ‘Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?’,” writes Misha Galperin president & CEO of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The infamous fifth line: “I have to keep explaining to lots of people these days that I never thought of myself as a ‘Ukrainian Jew.’ Jews in the Soviet Union were not Ukrainian or Russian or Georgian or Kazakh. We were just Jews. That was not a religious identification but an ethnic one. It was termed a ‘nationality’ – equivalent to ‘Russian,’ ‘Ukrainian,’ ‘Belorussian,’ ‘Estonian,’ ‘Tatar,’ etc. It was the infamous ‘fifth line’ in our Soviet passports and it was entered in all sorts of documents starting with elementary school rosters. But, once I came to the U.S., I was being referred to as a ‘Soviet Jew’ or a ‘Russian Jew’ or just as a ‘Russian.’ We, Jewish refugees from the USSR, used to joke among ourselves that we were Jewish all our lives and became Russian when we got to America. We gave up our Soviet citizenship when emigrating (and paid through the nose for the privilege), but when I recently took part in the Kyiv Forum that celebrated 30 years of the establishment of Israel/Ukraine Diplomatic relations I mentioned that I would love to have Ukrainian citizenship in addition to my American one.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Corporate Ethics: Today’s consumers prefer to support nonprofits and companies that are earth-friendly, reduce waste and are committed to positive social and environmental impact, Jia Wertz writes in Forbes. “It seems more common now than ever before for e-commerce brands to not only be selling goods, but to also have a focus on philanthropic efforts. Whether it be giving back by directly donating a portion of proceeds to a non-profit organization, or having programs in place to be earth-friendly and reduce waste – brands know that this is important to today’s consumers and therefore are making it a priority.” [Forbes]

Reparations Support: CNN’s Maya Brown reports on the efforts by some Jewish and Japanese groups to push for reparations to Black Americans. “Victims of the Holocaust within the Jewish community have received reparations and continue to collect annual pensions from the German and French governments. [Yolanda Savage-Narva, the director of racial equity, diversity and inclusion at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism] said she believes this adds to the support and shows the U.S. that acknowledging and paying reparations is an important step in the healing process. ‘The German government really did what they needed to do with truth and reconciliation, and have made a commitment to, as much as possible, making an effort to repair the harm that was done,’ she said. ‘Because the Jewish community has had its own historic trauma, they can make that connection and understand how important the process of reparations is.’” [CNN]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Following a meeting on Sunday of The Jewish Agency for Israel’s nominating committee, in which no candidate received the votes needed for nomination to fill the position of chair, the search process has been “extended until the most suitable candidate for the position is found”…

Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich handed over “stewardship and care” of the Premier League club to its charitable foundation trustees Saturday in a move to fend off calls for him to completely give up control following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…

The Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization will place about 1,000 new portable structures (caravans) throughout rural areas of Israel for the absorption of new immigrants from Ukraine… 

Honeymoon Israel will resume trips to Israel this week. Participants will be those who were scheduled to travel in 2020. The organization’s last trip before they were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic took place in February of 2020… 

The Sherman Family Foundation gifted the University of Maryland Baltimore County $21 million to expand educational research, teacher preparation and partnerships with Baltimore city schools… 

Alan H. Ginsburg and the Ginsburg Family Foundation in Winter Park, Fla., have awarded gifts totaling $40 million in support of organizations in Central Florida, including $10 million to support construction of the Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity in Orlando…

The North Texas Food Bank in Plano, Texas, received a $10.5 million gift from the Perot family

Miami Dade College received grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation ($7 million), Miami Dade County ($5 million), the City of Miami ($2 million), and the Miami Downtown Development Authority ($1 million) to launch MDC Tech…

Pic of the Day

The Jewish Agency for Israel

The first group of new olim to Israel departed Lviv, Ukraine, for the Polish border on Saturday morning. The immigrants will be housed in a hotel near Warsaw until their departure to Israel, where they will receive temporary housing, with help from Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration.



Israeli mountain climber, search-and-rescue professional, photographer and speaker, known for his heroic rescue of an unconscious Turkish individual he found near the summit of Mount Everest in 2012, Nadav Ben Yehuda, celebrates his birthday on Feb. 29… 

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and professor of science at Brown University, Leon Cooper… Professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, San Diego, Linda Preiss Rothschild… Actress and singer, Ilene Susan Graff… Former State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism from 2013 to 2017, he is now a senior advisor at Human Rights First and an adjunct professor at Georgetown, Ira Niles Forman… NYTimes op-ed columnist and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, he is also the author of 27 books, Paul Krugman… Chief scientific officer at Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Samuel Klein… Stand-up comedian and actor, Gilbert Gottfried… Greensboro, N.C., businessman and past chairman of Hillel International, Randall Kaplan… Self-described as “America’s most notorious lobbyist,” Jack Abramoff… Editor-in-chief of the New York Jewish WeekAndrew Silow-Carroll… Owner of a commercial lavender farm in New Jersey, former member of the New Jersey State Senate, Ellen Karcher… Jerusalem-born businessman and philanthropist, Mordechai “Moti” Kahana… President and CEO of The New York Times Company, Meredith Kopit Levien… Member of the Knesset for the Blue and White party, Ruth Wasserman Lande… Mayor of Jersey City, N.J., Steven Fulop… National political correspondent for The New York TimesLisa Lerer… Senior director at Purple Strategies, Erica Goldman… Associate in the Los Angeles office of Davis Wright Tremaine, Adam Sieff… Executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, Andrew H. Gross… Senior manager in the Boston office of PwC, Li-dor David… Executive director of the Montreal chapter of ORT, Emmanuel Kalles… CEO of Hillel Ontario, Marc Newburgh… 

February 29th: Economist and professor at NYU, Roman Frydman… Advisory director and senior investment strategist at Goldman Sachs, former Board Chair of JTS, Abby Joseph Cohen… Former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Paul D. Rosenthal… Co-founder of Biebelberg & Martin in Millburn, N.J., he is chair of the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, Keith N. Biebelberg… Denver-based attorney at Recht Kornfeld, Richard K. Kornfeld… Former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk and now a UCLA law professor known for his eponymous prominent legal blog “The Volokh Conspiracy,” Eugene Volokh… Synagogue initiative associate at AIPAC, Samantha Friedman Fallon

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