Your Daily Phil: Steven Spielberg: Jews again fighting for the ‘right to be Jewish’

Good Tuesday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we profile a British Jewish nonprofit, Gateways, which provides vocational training and other assistance to students who struggle in mainstream schools, and feature an opinion piece by Jenny Janovitz Mirkin and Rabbi Stacy Schlein about new research on enrollment in congregation-based Jewish educational programs. Also in this newsletter: Theo Baker, Daniel Lurie and Sen. Dick Durbin. We’ll start with an event at the University of Southern California honoring Holocaust survivors and the 30th anniversary of the Shoah Foundation.

Founder of the USC Shoah Foundation and film director Steven Spielberg lamented that Jews “once again” have to fight for “the very right to be Jewish” amid rising antisemitism and extremism, including on college campuses, in a speech last night in Los Angeles at a ceremony honoring Holocaust survivors, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz from the event.

“The creation of the ‘other’ and the dehumanization of any group based on their differences are the foundations of fascism,” the Oscar-winning director said. “It’s an old playbook that has been dusted off and is being widely distributed today. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And I am increasingly alarmed that we may be condemned to repeat history. So once again we have to fight for the very right to be Jewish in the face of brutality and persecution.”

Spielberg made the remarks at the University of Southern California, which awarded its University Medallion to the 52,000 Holocaust survivors who gave their testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation over the past 30 years, since Spielberg launched the initiative following the release of his award-winning film “Schindler’s List.” While all of the 52,000 survivors are the official recipients, the medal itself was presented by Spielberg, USC President Carol Folt and USC Shoah Foundation Chair Joel Citron to Celina Biniaz, one of the few living survivors whose lives were saved by Oskar Schindler.

In his address, Spielberg said the foundation, which has been collecting testimony from survivors of the Oct. 7 terror attacks and other contemporary acts of antisemitism, is needed now more than ever.

“We have always been a resilient and compassionate people, who all understand the power of empathy,” Spielberg said. “We can rage against the heinous acts committed by the terrorists of Oct. 7 and also decry the killing of innocent women and children in Gaza. This makes us a unique force for good in the world and is why we are here today to celebrate the work of the Shoah Foundation, which is more crucial now than it even was in 1994. It is crucial in the wake of the horrific Oct. 7 massacre. It is crucial to the stopping of political violence caused by misinformation, conspiracy theories and ignorance. It is crucial because stopping the rise of antisemitism and hate of any kind is critical to the health of our democratic republic and the future of democracy all over the civilized world.”

More than 250 people — including the foundation’s partners from USC, the Los Angeles community and around the globe — attended the event, roughly 30 of them Holocaust survivors and their families.

Accepting the medallion, Biniaz called on the audience to resist the “corrosive power of hatred” and said she hoped that personal testimonies can help in that effort.

“I believe the human voice speaks louder than history books,” Biniaz said. “I believe that personal experiences can inspire others to value human beings. Today, we’re living in a world that was shaped by tremendous divisions and horrible violence. We’re seeing a triumphant return of the same kind of antisemitism I experienced both before and after the war in Europe. We must never give in to the corrosive power of hatred. And we must always remember the power each individual has to transform the lives of others.”

Read the full report here.


With ‘bespoke’ solutions, London’s Gateways offers vocational training to Jewish students who struggle in mainstream schools

Alumna Elianna Green speaks about her experiences at the Gateways school in London, in an undated photograph.
Alumna Elianna Green speaks about her experiences at the Gateways school in London, in an undated photograph.

Gateways sits quietly in a one-story building on a suburban street in northwest London.  Dominating the entry area, with its breakout spaces for students to relax or eat, is a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, presided over by food writer Judi Rose, whose late mother, Evelyn Rose, was widely considered the doyenne of Anglo-Jewish cookery. Around the corner is a fully equipped gym, and down the corridor there is a line of individual classrooms, each holding only one or two students, where they get the tailored attention that they need. That word “tailored” is apt, according to Gateways founder Laurence Field, as the whole idea behind the initiative — which looks to provide an alternative to Jewish students who struggle in mainstream schools — is to offer a “bespoke” solution for each student, reports Jenni Frazer for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Looking to expand: Now celebrating a decade of activity, Gateways is planning a dinner later in the year for its earliest supporters — and, in keeping with its “can-do” approach, there will be no outside caterers. Instead, the entire kosher meal will be cooked by Judi Rose and her students. The success of Gateways within the Jewish school system in London has led to interest from elsewhere, and there are talks underway with Jewish schools in the northern city of Manchester, to see whether it would be viable to set up a Gateways school there as well. And there is interest, too, from outside the Jewish community, to see if perhaps the model would work for the general population.

Vocational training: When Gateways started, it only worked with 15- and 16-year-olds, but now there are two groups of students, 14- to 18-year-olds and an older cohort ages 18-25. Some are working towards the kind of qualifications they would have done in mainstream education, while others — such as some Haredi students who have never mastered or encountered secular subjects — are tackling basic English and mathematics. Still others are studying vocational subjects such as photography or information technology, and getting qualifications as they do so. “When students come to us,” says Field, “their confidence is at rock bottom. In previous settings, they’ve been failures. They come here and for the first time they feel they can achieve, interact with peers and make friendships, get qualifications.”

Read the full report here.


Exploring congregational education enrollment: Research findings provide insight beyond the numbers

Illustrative. Courtesy/JCC Chicago

“For more than a decade, the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland has observed trends in congregational education enrollment in the Jewish community… We recently undertook a research study to understand these trends, with a specific interest in what has drawn parents to enroll their children in congregational education programs and what has led them to decide not to enroll or continue enrolling their children in such programs,” write Jenny Janovitz Mirkin and Rabbi Stacy Schlein of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland in an opinion piece for eJewish Philanthropy.

Concerns about cost: “The primary reason parents gave for never enrolling their children in congregational education was program costs. Program directors reported that for families whose children are enrolled, there are a range of financial options available and that cost should never hinder enrollment; but because all of these options require proactive outreach by parents and communication with directors, this financial support is often not accessed by parents. While we did not explore reasons that program costs discourage enrollment as part of our research, anecdotal evidence suggests that there are three groups of parents who are deterred by program costs.”

Actionable insights: “Some of our research findings reinforce what those who work in congregational education already know, while other findings suggest that we should think and act in new ways. For example, given the finding that children play a significant role in enrollment decisions, congregational education programs need to become more appealing to children, and programs should systematically assess their satisfaction levels to bolster student retention. In addition, new kinds of informal educational opportunities may be an untapped opportunity to attract children who are not enrolled in congregational education programs. Moreover, our team wondered if parents’ expressed interests were more about the way that the learning is experienced than the content itself. It is unlikely that most congregational education programs will cease to include a focus on God, Torah and Israel, but the way that the learning is structured may require a different approach to teaching these topics.” 

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Cardinal Principles: In The Atlantic, Stanford sophomore Theo Baker describes the past five months of seething division and sometimes violent anti-Israel activity at the vaunted West Coast university. “People tend to blame the campus wars on two villains: dithering administrators and radical student activists. But colleges have always had dithering administrators and radical student activists. To my mind, it’s the average students who have changed… Today’s students grew up in the Trump era, in which violent rhetoric has become a normal part of political discourse and activism is as easy as reposting an infographic… The real story at Stanford is not about the malicious actors who endorse sexual assault and murder as forms of resistance, but about those who passively enable them because they believe their side can do no wrong… A similar mentality can exist on the other side: I have heard students insist on the absolute righteousness of Israel yet seem uninterested in learning anything about what life is like in Gaza… We need people willing to protest what they see as wrong and take on entrenched systems of repression. But we also need to read, learn, discuss, accept the existence of nuance, embrace diversity of thought, and hold our own allies to high standards. More than ever, we need universities to teach young people how to do all of this.” [TheAtlantic]

Naming Convention: In an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post, Andrea Samuels defends the practice of granting naming rights to donors. “Jewish tradition states that ‘It is proper and even desirable to acknowledge the generosity of donors by perpetuating their names’… This stems from the message of one of the greatest Jewish legal authorities of all time, the medieval Rabbi Shlomo ben Avraham ibn Aderet, known as the Rashba. When asked about a man who had donated a synagogue to the community, and who then wanted to write his name on the entrance against their wishes, Aderet replied that naming donors ‘is a trait of wise and experienced people, in order to give a reward to those who perform good deeds. Even the Torah itself adopts this trait, for it records and publicizes those who perform good deeds’… The problem, however, is when a person ‘shows off’ about their good deeds or draws excessive attention to them… A person who is giving out of a desire to boast and exalt himself is not only missing the point, he is accomplishing the exact opposite of the true object’ of giving charity: ‘to open our hearts as well as our wallets and identify and commiserate with the recipient.’” [JPost]

New Guard Incoming: An influx of new executives at community foundations want to change their organizations’ focus from managing the charitable assets of local wealthy donors to facilitating social change, reports Alex Daniels in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Since the first community foundation was started in Cleveland in 1914, the regional grant makers have established themselves as a trusted choice for wealthy residents to place their charitable dollars and then direct them to local nonprofits. Beginning in the 1990s, a growing number of community foundation leaders took steps to more directly involve residents in defining the charitable needs of their city or municipality. The recent group of presidents has taken that one step further — by working with residents and local advocates as well as with other mostly urban community foundation heads, to drive a progressive slate of policy changes. While the departure of long-serving community foundation leaders may result in a loss of institutional memory, new leaders’ fresh views have the potential to change the entire community-foundation model, making it less a neutral distributor of charitable gifts, says Dana O’Donovan, who leads Monitor Institute by Deloitte. ‘By having a perspective on some issues,’ she says, ‘they’re seeing a broader role for community foundations to play beyond just the aggregation of dollars.’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Around the Web

The federal spending bill passed by Congress over the weekend includes $1 million to Tree of Life, Inc. to develop a curriculum focused on combating antisemitism and identity-based hate for K-12 schools…

The 135-year-old Temple Aaron in Trinidad, Colo., was named a national historic landmark earlier this week…

Daniel Lurie, the philanthropist and heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, may self-fund his bid for San Francisco mayor in order to avoid campaign spending limits…

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called on President Joe Biden to create a national monument honoring Julius Rosenwald and the tens of thousands of eponymous schools he created for Black children with Booker T. Washington. Similar efforts to honor Rosenwald have been underway for years…

Writing in amNewYorkAnn Toback, CEO of the Workers Circlereflects on the continued significance on the American labor movement of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 people were killed 113 years ago yesterday…

Stephen Israel, the vice chairman of the consulting firm Korn Ferry and an alumnus of the University of North Carolinadonated $10 million to the school toward a scholarship for humanities students as a first step toward a larger effort to raise $100 million for the humanities at the campus…

Hadassah signed onto amicus briefs in two Supreme Court cases regarding reproductive rights, arguing in favor of allowing access to the abortion drug mifepristone in Food and Drug Administration vs. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and against the state of Idaho’s abortion ban in U.S. vs. Idaho

A federal judge dismissed X owner Elon Musk‘s lawsuit against Center for Countering Digital Hate, in which he claimed the group violated the site’s policies to collect data about rising hate speech on the platform after he took control of the company…

A coalition of Seattle-based Jewish organizations, known as the Jewish Cross Community Response Steering Committeelaunched a new campaign to combat antisemitism in the Washington city…

Israeli pop star Noa Kirel’s upcoming concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden was postponed until next year…

Two survivors of the Oct. 7 terror attacks at the Nova music festival were reportedly detained and harassed by British border police as they entered the country for a speaking engagement…

Jewish leaders in Michigan are criticizing the University of Michigan’s administration for failing to take disciplinary action against anti-Israel protesters who disrupted this weekend’s Honors Convocation…

The New York Times profiled activist investor and philanthropist Bill Ackman. He was not a fan…

The British Jewish Chronicle profiles Kosher School Meals, a group that was created last year to help provide kosher lunches to Jewish students and which just became a certified nonprofit…

Laurence Levitan, a longtime Maryland state senator and former member of the board of trustees of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Foundationdied last Wednesday at 90…

Norman Miller, born Norbert Müller, who escaped Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport and later helped arrest a top Nazi official as a soldier in the British Armydied last month at 99…

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.
Justin Haim Photography for JQY

A Barbie-themed dance party capped off JQY’s annual Vashti Ball at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan on Saturday night. The event also featured free community Megillah readings, a “Persian feast,” drag shows and a costume contest.

JQY is a New York-based nonprofit that offers support and community for Jewish LGBTQ youth, with a focus on individuals from Orthodox, Hasidic and Sephardic/Mizrahi homes.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
David M. Bennet/Getty Images for Thaddeus Ropac Gallery

Philanthropist and founder of London’s Jewish Community Centre, which opened in 2013, Dame Vivien Louise Duffield

Argentine-born, Israeli clarinetist who specializes in klezmer music, Giora Feidman… City rabbi of Ra’anana, he previously served in the Knesset for eight years and held several ministerial portfolios, Rabbi Yitzhak Haim Peretz… Award-winning novelist and poet, her debut novel in 1973, Fear of Flying, has sold over 37 million copies, Erica Jong… Southern California resident, Martin J. Rosmarin… Retired ENT surgeon, author of five books and former medical correspondent at ABC News and NBC News, Nancy Lynn Snyderman, MD… Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Shuly Rubin Schwartz… President and CEO of the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum, Edward Greenspon… Actress and the winner of Season 11 of “Dancing with the Stars,” Jennifer Grey… Lori Tarnopol Moore… Patent attorney from Detroit, she currently serves on the Michigan State Board of Education, Ellen Cogen Lipton… Englewood, N.J., resident, Deena Remi Thurm… Co-founder of Google, Larry Page… Founder, president and CEO of Waxman Strategies, Michael Waxman… Israeli actor and model, Yonatan Uziel… Curator and historian of Jewish art and history, Dr. Ido Noy… News editor at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and former news editor of eJewishPhilanthropyBen Sales… Talk show host who founded Israel Sports Radio, Ari Louis… Actress best known for her roles in ABC’s sitcom “Suburgatory” and the USA Network’s drama “Mr. Robot,” Carly Chaikin… Israeli judoka in the under 52 kg weight category, Gefen Primo