Your Daily Phil: Strapped for resources, USY restructures

Good Thursday morning. 

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a major restructuring of the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, and feature an opinion piece by Mimi KravetzSarah Eisenman and David Manchester diving into new JFNA data on Jewish engagement post-Oct. 7. Also in this newsletter: Misha GalperinEzra Shanken and Gary Sernovitz. We’ll start with American Jewish leaders’ responses to President Joe Biden threatening to halt transfers of offensive weapons to Israel if it launches a major ground offensive in southern Gaza.

President Joe Biden’s CNN interview yesterday threatening to cut off offensive weapons transfers to Israel if Israel invades Rafah drew quick criticism from Israel-backing Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, and from mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel organizations across the country, report Marc Rod, Emily Jacobs and Melissa Weiss for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks like [those that] came out of the Middle East recently, but it’s just wrong. We’re not going to supply the weapons and the artillery shells that have been used,” Biden said in the interview. Israel has “not yet” crossed Biden’s red line on Rafah, he said, even as the IDF began a more limited operation in the southern Gaza city this week. But Washington has already held up one shipment, Biden acknowledged. 

In a speech one day earlier, Biden said at a Holocaust memorial event at the Capitol that his commitment to the “security of Israel and its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is ironclad, even when we disagree.” (The Associated Press reported that Biden waited to weigh in on Rafah until after he delivered his Holocaust remembrance address.)

Abe Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League who embraced Biden at the Holocaust Remembrance Day event, characterized Biden as sending conflicting messages. “There seem to be [two] Bidens, one that spoke at the Holocaust event, who flew to Israel during war [against] Israel. moved military/financial support,” Foxman said. “And the political Biden who engages in [party] politics — telling Israel it has [a] right to defend itself — but we will tell you when and how.”

American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch, a former Democratic member of Congress, said that the threatened move would be detrimental to Israeli security.

“President Biden should not take steps that could impair Israel’s ability to prevent Hamas from attacking it again and again — as its leaders have promised,” Deutch said. “The U.S. knows that defeating Hamas is critical to Israel’s long-term security and to defeating the global threat posed by the Iranian regime and its proxies.”

He further highlighted that Hamas continues to refuse hostage deals, threaten Israeli and Palestinian lives, steal humanitarian aid and launch attacks on Israeli soldiers. “With thousands of Hamas terrorists still in Rafah, Israel must be able to prevent 10/7 from happening again,” Deutch continued.

Nathan Diament, the executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, said that Biden’s announcement will make a hostage deal harder to achieve.

“Now, the President is giving Hamas leverage and hope — by publicly threatening to withhold weapons and resources from Israel,” Diament said. “It puts a deal to free hostages — including American hostages — further out of reach and does the same to other goals the President has claimed to have.”

J Street, on the other hand, came out in support of Biden’s decision, saying it was necessary in order to prevent a Rafah ground invasion, which it argued could scuttle a hostage release deal.

“We urge President Biden and Congress to take all necessary steps to dissuade Prime Minister Netanyahu from moving forward with a full-scale invasion of Rafah, which would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians and jeopardize efforts to secure a bilateral ceasefire and hostage release,” the group said in a statement.

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


Conservative movement restructures USY, cutting its regional framework

Teens from across the country celebrate Opening Session of USY International Convention in Orlando, Fla. with teens from the Metropolitan New York area.
Teens from across the country celebrate Opening Session of USY International Convention in Orlando, Fla. with teens from the Metropolitan New York area. Alloor Photography

United Synagogue Youth, the Conservative movement’s youth group, is undergoing a dramatic restructuring, cutting out its regional framework and leaving only its individual chapters and overarching North American umbrella. The removal of this middle tier of the youth movement is meant as a cost-cutting measure, the group told stakeholders in an email on Wednesday, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

New realities: This is the latest contraction of the Conservative movement’s youth programs in recent years amid shrinking membership and budgets. In a letter, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the USCJ, and Julie Marder, who was named senior director of International USY last week, told stakeholders that the new streamlined USY would focus on “the things that work — leadership training, Torah learning, and a deep connection to Israel.” Blumenthal said USCJ did not intend to lay off its USY regional directors but would instead transition them to other roles within the organization.

Future leaders: By doing away with regions, with their boards and convention chairs, USY will be removing a number of leadership positions for Conservative teens — a potential area of concern as it relates to the so-called “leadership pipeline” for the movement. (The regional boards who are being elected this spring will retain their positions for next year through this transition.) Blumenthal told eJP that while the regional board and convention chair positions are being removed, the movement hopes to retain these teen leaders in different capacities. “Just as those leaders helped plan regional programs, we will engage them in planning our international conventions, immersive programs and leadership experiences,” he said. 

Read the full report here.


‘The Surge,’ ‘The Core’ and more: What you need to know about the explosion of interest in Jewish life

Stillfx/Adobe Stock

“A new Jewish Federations of North America survey of Jewish Americans and the general public, funded by and developed in partnership with The Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation, helps us quantify and appreciate the changes happening around Jewish identity, engagement and community at this pivotal time,” write Mimi Kravetz, Sarah Eisenman and David Manchester — the chief impact and growth officer, chief community and Jewish life officer, and senior director of community data and research development for JFNA — in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Craving community: “One of the key findings of the survey is what we call ‘The Surge’: Of the 83% of Jews who were ‘only somewhat,’ ‘not very’ or ‘not at all engaged’ prior to Oct. 7, a whopping 40% are now showing up in larger numbers in Jewish life. This group — equal to 30% of all Jewish adults and nearly double the proportion of Jews who identify as ‘deeply-engaged’ — represents the greatest opportunity for broadening and deepening Jewish life… While these members of The Surge report craving substantive engagement, such as discussions about antisemitism and more education about Israel, they crave community even more during this moment… They feel most welcome and comfortable at Jewish events when they know other people there (77%), when someone personally invites them (51%) and when they see themselves reflected in the people who attend (42%).”  

Looking to learn and lead: “The 17% of people in the Jewish community who were already engaged at a high level — what we call ‘The Core’ — are also saying they want more from Jewish communal organizations now. The Core is avidly seeking deeper educational and leadership development opportunities. They want to talk substantively about what’s happening in Israel and about antisemitism, and to gain advocacy tools to support Israel as well.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Brothers in Arms: For today’s Victory Day, marking the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, Misha Galperin, the president of Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History, writes in The Times of Israel about the insufficiently embraced history of Jewish resistance to Nazism during World War II and the lessons it offers today. “Of the 18 million Jews alive before [World War II], 6 million were murdered in the Holocaust; of the remaining 12 million about half were women and some of them fought as well, but 6 million (about half of everyone left alive) were men. Of the 6 million men, about half were either too old or too young to be enlisted. That leaves about 3 million eligible Jewish men in the world. Therefore, 1/2, 50% of all of those eligible Jews were involved in the fight on behalf of their countries!… I am not suggesting armed resistance to the pro-Hamas mobs at Ivies and other ‘centers of intellectual discourse and learning’. But I am suggesting the urgent need to organize and to resist these and other assaults on our people and the Jewish State. Our legacy organizations have so far failed to adequately mobilize and lead such resistance and had put their faith into clearly unreliable allies… Well, those of us that lived under the Soviet regime and whose parents and grandparents were victims and survivors of the Holocaust and the GULAG, as well as the 1,500,000 Jewish warriors in the armed struggle against the Nazis, we are not about to give up an inch of the terrain we have won or be forced into another migration. We call on all Jews and their real allies to stand up, mobilize and fight and win!” [TOI]

No Fig Leaves: In The Canadian Jewish News, Ezra Shanken, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, explains why he decided to forgo the Canadian province’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. “I usually make a point of attending the local Yom HaShoah commemoration here in Vancouver, and I travel to the provincial capital of Victoria to attend the commemoration. But this year, I made the difficult decision not to join the delegation of Jewish community leaders at the B.C. legislature. As my colleague, Richard Marceau [of] the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said so eloquently this Yom HaShoah, ‘The real test is not whether we cry over dead Jews, it is whether we are standing beside the live ones who are under attack today’… We have been vocal about the urgent need for action by the B.C. government to address the rampant antisemitism in the province… Antisemitism has reached crisis levels and we cannot combat it alone. The time for words is over. We need action. We need help from those around us, starting with government. We need our elected leaders to lead.” [CJN]

Run To, Not Flee From: Writing in the Makor Rishon weekly (and translated to English by its sister publication Israel Hayom), Yael Shevach responds to Israelis whose response to antisemitism abroad is to tell Diaspora Jews to make aliyah. “I do not believe today that a mass Aliyah to Israel, due to doubt and the fear of living abroad, is a good enough reason to live here, neither in times of war nor prosperity. I prefer our immigrants with their heads held high and a smile, looking to the future they dream of building in the Holy Land. Not with bewildered faces looking back to where they were forced to flee from with fear and trembling. And just as it should be the choice of a Jew whether or not to make Aliyah to Israel, so should be the choice whether to live abroad, whether for academic studies or any other need or desire. Why should Jews wishing to acquire an education at one university or another in the world, for their reasons, need to feel as if they have done something wrong – not because their university did not meet their expectations, but instead because they are Jewish? Why should just being Jewish be a burden they should bear?” [MakorRishon]

Amplifying Independent Media: In a “manifesto” in Transom, philanthropist couple Elaine and Stuart Sevier write about why they created a public charity to support independent media (think YouTube channels and podcast creators). “We’ve spent the last five years using our perspective as scientists and funders not only to figure out why exceptional independent creators make the things they make, but to create an ecosystem that amplifies their signal… In a media ecosystem, you have media producers (creators) and media consumers (audiences). You also have production companies and networks (distributors) and money (advertisers and supporters). It’s natural to assume that money drives the system. But really money, and everything else, is driven by something else: attention… [T]oday, the internet has removed the distributors from the equation. Self-distribution is now the norm. Because there’s no public support of independent creators, the ‘supporters’ are gone as well. We’re left with sponsors who fund creators directly and want to capture as much attention as possible, which leaves creators vulnerable to strong influence from advertisers, or left out in the cold… We want audiences to reclaim their agency and consume media that provides value to them, rather than letting advertisers and algorithms hold the power. That takes commitment from creators to make exceptional work and commitment from the audience to demand it and consume it with feeling. Ultimately we hope this can be self-sustaining and exist on a scale that we could never support directly.”  [Transom]

Around the Web

Hundreds of Jewish Columbia University students signed an open letter to the university, declaring that they are “proud to be Zionists” while speaking out against the anti-Israel protesters that have engulfed the Ivy League campus since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks…

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is meeting with university officials to discuss antisemitism on British college campuses; the meeting comes weeks after the National Union of Students voted in favor of a ban on the Union of Jewish Students over the group’s support for Israel…

Hungarian Jewish groups condemned a public university in the country for inviting former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an event this week…

Jewish students in Canada launched a new organization, the Canadian Union of Jewish Students, to represent Jewish interests on campus and communicate them with the media….

California’s Chapman University appointed Rabbi Cassi Kail as its director of Jewish life and university chaplain…

Chabad at the University of Chicago broke ground on a new $3.2 million renovation of its Rohr Chabad Center

Gary Sernovitz, whose private equity firm’s investors include colleges and universities, argues in an opinion piece in The New York Times why divesting from Israel is “impractical and illogical”…

New research published in the journal Psychological Science found that small tokens of appreciation can tip the scales when it comes to getting lapsed or uncommitted donors to give…

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of Americareleased its 2024 list of “18 American Zionist Women You Should Know”…

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, was awarded the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Star of the Republic of Austria…

The North Carolina House of Representatives passed legislation codifying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism; the bill will now go to the state senate for a vote…

Josh Kesselman, the founder of Raw Rolling Papersdonated $100,000 to the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that helps people incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses…

Facebook’s Oversight Board is considering whether “From the river to the sea” violates Meta’s community standards…

The Financial Times spotlights the bagel shop scene in East London…

Washington, D.C.’s largest public school reached an agreement with the local chapter of the ACLU allowing a student group to screen a controversial documentary about the Israel-Palestinian conflict that critics say contains antisemitic elements… 

Bill Ackman and Marc Rowan are slated to speak at an upcoming gathering and fundraiser hosted by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who is considered a possible choice for Donald Trump’s running mate in the upcoming presidential election…

In a Washington Post opinion piece, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explains his vote against the Antisemitism Awareness Act

Concerns are being raised about an announced $237 million donation to Florida A&M University — the largest-ever gift to an HBCU, which would triple the school’s endowment — by Gregory Gerami, a hemp farming magnate with no direct connection to the university; Gerami also once pledged a large donation to Coastal Carolina University, but that deal eventually fell apart…

Ottawa, Canada, will not host a ceremony for Israeli Independence Day at its city hall, as it has in the past due to an unspecified “substantial risk to public safety,” a decision that has drawn criticism from local Jewish groups

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sold his Plaza Hotel apartment in Manhattan for $22.5 million…

Actor Josh Gad wrote a lengthy post on Instagram about his Holocaust survivor grandparents, reflecting on the relevance of their experiences for this week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

Poet and art historian David Shapiro, who as a Columbia University student in 1968 garnered attention for being the subject of a photograph that came to symbolize the campus protests of the era, died on Saturday at 77…

Pic of the Day

American Jewish Committee/Facebook

Five hundred drones formed messages in the skies above the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday calling for the release of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

On the ground in New Jersey, a corresponding solidarity event organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum featured Ofir Akunis, the new consul general of Israel in New York; Tal Shuster, member of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and national board co-chair of the the Israeli-American Council; as well as family members of the captives, former hostage Moran Stella Yanai and high-profile Jewish figures from the entertainment and fashion industries.


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit

Co-managing partner of Bain Capital and owner of a minority interest in the Boston Celtics, Jonathan Lavine… 

Owner of St. Louis-based Harbour Group Industries, former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Sam Fox… Holocaust survivor, philanthropist and social activist, she marched in Selma with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965, Eva Haller… Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter, James L. Brooks… Guitarist and record producer, best known as a member of the rock-pop-jazz group Blood, Sweat & Tears, Steve Katz… Co-founder of Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun… Spiritual guide Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Rabbi Beryl Weisbord… Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Michael Levitt… Pianist, singer-songwriter and one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, Billy Joel… Physician in Burlington, Vt., she was the first lady of Vermont from 1991 until 2003 when her husband was governor, Judith Steinberg Dean… Sharon Mallory Doble… Co-founder and CEO of PlayMedia Systems, Brian D. Litman… Film director and producer, Barry Avrich… Staff writer at The AtlanticMark Leibovich… VP of global public policy at Meta / Facebook, Joel D. Kaplan… NYC-based celebrity chiropractor, Arkady Aaron Lipnitsky, DC… and his twin brother, managing director at Pimlico Capital, Victor “Yaakov” Lipnitsky… Senior director of development at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Lesli Rosenblatt Gillette… Owner of NYC’s Dylan’s Candy Bar, Dylan Lauren… Deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Aaron Scheinberg… Founder and managing member at Revelstoke PLLC, Danielle Elizabeth Friedman… Opinion columnist and podcast host at The New York TimesEzra Klein… Jenna Weisbord… Principal at Blackstone Growth Israel, Nathaniel Rosen… Mikhael Smits