Your Daily Phil: Sukkot on the farm + Edmond Safra’s journey

Good Wednesday morning and mo’adim l’simcha!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we visit a Sukkot festival at a Jewish farm beside the Pacific Ocean, and feature op-eds by Eric Lankin on a new biography of Edmond Safra and JOFA’s Mindy Hecht on creating welcoming communities. Also in this newsletter: Peter Ascoli, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, Cantor Eliot Vogel, Sandra Breka and Audrey Evans. We’ll start with a new infusion of funding for Palestinian-Israeli collaboration.

The Jewish holiday season has brought good news to at least two programs meant to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded grants to initiatives that will, respectively, train nurses and develop technological solutions for people with disabilities and other minority populations.

The grants are part of $250 million over five years approved by Congress in 2020 under the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act. The act provides grants of up to $5 million to organizations that create coexistence and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. According to a USAID fact sheet, projects collectively worth around $25 million are currently active.

One of those is the tech solutions initiative, a project of Reut USA’s Tikkun Olam Makers program, which brings together entrepreneurs to develop affordable tools for people with disabilities and other underserved groups. The program, which will receive $1 million from USAID over two years, is called Making Peace, and will bring together Palestinian and Israeli tech workers and caregivers to create tools under TOM’s mission.

“The idea of TOM was to create a platform and a process that would allow for mass creation and mass distribution of highly affordable and accessible solutions for the needs of people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder,” Gidi Grinstein, the founder and president of Reut USA and TOM, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “TOM was also envisioned as a platform for collaboration across religious and political lines.”

In addition, a grant of $2.35 million over three years went to Project Rozana, which will provide clinical training and professional development to 480 Israeli and Palestinian nurses at four Israeli and four Palestinian hospitals. The nurses will consult with each other and provide each other information on cases, aiming to both improve their quality of care and their relationships.

“It is a significant example of the power of development funds to leverage, in a very positive way, capacity building and peacebuilding outcomes in a region where fear and distrust on both sides have become the norm,” Kenneth Bob, chair of Project Rozana USA, said in a statement.

Other projects funded by the USAID initiative also center on entrepreneurship and medical collaboration, in addition to fighting climate change and forging connections between business owners.

Making Peace is the latest TOM initiative to further Jewish-Arab collaboration. TOM was launched in 2014 the Arab-Israeli city of Nazareth, and this year, in the wake of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries, TOM launched the Abraham Accords Open Innovation Challenge, in which 70 teams from 14 countries — including Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan — competed to develop tech solutions.

The Accords “created a tremendous opportunity to connect with this agenda,” Grinstein said, and he hopes to further the same mission through the USAID grant, which comes with a requirement to raise $300,000 in matching funds.

“We are working with the people who believe in normalization of relations on all sides by connecting our civil societies across Israeli society and with Palestinian society,” Grinstein said. “Together we are building the foundations for a reality of two states for two peoples.”


A SoCal festival combines Sukkot and sustainable agriculture

Attendees work with jars of herbs at the Sukkot Harvest Festival at Coastal Roots Farm on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Esther Kustanowitz

On Sunday, as Jews across the world decorated their sukkot, a group of about 1,000 people at a farm outside of San Diego prepared for the Jewish fall harvest festival by tasting recipes, bundling tea from locally grown herbs, drinking kombucha and learning about sustainable agriculture. The occasion was the annual Sukkot Harvest Festival at Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas, Calif., whose agricultural work and educational programming sit at the intersection of sustainability and Jewish tradition, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Learning about worms and chickens: Despite a somewhat overcast sky, the mood at the site, less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, was bright and effervescent. Coastal Roots educators were stationed at various intervals: in front of the chicken coop, where hens and roosters skip across the plot of land, eating leftover produce and helping clear the land for the next crop; next to a vermiculture container, where worms consume vegetable waste and shredded paper, emitting castings (or, worm excrement) that fertilize the soil.

Cultivating community: Coastal Roots, which is a nonprofit, aims to cultivate community through sustainable agriculture and teaching about food justice and ancient Jewish wisdom. Its organic farm stand runs on a “pay-what-you-can” model to create the greatest possible access to eggs, flowers and fresh produce. People who cannot afford to pay are offered up to $30 of produce at no cost.

Pandemic mobilization: Coastal Roots spent a significant portion of its energy during the past two years responding to increased needs brought about by COVID-19. During the pandemic, it doubled its food production to more than 80,000 pounds of food per year and provided food to people who needed it. According to the farm, one in three area families is food insecure.

Read the full story here.


Review: ‘A Banker’s Journey: How Edmond J. Safra Built a Global Financial Empire’

Michael Jacobs/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

“Special thanks to Daniel Gross for this eye-opening and engrossing book, welcoming the readers to the world of Syrian-Lebanese Jewry and introducing us to its most financially successful son in modern times, Edmond Safra,” writes Eric Lankin, former adjunct professor of marketing in the Nonprofit Management and Leadership program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A successful banker: “Safra has been recognized as one of the most successful bankers in recent history. Much of this success was due to his brilliance, savvy and his choice of sober investments. He was committed to always protecting the funds entrusted to him and prioritized his depositors first. He learned and developed those profound commitments from his father who grew up in Aleppo, Syria, and started a bank in Beirut, Lebanon.”

Personal values: “His father also taught him that financial success leads to extraordinary responsibility for others in this order of priorities: your family, your community and your people. Within the Syrian Jewish community, specifically, and the Sephardic community, in general, the name Safra was and continues to be associated with generosity and philanthropy. Honesty and integrity were and are not slogans for a marketing team but prized as deep values for Safra himself and the companies he built.”

Global reach: “Safra created banks and other businesses in Brazil, Europe and New York with people he could trust, often judged by whether his family knew them in the communities where the Safras had lived. Although he hired countless individuals outside the world of the Syrian and Beirut Jewish communities, his top leadership were Halabi (Jews from Aleppo, Syria) and Lebanese Jews.”

Read the full piece here.


Our sukkot are warm and welcoming. Why not our synagogues?


“I recently joined more than 2,000 people to sing together at a New York synagogue. It was the first event I’ve attended with Koolulam, a social musical initiative that aims to strengthen society by hosting huge singing events that connect people from diverse backgrounds and cultures,” writes Mindy Hecht, board chair of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Vibrant and equitable synagogue communities: “The experience combined vulnerability and insecurity with warmth, sensitivity and understanding. As we learned to listen — to ourselves and to each other — we evolved from out-of-sync and off-key to harmonious. As one of the conductors shared after our third take, our strength was in our ability to tolerate our vulnerability… This inspired me to dream about creating vibrant and equitable synagogue communities, where every person can feel heard, included and valued. In the Modern Orthodox community, we are constantly striving toward this ideal.”

Dwell collectively: “Like the Koolulam event, the Sukkot holiday is both a recognition of our common vulnerability and a celebration of hospitality. On Sukkot, just five days after the intense spiritual experience of Yom Kippur, we leave the comfort and stability of our homes for the fragile, temporary, branch-covered structure of the sukkah. We find ourselves jolted by the bright sunlight or cool breeze of the outdoors, as we emerge from our permanent dwellings — our physical comfort zones — and confront nature… Unlike Sukkot’s mitzvah of taking the lulav and etrog, which requires every adult to acquire their own, the rabbis teach that we can fulfill the commandment to dwell in the sukkah collectively, by joining together in a communal structure.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Philanthropic Youth: A new study indicates that younger donors wish to give differently than their parents, Maria Di Mento writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “People who created their own wealth were the least confident about being prepared to support philanthropy, while people from wealthy families were the most confident, according to the study. [Philanthropy historian Tyrone McKinley] Freeman says that’s because self-made people are building their wealth at the same time they are trying to hold onto and maintain it. Many self-made wealthy individuals also have obligations that people from families with generations of built-up wealth don’t have. ‘It’s a different dynamic at play when you not only are new to wealth but you’re still creating it,’ Freeman says. ‘This group, in particular, is likely to have been in a situation where there wasn’t a family cushion if they fail, and there also tends to be a larger sense of to whom one is responsible. You’re supporting and caring for more people beyond your immediate household.’” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Come Together: 
Various events meant to gather Jewish community together indicate resurging interest in the concept of “hakhel,” an ancient tradition in which Jews gathered at the Holy Temple on the first day of Sukkot to hear the king of Jerusalem read aloud from the Torah, Jackie Hajdenberg writes in The Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Rabbi Ethan Tucker, president and rosh yeshiva of Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva in New York, says he has noticed more chatter about hakhelamong other Jews in recent years. Whether that’s because social media has allowed proponents of the ritual to find each other more easily, or the widening practice of shmita in Israel has led to more awareness, or something else entirely is going on is anyone’s guess, he said. But he said hakhel’s explicit inclusion of women and children makes it an attractive ritual for many Jews today. ‘We live in a cultural moment where people are thinking a tremendous amount about inclusion, and about the ways in which communal institutions can actually draw everyone in,’ Tucker said…’The notion that there’s a biblical and cultural precedent from within the tradition that already stands for that, I think, is very compelling,’ he added.” [JTA]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

A study from Just Futures found that nonprofit organizations face at least four major gaps in engaging with retirement services: capacity, transparency, values and equity. Small grassroots nonprofits in particular face a capacity gap, which creates administrative challenges…

Peter Ascoli, a grandson of the late Julius Rosenwalddonated $10 million through his Lohengrin Foundation to establish the University of Chicago Center for Motor Neuron Disease, where biologists will study the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases…

The Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation of Bayport, Minn., made a $100 million multiyear commitment to support the expansion of the Mayo Clinic‘s proton beam facility in Rochester, Minn., which will expand patient access to unique cancer treatments…

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $4 million grant to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication to expand online course offerings…

The Los Angeles-based Weingart Foundation announced 54 grants totaling more than $13.5 million in support of organizations providing critical services to communities most harmed by systemic racism, advancing racial equity and building power in historically disinvested neighborhoods…

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser will join J. The Jewish News of Northern California as the publication’s first CEO, effective Oct. 17. Kaiser is a former editor-in-chief of the Jewish journal Zeek.

Cantor Eliot Vogel will retire from Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, Pa., at the end of October, after more than three decades at the synagogue…

Sandra Breka has been named vice president and chief operating officer of the Open Society Foundations

Audrey Evans, a pediatric oncologist who in 1974 co-founded the world’s first Ronald McDonald House, in Philadelphia, died at age 97…

Pic of the Day

Saeed Qaq/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A family, some of its members carrying the Four Species, or lulav and etrog, in observance of Sukkot, walks in an alley ?in the Old City of Jerusalem on Monday.



First female rabbi ordained in Conservative Judaism, Amy Eilberg

Longtime baseball reporter for The New York Times, he is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Murray Chass… United States ambassador to Italy during the Trump administration, he is a co-founder of private equity firm Granite Capital International, Lewis Eisenberg… Longtime Fox News anchor now at CNN, Chris Wallace… President of Los Angeles-based Community Advocates, David A. Lehrer… Former CEO of Wakefield, Mass.-based CAST, a nonprofit whose mission is to transform education for students with disabilities, Linda Gerstle… Pediatrician and medical ethicist, Dr. John D. Lantos… Dermatologist in Los Angeles, Dr. Lamar Albert Nelson… Co-founder of Ares Management, he is the owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, Tony Ressler… Deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council until this past July, now a professor at Northeastern University, Seth D. Harris… Editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s Weekend Review section, Gary Rosen… Managing director at Goldman Sachs, Raanan Agus… Los Angeles-based trial attorney for many high-profile clients, Babak “Bobby” Samini… Producer, actress and screenwriter, Alexandra Brandy Smothers… Former member of the Knesset, she now serves as the co-chair of the Green Movement of Israel, Yael Cohen Paran… Computer programmer, creator of the BitTorrent protocol and founder of Chia cryptocurrency, Bram Cohen… Only son of the current rebbe of the Belz Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Aharon Mordechai Rokeach… Israeli actress, model and television anchor, Miri Bohadana… Reporter and host of “The Daily” podcast at The New York TimesMichael Barbaro… Minority leader of the Florida Senate, Lauren Book… Politics and media reporter for BuzzFeed NewsRosie Gray… Strategic communications manager at Sesame Workshop, Fatima Fettar-Ezzahra… Argentine fashion model and artist, Naomi Preizler… Pitcher for the Staten Island FerryHawks of the Atlantic League, he had two relief appearances for Team Israel in the 2020 Olympics, Alex Katz… Startup advisor and former executive director of Start-Up Nation Central, Wendy Singer… Chief development officer of the America-Israel Friendship League, Naomi Reinharz

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