Your Daily Phil: Sylvan Adams gives $100m to Ben-Gurion U. — his largest gift yet

Good Monday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on Jewish Federations of North America Chair Julie Platt being named interim chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees, and feature an opinion piece by Steven Windmeuller and one by Rabbi Ana Bonnheim and Avidan Halivni. Also in this newsletter: Greg JosephSam Clifford and Julius RosenwaldWe’ll start with Sylvan Adams’ recent $100 million donation to Ben-Gurion University. Happy Hanukkah!

Canadian-Israeli real estate mogul and philanthropist Sylvan Adams donated $100 million to Ben-Gurion University in southern Israel last week, his largest single charitable contribution ever, which he told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross will hopefully benefit the university, the region, the country and the planet.

Though the gift will largely left up to the university to decide how to allocate, Adams and BGU reached an “understanding” that a significant portion of it would go toward the university’s Sde Boker campus, the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, which houses graduate-level programs focus on desertification, environmental studies, water management and other climate sciences.

“Climate change, desertification, water management, the sustainability of our planet. This is the biggest planetary challenge that the entire world is facing today. And we’re going to solve it because this is what we [Jews] do. We’re going to solve it,” Adams told eJP. “And I’m confident that amazing solutions will come out of BGU to benefit the entire world.”

Adams said that in the past many of his donations have focused on showcasing the “beautiful” side of Israel, such as bringing the 2018 Giro d’Italia bicycle race to Israel (Adams is a major cycling buff) and creating Tel Aviv’s Sylvan Adams National Velodrome, as well as funding the Save a Child’s Heart nonprofit, which brings children from around the world, including from Gaza, to Israel for life-saving heart surgery at the children’s hospital named for him in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.

“[Those projects]  were trying to show a normal, benevolent face of Israel. But after Oct. 7 and now the war in Gaza, there is no normal. So I guess I’ll be having to put those projects on hold until ‘normal’ returns and we can go back to showing our sunny face,” he said. “But right now, we are in a period of grieving. We’re in a period of war. We have to win a war. We may have to win a second war in the north. And so I will shift my attention to projects to strengthen Israel because of my deep patriotism, my Zionism and my love for, for our countrymen and my love for all of the Jewish people.”

Read the full report here.


JFNA’s Julie Platt tapped as interim chair of UPenn board as Bok steps down over antisemitism row

Jewish Federations of North America Chair Julie Platt speaks at the ‘Unity in Crisis’ event at the Sixth & I synagogue in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17, 2023. Courtesy/Bo Harris

Julie Platt, the chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, was named the interim chair of the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. Her appointment followed the resignation of the chair, Scott Bok, who stepped down alongside the school’s president, Liz Magill, on Saturday night, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Focused on JFNA: Platt, who was named vice chair of the board earlier this year, said that she will stay in the role of interim chair only until a successor is found, which she said should be in the next few weeks. “I made clear that my priority is my role as chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, and, therefore, agreed to do so and lead the process of selecting a new chair by the start of the next semester, which begins in January 2024,” Platt said in a statement released by JFNA.

Sends a message: Platt stressed her connection to JFNA and its role in both raising money for Israel and combating antisemitism in the United States, driving home the significance of her appointment as interim chair of an institution dogged by claims of permitting antisemitism. “As chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, we are leading the largest mobilization in our history in support of Israel’s right to protect its citizens and against the rise of antisemitism in North America, including staging the largest Jewish rally in American history on the National Mall. We will continue this fight with all our energy,” Platt said.

Read the full report here.


The ROI of funding Jewish communal infrastructure in a post-Oct. 7 world

Illustration by Htc Erl from Pixabay

“We’ve all heard that line, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Most of us assume it means that if you build a ballpark or a school or any other critical infrastructure, people will come and use it — for its intended purpose. Sometimes, however, when you put in the effort to envision and build a solid piece of communal infrastructure, people will come and use it for a different and unintended but equally valuable purpose,” write Rabbi Ana Bonnheim and Avidan Halivni, the Jewish Learning Collaborative’s founding executive director and associate director, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

No prognostication necessary: “Out of a core belief in the long-term and systemic value of one-on-one, customized Jewish learning for employees and lay leaders at Jewish organizations, the JLC built a structure to support individualized, self-directed learning for Jewish communal professionals and volunteers… But when we set out to build this experimental model, we couldn’t foresee the trauma Jews all over the world would feel after Oct. 7. The infrastructure we created at JLC is now strengthening our community in new and critical ways.”

Read the full piece here.


The Jews who sit outside

A poster carried by an unidentified participant in a pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel march in New York City in May 2021. Wikimedia Commons

“Looking back at our history, do we find cases or situations when American Jewish organizations changed their anti-Zionist — or, in some cases, more neutral ‘non-Zionist’ — stance in favor of the State of Israel? And does the past offer us any insight into the mindset of those who remain undeterred in their vocal opposition to Israel and the present war?” asks Steven Windmeuller, a scholar of contemporary political issues and American Jewish affairs, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Initial concerns: “Prior to and during the early years after the establishment of the State of Israel, many American Jews were unfamiliar with Zionism or uncertain about the creation of a Jewish national homeland… There were also Jews who opposed the ideas of Zionism and sincerely believed as Jewish Americans that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to charges of dual loyalty and trigger antisemitism. Groups such as the American Council for Judaism saw Jewish nationalism as a challenge to their efforts to assimilate into their home culture.”

Big shift: “Jonathan Woocher writes about the incorporation of support for Israel into the ‘civil religion’ of American Jewry following the 1967 and 1973 wars: ‘This civil religion defined a way of being Jewish that enabled its adherents to give meaning to their identities as Jews by connecting them to a great historic drama of destruction and rebirth. Such Jews made the survival of the Jewish people their sacred cause.’ Over the course of the 1970s and ’80s, he writes, American Jews embraced a five-part platform that embodied this idea: remembering the Holocaust; advocating for the State of Israel; fighting for Soviet Jewry; promoting a focus on Jewish education and communal connection; and opposing antisemitism.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

The Rabbi’s RebbeEulogies are generally prohibited during Hanukkah, with the exception of memorializing sages of Torah — a distinction which Rabbi Shira Koch-Epstein seizes upon in order to share her memories and her grief over the recent passing of Rabbi David Ellenson, a former chancellor of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It is hard for the child of a rabbi, who is also a rabbi and teaches rabbis, to find a rabbi of her own. But David was my rabbi… I suddenly remember what David taught me in the aftermath of Sept. 11: ‘Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said: Do not make monuments for the righteous — their “d’varim” are their memorial” (Jerusalem Talmud Shekalim 11a). D’varim can mean words, and it can mean deeds, and David embodied the best of both… We Jews follow blessings with action, words with deeds. When we soon say ‘may his memory be for a blessing,’ we rabbis can make it so when we learn and build upon David’s Torah; seek to extend his boundless love as we offer guidance with affirmation and pastoral care with empathy; to have open-eyed, spiritually attuned, and proactive care for Israel and the Jewish people; to ensure that our actions and commitments reflect our highest values.” [JTA]

All Hail the Queens: In the Financial Times, Christina Ohly Evans profiles today’s “doyennes of big charity in America” and takes readers on a journey from the first stirrings of the philanthropic scene in New York City to the glitz and glamor of its 20th century galas. “For years women have given time and money to create non-profit organisations, promote social and legislative changes, build communities, educate and support a variety of arts institutions all over the world. Nowhere is this more felt than in New York City… where shortfalls in government spending have long prompted the city’s most powerful women to rally others. And while the tuxedos and taffeta that marked the 1980s heyday of New York’s gala scene have given way to more modest events, the city’s philanthropic zeal is unlike any other. The scene began in the 1700s as aid focused on underserved women and children and has since grown to encompass everything from protecting the environment (The Central Park Conservancy raises around $7mn a year from events) to criminal justice reform (Agnes Gund’s Art for Justice fund has awarded $125mn to address wrongful incarceration) and raising funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (last year’s Met Gala raked in $17.4mn). ‘Historically, women have been drawn to the idea of being generous – with their time, money and social capital,’ says Jeannie Infante Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University.” [FT]

Around the Web

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host a Hanukkah candlelighting reception at the White House tonight…

Israel was on display in yesterday’s NFL games: Jewish Minnesota Vikings kicker Greg Joseph sported a pair of cleats emblazoned with the colors of the Israeli flag, the phrase “Am Yisrael Chai” and the logo of Israeli food security nonprofit Leket Israel as he kicked the winning 36-yard field goal in the team’s 3-0 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders as part of the league’s “My Cleats My Causes” initiative. Off the field, Adam Neuman, the chief of staff and special adviser to the president of the Baltimore Ravenswore a pair of Nikes decorated with the emblem of the Magen David Adom ambulance service. The Ravens beat the Los Angeles Rams 37-31…

Jewish Insider, the sister publication of eJewishPhilanthropylooks into the formation of a new committee, co-chaired by a controversial professor, investigating antisemitism at Stanford University

Some 430 rabbis have so far signed a letter arguing that calls for a cease-fire in Gaza by individual Jews are not representative of the Jewish community as a whole, which they said does not support it…

The Jim Joseph Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation are funding a new study by Rosov Consulting into “the interests, needs, hopes, and challenges of a wide diversity of Jewish families.” The first part of the study, which was recently completed, is a review of the existing literature on the topic…

San Francisco’s Jewish Federation is pivoting away from its role as a grantmaker and focusing more on offering advice to philanthropic funds as part of a new strategic plan that it recently began rolling out…

Sam Clifford was named the next CEO of the British nonprofit Jewish Women’s Aid

The Texas Tribune considers the possibility that Dr. Miriam Adelson’s move to purchase the majority stake of the Dallas Mavericks from Mark Cuban is part of an effort to get casinos legalized in the Lone Star State…

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in New Orleans is hosting a new photography exhibit that tells the story of the so-called “Rosenwald schools,” thousands of schools that were set up throughout the southern U.S. in the early 1900s by Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and Black activist Booker T. Washington

Jay Solomon, the chief advancement officer for Hillel Ontariomade the case for Hillel International in a blog post on The Times of Israel following the organization’s General Assembly last week and amid rising antisemitism on college campuses…

Companies are expanding their diversity, equity and inclusion programs to include faith groups in light of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks…

The New York Times profiled the Workers’ Circle, which — as a national organization — has aimed to keep itself out of the public debate over Israel-Hamas war…

Natalie Charach, who donated widely to Detroit-area Jewish causesdied last month at 97…

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.

Small business owners from northern and southern Israel who have been affected by the Israel-Hamas war sell their wares last Thursday at a fair organized by the Workers’ Organization of Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/Hechler Photographers/Israel Policy Forum

Senior director of policy research at the Israel Policy Forum, Shira Efron Ph.D.

Former U.S. Secretary of State in the Obama administration, now the U.S. special envoy for climate, John Kerry… Lumber and wood products executive in Bethany, Connecticut, Stuart Paley… University professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter… Professor of international economics at Princeton University, Gene Grossman… Senior attorney in the environmental and natural resources division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Perry Rosen… Speech language pathologist in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Joanne Ring… Best-selling author, she has published eleven novels including seven books in The Mommy-Track Mysteries series, Ayelet Waldman… Beverly Hills-based cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Simon Ourian… Partner in Pomerantz LLP where he leads the corporate governance litigation practice, he serves as a trustee of Manhattan’s Beit Rabban Day School, Gustavo F. Bruckner… Former member of the Knesset for the Labor party and then the Independence party, Einat Wilf… Israeli poet and founder of the cultural group Ars Poetica, Adi Keissar… Hasidic rapper from Boston, Massachusetts, known as Nosson, Nathan Isaac Zand… Director of public affairs and marketing at Englewood (NJ) Hospital and Medical Center, Michael Chananie… CEO at DC-based Brown Strategy Group, he is a VP in the Young Leadership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Josh Brown… Sports editor for Apple News, Kelly Cohen… National political reporter at The Washington Post, Marianne LeVine… Director of alternative investments at CAIS, Judah Schulman… Senior editor at Apple News, Gideon Resnick… Actress and singer, Hailee Steinfeld