Your Daily Phil: Synagogues rethinking membership fees + SMARTer apologies

Good Monday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we take a look at how synagogues are thinking about dues this year, and feature an op-ed ahead of the High Holidays about more compelling apologies. In this newsletter: Lauren Cohen Fisher, Andrea Hoffman, Craig Newmark, Akilah Watkins, Ellen Katz, Kurt and Marilyn Wallach, Chip and Summer Wilson, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, MacKenzie Scott, Ron Fowler, M. Evan Wolkenstein, Dan Alter and Harriet Bograd. We’ll start with an “unusual” response from a college president to antisemitism allegations.

When universities have faced federal investigations or complaints of alleged antisemitism on their campuses, their response has sometimes been to decry hatred, pledge to protect students and promise to examine the allegations — at times commenting on those they have has already addressed. Others have stayed mum, citing an ongoing investigation.

The University of Vermont did something different. Facing an investigation of alleged antisemitism from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the University of Vermont’s president, Suresh V. Garimella, wrote a strident public letter denying the charges one by one, asserting that the university is prompt in addressing antisemitic incidents and saying that the complaint that prompted the investigation “painted our community in a patently false light.”

“While common wisdom dictates remaining patiently silent as we cooperate diligently with an agency’s investigation, I simply cannot do so,” Garimella wrote. “UVM vigorously denies the false allegation of an insufficient response to complaints of threats and discrimination.”

Garimella’s letter was “very unusual,” Mark Rotenberg, Hillel International’s vice president of university initiatives and legal affairs, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “University presidents do not typically provide detailed public rebuttals or criticize their own students for filing civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, which is their legal right,” Rotenberg added. “Also unusual was the president’s failure to pledge cooperation with the government’s investigation.”

The organizations that filed the complaint — the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Jewish on Campus — denounced Garimella’s letter, saying in a statement that it “shows neither reflection, nor understanding, nor remorse. Instead, Garimella demonstrates only the dismissive attitude that has left Jewish students vulnerable to harassment and discrimination, blaming the victims who blew the whistle on UVM anti-Semitism rather than pledging to respond to the problems that federal investigators will now examine.”

A coalition of pro-Israel groups, spearheaded by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said on Friday that Garimella’s letter serves to “blame the victims.” The statement also criticized “the inference that aggrieved Jewish students should not have sought recourse through a regular legal process that exists for the very purpose of investigating civil rights complaints, including those pertaining to antisemitism.”

One organization that has declined to address Garimella’s letter directly is UVM Hillel, which pointed eJP to a statement released shortly after Garimella’s letter that did not discuss its contents or include his name. The Hillel statement said its leadership has “been at the forefront of meeting with the university administration to amplify student voices and express concerns about the campus climate on behalf of the UVM Jewish community. We stand unequivocally with our Jewish students, allies, friends, and family and are committed to helping them bring their voices to the table and be heard by the university.”


Pandemic’s aftermath and economic crisis have some synagogues rethinking their membership fees

A synagogue in New York City.

Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

As a policy, Manhattan’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah doesn’t sell tickets for services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. To charge for High Holidays, says synagogue President Sabrina Farber, is “just not in our DNA.” But this year, two years of a pandemic plus a recent economic downturn have made sticking to that policy more challenging for CBST. And it’s not alone, writes Jay Deitcher for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Fixed to voluntary: As synagogues begin to consider next year’s budget, Barry Mael, the senior director of synagogue affiliations and operations for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, told eJP that an increasing number of synagogues are considering moving from fixed to voluntary dues. “I’m getting more calls in the last several months about synagogues… evaluating if their dues model was the best dues model for them,” he said. “Sometimes coming out [of] something like a pandemic, where so many things have been upended, it’s a good time to evaluate and say, ‘Are we generating our revenues and supporting the community in the best way?’”

New means of support: Synagogues are also searching for new ways to support themselves. Some synagogues have planted cell towers on their buildings while others sold their buildings and rented space for less money. The synogages that eJP spoke to said that they haven’t had to cut staff, often thanks to federal pandemic loans that were quickly forgiven, but they also haven’t been able to grow programs and initiatives as they would like to.

Read the full story here.


The year of better apologies


“Apologies are sacred and redemptive, and it’s time to relegate bad ones to the dustbin of history,” write Lauren Cohen Fisher, director of Jewish Student Life at Colby College, and Andrea Hoffman, director of experience design and gatherings for the Center for Jewish and Israel Education at Hillel International, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

A month of reflection: “The Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah is preceded by Elul, which started this year on Aug. 26. It’s a month of reflection, where Jews take an accounting of our souls and of our relationships in search of repentance, repair and forgiveness. Yet over the years, the two of us have been offered apology after apology that left us feeling small… and have also given apologies that have left others feeling unseen. We’d like to change that.”

Learning from others: “This year, we’ve been learning from a broad range of thinkers, such as Harriet Lerner, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Rabbi Alan Lew and 12th-century scholar Maimonides in hopes that we can offer more meaningful apologies this Elul.”

SMART apologies: “Inspired by ‘SMART’ goals — a model created by a trio of business consultants in the 1980s to help ground aspirations in reality — we have been piloting SMART apologies within our relationships in hopes of giving and receiving more powerful teshuva (repentance).”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Craig’s Philanthropic List: Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is supporting various charities backing trustworthy journalism, voter protection and other philanthropic causes, including the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, Glenn Gamboa writes in an interview with Newmark in The Associated Press. [Newmark says] “I have the disadvantage of being an amateur in philanthropy. But my biggest advantage is that I am an amateur in philanthropy. I’m not constrained by annual budget cycles and so on, although I have to deal with things like adjusting my burn rate because the biggest single area of expenditures is in supporting democracy. I’m trying to lead by example. And all I know is how to lead from the grassroots and the very bottom up. I have no skills for top-down leadership.” [AP]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

Yeshiva University announced on Friday that it had placed all undergraduate club activities on hold “while it immediately takes steps to follow the roadmap provided by the U.S. Supreme Court.” The action came two days after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, had ordered the university to recognize an LGBTQ student group. The university did not say for how long the suspension would last…

Following a monthlong delay, the Russian government’s trial against The Jewish Agency was postponed again on Monday, with the ultimate fate of the Israeli quasi-governmental organization left unclear. The Jewish Agency maintains a staff of approximately 200 people across Russia. The Moscow court will next hear the case on Oct. 19…

Temple Emanu-El, one of the largest and oldest Reform congregations in New York City, launched Emanu-El Downtown on Sunday. Located inside the General Theological Seminary, an historic institution that is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, Emanu-El Downtown will host programming for families and young children five days a week…

Akilah Watkins has been named president and CEO of Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs, effective January 2023…

Ellen Katz will step down as president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation by June 2. She joined the foundation in 2015…

Florida Atlantic University broke ground on its future Kurt and Marilyn Wallach Holocaust and Jewish Studies Building at its Boca Raton campus. A $20 million gift from the Wallachs includes $10 million to construct a hub for Holocaust and Jewish studies, human rights education and leadership training…

Lululemon founder Chip Wilson and his wife, Summer, have pledged $75.8 million through their foundation to acquire wilderness space in British Columbia. The money will be used by the B.C. Parks Foundation to buy forests and repurchase mining, forestry and other resource licenses…

Bidders paid nearly $517,000 for items in an online auction, which ended Friday, of goods that belonged to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A previous online auction of her books raised $2.3 million. Proceeds will fund an endowment in Ginsburg’s honor benefitting SOS Children’s Villages, an organization that supports vulnerable children around the world…

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a five-year, $100 million commitment in support of efforts to transform institutions of higher education to close equity gaps for Black, Latino, Indigenous and low-income students…

Boston-based Bottom Line announced a $15 million grant from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in support of its mission to advance educational equity…

The Schuler Education Foundation will invest up to $500 million through the Schuler Access Initiative to substantially expand access to elite liberal arts colleges for both undocumented students and Pell Grant-eligible students. With funds matched by partner colleges, the project will generate $1 billion in investment…

Ron Fowler, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments, Inc. and the former executive chairman and co-owner of the San Diego Padres, and his wife Alexis, have made a series of gifts to the University of San Diego that now total $6.5 million. The gifts will fund an endowment for The Knauss School of Business’ Fowler Business Concept Challenge…

Novelist M. Evan Wolkenstein and poet Dan Alter received the 2022 Anne and Robert Cowan Writer’s Prizes, which honor emerging Jewish writers who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and engage with Jewish themes in their work…

Harriet Bograd, president of Kulanu, an organization that supports Jewish communities in the developing world, died

Pic of the Day

Misha Kovalev

In Dnipro, Ukraine, a homebound Jewish senior enjoys the taste of the High Holiday season — apples and honey — prepared by a worker for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. This traditional holiday fare was included in holiday food aid packages provided to thousands of needy Jewish elderly in Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah during the ongoing conflict.


Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David J. Wolpe

Professor of Jewish history and literature at Yeshiva University, he is the only son of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Haym Soloveitchik… Member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Jeffrey Colman Salloway… Professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law and director of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck… Distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, after a 28-year Pentagon career as a Middle East expert, Harold Rhode… Writing instructor at Montana State University Billings, Bruce Alpert… Stockton, Calif.-based physician at The Pacific Sleep Disorders Center, Dr. Ronald Kass…. Producer of over 40 films in his career, David Elliot Hoberman… Boston-based attorney focused upon Section 529 college savings plans, Mark A. Chapleau… Bow-tie-clad field reporter for Fox Major League Baseball, Ken Rosenthal… U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)… Executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Ronald Halber… Author of seven popular business books, Mike Michalowicz… Founder and managing director at Two Lanterns Venture Partners, he is also the founder of MassChallenge, John Harthorne… VP at Antenna Group, Neal Urwitz… Former MLB player for nine seasons, he was on Team Israel for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Danny Valencia… Public affairs director at Elliott Management, Joe Kristol… NFL placekicker, he played on the Rams and Titans in 2020, Sam Slovan

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