Your Daily Phil: Takeaways from this year’s Jewish Funders Network conference + Rivlin’s new gig
Good Wednesday morning!
Most attendees at the Jewish Funders Network International Conference, which wrapped up yesterday afternoon in Palm Beach, Fla., appeared to agree on one thing: It was nice to be back in person — to meet at the hotel bar, to have spontaneous brainstorming sessions with colleagues, to see people, as several attendees said, “in three dimensions” — not on Zoom.
Beyond that, attendees told eJewishPhilanthropy that a few trends emerged from the three-day gathering, the organization’s first in-person conference since 2019: Everyone is eager to keep aiding Ukrainian refugees. People also said they want to see more collaboration between foundations and grantees — though it’s unclear how many funders will take up JFN’s call for “participatory grant making,” which would let grantees in on funding decisions.
“We cannot be effective, impactful grant makers without listening to the people who are closest to the work,” Lisa Eisen, co-president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, told eJP. “That doesn’t mean, necessarily, handing over decision-making over the dollars.”
Attendees also mentioned wanting to engage a more diverse set of voices in terms of race, gender, politics and more. But JFN’s CEO, Andres Spokoiny, said “There are still huge chunks of the community that we don’t even know how to integrate, like the Haredi community.” A challenge on that front, he added, is that “to include some people, you would need segregated spaces. Are you willing to have that? I’m not, but that’s a dilemma.”
One surprising patch of common ground, Spokoiny said, was climate change, where he said he observed funders from right and left come together — for different reasons. “Some people approach it from climate justice and some people approach it [as a] pure Zionist thing, like, ‘Climate change is bad for Israel,’” he said. “Ultimately, they both end up doing the same things.”
Attendees talked of the need for more ambitious ideas and greater tolerance for risk — in conference lingo, an embrace of “moonshots.” But the details of what that would entail, or where it might focus, remained vague. The question is whether “the large Jewish organizations welcome really risky experiments,” Eric Goldstein, the CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, told eJP. “Whether they’re prepared to fund failure in the effort to think big and recognize that not everything is going to succeed.”
But Eisen said, “I don’t think we should focus only on moonshots, because there is a lot of innovation happening on the ground, happening from the fringes, happening in the organizations… I don’t think we have to always be looking for the next Birthright.”
The conference ended with an announcement on Ukraine aid: JFN is partnering with UJA-Federation of New York on an initiative of up to $2.5 million to provide kosher-for-Passover Seder food to Jews in Ukraine and neighboring countries. UJA-Federation is allocating half of that amount, to be matched by JFN members. The initiative hopes to convey the “embrace… of Jewish community, of connecting people back to comforting ritual and tradition,” Goldstein said.
Spokoiny also would have liked more discussion of how Zoom has changed nonprofits and their donors, as well as more conversation about mental health. But he’s less worried about more recent challenges the country faces, like inflation. He estimates that, in total, JFN’s 600 member units represent $6 billion in annual philanthropy. And he’s confident that as dollars get less valuable, his members will give more.
“I’m not concerned about inflation in philanthropic terms,” he said. “If things go up, philanthropic contributions go up too. I’m pretty certain that foundations will respond to that.”
Former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin takes his vision of uniting Israel’s ‘tribes’ to pro-democracy think tank
Nearly seven years ago, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave a landmark address that categorized the four “tribes” comprising modern Israeli society: Israeli Arabs as well as secular, religious Zionist and Haredi Jews. Now, the concepts outlined in that speech form the foundation of a new Center for Shared Society, funded by a $21 million endowment, at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.
A new fellowship: Rivlin, whose term ended last year, will be the center’s first distinguished fellow. The donation, one of the largest single gifts IDI has ever received, will be disbursed over three years and comes from Joan and Irwin Jacobs, the co-founder of technology corporation Qualcomm, for whom the center is named. As a fellow — a two-year position for which the former president draws no salary — Rivlin will convene meetings, work with local officials and activists across Israel, deliver speeches and consult on policy.
In his words: “I’m hoping to reinforce the Institute’s efforts to reach beyond decision makers to the broader public,” Rivlin told eJP. “To inspire Israelis and remind them of the promise of our great country. There is a huge need today for a message of moderation and solidarity throughout all the communities that make up our diverse society.”
Social integration: IDI already works on the core issues the center will address: economic and social integration of Israeli Arabs and Haredim; shaping the relationship between religion and state in Israel; defining the contours of Israel as Jewish nation-state; and strengthening relations between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora Jews. The center will place those programs under one roof and provide them with additional funding, along with Rivlin’s imprimatur.
A fraught moment: The center is launching at a moment in Israel when the country’s attention is on a string of terror attacks across the country that have killed 11 people over the course of a week. IDI President Yohanan Plesner told eJP on Tuesday, hours after the most recent attack, that healing Israel’s internal divisions will bolster its security and help prevent Arab Israelis from becoming disenfranchised. “If you don’t deal with the economic and social integration of Israeli Arabs, you’ll have a large section of society that feels abandoned,” he said.
American Jews may be highly educated, but a college degree is out of reach for some
“Prior to the pandemic, it was a little-known story in the Jewish community that there were Jewish students who struggled to pay for a bachelor’s degree. I’ve learned about these students firsthand, as executive director of the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women, which for close to 100 years has provided college scholarships to women with financial need,” writes Rona Sheramy in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Financially challenged: “In many ways, the students’ stories are no different from those of other Americans living on the financial edge: they are from families whose economic lives unravel due to divorce, disability, unemployment or illness; they are first-generation college students who must navigate an inscrutable financial aid system; and they are the children of immigrants whose parents struggle to earn a living in their new home.”
Living an observant Jewish life: “There are also students who experience uniquely Jewish dimensions to their financial stress, such as young adults whose families, on paper, have income and assets that position them in the middle class, but cannot save for college due to the high costs of living an observant Jewish life, including religious school for multiple children, kosher food and top-market rents. There are also women who leave ultra-Orthodox communities — some with their children — with dreams of post-secondary education, but lack the financial means, employable skills or high school degree to make that possible.”
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY
A tale of two cities: Lviv and Amsterdam
“In times of war, acts of superhuman triumph and also bleak devastation tear us open and, at times, leave us breathless, writes Meredith Levick, director of strategic development for Iyun, a cohort-based Jewish learning experience for adults facilitated by local educators, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Local and global: “We often think of Jewish community as hyper local – but what if your experience of community was both local and global, both geographically proximal and also cross-continental? To provide a frame for this story – Hakhel, a partnership between Hazon and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, has 140 communities around the world, five of which are in Ukraine.”
From Lviv to Amsterdam: “A few weeks ago, the brave daughters of our friend Olena from the town of Lviv in western Ukraine – ages 19, 9 and almost 5 – arrived at a Hakhel community in Amsterdam. The pilgrimage was both long and short. The connection between these two communities was created at the Jewish Intentional Communities Conference in the United States in 2019. Then, as a byproduct of a recent online Hakhel gathering, Nir Geva from the Amsterdam community of Israelis asked Olena how he could be of help with her daughters, who had to leave Ukraine for their own safety.”
A Home for the Homeless: Once a tenement, the Royal Park Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is being turned into housing for the homeless, and could illustrate how the pandemic may “remake the city by turning struggling hotels and vacant office buildings into housing,” Mihir Zaveri writes in The New York Times. “The transformation of the Royal Park also reflects a feud between the city and operators of illegal hotels, who officials say have made a chronic housing shortage worse by limiting rentals to short-term guests in violation of city and state laws. City officials waged legal battles for years with Hank Freid, a hotelier who owned the Royal Park on West 97th Street, arguing that several of his hotels and hostels were intended to be permanent housing. Earlier this year, the Fortune Society bought the building for $11 million. The nonprofit focuses on helping formerly incarcerated people, who will make up many of the building’s new tenants.” [NYTimes]
To Track, or Not to Track: In Wired, Amy Paturel explores the value — and possible emotional damage — of tracking friends and family using location-based tracking apps: “Nancy Colier, a New York-based licensed clinical social worker, reverend, and author of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, tells me my neurosis of needing to reach people instantly isn’t an anomaly in the digital age. In fact, Colier says, with all of the texting, monitoring, and tracking, most of us are living in a constant state of anxiety…Yet there’s plenty of evidence to suggest our loved ones, friends, and even our children are safer in the world today than they were in the 1990s — in terms of violent crime, child abductions, and motor vehicle accidents. Plus, in the unlikely event of an actual emergency, authorities can use cell phone tower data to locate our broods. So do we really need tracking technology?…The apps are marketing to our primal fear of disconnecting from our loved ones. But is the benefit of perceived safety worth the excess anxiety? Or is there more bliss in ignorance?” [Wired]
Word on the Street
Five Israelis were killed in a shooting attack on Tuesday by a West Bank Palestinian in the Tel Aviv suburb of B’nei Brak. A total of 11 Israelis have been killed in three attacks since last Tuesday…
Idit Klein, the president and CEO of Keshet, the Jewish LGBTQ group, is this year’s recipient of the Bernard Reisman Award for Professional Excellence. The award was established by the alumni association of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program and is presented annually to a professional who “has demonstrated innovative work and significant leadership”…
Amian Frost Kelemer will join the Mayberg Foundation as director of operating programs in mid-April…
Wanda Fish, a new Israeli food tech startup founded a few months ago, is partnering with Tufts University for advanced research into the development of cultivated fish as a food item…
The Werdiger family from Melbourne, Australia, is providing Passover care packages to 110 communities in 30 countries…
Stanford Children’s Health launched a new Center for Pediatric IBD and Celiac Disease with a $70 million donation from an anonymous donor…
MindSpark Learning in Lakewood, Colo., received an unrestricted $10 million gift from the Morgridge Family Foundation…
The PEN/Faulkner Foundation selected Oprah Winfrey for its inaugural Literary Champion award, a lifetime achievement prize for contributions to literacy and for inspiring younger readers and writers…
Pic of the Day
UJA-Federation of New York worked with four local synagogues in the New York City area to collect 12,000 pounds of Passover holiday food that will be distributed to Jews remaining in Ukraine as well as Jewish refugees who have been forced to flee. The food was packed Sunday and Monday by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
Tel Aviv-born actress, Mili Avital…
Meteorologist, science and health reporter, Frank Field… Musician, music executive and former chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Charles Koppelman… Professor of international trade at Harvard and winner of the Israel Prize in 1991, Elhanan Helpman… Cherry Hill, N.J., resident, Zelda Greenberg… Film and television director, Michael Stephen Lehmann… Comedian, actor and musician, Paul Reiser…Host of Public Radio International’s “The World,” Marco Werman… Lifelong civil liberties attorney who sued the Philadelphia Police Department 75 times, he was elected as district attorney in 2017, Larry Krasner… Career Foreign Service officer, he served as United States ambassador to Bulgaria under Presidents Obama and Trump, Eric Seth Rubin… Actor best known for his role as Steve Sanders on the television series “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Ian Ziering… Owner and founder of D.C. area’s Ark Contracting, Noah Blumberg… Actress, director, producer and ballerina, Juliet Landau… Podcast host, investor and former U.S. special representative for international negotiations, Jason D. Greenblatt… Regional director in the Washington office at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Alan Ronkin… Mexican-American chef, television personality, cookbook author and food writer, she won a James Beard Award for her PBS television series “Pati’s Mexican Table,” Pati Jinich… Treasurer of Oakland County, Mich., now running for county executive, Andy Meisner… Iranian-born LA-based actress, Bahar Soomekh… Gabriela Schneider… Jerusalem-born documentary photographer for the Associated Press, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2007, Oded Balilty… Rabbi, investor and former senior advisor to former U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, Aryeh Lightstone… Author, composer and playwright, Robert J. Saferstein… Chief innovation officer and managing director at Kivvit, Zach Silber… Senior reporter at the Huffington Post, Jessica Schulberg… Professional baseball infielder for MLB’s Houston Astros, Alex Bregman… Programs manager at Zioness Movement, Leora Einleger… Feature writer for Haaretz, Danna Harman… Detroit-area Jewish leader and founder at Multifaith Life, Alicia Chandler…