Your Daily Phil: The unbearable present, uncertain future of Kiryat Shmona

Good Friday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new Atra fellowship giving entrepreneurial skills to New Jersey rabbis and updated statistics on Holocaust survivors living in Israel. We feature an opinion piece by Andrés Spokoiny about what the anti-Israel protests on college campuses represent, and another by Zack Bodner on the emergent “Zionism 3.0” and what it demands. Also in this newsletter: Yotam BergerMoshe Lencer and Stuart Harrow. We’ll start with an interview with Kiryat Shmona Mayor Avichai Stern. Shabbat shalom!

For the past six months, Kiryat Shmona — Israel’s northernmost city, located a little over a mile from the Lebanese border — has been a ghost town. Its population of just under 25,000 people has been dispersed throughout the country — with most of them spread out among some 230 hotels from the nearby city of Tiberius down to Eilat, as the city has been targeted by more than 4,000 rocket, missile and drone attacks, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross from the evacuated city

The city streets on Wednesday morning were almost entirely empty, save for a handful of municipal employees doing maintenance work and small groups of soldiers stopping on the side of the road for a coffee or a cigarette. Nearly all businesses were closed, except for those catering to soldiers and drivers passing through, and the cars parked on the side of the road were covered in a thick carpet of dust, fallen leaves and flower petals.

By far the most frustrating thing for Kiryat Shmona Mayor Avichai Stern is that there is no indication of when this situation will change. For now, the evacuation order for Kiryat Shmona and the other communities adjacent to the Lebanese border continues through July 7. After that is a mystery.

Stern’s primary concern is Sept. 1, the start of the Israeli school year. “If we don’t open the school year here on Sept. 1, it will be a disaster. If people sign up their kids to study for the coming year somewhere else — no one is going to take a student out in the middle of the year. And if you’ve been living out of the city for a year or two, you’ll already be embedded in your [new] community, in the school. Your kid will have friends. And it will be much harder to bring them back,” Stern said. 

“But of course you can’t bring them back if the reality doesn’t change. We’d just be back in the Oct. 6 reality,” he said.

In the meantime, Stern and city officials are forced to provide services to the Kiryat Shmona residents who have been scattered throughout the country. 

“I have 25 social workers, but that’s 25 social workers who need to be in 230 hotels. Each hotel should have its own social worker! It’s unbearable, but there’s no choice,” he said. 

Stern stressed that those social workers are needed now more than ever. While schools have started up for the evacuees, attendance rates — particularly for teenagers — are perilously low. In the best circumstances, he said, they are skipping school in order to get jobs, while in the worst cases, they are dropping out to drink, use drugs and gamble. Rates of domestic violence have also risen among evacuees nationwide, exacerbated by unemployment and cramped living conditions.

Stern said that a reliance on philanthropy, amid a lack of government support, has been a constant since Oct. 7, as the country’s focus — justifiably, he stressed — has been on southern Israel.

“I’m not complaining about it. It shouldn’t sound like a complaint, it’s just a fact that everyone was focused on the south,” he said. “But the needs here have only grown, and the state is just not involved. Everything that we have succeeded in doing — setting up schools and day care centers and creating our [six] regions, all of that infrastructure — it is only thanks to philanthropy,” he said.

Stern noted a significant donation in the early days of the war from UJA-Federation of New York. “Itzik Shmuli, [the head of the organization’s Israel office,] gave me NIS 1.5 million [$400,000], without even asking me, ‘What do you need?’ He just said, ‘Here, take NIS 1.5 million, and get to work,’” Stern recalled. “That gave me air to breathe. If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know where we’d be today.” 

But Stern said that while the current struggles that the municipality is facing are considerable, the “real challenge” will be reconstruction once the war is over.

“There’s a survey that shows that 40% of the residents [of Kiryat Shmona] won’t return,” he said. 

But Stern and the rest of the city leaders can’t even seriously begin to plan for the “day after” the war because they have no idea what it will look like. “If the ‘day after’ is like the current situation, then the main challenge will be in rehabilitating that 40% of the population [that doesn’t return], but if it comes after a terrible war, then it’s possible that we’re facing two to three years of just fixing the physical damage,” he said.

And yet Stern insists that even if the price is a terrible war, it is a price he believes that the country needs to pay in order to bring stability to the region. “Otherwise I am mortgaging my daughters’ future and the future of everyone who lives here,” he said. “Because the day will come when another Oct. 7 happens. It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen.”

Read the full report here.


Atra, Russell Berrie Foundation teach N.J. rabbis entrepreneurial skills to meet a new generation’s demands

Illustrative. Atra fellows brainstorm ideas during a session in 2022.
Illustrative. Atra fellows brainstorm ideas during a session in 2022. Atra/Facebook

When Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg first heard about a regional fellowship geared toward teaching rabbis new methods to better serve their communities, he jumped at a chance to update what he views as “Rabbinate 2.0.” Ruberg, the rabbi for lifelong learning at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., is one of 11 cross-denominational fellows embarking on the Atra Northern New Jersey Rabbinic (re)Design Fellowship, an 18-month program that seeks to enhance Jewish life in the area  by offering rabbis new skills and methods to reach their communities, reports Zach Crizer for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Filling a need: “Right now, the demands on rabbis are more than they’ve ever been,” said Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, Atra’s executive director. Idana Goldberg, CEO of the Russell Berrie Foundation, said her organization’s studies in New Jersey had shown contradictions. Northern New Jersey had one of the most affiliated Jewish populations in the country, yet many people said they were still searching for spiritual meaning. In focus groups with rabbis, the community’s spiritual leaders expressed that they “haven’t necessarily been trained on a lot of the things they’re being asked to do… We heard loud and clear that the rabbis in northern New Jersey did not have a mechanism for connecting with each other on a regular basis,” Goldberg told eJP.

Start-up rabbinate: In the fellowship, Atra will teach the fellows the concept of “minimum viable projects,” which Epstein called “a lean start-up method adapted to a Jewish context and framework.” The lesson from the business world is targeted not at “customers” in this instance, but at building spiritual connection. “We take the theory,” she said, “and we adapt it to actually be applicable to this venture of spiritual connection to God and Torah and the Jewish people.” 

Offering community: Generational differences run through many of the fellowship’s goals. Both Epstein and Goldberg said rabbis have been overwhelmed by increased needs for services and connection since the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel. “Since Oct. 7,” Goldberg said, “there’s been a rise of Jews who have woken up and said, ‘I need a Jewish community but don’t necessarily know what that means.’” Handling that surge of important but stressful interactions is a skill in and of itself. Epstein said the fellowship is also a chance for rabbis to share notes, to feel less alone and more secure in their career choice.

Read the full report here.


Number of Israeli Holocaust survivors relying on welfare grew 7% over past year, ministry finds

Tsili, grandmother of Israeli hostage Omer Wenkert who was abducted by Palestinian militants on October 7 from a music festival in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, poses next to a portrait of her grandson in the city of Gedera in the south of Israel’s central district on October 25, 2023. Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Some 2,500 Holocaust survivors were personally affected by the Oct. 7 terror attacks, and 86 survivors who were forced to flee their homes because of the war have died, according to a new study by Israel’s Welfare Ministry released ahead of next week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, which begins Sunday night, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Growing needs: The number of Holocaust survivors receiving assistance from the Welfare Ministry has risen by 7% in the past year, up to 42% of the 132,826 survivors estimated to be living in Israel today.

More than ever: “This year more than ever we have a responsibility as a ministry and as a society to embrace Holocaust survivors, many of whom experienced the terrible massacre of Oct. 7, bringing up painful memories of the evil Holocaust,” Welfare Minister Yaakov Margi said in a statement. “The Welfare Ministry will continue to work to increase the support and assistance for Holocaust survivors, and to dedicate great efforts to reaching every one of them and help them receive all of their benefits.”


What died at Columbia

An image from the protest encampment at Columbia University in New York City on April 22, 2024. Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images

“Columbia used to be a university. I now see it as the burial ground of many foundational concepts of the contemporary American Jewish experience,” writes Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy

Tip of the iceberg: “Here you go again, I hear you saying, exaggerating, dramatizing, catastrophizing. After all, aren’t we talking about a few hundred students and a few radical professors doing something that most Americans ignore or deride? True, the ‘protests’ aren’t representative of America, and probably not of most Columbia students; but they are what Argentinian psychoanalyst Enrique Pichon-Rivière calls a ‘social emergent.’ …  They may not be numerous, or even representative, but they are showing us the death of many ideas we held dear.” 

False antidote: “Our belief in the education-to-acceptance fallacy is understandable. We want to believe that people are essentially good and that hatred they may harbor is the result of ignorance. We want to believe that education is a silver bullet that will eradicate bigotry. But now antisemitism is coming from the most educated people in America, and maybe the world, so we need to wake up to the idea that education doesn’t prevent hatred. It only gives you a better vocabulary for your arguments defending it.” 

Read the full piece here.


Let’s stop wagging our fingers at each other and start working together

aFotostock/Adobe Stock

“The unprecedented tragedy of Oct. 7 brought the Jewish people together for a split second. All our differences temporarily moved to the back seat, and we had a moment of unity around our shared trauma… [N]ow, nearly six months later, our communities are diverging again,” writes Zack Bodner, president and CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Calif., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy

Troubled history: “From the time of Joseph and his brothers, we’ve fought amongst ourselves. The Sadducees and the Pharisees didn’t agree. The Maccabees and the Hellenist Jews fought. Hillel and Shammai argued. Even during the Shoah — in our darkest hour — some Jews felt it was best to sit on the Jewish councils to save lives and others fought as partisans in the forests, and they loathed each other. During the founding of the State of Israel, members of the Irgun and the Haganah even killed each other. So, on the one hand, it’s no surprise that American Jews are criticizing Israel’s actions again, and vice versa. On the other hand, must we continue the same maddening cycle? When are we going to learn from our past mistakes and change our ways?”

Time for an upgrade: “Zionism 1.0 was the pre-1948 Zionism of Herzl: the demand for our own state to protect ourselves from antisemitism. Zionism 2.0 was about building the state and was infused by Diaspora negation: the notion that all Jews must either make aliyah or give Israel unequivocal — and preferably silent — support. Today, there is a strong, vital Jewish state that is home to more than half the world’s Jews and is contributing to the future of Jewish life in remarkable ways. There is also a vibrant, creative Jewish Diaspora that is contributing to the future of Jewish life in remarkable ways. In this historic moment, we must define a new way to engage with each other that allows us to have a stake and a say in each other’s lives; that allows us to consult with each other and not condescend to each other; that allows us to lift each other up and not put each other down. This is the third way, Zionism 3.0.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Art of the Question: In the Harvard Business Review, Arnaud Chevallier, Frédéric Dalsace and Jean-Louis Barsoux present techniques for asking “smarter” questions to drive strategic decision-making. “The urgency and unpredictability long faced by tech companies have spread to more-mature sectors, elevating inquiry as an essential skill… The big differentiator is no longer access to information but the ability to craft smart prompts. ‘As a leader, you don’t have the answers; your workforce [does], your people [do],’ Jane Fraser, Citi’s CEO, told Fortune magazine. ‘That’s completely changed how you have to lead an organization. You have to unleash the creativity… The innovation isn’t happening because there’s a genius at the top of the company that’s coming up with the answers for everything.’ Indeed, leaders have embraced the importance of listening, curiosity, learning, and humility — qualities critical to skillful interrogation. ‘Question-storming’ — brainstorming for questions rather than answers — is now a creativity technique… We offer a practical framework for the types of questions to ask in strategic decision-making and a tool to help you assess your interrogatory style.” [HarvardBusinessReview]

It’s the Support for Terrorism, Stupid: Washington Post columnist Jason Willick argues against using American civil rights law to combat anti-Zionism on campus through the Antisemitism Awareness Act and instead advocates focusing on the abhorrence of the message. “Is the anti-Zionism espoused by campus activists antisemitic? Israel’s supporters tend to say yes — antipathy toward the existence of the world’s only Jewish state is a form of antipathy toward Jews as such. Israel’s opponents tend to say no — anti-Zionism is motivated by universal values, not prejudice against any group. I’d submit that the better answer is: Who cares?… If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the legislation would imply that the reason the federal government should crack down on anti-Zionist campus advocacy is because it is antisemitic. That misstates the problem in American society that the protests represent… Hamas is a murderous, revolutionary guerrilla movement dedicated to Israel’s destruction. There is, of course, a spectrum of views on Hamas in the ranks of student protesters. But appearing to root for the group’s success is not unlike rooting for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s or the Islamic State in the 2010s. Pervasive campus displays of support for most foreign terrorist groups would probably not violate civil rights laws. But they would be no less alarming for that reason.” [WashPost]

Five Lessons: On his Substack, “Israel from the Inside,” Daniel Gordis translates a widely shared Facebook post by Yotam Berger, a former Haaretz journalist now earning a doctorate in law from Stanford. “As the school year comes to a close, and in light of the wave of anxious questions from around the country in light of the current round of campus madness, I thought I’d share the five most important lessons I learned this past year at Stanford, California. 1. Whether we want it or not, we are always — first and foremost — the Jews… 2. America deserves Donald Trump… Donald Trump is some Americans’ answer to the madness on the other side, a madness I didn’t notice until it turned its face in my direction. A madness no less terrible than Trump’s madness… 3. The progressive movement is not a political ally of liberal Zionists… I saw the American progressive movement as the infantile sister of liberal movements that I respected. I saw it as an ally. That was a mistake… 4. Always go straight. It is not so important what is said or written about you… Since October, I’ve learned that there’s no point in keeping your head down, while there is intrinsic value in the decision to always going straight… 5. The solution to the university crisis cannot come from below, but it can be parachuted from above… If university presidents would stop trembling in their own shadows, they could tell their students that they have a right to express stupid views, but that shouting them out won’t make them any more correct.” [IsraelfromtheInside]

Around the Web

Objections by both Senate Republicans and Democrats appear to have halted plans to fast-track the passage of the Antisemitism Awareness Act (AAA), which passed in the House earlier this week…

Moshe Lencer was hired as the American Jewish Committee’s next director of campus affairs…

The State Department said that Hamas seized a large shipment of Jordanian aid — flour from the World Food Programme — that arrived in the enclave earlier this week…

The Holocaust Museum Houston named Ivan Wolkind its next CEO…

The Wall Street Journal profiles an under-the-radar Supreme Court case filed by Defense Department employee Stuart Harrow over $3,000 in lost wages…

The Bronfman Fellowship, which normally features an extended trip to Israel, will mostly take place in the United States due to the security situation in Israel, with an optional trip to Israel at the end of July…

In the Jewish Review of BooksYehuda Kurtzer reviews the anti-Zionist documentary “Israelism”…

The White House’s antisemitism task force convened in Washington on Wednesday; officials in attendance included Attorney General Merrick Garland, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, the chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council…

Comedian Alex Edelman will receive a special Tony Award for his one-man show, “Just For Us,” about his experience attending a gathering of white supremacists in Queens… 

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman donated $10,000 to sponsor a party for a group of fraternity members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after they held up the American flag at an anti-Israel protest on campus after it had been taken and replaced with a Palestinian flag…

The Wall Street Journal examines efforts by parents of students on campuses with anti-Israel protest movements to push back against those administrations’ responses to the demonstrations, with some criticizing the efforts to forcibly break them up and others complaining of too soft a touch…

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff spoke yesterday with Jewish students at Columbia and Barnard, and with Hillel leaders at Emory University, the University of Texas at Austin and Hillels of Georgia. “No one should be harassed and targeted simply because of who they are. Students want to go to class, and they want to feel safe,” Emhoff wrote in a post on X.

In USA TodayElisha Wiesel considers what his father, Elie Wiesel, would say about anti-Israel campus protests…

Pic of the Day

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Joe Biden addresses the protests related to the Israel-Hamas war roiling college campuses across the country, his first major remarks on the subject.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House yesterday, Biden said, “We’ve all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles. The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

“We’ve often faced moments like this because we are a big, diverse, free-thinking and freedom-loving nation,” the president continued. “Let me be clear: Violent protest is not protected, peaceful protest is… Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people, is not peaceful protest.”

When asked by a reporter if the protests have made him reconsider his administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Biden responded: “No.”



Former professional ice hockey player, now an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, Jeff Halpern‘s birthday is today…

FRIDAY: Writer and founder of the New Americans Museum in San Diego, Deborah Shainman Szekely… Founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, David A. Siegel… Senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University, Ely Karmon, Ph.D…. Television journalist, David Marash… U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)… Venture capitalist and economist, William H. Janeway… Francine Holtzman… U.S. senator (D-OR), his original family name was Weidenreich, Ron Wyden… Six-time Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, Stewart F. Lane… Retired attorney, he represented political parties, campaigns, candidates, governors and members of Congress on election law matters, Benjamin L. Ginsberg… Retired in 2017 as chair and CEO of multinational food and beverage company Mondelez International, Irene Rosenfeld… Retired partner from the Chicago office of DLA Piper, Mark D. Yura… Political reporter and columnist for The Richmond Times-DispatchJeff E. Schapiro… Retired senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Susan Steinmetz… Executive vice president at NBCUniversal News Group, Stephen Labaton… Former owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, Mikhail Prokhorov… Lobbyist since 2010, he was previously deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Bush 43 administration, Scott A. Kamins… Veteran of 13 NHL seasons, who in 2005 sat out a hockey game to observe Yom Kippur, he is now an assistant coach for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeff Halpern… Israeli singer and actress, winner of multiple Israeli Female Singer of the Year awards, Miri Mesika… Reporter for Politico New Jersey and author of New Jersey’s PlaybookMatthew R. Friedman… Educated at the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, he was a defensive lineman in the NFL from 2004 until 2011, Igor Olshansky… Managing director and co-head of executive communications of SKDKnickerbocker, Stephen Andrew Krupin… President of Flaxman Strategies, Seth Flaxman… Israeli minister for women’s advancement, May Golan… Benjamin S. Davis… Director of the Judaism and State Policy Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, Tani Frank… Foreign correspondent for NBC and a former Middle East correspondent for the Daily TelegraphRaf Sanchez

SATURDAY: Former chairman and CEO of American International Group, now chairman and CEO of the Starr Companies, Maurice Raymond “Hank” Greenberg… Executive director of the Texas A&M Hillel for 30 years, now a security consultant for the tourism industry, Peter E. Tarlow… U.S. special envoy for climate change in the Obama administration, now a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Todd D. Stern… Executive director at Har Sinai Oheb Shalom Congregation in Baltimore, Lee Sherman… Partner at NYC-based Mintz & Gold, he was EVP and general counsel for both the Las Vegas Sands and News Corporation, Lawrence “Lon” A. Jacobs… Northern Virginia-based portrait artist, Ilisa G. Calderon… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-VT), Rebecca A. “Becca” Balint… Triathlete and winner of international ironman competitions, Joanna Sue Zeiger… Director of congregational education at NYC’s Park Avenue Synagogue, Bradley Solmsen… State Attorney for Palm Beach County, Fla., Dave Aronberg… Chair and director at NYC’s department of city planning, Daniel Garodnick… Mechal Wakslak… President of national expansion at Veterans Community Project, he served as the secretary of state of Missouri, Jason Kander… Managing director of food programs at NYC’s Met Council on Jewish Poverty, Jessica Chait… Tech entrepreneur, best known as a co-founder of both Vine and HQ Trivia, Rus Yusupov… SVP at BerlinRosen, Allison Fran Bormel… Director of development at Americans for Ben-Gurion University, Rebecca Leibowitz Wasserstrom… Production coordinator and assistant to the executive producer of ABC’s “General Hospital,” Steven A. Rosenberg… Speechwriter and senior advisor to the secretary of state, Shana Mansbach… Manager of public policy and external affairs at Meta/Facebook, Sasha Altschuler… Actor best known for voicing the title character of the animated film “Finding Nemo,” Alexander Gould… Manager of member relations and engagement at British American Business, Elliot Miller… Medalist in the women’s halfpipe event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Arielle Townsend Gold… Consultant at The Boston Consulting Group, Olivia Breuer

SUNDAY: Senior U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Robert W. Gettleman… Journalist, columnist, author, Richard Bernstein… Best-selling author of 20 novels, Linda Fairstein… Retired chief judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, he was once president of the Jewish Community Council of Washington, Peter B. Krauser… Docent at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ruth Klein Schwalbe… Gayle Schochet… Member of the Knesset, almost continuously since 1988, for the Haredi parties of Degel HaTorah and United Torah Judaism, Moshe Gafni… President of American Jewish World Service, Robert Bank… David Shamir… Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three nonfiction books, historian and journalist, Tom Reiss… Senior managing director of Jewish Funders Network, he is a graduate of Yeshiva College and Yale Law School, Yossi Prager… Emmy Award-winning television writer and producer, known for “The Simpsons,” Josh Weinstein… Special education consultant and nanny, Nancy Simcha Cook Kimsey… Owner of D.C.-based PR firm Rosen Communications, Nicole Rosen… Director of public relations at UJA-Federation of New York, Emily Kutner… Executive director of Micah Philanthropies, Deena Fuchs… Head coach of the football team at the University of Washington, Jedd Ari Fisch… President of Charleston, S.C.-based InterTech Group, Jonathan Zucker… News correspondent, Lara Berman Krinsky… Former Israeli national soccer team captain, Yossi Benayoun… Mayor of Bat Yam, Israel, Tzvika Brot… Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2013, Michael H. Schlossberg… Former professional golfer, now an orthopedic surgeon, David Bartos Merkow, MD… Partner at New Enterprise Associates, Andrew Adams Schoen… Maxine Fuchs… Blake E. Goodman…