Your Daily Phil: This year’s Charles Bronfman Prize winner + A new newsletter tracking antisemitism

Good Wednesday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we report on a new newsletter on antisemitism, and feature an op-ed by JCC Global’s Smadar Bar-Akiva on the former Yugoslavia’s Jewish community. Also in this newsletter: MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos and Amichai Chikli. We’ll start with the recipient of this year’s Charles Bronfman Prize, Yotam Polizer.

Recalling his role as part of the team that rescued a Nepali woman who had survived for five days under the rubble of the 2015 earthquake northwest of Kathmandu, Yotam Polizer credited his extensive prior work in the mountainous country — but also connected the operation’s success to an experience he had far closer to home.

At the time, Polizer had been working for IsraAid, the nonprofit Israeli refugee aid organization, for four years; prior to that, he worked for three years in Nepal for Tevel b’Tzedek, an organization that brings Jews to do development work in the country. When he returned in 2015 he came with deep familiarity, and a knowledge of the language.

He also brought with him a lesson he had learned earlier in life, as an Israel Defense Forces soldier with an atypical job: teaching youth leadership in a Bedouin community in Israel’s Negev Desert. Although at the time he was based in his home country, serving in its army, the experience taught him the importance of educating oneself about a place’s people and culture before jumping in to help.

“I had to build trust with the local community, and I think that’s something that we really do apply a lot in IsraAid,” Polizer, IsraAid’s CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “Yes, we’re coming as outsiders. Yes. we’re coming to help… But the key is to come with a lot of humility — and not just by saying it but actually practicing humility in the sense that [you’re] showing real interest in culture and in local people’s lives.”

Polizer was IsraAid’s second employee, after founder Shachar Zahavi. Now, the organization has a budget of approximately $20 million and 320 employees spread across 14 countries. And this year, Polizer, 39, is being honored for his and the group’s work with the Charles Bronfman Prize — a $100,000 award launched in 2004 and given to a humanitarian activist younger than 50.

“Yotam was chosen because IsraAid is not a government operation, it’s an entrepreneurial philanthropy,” said Charles Bronfman, in whose name the prize was founded by his children and their spouses. In the time since Polizer was hired, Bronfman added, “it’s made huge strides, increased its budget God knows how many times, and has done God’s work… He’s spearheaded an organization that now is usually the first in a country or an area, like Ukraine, that’s in humanitarian trouble.”

Read the full story here.

you’ve got mail

A word cloud found in the newsletter's first edition.
A word cloud found in the newsletter’s first edition.

In the lead item of a new newsletter about antisemitism on social media is a screenshot of a tweet that reads, “Anthony Fauci is 84. Klaus Schwab is 84. George Soros is 94. Nancy Pelosi is 82. [Mitch] McConnell is 80. Joe Biden is 80. Imagine how much better off we’d be if they were all in nursing homes.” At first glance, there’s little if anything about the tweet that’s explicitly antisemitic. But a paragraph in the newsletter suggests that the tweet, which has been viewed 3.4 million times, advances the idea that the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “is controlled by a secretive cabal of Jewish bankers and politicians who use the organization to further their own interests,” reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

New project: Presenting and explaining those tweets, and how they and other trending topics might further antisemitic sentiment online, is the raison d’etre of the weekly newsletter, called “From the Command Center,” and published by the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism (FCAS), an organization founded in 2019 by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The foundation, which did not disclose its annual budget, has a total staff of eight and is supported by an endowment of $50 million.

Target audience: The newsletter’s first edition was sent on Friday to a list of 900 readers, largely professionals and lay leaders in the Jewish community — a group the foundation’s executive director, Matthew Berger, sees as the newsletter’s target audience. ”We want to draw attention to conversations that are happening that include antisemitic tropes and antisemitic commentary, that might not be entirely obvious just from scrolling Twitter or reading Instagram,” Berger told eJP.

Crowded space: In tracking online antisemitism, FCAS is entering an increasingly crowded space. The Anti-Defamation League has long tracked offline antisemitic incidents and regularly releases reports regarding hate on social platforms. The Network Contagion Research Institute tracks and forecasts the direction of hate and disinformation online, recently publishing research showing that spikes in physical attacks on Jews and LGBTQ people correlate with increases in hate speech on Twitter.

Sourcing the trends: Berger — who previously ran Hillel International’s anti-bigotry and security efforts — said that a team of four people on FCAS’ staff comes up with queries and keywords to monitor. Berger declined to share the list of keywords itself but told eJP that it includes the word “antisemitism” in addition to slurs, common derogatory terms and terms related to the Holocaust, conspiracy theories, campus or Israel. It also includes what he called “positive cultural mentions of Judaism.” They also take cues from both antisemitic and anti-Israel online personalities, as well as Jewish and pro-Israel users with large followings who call out antisemitism and anti-Zionism publicly.

Read the full story here.

starting over

‘One candle lighting another’— building capacity for the Jewish communities of former Yugoslavia

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks during annual Jerusalem Post conference at Gotham Hall.

“Imagine waking up one morning to realize that a civil war is tearing apart your county and your closest relatives and best friends who live in nearby cities and towns are now considered enemies. This is what happened in 1991 to those living in what was once called Yugoslavia. The deadly ‘Yugoslav Wars’ that ensued were marked by war crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and mass wartime rape. Until the current war in Ukraine, the armed conflict was often described as Europe’s deadliest since World War II. The conflicts lasted until 2001 and ripped Yugoslavia into six separate countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia (plus Kosovo, whose status is still disputed),” Smadar Bar-Akiva, executive director of JCC Global, writes in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Trauma after trauma: “For the Jewish community, this traumatic civil war came several decades after 80% of the Jewish population (72,000 at its peak) was murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Half of the survivors (about 15,000 in total) made aliyah to Israel and the rest (about 7,000) stayed put. They were, correctly, considered the ‘true Yugoslavs’ since they did not see themselves as Serbs, Croats or any other ethnic group. Although small, they continued the rich traditions of mostly Sephardi and some Ashkenazi Jews dating back to Roman times, with the majority arriving following the Spanish Inquisition.”

Building and connecting a network: “Therefore, when Davor Salom, a prominent longtime Jewish leader from Belgrade, approached JCC Global asking to help reignite the network of Jewish communities in former Yugoslavia, we were quick to respond. Salom worried that the pandemic loosened the already fragile connections among these communities and that there has been a considerable gap of training future senior leaders in each community. He felt that since JCC Global specializes in network building and leadership training and is an external organization not involved in local politics, it was ideal to lead such an effort.”

Read the full opinion piece here.

Worthy Reads

Scott Allots: When nonprofits receive large, unrestricted grants — for instance, those distributed by MacKenzie Scott — “the effects have been dramatically and profoundly positive,” Kathleen Fleming, Anthony Michael Abril, and Jeff Bradach write for the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The authors shared the results of their interviews with several grant recipients who received similar funding five years ago. “By and large, the challenges donors often hypothesize that large, unrestricted grants will create — such as leadership team overload, internal culture tensions, strain in relationships with peer organizations, and hampered ability to fundraise — did not materialize. Instead, we heard that the funds created space for leaders to lead, built morale within the organization, allowed for re-granting or other forms of collaboration across the broader field, and served as a ‘vote of confidence’ in conversations with other donors… Roughly half of the interviewed grantees used existing multiyear strategic plans or capital campaigns to guide their allocation decisions. Others (particularly those for whom large philanthropy was less common) spent significant time during the grant’s first year establishing decision roles for the funds, updating impact goals and strategic priorities, and identifying any under-resourced aspects of the organization that required investment to set them up for success.” [CEP]

Bezos’ Branding: 
With Amazon drawing attention for layoffs, the end of the company’s Smile charity program and its treatment of employees, Whizy Kim writes in Vox about Jeff Bezos’ reputation as a philanthropist. “His money goes to good causes more often than not, but how does the impact of Bezos’s philanthropy weigh against the record of the company where he continues to make his wealth? It’s a question that’s become more urgent for modern-day philanthropists. Once upon a time, it was more common for the wealthy to wait until the twilight of their lives to bestow their fortunes (and names) to universities, museums, and other cultural institutions… Today, there’s more public pressure against the waiting approach…There are also a lot more billionaires today (north of 2,600 by Forbes’s count) than there were during the Gilded Age. ‘The problem of publicity is increasingly more prominent in the time when you have engaged living donors, especially if they are making the money at the same time they’re giving it away,’ Soskis said. It makes the relationship between who they are as philanthropists and who they are as business magnates more visible.” [Vox]

Around the Web

Speaking yesterday at the Jerusalem Post’s Democracy 2023 conference, Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli proposed the creation of a fund, supported by the Israeli government and Jewish philanthropists, to subsidize Jewish day school tuition. Chikli also hinted at that idea last week while speaking at the Israeli-American Council’s national conference…

Ariella Saperstein was named director of viewpoint diversity initiatives at the Maimonides Fund. She has been with the organization for five years, having served as senior program officer and associate publisher of Sapir: Ideas for a Thriving Jewish Future. Last year, Rabbi David Wolpe was named senior advisor to the viewpoint diversity portfolio…

Sheryl Goldfarb was named director of admissions and administration at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. She previously served the NYU Silver School of Social Work for more than 19 years in various enrollment services and admissions roles…

Ottawa restaurateur and community leader Moishe Smith died at 72. He was the youngest-ever president of B’nai B’rith Canada and the first non-U.S. citizen to be elected president of B’nai B’rith…

Pic of the Day

A “tzedek box” created by artist Susan Dessel, part of “Tzedek Boxes: Justice Shall You Pursue,” a new show opening this week at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Heller Museum in Manhattan. The show, according to the museum, asked artists to “??conceive of a receptacle in which to place reflections about one’s acts of hesed on behalf of those in need.” Another show also opening at the museum, “One Nation,” features 48 contemporary artists reflecting on the current state of the U.S.


NEW YORK, NY – MAY 20: Jim Axelrod speaks onstage during The 76th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony at Cipriani, Wall Street on May 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Peabody)

Chief investigative reporter and senior national correspondent for CBS News, Jim Axelrod… 

Israeli activist and author, whose fiction and non-fiction books have been translated into more than 30 languages, David Grossman… Editor-in-chief of The National MemoJoe Conason (family name was Cohen)… Dean of the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Naamah Kelman-Ezrachi… SVP and senior portfolio manager in the Los Angeles office of Morgan Stanley, Robert N. Newman… Stage, film, and television actress and television director, Dinah Beth Manoff… Los Angeles resident, Helene S. Ross… Agent at Creative Artists Agency, Michael Glantz… Former member of Knesset for Yesh Atid, he also served as minister of education, Shai Moshe Piron… Founding partner of merchant bank Finback Investment Partners, John Leachman Oliver III… Member of the Canadian Parliament from Montreal since 2015, he won 12 medals in swimming at the 2013 and 2017 Maccabiah Games, Anthony Housefather… Author of multiple novels, she is a writer-in-residence in Jewish Studies at Stanford University, Maya Arad… Toronto-born movie and television actress, she had a recurring guest role on the Fox TV series “24,” Mia Kirshner… National political reporter at The Washington Post covering campaigns, Congress and the White House, Michael Scherer… Director of finance and operations at JQY, David Newman… President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky… Benjamin L. Newton… VP of executive communications for the National Association of Manufacturers, Mark Isaacson… Member of the Arizona House of Representatives until earlier this month, Daniel Hernández Jr.… Actress, writer and director, Pauline Hope Chalamet… Senior policy analyst at JINSA, Ari Cicurel