Your Daily Phil: Ukrainian Jews prepare for Passover + Christian high schoolers in Israel

Good Tuesday morning!

Ed. note: In observance of Passover, the next issue of Your Daily Phil will arrive on Friday, April 14. Chag kasher v’sameach!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we look at how Ukrainian Jews are preparing for Passover and report on a potential U.S. Department of Education rule change that could affect Jewish college students. We also feature op-eds from Andrés Spokoiny and Michael W. Sonnenfeldt. We’ll start with a Christian group offering trips to Israel to high schoolers.

Passages, a Christian group that organizes Birthright-style trips for college students, will expand significantly in the coming years to send thousands of high school students to Israel as well, following a $12 million grant from the Marcus Foundation, the CEO of the organization told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross. These trips come as surveys show potentially flagging support for Israel among young evangelicals Christians in the United States.

Offering these trips to high school students, who are still living at home and going to church with their parents, provides an opportunity to reach teenagers before they have a potential crisis of faith in college, CEO Scott Phillips said. “This can help set them up to be successful, to hopefully not put their faith on the shelf when they go to college,” according to Phillips. It also offers an opportunity to prepare them to interact with Jewish students in college and to be advocates on “college campuses [that] can be hostile to Israel and to the Jewish community,” he said. “A lot of these students have never met someone Jewish their entire life, especially those who are studying in Christian high schools.”

Bernie Marcus, chair of the Marcus Foundation and the co-founder of Home Depot, said that it was critical to focus on younger people, to get to them before they reach college. “It has become abundantly clear that we need to focus our energy on high school students and teens. Getting them ready and connecting them to Israel has never been more important, because we want them to be prepared for what they will face on college campuses,” Marcus said in a statement. “We have invested in RootOne for many years and feel that partnering with Passages for Christian high schoolers is essential.”

Passages will begin its high school trips this summer but it will be in a limited capacity as the organization works out the kinks, Phillips said. It will run trips in the winter, spring and summer, when students are most likely to be on vacation. “This year is just a pilot. We’ll have about 300 students, just to get us launched,” he said. “But then next year, we’ll have a massive scale-up, with 1,500 high school students.”

The $12 million grant from the Marcus Foundation will cover the costs of sending 4,000 students to Israel over the next four years, according to Phillips. “But the plan is to continue beyond four years and, of course, to grow it,” he said.

Read the full story here.

Holiday of freedom

An American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee volunteer gives Passover food to a girl, in an undated photograph. (Courtesy/American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee)

The war in Ukraine is still raging more than a year after Russia invaded the country, but for Ukrainian Jews, the upcoming Passover holiday will be a time for togetherness, with thousands set to gather for large communal Seders, as well as smaller ones in people’s homes, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Salvation and hope: Preparations for Passover this year were easier than last year, when the festival fell a little over a month after the war began and the country was still in a state of major upheaval and uncertainty, according to a number of people involved in the efforts. Now, however, the Jewish community – and the country as a whole – is facing a different challenge: a war with no clear end in sight. “Last year, there were a lot of refugees so that was more the focus. This year is more about salvation and hope. People feel like [the war] is not going to end so they need more spiritual power to keep going,” Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, the executive director of Midreshet Schechter in Israel and the head of Ukraine’s Masorti community, told eJP this week, speaking over the phone from Poland as she made her way by train to Kyiv, where she will remain for the holiday.

Symbol of togetherness: For Inna Vdovichenko, the head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee office in Odesa, the Passover Seder is a “symbol of freedom, a symbol of togetherness,” both of which she said the Ukrainian Jewish community needs now. After more than a year of war, members of the Ukrainian Jewish community are looking forward to an opportunity “to hug each other, to eat food together,” Vdovichenko told eJP. JDC will host more than 200 Seders of varying sizes across the country, some in-person and some online. In total, JDC believes that upwards of 10,000 people will attend its ritual meals. The organization said it will also provide Seder kits so that hundreds of Jews can host meals in their own homes.Feeling liberated: Chabad, a dominant force for religious life in Ukraine, will host 90 community Seders across the country, including in some of the cities and villages seeing fierce fighting. “We will make sure every Jew can feel liberated this Passover, even as the war continues,” Rabbi Avraham Wolff, director of Chabad of Odesa, said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Warning sign

Possible Department of Education rule change could undermine protections for Jewish students, Brandeis Center warns

Duke University (Nan-Cheng Tsai)

A potential rules change at the Department of Education could undermine regulations that have been used to protect Jewish students’ rights on campus, Ken Marcus, the chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, cautioned last week, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.

Free speech?: The Department of Education (ED) recently solicited comments regarding regulations, implemented during the Trump administration, that conditioned grants to higher education institutions on upholding students’ free speech rights. At public schools, these conditions were tied to First Amendment protections, while at private schools they were linked to enforcement of the schools’ own free expression policies. If students could prove in court that their rights had been violated, ED could penalize the schools for noncompliance with the grant conditions.

A powerful tool: Marcus told JI that repealing these protections would remove a tool that has been used to protect Jewish and pro-Israel students. He pointed specifically to the 2021 case of Duke University, where a pro-Israel club was denied recognition based on its views. The Duke student government reversed course in 2022 and voted to recognize the group. “We were able to insist that the university reverse itself because otherwise this would be a free speech violation that could lead to significant liability for the university,” he said. “This gave the Jewish pro-Israel students a much more powerful tool than they otherwise would have had to address the silencing of pro-Israel perspectives.”

Costly recourse: ED’s request for information states that stakeholders had raised concerns that elements of the regulation “unnecessarily go beyond what is required by the courts, encourage campus community members to pursue litigation more frequently and undermine existing campus procedures,” adding additional costs for schools. The document further alleges that the regulations “may incentivize private colleges to limit, eliminate, or reconsider their policies on free speech for fear of losing grant funds.”

Read the full article here and sign up for Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff here.

Passover 5783

Neil Lockhart

“The concept of ‘learned helplessness,’ coined by psychologist Martin Seligman, became the cornerstone of his groundbreaking positive psychology theory that now helps millions overcome depression and anxiety,” writes Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Resigned to their fate: “Seligman observed laboratory animals that were subjected to random, unavoidable, mild electric shocks. Understanding that they would be shocked regardless of their behavior, trapped in an environment they could not escape, these animals cowered in lethargy and apathy. Resigned to their fate, they simply waited for the next blow, convinced that they were helpless to avoid it.”

What tyrants know: “Something similar happened to the Israelites in Egypt. There’s a level of suffering, writes psychiatrist Erich Fromm in The Fear of Freedom, that deprives people of the will to escape it. They become automatons, putting one foot in front of the other, only concerned with avoiding the capricious whip of the foreman. Pharaoh, like all tyrants, knew that.”

Read the full piece here.

Outsized impact

Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

“Making the greatest possible impact towards solving the growing climate crises is the primary factor that governs my philanthropy, investments and political activities,” writes Michael W. Sonnenfeldt, founder and chairman of TIGER 21, a membership network for high-net-worth individuals, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Desertification: “Arid lands have long been home to 20-25% of humanity. These dry areas, constituting 35-40% of the world’s land mass, are likely to be the hardest hit by the process of desertification, which climate change is accelerating, putting the well-being and even survival of more than 2 billion people further at risk. The challenge before us is an imposing one. Yet the country that is arguably in the best position to solve it is roughly the size of New Jersey.”

Philanthropy and ingenuity: “Last year, my wife and I made a long-term commitment to establish Ben-Gurion University’s Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change, the first of its kind in Israel. At the same time, investor and venture capitalist John Doerr donated $1.1 billion to Stanford University to create a school focused on climate change and sustainability. That amount is more than 50 times as large as our commitment, which was made for a similar purpose. Given its size, how can our donation possibly approach the same impact as the one Doerr thankfully made to Stanford? The answer lies in the unparalleled ingenuity of Israel, which will maximize every penny of our philanthropic commitment.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

This Year About Jerusalem?: Israel is sure to be a topic of debate and discussion at Passover Seders this year, reports Leanne Italie in the Associated Press. “This year, when the slavery-to-freedom story unfolds at his table in Highland Park, Ill., the Israel of today will be top of mind after tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul… ‘We’re going to read from the Israeli Declaration of Independence,’ said [Marc Slutsky, president of the independent synagogue Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living], particularly a passage that promises the ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants…’ ‘There are plenty of moments where one can really jump from the traditional liturgy and ask important questions. And that’s really what Passover is supposed to be about,’ [Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University] said. ‘It’s not about debating. It’s about asking and framing the questions. I think productive discussions can really take place.’” [AssociatedPress]

Pittsburgh Strong: Pittsburgh’s Jews are preparing for Passover just before the start of the trial for the 2018 Tree of Life shooting, reports Megan Tomasic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “For many, the holiday is an opportunity to honor those who died while showing that adversity will not stop them from celebrating their religion. ‘We are resilient as Jews,’ Beth Shalom congregant Mindy Shreve said. ‘We’ve always been. I think we don’t like the haters to win and want to continue with our traditions and practices.’ This year’s eight-day holiday ends less than two weeks before the April 24 trial begins for the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history… At Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill, Rabbi Seth Adelson said leaders are discussing how to prepare themselves and their congregants for upcoming trial. But regardless of the trial’s outcome, he said, ‘I can say proudly that we as Jews, we will continue what we’re doing.’” [PittsburghPostGazette]

Around the Web

Malka Leifer, the former principal of a Haredi school in Melbourne, Australia, has been found guilty of sexually abusing two former students after a 15-year campaign for her to face justice… 

The University of Vermont has agreed to implement new anti-discrimination policies after the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation into Jewish students’ complaints of antisemitism on campus…

Jewish colleagues of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested and jailed this week by Russian authorities, have launched a social media campaign tied to the Passover holiday calling for his release, using the hashtags #FreeEvan and #IStandWithEvan and asking Jews to leave a seat empty at their Seder table in his honor…

A Michigan high school has been sued for scheduling graduation on Shavuot

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown, will receive the Ms. Foundation’s Women of Vision Award in May…

Seymour Stein, a co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and one of the most influential music executives of the 20th century, died at 80. Among other big names Stein signed over his career was Madonna

Pic of the Day

Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua via Getty Images

Women prepare matzah in a bakery in Komemiyut village near Kiryat Gat, Israel, last week.


Noam Galai/Getty Images

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