Your Daily Phil: Visa waivers are a boon to Israel-Diaspora ties, groups say

Good Friday morning!

Ed. note: In celebration of Simchat Torah (and observance of Columbus Day), the next Your Daily Phil will arrive on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on the Reform and Conservative movements highlighting their egalitarianism as Israelis grapple with gender segregation in public spaces, and feature an opinion piece from Rabbi Leon A. Morris. Also in this newsletter: Narges Mohammadi, Fran Drescher and Alfred Moses.We’ll start with how Israel’s entry to the Visa Waiver Program will facilitate “peoplehood” programs.

For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent Jewish Insider, eJewishPhilanthropy and The Circuit stories, including: BDS resolutions on college campuses have almost disappeared. What comes next?; MBS’ open talk signals advance toward peace with Israel; From New York to Ramle – modern art in an ancient setting puts Israeli city on the map; Two Jewish Dems seek to capitalize on Georgia’s leftward tilt in 2024. Print the latest edition here.

Israel’s entry into the United States’ Visa Waiver Program removes a significant barrier for Jewish groups involved in programs that bring Israelis to the U.S., allowing for cheaper, easier and greater exchanges, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Last week, the U.S. government announced that Israel had fulfilled the requirements necessary to enter the program, which allows for visa-free travel to the U.S. by Israeli citizens, beginning Nov. 30. Until now, Israelis have had to pay nearly $200 for a visa and endure a time-consuming application process, provided they were able to get appointments to do so — no small feat in the post-pandemic era.

Shlomit Mali, the CEO of AMI – the National Alliance Strengthening Israelis’ Connection to World Jewry, said her organization, which regularly sends delegations of Israelis to the U.S. to learn about the Jewish community, only invited Israelis who already had a visa to travel to the U.S. to participate in its programs in order to avoid the frustration.

“Having a visa was a condition to participate,” said Mali, whose organization is jointly funded by the Israeli government and private philanthropy, primarily the Maimonides Fund and the William Davidson Foundation. “But now that it’s no longer a condition, it will make things much easier,” she said.

Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, told eJP that “more and more camps have been interested in having Israeli campers in addition to the shlichim.”

At the same time, Fingerman said that, for the most part, while the visa issue is a nuisance, it is not the primary obstacle preventing more Israeli teens from attending American summer camps. “The biggest hurdle is the cost of the flight,” Fingerman said. “There are some camps that have subsidies, but a higher-income Israeli is the only one that’s going to be able to come.”

Read the full report here.


Men and women dance together during a Simchat Torah celebration at the Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv on Simchat Torah in 2018. (Courtesy/Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism)

Over the past two weeks, Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square has become a battleground in a long-running fight in Israel over the role of religion — specifically gender-segregated prayer — in the public sphere. For the Reform and Masorti/Conservative movements, however, these controversies have served as a way to set themselves apart and to offer Israeli Jews an alternative, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Growing interest: “Our motto in Hebrew is ‘Judaism without mechitzot,’” Anna Kislanski, CEO of the Israel Reform Movement, told eJP. “It’s our identity.” As these fights have played out, Kislanski said the Reform movement has seen a significant rise in interest and engagement. This year, 16 cities and towns have contacted Reform movement communities, asking them to organize public celebrations for the night after Simchat Torah, referred to as Hakafot Shniyot, meaning second processions, which feature music and dancing. In comparison, she said, “last year there were eight.”

Read the full report here.


Torah to American Jewish funders: Show me that you love me

Students engaged in a Torah learning session at Chabad of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. (Chabad of Brandeis/Facebook)

“An anthropologist observing the ways we celebrate Simchat Torah might suggest that this celebration tells a great deal about the Jewish people. Joining hands, singing and dancing around Torah scrolls signify the centrality of Torah in our lives and the way it continues to be a primary source of joy,” writes Rabbi Leon A. Morris, president of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Tough love: “In an honest appraisal of American Jewish non-Orthodox life, I could imagine the Torah screaming out to us: Don’t just tell me that you love me. Show me. … With notable exceptions, too often the Torah of the Jewish social justice space consists of cherry-picked verses that serve as a Jewish veneer to activism that is largely unengaged with Jewish knowledge. … The classic Jewish value — in fact, the mitzvah — of talmud Torah, the study of Torah, still remains an elusive concept in American Jewish life.”

Time for a reckoning: “There is no cultural life that is grounded in ignorance or illiteracy. The future of American Jewish life demands we invest in institutions and initiatives that allow the Torah to belong to all of us.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

The Future is Now: In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Packard Foundation’s Kelly Born offers 10 ways funders can help the existing field of nonprofits working on responsible technology and policy related to generative AI.“[B]ecause OpenAI’s release of GPT4 caught the world by surprise, fewer funders have had time to think through how to address the immediate, non-existential risks — and astounding opportunities — posed by generative AI, or how to help groups currently working on public interest technology, cyber policy, or responsible technology build out their capacity to better address the moment. … Most obviously, funders working in specific issue areas — climate, health, education, or in my case, democracy — can work to support efforts downstream to prepare government and civil society in their respective sectors to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the risks of AI on their specific areas of concern.” [StandfordSocialInnovationReview]

Just Roll With It: In eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider, Tori Bergel explores the rise of high-end kosher sushi restaurants in recent years. “Once introduced in the late ’90s, sushi fever spread rapidly throughout the Jewish community, turning fast-casual kosher eateries into catch-all pizzerias serving spicy tuna and California rolls alongside pasta entrées and bagel sandwiches. ‘Within a few years you started seeing sushi everywhere, in every restaurant,’ Dani Klein, who runs the ‘YeahThatsKosher’blog, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview. ‘You would see sushi at every Jewish affair, be it a bar mitzvah, a wedding and even like a regular Shabbat kiddush.’ Recently, another shift has taken place. Instead of maki rolls and sashimi platters perfect for working customers during their lunch break or families enjoying a night out, kosher restaurateurs are turning their focus toward fine dining and premium-quality Omakase experiences that rival their non-kosher competitors.” [JewishInsider]

Make It Free: In Jewish Journal, Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Steven Wernick present their solution to dropping synagogue enrollment: free membership (they argue it pays for itself) and rigorous engagement with young families. “By most measures, Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Canada, is a thriving synagogue, one of the largest in the Conservative Movement. And yet, of the 1,740 households at the beginning of 2022, only 26% of members (404) were under the age of 40. The leadership of the synagogue understood something had to be done to avoid ‘ageing’ out… The new initiative called ‘Generations Membership,’ combined the offer of complimentary dues with a significant investment in building relationships both among the young adult cohort and with the synagogue itself. The first year (2022-23) results were nothing short of phenomenal. The congregation welcomed 550 new households with adults under the age of 40.” [JewishJournal]

Around the Web

Imprisoned Iranian women’s rights activist Narges Mohammadi was awarded the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize

Variety magazine will host a summit on antisemitism in Hollywood on Oct. 18. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and other Jewish figures in the entertainment industry will speak at the event…

The Codex Sassoon, the oldest, most complete copy of the Bible, returned to Israel yesterday, where it will be permanently displayed at ANU: Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv beginning next week. The volume was purchased for the institution earlier this year by Alfred Moses

The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, N.J., is celebrating its centennial…

Avodah relaunched its Jewish Justice Fellowship in New York City after shutting down the program during the COVID-19 pandemic…

“Violins of Hope,” an exhibit of string instruments that mostly belonged to Jews before and during World War II, will open in Pittsburgh tomorrow to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting on Oct. 27…

The Forward profiled Rabbi Shua Brick, who is believed to be the first gay rabbi to serve as clergy of an Orthodox synagogue in the U.S….

Marjorie Ziff, a British philanthropist who donated heavily to the Leeds Jewish community, died earlier this year at 93…

Pic of the Day

Some 3,000 people attend a Sukkot party last night hosted by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement outside the New York Public Library. The organizers said it was the largest gathering of young Jewish professionals in New York City’s history.
Haley Cohen/eJewishPhilanthropy

Some 3,000 people attend a Sukkot party last night hosted by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement outside the New York Public Library. The organizers said it was the largest gathering of young Jewish professionals in New York City’s history.


Screenshot/CUNY TV

CEO of Community Security Service, Evan R. Bernstein, and SVP of community strategy and external relations at UJA-Federation of New York, Hindy Poupko, who are both celebrating their birthdays today…

FRIDAY: Owner of Lancaster, Pa.-based industrial supplier Samuel Miller & Son, Rosanne Selfon… Former Chairman and CEO of CBS, he is a great-nephew of David Ben-Gurion, Leslie Moonves… Awarded a Ph.D. at UCSD in space science, consultant to NASA and author of many science fiction novels, David Brin… Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Uzi Vogelman… Former CEO at Hillels of Georgia, serving 24 campuses throughout the state, Elliot B. Karp… Bexley, Ohio-based real estate agent, Jan Kanas… Correspondent on the networks of NBC and author of best-selling books on Presidents Obama, FDR and Jimmy Carter, Jonathan Alter… Spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid in the Las Vegas suburbs since 1988, Rabbi Sanford Akselrad… Former member of the New Jersey General Assembly, he is now the managing director of Quest Associates, Joel M. Weingarten… Mayor of Jerusalem since 2018, Moshe Lion… Founder and CEO of Coalition Strategy Group, Jeffrey Mendelsohn… Attorney in Lakewood, NJ, Samuel Zev Brown… Member of the New York City Council representing Yorkville, Lenox Hill and Roosevelt Island, Julie Menin… Member of the Florida Senate until 2020, now an insurance agent in Boca Raton, Kevin J.G. Rader… Candidate for Governor of Arizona in 2022, he was a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Aaron Lieberman… Director of sales at Convergence Workforce, Sean “Shmop” Weisbord… Actor and comedian, Brett Gelman… Senior advisor for Israel Strategies at the William Davidson Foundation, Deena Eisenberg Pulitzer… Actress best known for her role in “Dredd” and more recently in “Oppenheimer,” Olivia Thirlby… Legislative director for the governor of Nevada, Madeline S. Burak

SATURDAY: Retired chairman and CEO of Halco Lighting Technologies, Allan Nelkin… Highland Park, Ill., resident, Margery Nyberg… Senior advisor to the chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation, Jill Smith… Deputy director of community security at the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, Ron Vosatka… Founder and chair of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Kenneth L. Marcus… President of Detroit’s Imperial Management and a board member of the William Davidson Foundation, Eli Saulson… Creator, host and producer of Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel, Gabriele Corcos… Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner… Political fundraiser and strategist, Arie Lipnick… Member of the Knesset for the Shas party since 2016, now serving as the minister of religious services, Michael Malchieli… Director of the leadership institute at AIPAC, Natalie Lascar Lefkowitz… Executive director at the Israel Action Network and AVP for public affairs at The Jewish Federations of North America, Adam Teitelbaum… CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based MW Impressions, Daniel Mael… Executive assistant at WPP, Tayla Harris… An original Politico staffer, now a senior editor for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Magazine, Barbara E. Martinez… Senior associate on the real estate team at Korn Ferry, Samuel Schear… Co-founder and chief growth officer at Riseup Israel, Tamara Harel-Cohen

SUNDAY: Leah Koenig… Founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, author and philanthropist, Isadore “Issy” Sharp… General surgeon in Tempe, Ariz., Agustin Estrada, MD… Columnist and businesswoman, Rona Barrett… Author of more than 330 horror fiction novels that have sold over 400 million copies, R.L. Stine… Attorney General of Maryland until earlier this year, Brian E. Frosh… Academy Award-winning film producer and director, Edward Zwick… CEO of Heart of a Nation, Jonathan Kessler… Movie and theater director, writer and filmmaker, Shira Piven… One of two Jewish Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, he represents Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District, David Kustoff… Scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation of New York, Rabbi Menachem Creditor… Entertainment reporter and sports commentator, Ben Lyons… Magazine editor Ilana Michelle Blitzer Snider… Freelance communications specialist, Aliyana Traison… Founder of Knock Knock, Give a Sock, Adina Lichtman