Your Daily Phil: White House antisemitism plan update + Conservative movement to certify mohels

Good Monday morning!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on an initiative by the Conservative movement to train medical professionals to perform brit milah and simchat bat ceremonies, and feature an 0p-ed from Andy Paller and Alena Akselrod. Also in this newsletter: Sam Zell, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs and Jillian Lederman. We’ll start with the White House’s soon-to-be released national antisemitism strategy.

The latest version of the White House’s forthcoming national antisemitism strategy is expected to highlight the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism promoted by mainstream Jewish groups, but also reference the Nexus definition, an alternative promoted by progressives, individuals with knowledge of the strategy told Marc Rod from eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

The development comes amid countervailing pressures on the White House: Mainstream Jewish groups are lobbying the Biden administration to include only the IHRA definition, and some left-wing groups — which argue that the IHRA definition is overbroad in characterizing some critiques of Israel as antisemitic — seek to either exclude IHRA or reference other definitions alongside it.

Officials had also considered not mentioning any of the definitions, sources said. One individual with knowledge of the strategy said that the IHRA definition is “highlighted” in the plan, which also “refers” to the alternative Nexus definition “as a resource” but “doesn’t stress it.” They also noted further changes are still possible.

The Nexus definition’s inclusion in the strategy is likely to be seen as at least a partial victory for progressive Jewish groups that had urged the White House not to endorse the IHRA definition alone. Mainstream Jewish groups and scholars have argued that alternative definitions to IHRA are unacceptable and undermine efforts to combat antisemitism, and that they would undercut the effect of including the IHRA definition. Another alternative definition, the Jerusalem Declaration, which argues explicitly that boycotts of Israel are not inherently antisemitic, is not expected to be included, according to a source with knowledge of the strategy.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a series of tweets that “no other definitions work,” describing them as the product of “a pasted-up process organized by activists.” Kenneth Marcus, the chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, said that including the Nexus definition will make it “that much harder to get widespread Jewish communal support” for the strategy, and will place many Jewish organizations in a bind as to whether and how strongly to support the White House plan.

Read the full story here.

Mohel makers

Rabbi Penina Alexander, left, and her husband Rabbi Aaron Alexander, right, prepare for the brit milah of their son officiated by mohelet April Rubin at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2016. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Rabbinical Assembly and Jewish Theological Seminary are again teaming up to train medical professionals to perform brit milah and simchat bat ceremonies – not how to perform the circumcision for the former, but how to carry out all of the accompanying liturgy and practices in accordance with the Conservative movement’s sensitivities and interpretations of halacha, or Jewish law. “We are training people how to handle ceremonies for same-sex couples, for intermarried couples, how to perform simchat bat ceremonies for boy-girl twins or multiples,” the organizer, Rabbi Ilana Garber, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Certified mohel/mohelet: This year’s training session for the program, which is called Brit Kodesh, meaning holy covenant, is scheduled for November in Los Angeles. Eight people are already signed up, including two from Brazil. For the first time, Brit Kodesh will present graduates with a certificate, attesting to their knowledge of “the halacha and ritual of brit milah,” Garber said. She stressed that this is not “medical certification.” So long as they maintain their “medical license, malpractice insurance, and continued religious practice,” the graduates will also be listed in the Conservative movement’s database of mohalim and mohalot (male and female mohels).

Not for lightweights: The participants must already know how to perform a circumcision. According to Garber, the participants are often urologists, obstetricians or general surgeons who have performed circumcisions before in a medical setting and are looking to be able to perform them in a spiritual, religious setting as well. In order to qualify for the course, which costs $4,800, applicants must be sponsored by a Rabbinical Assembly rabbi and affirm that they follow halacha as it relates to things like Shabbat observance and kashrut. “This is a course of Jewish liturgy, law, ritual, theology and more. This is a sacred calling, a holy task… We take our Conservative/Masorti movement standards seriously… and trust you will as well,” the Rabbinical Assembly wrote in the application.

Read the full article here.

Workplace culture

To build a better workplace, survey your employees about their experiences


“As the largest employer in North America’s Jewish nonprofit sector, the JCC movement employs more than 55,000 professionals — 12,000 full-time, 23,000 part-time and 20,000 seasonal staff — in its more than 170 JCCs (Jewish Community Centers and Jewish community camps),” write Andy Paller, a vice president of JCC Association and director of JCC Excellence: Benchmarking, and Alena Akselrod, senior director of data strategy at Leading Edge, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Importance of workplace culture: “Given the movement’s outsized labor force, workplace culture increasingly is a critically important matter, not only in JCCs, but in organizations throughout the professional world, where culture often is neglected and undervalued.”

Surveys say: “For more than a decade, JCC Association of North America has surveyed JCC professionals as part of its JCC Excellence: Benchmarking surveys. The data collected, in addition to exploring interactions with JCC members, was designed to explore the quality of professionals’ own experiences in the workplace and identify the key drivers of staff satisfaction… Using the survey results, leaders and managers can identify organizational strengths and areas in which workplace culture can be improved.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

The Gulf Connection: Jonathan Ferziger offers a slightly different view of Sam Zell, the Chicago tycoon and philanthropist who died last week at 81, focusing on his ties to the Gulf in an obituary for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication The Circuit. “Zell made his fortune buying and selling distressed properties, delighted at being known as ‘the grave dancer.’ His 2007 acquisition for $8.2 billion of the Tribune Co. collapsed a year later when the media giant that owned the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times filed for bankruptcy. Born to an Orthodox Jewish family that fled Poland months before he was born, Zell was a firm supporter of Israel and also developed a close relationship with the royal family in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In a 2007 profile for The New Yorker, writer Connie Bruck described how Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, now president of the United Arab Emirates and known as MBZ, was intrigued by the Chicago investor’s love of risk.” [TheCircuit]

Let’s Talk About Class: Rabbi Rachel Isaacs describes the eye-opening experience of becoming a rabbi in a small town in Maine and experiencing class differences for the first time in an op-ed for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “In Hebrew, the word for dignity is kavod and it shares the same root with kaved, heavy. Dignity is about how much leverage we have — in creating a world that gives us what we need and brings us into spaces with the promise of fullness, respect and agency. And the inequitable distribution of this kavod is impacting the ability of the American Jewish establishment to sustain functional, holy communities equitably nationwide. For many small-town rabbis like myself who travel back and forth regularly between large cities and our small-town synagogues, the disparity in services, luxuries and opportunities we witness between urban communities and our home shuls is striking and often painful… These heroic small-town lay leaders work the equivalent of unpaid, full-time jobs so that every member of their congregation can have a human hand to hold when life gets real — during times both of transcendent joy and deep distress.” [JTA]

One Day Out of 25,993: In The Washington Post, David Nakamura profiles the Tree of Life Synagogue as the building where the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history is due to be renovated just as the murder trial against the shooter opens. “On a recent chilly morning, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers arrived for a final prayer service at the site in Squirrel Hill, a longtime Jewish enclave. It was time to say goodbye to a house of worship that had stood for 71 years… Renovations are slated to begin soon to transform the boxy, concrete structure into a modern campus with a glass-topped atrium and an 8,000-square-foot museum dedicated to the dangers of antisemitism… At the synagogue ceremony, he sought to lift up the congregants, referring to the seven decades the building had served the community: ‘We cannot, we must not, permit one day out of 25,993 days, to define us, nor outweigh all the good. Not only do these venerated walls hold great stories, but so do all of you assembled here today. And no one can take that away from us.’” [WaPo]

Polishing the Golden City: In J. The Jewish News of Northern California, May Mirsky reports on a new initiative by two local Jewish men to beautify and improve the struggling city of San Francisco. “San Francisco hasn’t gotten the best press recently. From department stores fleeing downtown to a wave of shoplifting, much of the news has been bleak. But two Jews with their hearts firmly in San Francisco want to make the city a more joyful, positive place — and they’ve raised $2 million to make it happen… Their joint endeavor consists of five programs that will kick off this summer — City Civic Corps, Clean Up the City, Adopt-A-Block, Summer of Music and Paint the City. All of them are designed to improve city life in specific ways… ‘This is about everyday San Franciscans doing their part, and we’re not waiting around any longer. We’re going to do this as citizens.’” [J.]

Around the Web

Emirati businessman Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair called on fellow Arab philanthropists to focus more on impact investment and less on charitable giving in an interview with the UAE’s The National newspaper…

A hacking campaign is using ransomware to demand its victims donate to certain charities. The hacking group targets users of the Zimbra online collaboration tool

Rabbi Daniel S. Horwitz has been named CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville, effective Aug. 1. Horowitz currently serves as a rabbi at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Mich.…

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Alan DershowitzdefendedElon Musk from accusations of antisemitism over the tech billionaire’s tweet comparing George Soros to a comic book supervillain…

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans told the Axios news site that its Hebrew schools have grown in recent years, bucking the national trend of decreased enrollment…

Adam Hirsh was named the new managing director of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, following a nine-year stint as the assistant director of HillelatKent State University

David A. Sherman has been elected board chair of the Israel Policy Forum. Sherman is chair of Benj. E. Sherman & Sons, Inc., a Chicago-based real estate firm. He succeeds Susie Gelman as board chair…

A $3 million gift to Yeshiva University will establish the Lea and Leon Eisenberg Writing Center at Stern College for Women. The gift, in memory of the Eisenbergs, was made by their children…

Hillel International selected Jillian Lederman, a rising senior at Brown University, to serve as the chair of its Israel Leadership Network beginning this July…

Giving Compass, an online giving platform, announced the appointment of Dale Nirvani Pfeifer as chief executive officer. Pfeifer is the founder and former CEO of Goodworld

Sue Cross will step down as executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News before the end of the year. Cross has led the journalism group since 2015…

The Toronto Police Service found that Jews were the group most targeted in hate crimes in 2022, representing more than a quarter – 26% – of all hate crimes last year…

Pic of the Day

Shaare Zedek Medical Center

Staff from Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center put a roughly 3,000-year-old sarcophagus from the Israel Museum into one of the hospital’s CT machines as part of a study by the museum’s Egyptian Archaeology Department. “The test allowed us to better understand the actions of the artists who created the sarcophagi, and in this way, it made a significant contribution to the study that we are performing,” Nir Or Lev, curator of Egyptian Archaeology at the museum, said in a statement. “By scanning it, we found gaps in the wood that were filled with plaster as part of the preparation process before the sarcophagus was decorated, as well as parts that were sculpted entirely out of plaster, which hadn’t been carved directly from wood.”


Bill Swersey

Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Dianne F. Lob

Senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, Irwin M. Stelzer… Retired U.S. district court judge from Massachusetts, now a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, Nancy Gertner… Award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker since 1989, Connie Bruck… Former Skadden partner and then vice-chair at Citibank, J. Michael Schell… Cognitive scientist and CEO emeritus of Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Philip E. Rubin… Director emeritus of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, Ambassador Bradley GordonGloria Woodlock… Charles Scott… Former member of Knesset from the Zionist Union party, he was previously a major general in the IDF, Eyal Ben-Reuven… Former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona’s 1st district, now a business and transactional attorney in Phoenix, Sam Coppersmith… Senior consultant as to philanthropy and impact at private equity firm Cresset Capital, Sandy Cardin… U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)… General partner of Google Ventures where he co-leads the life science investment team, David Schenkein… Former head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, he was the winning coach of the EuroLeague Championship in 2014 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, David Blatt… British writer, philanthropist and documentary filmmaker, Hannah Mary Rothschild… Partner at Sidley & Austin, he clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist in the 1996 term, David H. Hoffman… Former MLB relief pitcher, Alan Brian “Al” Levine… Author and Harvard Law School professor, Noah Feldman… Israeli cookbook author and TV cookery show host, Shaily Lipa.. Israel’s former minister of communications, Yoaz Hendel… Author, actress, producer, she served until two months ago as Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel, Noa Tishby… Executive director of American Compass, Oren Cass… Co-founder of Facebook, Dustin Aaron Moskovitz… Retired slot receiver and kick returner for the NFL’s New England Patriots, member of three Super Bowl winning teams, Julian Edelman… Co-founder and former CEO of the dating app Tinder, Sean Rad… Senior national security and White House correspondent for McClatchy, Michael Wilner… Maryland Democratic Party elected official and incoming Harvard Law student, Alex Friedman… Law clerk at NYC’s Kaplan Hecker & Fink, Peter Walker Kaplan… Emma Kaplan… Aryeh Jacobson… Rebecca Weiss… Benjamin Weiss…