Your Daily Phil: White House antisemitism summit + A growing seminary in Chicago

Good Thursday morning!

In today’s Your Daily Phil, we report on a small but growing rabbinical school in the Chicago area, and feature an op-ed by Rabbi Bec Richman on the power of asking “why.” Also in this newsletter: Ronald Lauder, Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh and Lizzo. We’ll start with a recap of yesterday’s summit on antisemitism convened by the White House.

Senior Biden administration officials — including Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff — spoke forcefully and at times emotionally as they convened Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C., yesterday to discuss how to tackle rising antisemitism.

“There is an epidemic of hate facing our country,” said Emhoff, who is Jewish and who chaired the meeting, held next to the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “We’re seeing a rapid rise in antisemitic rhetoric and acts…. What’s happening now — it’s visceral, it’s real. And that’s why this is so personal to me.”

“In a way, it felt very healing for me,” Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “To hear from so many senior officials from this administration that they see us, that they’ve experienced this, that they care and that they’re all-in moving forward, it gave me a lot of hope.”

The meeting lasted 90 minutes — 30 minutes more than the scheduled time — and was largely closed to press. But attendees from a few of the 14 Jewish organizations represented said that it covered a range of topics, from securing synagogues to antisemitism on campus to attacks on Orthodox Jews. Attendees stressed the need for an overarching government plan to combat antisemitism.

“I believe that there is a recognition by the administration of the need for there to be a top-down, comprehensive approach for the federal government to respond to antisemitism,” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told eJP. “How that manifests itself I think is still in play, but it’s something that we in the Jewish community will continue to engage the Biden administration on.”

Daroff added that he wants to see the administration continue to integrate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, working definition of antisemitism in its efforts on this front. He also said government trainings on diversity, equity and inclusion should include a discussion of antisemitism.

The other groups that attended the meeting included the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish on Campus, Hillel International, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Orthodox Union, American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), the Secure Community Network, Agudath Israel of America and Integrity First for America.

“When you have diverse people you get different perspectives,” Katz said. “We had people who were Orthodox and people who were Reform, and we had women and men and people who were younger and people who were older. It was a decent cross section.”

sharing space

The beit midrash, or house of study, at SketchPad, Hebrew Seminary's new home.
The beit midrash, or house of study, at SketchPad, Hebrew Seminary’s new home.

At a time when large rabbinical schools in the United States are seeing declining enrollment and closing down properties, one small school in the Chicago area is bucking the trend, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Moving up: Hebrew Seminary — a pluralist, egalitarian rabbinical school whose classes are fully accessible to Deaf as well as hearing students — is growing. Founded in 1992, the school has a $270,000 budget and has ordained only 15 rabbis during its first three decades. But it now has nine students across its five-year program and is moving into a larger space. A chunk of its students and alumni are deaf; all students must master American Sign Language as part of their coursework.

New home: 
The seminary’s new home will be SketchPad, a coworking space for small Jewish organizations on Chicago’s North Side. Rabbi Jonah Rank, Hebrew Seminary’s new rosh yeshiva, or head, said that the school aims to be inclusive of groups beyond the Deaf community. SketchPad was founded in 2017, and most of its member organizations are local offices of national initiatives, like the learning organization Limmud, the LGBTQ group Keshet, the service organization Repair the World and more.

Minyan meeting room: Beyond its community of organizations, SketchPad offers Jewishly themed office perks. Membership includes use of a meeting room that doubles as a beit midrash, or house of Jewish study. Offices and conference rooms bear names like “Tachlis” (roughly translated as “bottom line,” for three people to work at a table) and “Minyan” (a conference room fit for a 10-person quorum).

Read the full story here.

asking why

Creativity as a window into all that can be

Getty Images

“Recently, my 3-year-old began the splendid quest to understand the world around him, with the word ‘why’ now the most commonly spoken word and question in our house. I will admit, it can be exhausting, the seemingly endless echo of this one-word question. There are times when I feel like I’ve run out of answers, that I don’t know enough and that I don’t have the energy to dig into the questions with him. But ultimately, I continue to find myself in awe and inspired at Netta’s shameless and persistent curiosity; at his humble admission that he does not know and at his yearning to be filled with new knowing,” Rabbi Bec Richman writes in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Surprise, it’s God: “In one of the infamous dreams in Torah, Jacob sees a stairway extending from the ground to the sky, with angels of God going up and down the ladder. The dream includes a promising dialogue with God, and when Jacob wakes up, he exclaims: achen yeish hashem ba’makom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati — ‘Surely, there is God in this place, and I did not know it’ (Genesis 28:16). Perhaps just as profound as the presence of God in Jacob’s dream and in the place where he rested were the words of humility that he spoke: lo yadati, ‘I did not know.’ As Aviva Zornberg writes in her 2011 book The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, ‘the revelation is the not-knowing.'”

What else could this be?: “When Netta asks me why something is the way it is, he helps me pause and ask the very same question: Why is something one way and not another? Sometimes, the question is relatively simple: Why can’t we stand on the dining room chair? Because we don’t want to fall and get hurt. Other times, the questions are much harder: Why are people fighting? Why are people leaving their homes and traveling somewhere else? When he asks me this kind of question, I really have to slow down. Why is the world aching as it is? What is all the fighting about, at its core? When Netta asks ‘why,’ he is asking a fundamentally Jewish question: What else could this be?”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

People Are ‘More than Atoms’: Sam Bankman-Fried’s downfall as head of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX is an opportunity to critically assess the merits of effective altruism, writes Rebecca Richards in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Effective altruism appeals to the desire for measurable impact and confidence that each individual gift is doing as much good as possible. Its adherents, including many young, tech-savvy professionals like Bankman-Fried, claim the best way to have confidence in a gift is by giving only to organizations that save lives and alleviate physical suffering — and only to those that achieve these goals most cost-effectively. Here’s the problem: Giving that addresses only physical or material needs ignores the reality that people are more than a collection of atoms. At a minimum, we are also social — making sense of ourselves and our world in relationship with others — as well as spiritual, creative, and intellectual. Because we contain all these dimensions, our needs extend beyond the material and our judgments are based on factors such as personal connection and sympathy, as well as reason… While it may sound noble to overcome personal preference when deciding where to give, is a neighbor in need after her house burns down really less worthy of help than an organization that provides bed nets to protect against malaria in Africa?” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]

Registering a Complaint: 
U.S. pharmaceutical company CVS made a $10 million commitment to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in 2021, with CVS’s social responsibility team saying the donations would “support families dealing with diabetes and fund research to eradicate health disparities,” and would give customers an opportunity to give at the checkout register as well. But it seems that CVS has applied those donations toward the pledge it had made, Annalisa Merelli writes in Quartz. “What CVS omitted, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court in New York, is that the donations collected from customers through in-store fundraising weren’t going to be in addition to the initial pledge. Rather, they would be used in lieu of donations coming from CVS’s coffers… [B]etween Nov. 2 and Nov. 27, 2021… thousands of CVS customers were asked at checkout whether they wanted to add a donation to the ADA on top of their transaction amounts. Customers could select an amount, or decide not to donate. They weren’t offered further context about their donations… Whether or not CVS was obliged to pay doesn’t really address a key point — moral, if not strictly legal — of the complaint: CVS didn’t inform its customers that their donations were part of a pledge the company had already made. That may not be fraud, but it is less than transparent.” [Quartz]

Around the Web

CNN host Van Jones delivered the keynote address at the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner on Monday night. For those who missed it, eJewishPhilanthropy has posted a recording and complete transcript of the speech…

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Laudercalled forKanye West’s music to be removed from streaming services because the rapper is “espousing Nazism”…

Jewish Story Partners, a nonprofit that supports films, will be funding 20 documentary films as part of its latest round of grantmaking. Its grants this year total $1 million…

report by the Anti-Defamation League on hate in online gaming found that 15% of gamers ages 10 to 17 — and 20% of adults — were exposed to white supremacist ideologies in online games this year…

Rabbi Tarlan Rabizadeh made a surprise appearance onstage during the 2022 People’s Choice Awards on Tuesday night, when Lizzo, who won the People’s Champion Award, invited Rabizadeh up as part of a group of activists. The pop star introduced the rabbi — who is the vice president for engagement at American Jewish University in Los Angeles — by saying that “she is committed to building bridges between Jewish people of all colors and backgrounds, and as an Iranian-American, she is fighting to amplify the plight of the Iranian people”…

Pic of the Day

Supporters of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces joined wounded Israeli combat veterans on a six-day bicycle ride through Israel last month.


BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 01: Director Nancy Meyers accepts the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement onstage during the 2020 Writers Guild Awards West Coast Ceremony at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 01, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for WGAW)

Film director, producer and screenwriter, Nancy Meyers… 

Founder and CEO of Top Rank, a boxing promotion company based in Las Vegas, Bob Arum… Actor and composer, John Rubinstein… Israeli folk singer, lyricist, composer and musical arranger, Chava Alberstein… Astrophysicist and senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Margaret Geller… Canadian anthropologist and author of four books promoting the Mussar movement, Alan Morinis… Professor of human development at Cornell University, Robert J. Sternberg… Writer, photographer and designer, founder of the Honey Sharp Gallery and Ganesh Café in the Berkshires, Honey Sharp… Bedford, Texas, resident, Doug Bohannon… Senior executive producer of special events at ABC News, Marc Burstein… Emmy Award-winning sports commentator and journalist, Roy Firestone… Chairman of a nationwide insurance brokerage, Bruce P. Gendelman… Author of Toward a Meaningful Life and chairman of The Algemeiner Journal, Rabbi Simon Jacobson… Retired administrative law judge at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Nadine Lewis… Rabbi, speaker and musician known as Rav Shmuel, he is the head of the Yeshiva program run by the IDT Corporation in Newark, N.J., Shmuel Skaist… Co-founder of Office Tiger, CloudBlue and Xometry, Randy Altschuler… Co-founder of, Rachel Sklar… General manager of The Wall Street JournalAaron Kissel… Founder of newsletter “Popular Information,” Judd Legum… Actor and musician, Dov Yosef Tiefenbach… Actress, comedian and television writer, Joanna “Jo” Firestone… Incoming president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, he is currently the executive director of Hillel at UCLA, Aaron Lerner…Artist, Sophia Narrett… Venture capitalist in Israel, Alex Oppenheimer… Senior associate at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Ali Krimmer