Your Daily Phil: Will terror in Israel spur donations? + The battle for the soul of Reform Judaism

Good Thursday morning!

During the final moments of the Jewish Funders Network conference on Tuesday, as a few dozen people ate lunch from disposable bowls, some attendees pulled out their phones and began speaking in hushed Hebrew. They were learning of that day’s terror attack in Bnei Brak, Israel, in which a Palestinian attacker killed five people.

Israel’s security was not a focus of the three-day conference, which took place in Palm Beach, Fla., and centered on lessons from COVID-19 and the bloodshed in Ukraine. But Tuesday’s attack brought the Israeli death toll from terrorism over the previous week to 11 — the highest such total in years.

Will that spike significantly shift American Jewish attention and funding to Israel — especially as the confluence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter threatens to bring more violence? Probably not, several Jewish lay leaders and professionals told eJewish Philanthropy. The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for Victims of Terror, which gives more than $1,000 to Israelis affected by terrorism, has no shortage of cash, eJP has learned. And while The Jewish Federations of North America, which contributes to the terror victims’ fund, is discussing how to respond to the attacks, a detailed plan has yet to be set.

That’s partly because it’s “too soon to tell” how groups should respond, Susie Gelman, chair of the Israel Policy Forum, told eJP. “I’m not seeing anything coming across my transom from Jewish organizations doing some sort of special appeal around these worrisome terror attacks,” added Gelman, who is also the former president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “Ukraine is still a huge, huge situation, a huge crisis, and certainly has a Jewish component to it.”

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the biggest European land war in generations, terror attacks in Israel are relatively “commonplace,” said Seymour Reich, past chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Despite the high number of casualties, Reich told eJP, “It’s not going to create a groundswell of financial or political support, which is [already] there… Sadly, there has to be an avalanche of terrorist activities for us to wake up and see what’s happening.”

Others cautioned against viewing the war in Ukraine vs. terrorism in Israel as “an either-or situation,” in the words of William Daroff, the Conference of Presidents’ CEO. “While many organizations are focused on Ukraine, Israel will always be a focus of the community, particularly as coronavirus restrictions ease and many resume traveling to Israel,” he told eJP. Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim, the U.S. deputy director at the Ruderman Family Foundation, agreed that donations to Ukraine do not preclude donations to Israel but added that American Jews may not be mobilizing around Israel because they feel the needs there are less urgent.

“I don’t think what’s going on right now in Israel is perceived as a humanitarian crisis,” said Shaul Bar Nissim, who is also a visiting scholar at IUPUI’s Lilly School of Philanthropy. “It’s much more clear to donors how their contributions can make an impact if they donate to refugees from Ukraine.”


BirdieLight’s drive to prevent fentanyl overdoses — with seed funding from a synagogue

Beth Weinstock (left) with two family members at a table promoting Birdielight.


This month, a year after her 20-year-old son Eli collapsed and died at his Washington, D.C., home from a fentanyl overdose, Beth Weinstock lit a yahrzeit candle in his memory, did yoga, sang with friends and hosted a potluck dinner. And she’s memorializing Eli in another way, too: through BirdieLight, a drug awareness organization she founded last August with her daughter Olivia, which aims to get fentanyl testing strips, which detect the fatal drug, into the hands of every young adult, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz.

Overdoses are increasing: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is increasingly implicated in unintentional overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 91,799 drug overdose deaths were reported in the U.S. in 2020; deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise, with 56,516 overdose deaths reported that year. Weinstock says that most of the deaths were likely unintentional fentanyl overdoses, “occurring in either one-time or recreational uses of substances and not necessarily those who were struggling [with] addiction.”

Beyond ‘say no to drugs’: “As long as we can remember, drug use has been a thing in our country, in every country,” she said. “But right now, the waters are poisoned. We acknowledge that there’s people who have different relationships with risk. We try to say that, ‘If you choose a certain level of risk, we’re here to keep you safe.’”

Jewish connections: BirdieLight got its first microgrant — $5,000 — from the Lurie Micro-Grant Program at the Weinstocks’ synagogue, the Reform Temple Israel in Columbus, Ohio, shortly after the organization’s founding. BirdieLight has made presentations to fraternities, including some Jewish ones; to Temple Israel; and to Ohio State University Hillel. Other events are scheduled, including a high school presentation at Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Florida in April.

Read the full story here.


D.C.’s Jewish conference scene returns with Chabad gathering


Just days after the U.S. Capitol officially reopened to tours, some 250 members of the global Chabad community gathered Wednesday in a stately caucus room in the Russell Senate Office Building to kick off a daylong conference honoring the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Living Legacy conference, which had not been held in several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrated Chabad’s political muscle in Washington and the movement’s global reach, with high-profile appearances from members of Congress, Biden administration officials and foreign ambassadors, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.

Eyes on Ukraine: Instead of focusing on a single legislative agenda or policy objective, most speakers throughout the gathering spoke passionately — and, at times, personally — about the crisis in Ukraine, a country that is home to a significant Jewish community and many Chabad emissaries, who have been active in humanitarian efforts in the war-torn nation. “I want, like we all want, peace, quiet and success,” Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch, the chief rabbi of Kyiv, told attendees at a lunch reception at the St. Regis hotel near the White House. Markovitch and his wife left Kyiv in the early days of the Russian invasion but returned to help with relief efforts.

Meeting ground: While the conference provided an emotionally potent meeting ground for Chabad families touched by the violence in Ukraine, it was also a meeting place for Chabad rabbis and supporters from around the world. Rabbis traveled from places including Kazakhstan, Shanghai and Casablanca, with American emissaries from Jewish community hotspots like Florida as well as small communities in Lancaster, Pa., North Dakota and Alaska. “They come here to gather, to emphasize, to get energized to reinforce the message of the Rebbe,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). “If we have 100 Jews from Brooklyn coming and doing it, that’s one way of doing it. But when you have people who come from literally 40-something states,” Shemtov told JI, it shows the movement’s reach.

Powerful statements: The conference was filled with powerful stories recounted throughout the day. Natan Sharansky, a Soviet refusenik and the former head of the Jewish Agency, spoke about being inspired by Jewish teachings while he was in a Soviet prison. A rabbi from Berlin rose at dinner to give a powerful speech about his community accepting orphans from Ukraine. Stories were recounted and jokes were told as diplomats from Morocco, Hungary, Turkey and other countries connected with the Chabad emissaries based in those locations.

Read the full story here.


The hidden battle for the soul of Reform Judaism

The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives; courtesy

“During the last month or so while our eyes and thoughts have been trained on the war in Ukraine, another battle, a hidden battle, has also been raging over the future of American Reform Judaism. This is not a battle over territory or a war fought with tanks and missiles. It is a silent spiritual struggle, which will determine the future of the Reform movement in America. It is largely a battle being fought in the hidden recesses of the Internet, in Zoom meetings and electronic petitions, but it is a battle nevertheless,” writes Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pa., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Larger than Cincinnati: “At the surface level, it is about the future of the Cincinnati campus, the original site of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), established in 1875 by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. But in a larger sense, it is a battle about the shape and nature of Reform Judaism in the 21st century.”

The need for a spiritual roadmap: “The administration of HUC-JIR and its Board of Governors have fiduciary responsibilities. That is undeniable. But the future of Reform Judaism, the real issue at hand, cannot be solved by a business plan. It needs a spiritual roadmap planned and provided for by all the institutions of liberal Judaism working together for a transcendent cause.”

21st-, not 20th-century needs: “The true business of Judaism is not to be found in a ledger but in the Jewish heart. The Jewish heart in America is still beating but it is increasingly nurtured and sustained by a different cultural diet than in the past. We need 21st-century rabbis. We need 21st-century cantors and educators. We need 21st-century lay leaders and 21st-century congregants or stakeholders or chaverim [members]We need American Judaisms for every region of the vast, complex North American continent and not just select metropolitan areas.”

Read the full piece here.


Who will lead our children and grandchildren?


“Last week the Association of Directors of Communal Agencies addressed the teacher shortage, writing that, “what was once a challenge is now a crisis.” This crisis is not limited to teachers; we see it in the current efforts to recruit and retain our educational leaders,” writes Rabbi Stacy Rigler, executive director of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators (ARJE), in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Balancing budgets on employees’ backs: “I hear regularly how professional development is the first line to get cut as communities examine their budgets. A trend is emerging where institutions ask individuals to choose between benefits, lumping health care and retirement benefits with ongoing professional development funds. In reflecting on the ARJE’s recent annual gathering, one of our educators said, ‘These three days did not change my knowledge of Jewish education, but they transformed my outlook for future work and gave me the tools to deepen my practice.’ If we want to keep the Jewish educators we have, education and lifelong learning cannot be separated. If we want Jewish educators to feel supported, we cannot ask them to choose between benefits in order to balance our budgets.”

The work environment is critical: “The current attrition in the field cannot be linked only to the devaluing of professional development and material support alongside the impacts of COVID… What I see anecdotally, matches the new research, that intuitions that have long been disrespectful, unethical, cutthroat or abusive are losing their educational staff. Educators will no longer work in environments where they try to teach Jewish values but don’t experience them in their day-to-day interactions with parents, lay leaders or colleagues.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Buyer Beware: In Jewish Insider, Lianne Kolirin spotlights the efforts of social media influencer Chelsey Brown, who discovered that the online shopping platform eBay has continued to allow the sale of items that belonged to Holocaust victims, despite a pledge nearly a decade ago to stop the practice. “Her TikTok, which boasts more than 100,000 followers, alternates posts about home design and WWII-era items she discovers for sale. ‘Sometimes I’ll use eBay to find old letters or photo albums, and that’s when I saw an ad for a Holocaust letter pop up. This was back in September. That’s when I deep-dived into the horrific world of how Holocaust documentation is sold on eBay.’… Despite eBay’s pledge to remove items belonging to Holocaust victims, many similar items still populate the site, according to Brown, whose own family tree includes numerous people who were killed in the Holocaust. Recent listings include a yellow star armband for $899.99, a letter sent from Auschwitz for $747, a collection of yellow stars for $4,950 and a collection of documents relating to a family of survivors from a German concentration camp for $1,999.99.” [JI]

Symbolic Citizen: 
Nicholas Goldberg, whose family fled Vienna in 1938, writes in the Los Angeles Times about his efforts to gain Austrian citizenship: “Offering me citizenship isn’t adequate recompense. I wasn’t even the one who suffered; I grew up happy, safe, American. But it is something — an admission, at least, that my family members were persecuted, driven from their homes, murdered during a dark, shameful past. It changes nothing, but I’m grateful to today’s Austrian government for it. The process made me think about African Americans and slavery reparations, and about the apology, and reparations, the U.S. made to Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. Whether such actions can truly bring closure or reconciliation, I can’t say. But I’ve come to believe they’re important, even when they’re mostly symbolic.” [LATimes]

Education’s Value: 
Writing in The Giving Pledge, philanthropist Lorry I. Lokey shares lessons he has learned about money, value and reinvesting in one’s fortune. “What single factor most affected my being so successful in business? In a nanosecond the answer came up: Education. Throughout the world without an exception, education is the determinant of a person’s intelligence level and possible success. And success is not making a million a month or a year. It’s earning enough to live comfortably and being able to finance children’s education. As my thoughts wandered from Alameda grammar school and Grant high school in Portland to Stanford, I soon came to the conclusion that the most critical part of my education was Alameda with Stanford taking on the role of pointing a direction for my future — journalism later to be public relations and still later to be founding a very profitable business — Business Wire, now a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. Each year I ask Alameda’s principal what they need. This year it’s a fully equipped rolling computer wagon to move among the classrooms as needed. In earlier years I equipped all classrooms with computers and built a new library there.” [TheGivingPledge]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

New York’s Jewish Communal Fund named Rachel Schnoll as its next CEO, succeeding Susan F. Dickman, effective June 1. Prior to joining Jewish Communal Fund, Schnoll was a managing director at Goldman Sachs and head of FinLife Partners at Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management…

Reconstructing Judaism concluded its hybrid conference, B’Yachad: Reconstructing Judaism Together, earlier this week outside of Washington, D.C….

A group of American mayors is visiting Israel this week with Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee…

Brandeis University named Sara Shostak as the inaugural director of the Vic and Bobbi ’63 Samuels Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation. Shostak is a professor in the department of sociology and health: science, society and policy program at the university…

The Jewish Federations of North America raised $62 million for the first phase of its LiveSecure campaign to provide security for every Jewish community in North America. The sum surpassed the $54 million goal set in October…

The Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches announced grant awards totaling $200,000 to 10 organizations throughout Palm Beach, Israel and the world. Each organization was awarded $10,000 per year for a total of two years…

A British matzah maker is working around the clock this week on an emergency order of one million matzahs for Ukraine’s Jewish community, after receiving an urgent request from the Orthodox Union…

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia announced a “significant gift” from local philanthropists Susan and Steve Kelly, to establish the Susan S. and Stephen P. Kelly Center for Cancer Immunotherapy…

DePaul University in Chicago received a gift of more than $30 million, the largest in the university’s history, from video game designer Eugene P. Jarvis and his wife, university trustee Sasha L. Gerritson, to help fund construction of a student center…

Pic of the Day


Alyn Hospital, Israel’s only pediatric rehabilitation center, hosted a Women’s Hack-A-Thon Tuesday to create personalized solutions for teenage girls with disabilities…


Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Music producer, band leader of the Tijuana Brass, Herb Alpert

New York Times best-selling novelist, poet and social activist, Marge Piercy… Longtime former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, currently a director at Signature Bank, Barnett “Barney” Frank… U.S. senator from Vermont, he is the Senate’s longest tenured member, Patrick Leahy (D-VT)… Former syndicated talk radio host on 400+ stations under the name Michael Savage, Michael Alan Weiner… U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME)… Comedian, actor and professional poker player, Gabe Kaplan… Retired professor of special education at Long Island University, Joel E. Mittler… Emmy Award-winning movie and television actress, Rhea Jo Perlman… Ice dancing coach and former competitive ice dancer, Natalia Dubova… Chairman of Apple, Inc. since 2011 and CEO of Calico (an Alphabet R&D biotech venture), Arthur D. Levinson… New Jersey attorney, Steven Sacks-Wilner… Flagstaff, Ariz., resident, David L. Freedman… Chairman of Danaher Corporation, Steven M. Rales… Israeli singer and songwriter, Ehud Banai… Former deputy chairman of the executive of The Jewish Agency, David Breakstone… Author and advertising executive, Joseph Alden Reiman… President at the Detroit-based Nemer Property Group, Larry Nemer… Show jumping equestrian and 10-time American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year, she is a 2009 inductee into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Margie Goldstein-Engle… Emmy Award-winning writer and producer, Howard Gordon… Consultant for synagogues, Judah E. Isaacs… Two-term former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., now a special representative for broadband in the U.S. Commerce Department, Andy Berke… Chief economic correspondent for Politico and co-author of its “Morning Money” newsletter, Ben White… Rabbi of the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Turkey, Menachem Mendel Chitrik… Chief legal correspondent at MSNBC, Ari Naftali Melber… Footballer for Beitar Jerusalem, who has also played for Chelsea, Manchester City and West Ham United in the English Premier League, Tal Ben Haim… Tal Meir Levine… Internet entrepreneur, co-founder and former CMO of Tinder, Justin Mateen… British-French journalist and thought leader, author of This Is London and Fragile EmpireBen Judah… A 2010 contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” she went on to join the IDF, Esther Petrack… Howie Keenan… John Jacobson…

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