Your Daily Phil: With the pilgrims at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s ‘Ohel’

Good Wednesday morning.  

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on Israeli children with chronic illnesses attending Camp Simcha in the Catskill Mountains and on Meta’s decision to remove content that uses “Zionist” as a proxy for Jew. We feature an opinion piece by Rabbi Kenneth Brander calling for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and its incoming leaders to heed the needs of their diverse constituents. Also in this newsletter: Maria MunõzNoa and Nir Baranes and Jack LewWe’ll start with a trip to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s grave to mark the 30th anniversary of his death.

A mother and her school-age son traveled from Texas. Rabbis flew in from California and the Caribbean. Thousands made the short drive from Chabad’s home base of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and the other New York boroughs, clutching handwritten notes bearing personal prayers from relatives and friends who live far away, while hundreds more crossed the Atlantic, journeying from Israel and Europe. Some waited in line to enter Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens for more than three hours on Tuesday afternoon, undeterred by the sweltering 90-degree heat. Others made the trip to what many consider sacred ground on Monday night or as early as Sunday, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen from the scene. 

At the cemetery, which is visited by roughly 400,000 people annually, women — some dressed in pants and others in long skirts with their hair covered, and several holding babies — gathered in an area labeled “Ladies section” and scribbled prayers on small pieces of paper. On the men’s side, attendees carried prayer books and hummed nigunim, wordless melodies. On the outskirts of the narrow tent, a man proposed to his girlfriend, seeing it as an auspicious day to do so. And throughout the cemetery, photographs of the hostages that remain in Hamas captivity were displayed with the words “Bring Them Home Now.” 

This was the scene this week as an estimated 50,000 people descended on the gravesite, known as the Ohel, of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death, or yahrzeit, which fell on Monday night and Tuesday in the Jewish calendar. Thousands of the attendees who packed the tent, where television screens plastered on the walls played recordings of Schneerson speaking, are affiliated with the Chabad movement, one of the largest Hasidic groups of Judaism, which was founded in the 18th century in the Russian Empire. Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, led the movement for four decades after taking over from his father-in-law. Chabad has not had a leader since Schneerson died in 1994 at age 92. 

But an equally large number of those who made the pilgrimage to eastern Queens this week identify with Judaism’s Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements. Some are even non-Jews, including New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who visited around 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Hundreds were born after the rebbe died. But all claim a special and personal connection to the rebbe’s expansive teachings. 

Teddy Raskin, the 32-year-old co-founder of Israel Friends, a nonprofit that delivers humanitarian aid to Israel, hadn’t heard of the rebbe as a child growing up in a Reform household outside of Chicago. But Raskin formed a close bond during his time as a student at Vanderbilt University with Rabbi Shlomo Rothstein, the Chabad rabbi on campus. After college, during a turbulent time in Raskin’s career, Rothstein encouraged him to write a letter to Schneerson. Raskin, who lives in Manhattan, was skeptical at the time, he told eJewishPhilanthropy on Tuesday. But 10 days after writing the letter, Raskin said his company was saved. “It’s just another example of the power of community and being with other people,” he said. On Sunday, Raskin went with some 30 young professionals affiliated with Chabad of the Upper East Side to pay his respects to the rebbe, an experience he called “very emotional.” 

“This is a time to go there and pray for the five Americans that remain hostage in Gaza,” said Raskin, who has visited the Ohel several times since his rabbi first encouraged him to do so five years ago. Since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel, more than 100 grief-stricken family members of hostages have flocked to the gravesite to pray for the safe return of their loved ones. 

To mark the anniversary, Chabad announced the launch of 100 new after-school programs, called CKids, which will span more than 10 countries and 15 U.S. states including Barcelona, Spain, and Omaha, Neb. Additionally, Chabad this week provided seed funding for 100 new shluchim to establish centers in underserved areas.  

“There’s a holiness embedded in today; it’s a day of bonding and connecting and embodies everything that [Schneerson] stood for and now in his physical absence what we can do to continue that legacy, which is profoundly relevant to each of us,” Rabbi Efraim Mintz, executive director of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, a division of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad, told eJP ahead of his visit to the Ohel on Tuesday.  

Mintz also addressed the eclectic groups of people who gathered at the rebbe’s resting place on Tuesday, noting that it “captures who the rebbe was.” 

Read the full report here.


Camp Simcha, a refuge for American kids with chronic illnesses, offers sanctuary and a chance for fun to war-weary Israelis too

Campers at Camp Simcha. Courtesy

Located in the Catskill Mountains, near the New York-Pennsylvania border, Camp Simcha provides a unique summer experience for hundreds of campers, ages 3 to 20, all fighting cancer or chronic disorders. Bringing any child to Camp Simcha is expensive, but bringing children from Israel significantly increases expenses as they require personal nurses, Israeli counselors, and special equipment and medications. Despite this, 27 Israeli children attended this summer. Many of these children are not only battling cancer or other life-threatening illnesses but are also displaced from their homes or have parents fighting on the front lines in Gaza, reports Efrat Lachter for eJewishPhilanthropy.

‘Free and relaxed’: Nineteen-year-old Ella Shapira from the Israeli coastal city Netanya has faced cancer six times in her life. Despite her illness, the ongoing war in Israel and her father’s deployment as a combat medic in Gaza, Shapira found a sanctuary and peace at Camp Simcha. “I didn’t come with high expectations. It was hard to leave my mom and sister when my dad is fighting in Gaza,” she told eJP. “But here, I feel free and relaxed. I can do whatever I want — things I usually can’t do. Mostly I enjoy going to the lake and riding the speedboat. I don’t remember when I was last so happy.”

Parental leave: Shlumit Amar, a nurse from Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, who accompanied the children from Israel, explained, “The kids are in wars on two fronts. We have patients who were evacuated from Re’im [one of the communities hit hard on Oct. 7]. A 17-year-old girl told me she feels so happy and free here that she forgets about what’s happening back home and even forgets she is sick.” Amar has been accompanying children for trips abroad for years. “There is always anxiety before they travel, but the parents also get a much-needed break, this year even more than ever. One mother of a 6-year-old sent me a picture of her and her husband on a holiday for the first time,” she said. Moerdler echoed this sentiment: “This respite is also beneficial for their families allowing them to focus on their other children for a while.”

Read the full report here.


Meta updates hate speech policy on term ‘Zionist’ to include attacks on Jews

The Meta logo is displayed during the Viva Technology show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 22, 2024 in Paris, France. Chesnot/Getty Images

In an update to its hate speech guidelines, Meta will remove content that links the term “Zionist” with antisemitic tropes, calls for harm or denials of existence or other dehumanizing language, the social media giant’s policy forum announced yesterday. In its announcement, Meta said that it “found sharply contrasting views” on how to evaluate the term,” noting that the word has “layers of meaning based on its origins and usage today, and may also be highly dependent on context,” eJewishPhilantrhopy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.

Proxy war: “For many, the term is a proxy for Jewish people or Israelis,” a statement from the company explained. “This perception is particularly strong when the term is paired with age-old antisemitic tropes – especially those invoking the conspiracy of worldwide Jewish power. Many other stakeholders told us that ‘Zionists’ is a reference to adherents of an ideology, rooted in history, and that today the term is used most often to refer to the Israeli government and its supporters.”

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


I believe in Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Here’s how we can ensure its legitimacy.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef, pictured here at a Dec. 2023 event at Yad Vashem in Israel, officially stepped down from their positions on June 30, 2024 and their replacements have yet to be elected. Chief Rabbinate of Israel/Facebook

“Israel needs a rabbinate that uses halacha to serve the wide spectrum of the state’s Jewish public while also playing a leadership role in the changing needs of the Diaspora,” writes Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Ohr Torah Stone in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy“The status quo will only continue to fuel public cynicism about religion, promote divisions in society and put the state’s role in the Jewish world at risk.”

Survey says: “The issue is especially relevant now, as it’s election season again for Israel’s chief rabbis… It should be taken seriously that 72% of Israelis think that Israel should not have a state rabbinate at all or it should have one in a different form, according to a recent survey from the Israel Democracy Institute. More than half of Israelis surveyed by the IDI said the rabbinate should be less conservative, a view held by more than 76% of secular Israelis as well as a third of those who identify as religious.” 

A different approach: “Above all, a functioning rabbinate would serve the diverse Israeli public, especially on the matters over which it has legal mandate: marriage, divorce and kashrut… When it comes to weddings, for instance, simply being more friendly to couples, including those who do not identify as religious, would go a long way to make sure they get married under a halachic chupah. The agunah issue can also be greatly alleviated if the rabbinate would only gather the courage to use existing instruments like the heskem l’kavod hadadihalachic prenuptial agreements, which have been endorsed by major rabbinic leaders.” 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: “The state rabbinate also needs to respect the state and democracy. The fact that [former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitchak Yosef] encouraged our Haredi brothers to leave Israel rather than serve in the IDF, instead of exploring a manner in which it would be comfortable for them to serve as the recent Supreme Court ruling demands, showed that the rabbinate lacks respect for the state even as other Jewish soldiers are dying for its continued security and existence. Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Moshe Amar refusing to shake hands with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana at the funeral of IDF Capt. Yisrael Yudkin at Har Herzl and leaving the funeral when Ohana was about to eulogize Yudkin, all because Ohana is openly gay, showed a disrespect for the fallen officer and for the personal freedom that is necessary for democracy. Rather than embracing people according to the principle of darchei noam — making sure the Torah is taught and lived with pleasantness — this type of behavior serves to further push people away from religion.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Story of an Ally: In Tablet, Colombian-American Christian and Maccabee Task Force fellow Maria Munõz writes about her exposure to the Jewish community in early childhood and college, her first trip to Israel and the sadness and dissonance she experienced after Oct. 7. “I felt too scared for weeks to speak up, as I had been convinced by social media that I had no right to be sad for the victims of Oct. 7. I never believed the victims’ deaths were justified, but I was worried about facing backlash for saying anything at all… My reluctance to be an advocate vanished when I was brought back to Kfar Aza. The bright, flourishing community I once knew was now in ruins. Seeing the burned rubble of family homes was the first time I fully understood the fate of the kibbutz residents. Their voices had been stolen by the self-proclaimed activists of social media who were telling the world that the stories of Israeli victims did not deserve to be heard because their deaths were ‘justified.’ I never was an activist myself, but I knew this sentiment was wrong. People who were antiwar were now openly celebrating the deaths of innocent civilians. It made me realize people were not using this movement to stand up for human rights. They were using it to ignite hate against Jews — again… I unapologetically support Israel and the Jewish people. People have tried to call me a Zionist as an insult, but I wear the badge proudly.” [Tablet]

Following the Money: Half of geographically designated criminal justice reform funding in America goes to nonprofits based in California and New York, reports Dawn Wolfe in Inside Philanthropy. “Incarceration isn’t the only measurement for determining how many people in a given state are being impacted by its carceral system; however, the disparity between the percentage of incarcerated people in these two states and the much larger percentage of money spent there raises natural questions about just what is happening and why. This geographic disparity in criminal justice funding is a real issue for nonprofits working in states that have worse levels of mass incarceration and fewer or less prominent organizations working to reform the system. Note that the incarceration rates per 100,000 residents in New York and California are nowhere near those of the three states with the worst rates: Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. According to Candid’s data, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas all received zero percent of the commitments targeted to specific areas; basically, the commitments they received weren’t high enough to rate. Funders’ oversight in this respect may be costing them opportunities to make a bigger difference nationwide.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

Two Israeli civilians — Noa and Nir Baranes, parents of three from Kibbutz Ortal — were killed yesterday in a Hezbollah rocket barrage that hit their vehicle in the Golan Heights…

The New York Times spotlights Yad Vashem’s newly opened David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center, which will house the Holocaust museum’s artifacts…

By unanimous consent, the Senate passed a bill extending the Never Again Education Act‘s Holocaust education programming through 2030…

Relatives of hostages still being held in Gaza will join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his flight to Washington, D.C., later this month to address a joint session of Congress…

Speaking at a conference at Israel’s Reichman University, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew cautioned that Israel risked an erosion of support “on the margins” of both parties, and warned that “generational change” may further affect support for Israel in the U.S….

Rescued Israeli hostage Almog Meir Jan filed a lawsuit against the People Media Project, the U.S.-based 501(c)3 whose Palestine Chronicle news outlet employed his captor…

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that the Iranian government has both provoked and provided funding for protests in the United States over the war in Gaza…

The Times of Israel profiles a new initiative, The Villa, aimed at preventing post-traumatic stress disorder among Israeli reservists

Israel’s newest airline, Air Haifawill receive its first aircraft later this month; the airline expects to operate flights between Haifa and Eilat by September with plans to add flights to Cyprus and Greece…

Hebrew College added two new board members: Michelle Black and Meredith Moss

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) raised $7.3 million between April 1 and June 30, largely due to significant donations from Wall Street figures, including Marc Rowan

The Canadian Jewish News interviewed Anthony Housefather, the new special adviser on Jewish community relations and antisemitism to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Authorities in Oakland, Calif., are investigating two separate incidents of vandalism that targeted the city’s Chabad Center that have taken place in the last two weeks…

Westchester Jewish Community Services received a $35,000 grant from Aging in America to support its services to low-income, frail elderly individuals in the area…

Rabbi Yehuda Deri, the chief rabbi of Beersheva and the brother of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who was considered a leading candidate for the next Sephardi chief rabbi of the State of Israel, died yesterday at 66…

Pic of the Day

Courtesy/Israel Friends

The American nonprofit Israel Friends and the Israeli nonprofit Civil Squads of Israel (CSI) teamed up to present members of the Sharon region’s emergency rapid response units with 200 ceramic protective vests at a ceremony held last week in the assembly hall of the moshav Nitzanei Oz, close to the border with the West Bank.

“Unfortunately, in recent months we have seen a significant increase in threats to borderline villages, which necessitates increasing the protective measures of our rapid response units,” said Eli Eton, head of the Lev HaSharon Council.

CSI, which was founded by Nir Alon in the wake of his experiences defending his Gaza Envelope community on Oct. 7, works throughout the country to provide critical support such as protective equipment and training to civilian guards and emergency response teams.


Jonathan S. Lavine, co-managing partner and chief investment officer of Bain Capital Credit
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Voice actor and impressionist who has voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat and dozens of others, Jeffrey Bergman

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