Your Daily Phil: Yael Foundation looks to boost Jewish education globally

Good Thursday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we interview Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now conference, and feature an opinion piece by David Werdiger with strategies for proactively stress testing relationships with non-Jewish institutions in the wake of the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Also in this issue: Andrew Rehfeld, Charlene Seidle and Eve Rosenbaum. We’ll start with the Yael Foundation, which is looking to bolster Jewish education worldwide.

A relatively new organization has entered the field of Jewish education, backed by a Ukrainian-born, Cyprus-based Jewish philanthropist, which plans to serve as a lifeline for small and overlooked Jewish communities, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Founded some three years ago by Uri and Yael Poliavich, the Yael Foundation in recent months has developed a more focused strategic plan, brought on new leadership and doubled its grant fund as it looks to play a more significant role in Jewish education around the world, making Jewish schools — both day schools and extracurricular programs — better, cheaper and more available.

In the coming year, the foundation plans to issue $21.8 million in grants, at three different tiers, to dozens of schools around the world, but mostly in small European communities, the organization’s newly hired CEO, Chaya Yosovich, told eJP.

Last month, the foundation brought together dozens of school principals and community leaders — largely from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement — from 31 countries for its annual conference in Paphos, Cyprus, which featured speakers on a variety of education topics, as well as sessions on how to use the foundation as a resource and time for networking and general conversations.

“The conference is meant mostly to make connections and for networking between the school principals from all of these different places, many of which are relatively isolated,” Yosovich told eJP on the sidelines of the conference, which was held at a swanky seaside resort. “Here they can make connections, which gives them more tools as principals. It also gives them some recognition — we know that their work isn’t simple and isn’t easy, and there’s something that we can do for them.”

Uri Poliavich, who founded the online gambling company Soft2Bet, launched the Yael Foundation with the goal of making Jewish education accessible to everyone. “Our goal at the Yael Foundation is to make sure Jewish children and families worldwide have the opportunity to connect and to have meaningful Jewish experiences available, whether through schools, informal educational programs, summer camps, and more,” Poliavich told eJP after the conference.

In recent months, the foundation has brought on Yosovich as its new chief executive, replacing Eliezer Lesovoy, who is staying on with the organization as its director of education, and Naomi Kovitz as its new chief operations officer. 

According to Yosovich, the foundation initially took a perhaps too broad approach to grantmaking, supporting lots of small initiatives all around the world. Now, the foundation, which is primarily based in Israel and Cyprus, is looking to refocus and concentrate the bulk of its attention on Europe, though it will retain some of its support for programs elsewhere.

“We want to get everywhere in the world, but at the moment we can’t really get to every Jew around the world. We need some focus to start from, so we decided to start with Europe,” Yosovich said.

In addition to limiting the focus of its operations primarily to Europe, Yosovich said the foundation is also establishing three tiers of grants: three or four multiyear “mega projects,” which will represent some 50% of the foundation’s annual grantmaking; a slightly larger number of “medium” grants, which will make up roughly 30% of its annual grantmaking; and the remainder will go toward “ongoing support” for institutions.

Many of the recipients of the foundation’s grants are from the Chabad movement — including at least two of its “mega projects” — as were most of the attendees of last month’s conference. Yet Poliavich stressed that the foundation is pluralistic and often supports Chabad programs in small communities because they are some of the only ones available.

“The Yael Foundation maintains an inclusive approach to supporting Jewish educational initiatives globally, especially in areas where such opportunities are limited,” he told eJP. “While we don’t have a formal relationship with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, we often find a Chabad shaliach leading programs in remote locations.”

Read the full report here.


Deborah Lipstadt, then-nominee to be special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, speaks at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

When the White House released its long-awaited national strategy to combat antisemitism last spring, Jewish leaders were puzzled by the inclusion of the Council of American-Islamic Relations as one of the organizations primed to take up the fight. The State Department’s antisemitism envoy, Deborah Lipstadt, urged patience at the time, despite the Muslim civil rights group’s long record of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements. But on Wednesday, in an interview with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen for Jewish Insider on the sidelines of the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now summit in Manhattan, Lipstadt said “they’ve failed… [and] have no place in the fight against antisemitism.”

Local is global: Lipstadt’s remit is global, but with antisemitism dramatically rising in the U.S. in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas, her focus has shifted to include domestic hate towards Jews. She said she balances both by “talking about [domestic antisemitism] in the context of international antisemitism.” In terms of domestic antisemitism, Lipstadt said she is “encouraged during these dark days, the degree to which so many organizations see the problem and take it seriously.” She continued: “Everybody is trying to find a way to address this, there is no magic bullet.” 

Make antisemitism uncool: Lipstadt pointed to Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, which hosted a meeting of the commissioners of all the major sports leagues, at which Lipstadt spoke. “I told them that they’ve gotta figure out a way to make antisemitism uncool — it’s cool now for kids to attack other kids in class,” she recalled. “It’s gotta be made uncool like we did with smoking.” Asked about the Kraft Foundation’s decision to spend $7 million on a 30-second Super Bowl ad last month, Lipstadt responded, “That’s for Bob Kraft to decide. He’s done some very positive things and great ads. It reminded us of a moment in time.” 

Read the full report here.


Reassessing philanthropic priorities after Oct. 7

“It is unlikely that anyone suddenly changed their views of Jews and Israel after Oct. 7; rather, they are now unafraid to say publicly what they really thought of us all along. That really hurts. It also serves as a reality check about what our so-called integrated life in wider society really was before Oct. 7,” writes family enterprise adviser David Werdiger,” in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy. 

Necessary questions: “While some organizations in wider society have affirmed their support for Israel, others that we have supported so generously have turned their backs on us. How should we deal with them, and how should we adjust our approach to giving moving forward? How can we be more strategic about our giving? One approach is to turn inward and focus on what our own people need ahead of others — to move our dial toward particularism… Another approach — and these are not mutually exclusive — is to audit the organizations we currently support and stress test our values alignment.”

Due diligence: “Looking at the organization’s mission and values doesn’t tell the whole story. More comprehensive due diligence should extend to key personnel, board and committee members and executives who may use their roles to further a personal agenda… Scenario testing is another tool funders and nonprofits can use, and it can often be straightforward: Organization X did Y, and Z happened — how might you deal with such a situation? A more subtle form would be to ask loaded questions of individuals to test what they think of incidents that have occurred elsewhere. One of the best tests of an organization’s and individual’s values is exploring the boundaries — what they would not do or support because of their values. This serves as a test of their commitment to said values and what they mean in practice.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Wounds of Depths Unknown: In New Lines Magazine, Anchal Vohra writes about the toll the war is taking on children in Israel and Gaza. “[Child trauma specialist Asher] Ben-Arieh was assigned the task of writing a protocol for children held hostage and those who witnessed the murder of a loved one. He said he developed nine different protocols — including for Israeli intelligence officials who first greeted the released children in Egypt and brought them back. ‘We asked them (officials) not to hug the children without permission,’ he said. ‘We need to let kids regain control over their lives, and create a sense of security and stability. Sometimes that means letting them use social media.’ He said while the children are being monitored and not being pressured into sharing more than they feel comfortable with, it was clear that they had been ill-treated and some even sexually abused. ‘We had cases of emotional abuse and sexual abuse, kids were drugged, beaten, kids were separated from adults,’ he said, declining to elaborate. He said his leading concern is the well-being of the children; he is worried that restoring their faith in humanity may take a long time and a lot of effort. ‘We tell our kids that parents will protect them, that the house is the safest place for them. I am trying to tell them again but will they trust me?’” [NewLinesMagazine]

Trust is More Than a Sentiment: In an opinion piece in Inside Philanthropy, Clare Gibson Nangle, Shena Cavallo, Celia Turner and Jen Bokoff advocate for flexible funding (aka general support) that enables grantees to set their own agendas and invest in critical operational costs without the burden of laborious reporting requirements. “Grantmaking organizations such as ours, which play an important role in bridging large sources of funding and grassroots movements, are stuck between donors with rigid requirements and unbending targets on one side, and movements with vast, varying and evolving needs on the other… Supporting organizations and movements with unrestricted funding requires that donors believe their grantee partners will maximize investments on their own, without step-by-step instructions. Funding negotiations should be a conversation between peers or equals; decisions about funding parameters must make sense to both sides. But the issue goes beyond prioritizing trust-based relationships. Donors must move away from setting overly stringent restrictions and priorities or constantly refreshing their funding strategies. The grantee partners we support — not the donors who fund them — are best placed to determine what strategies will advance their agendas… Our peer fundraising group is based on the value of collaboration, because we believe that we will all be better able to advance human rights when the entire ecosystem thrives. Activists, movements, public funds, private philanthropy and government donors each have unique expertise, tools and resources that can be leveraged to this end.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Around the Web

The board of governors of Hebrew Union College is giving its president, Andrew Rehfeld, a second term in his office, keeping him in the role through June 2029…

The San Diego Jewish Academy hosted 130 students from the Gaza-border Sha’ar Hanegev region, as part of an initiative funded by the Jewish Federation of San Diego and the Israeli Education Ministry

The Circuit, a sister publication of eJewishPhilanthropyprofiled Takwin Ventures, a project co-founded by two Israeli venture capital firms that looks to support Arab Israeli-owned companies

Charlene Seidle, who has served as executive vice president of the Leichtag Foundation since 2008, was named president and CEO of the organization. She succeeds Jim Farley, who became executive chair of the foundation…

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff donated $150 million to hospitals in Hawaii, where he is a part-time resident. It is his largest-ever gift…

Jewish Insider profiled Eve Rosenbaum, the assistant general manager of the Baltimore Orioles and one of the few women in Major League Baseball’s upper echelons…

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan has released a new resource for teachers about recognizing and combating antisemitism…

RootOne brought dozens of Jewish educators to Israel last week on a “Delegation of Responsibility.” This RootOne trip was just one of the 13 Mishlachot Areyvut trips occurring through June through The Jewish Education Project and The iCenter

Harvard’s annual Israel Trek will not be held this year, the university’s Hillel announced. No specific reason for the cancellation was given…

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich made an unspecified “generous contribution” towards the new $38.9 million Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London…

The Los Angeles Police Department is beefing up security ahead of the Academy Awards on Sunday to prevent anti-Israel protests from disrupting the event…

Dr. Anthony Epstein, who discovered the Epstein-Barr virus along with his doctoral fellow in 1964, died last month at 102…

Pic of the Day

Over 50,000 people attend the traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City today, during Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days) of Sukkot.

A group of Israel educators from Jewish day schools across North America joined Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools for a trip to Israel this week, where they discussed the shifting landscape of their field and perspectives on the future of Israel education. They are pictured here on a stop in the southern Israeli city of Sderot.


Annie Liebovitz smiles
Courtesy/Rabbi Ellen Wolintz-Fields/Facebook

Executive director of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Ellen Wolintz-Fields… 

Nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Times from 1984 to 2019, author and social observer, Suzanne Bregman Fields, Ph.D. … President emeritus of the California Institute of Technology, he is the 1975 Nobel Prize laureate in medicine, David Baltimore… Former bureau chief for the AP in Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, London and Tokyo, now a journalism educator at The George Washington University, Myron Belkind… Former chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner… Geneticist and 2017 Nobel Prize laureate in medicine, Michael Rosbash… Member of the Knesset for the Meretz party between 1992 and 1996, Binyamin “Benny” Temkin… Retired media executive, Ruth Barbara Jarmul… Chairman and general trust counsel of Fiduciary Trust International, Gail Ehrlich Cohen… Award-winning freelance journalist, author and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Anne Farris Rosen… British barrister and a member of the House of Lords, he is the long-time chair of the British Legal Friends of Hebrew University, Lord David Philip Pannick… Executive director of Academic Exchange, Rabbi Nachum Braverman… Democratic political strategist, now the director of finance at Four Directions, Lewis H. Cohen… Professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and the author or editor of several books about Baruch Spinoza, Yitzhak Yohanan Melamed… Academy Award-winning actress, Rachel Weisz… News director for DC’s NBC4 News and an adjunct professor of journalism at American University, Matt Glassman… Brooklyn-based political consultant and attorney, he is also the membership director at the Rent Stabilization Association, Michael Tobman… The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director of U.S. congressional affairs, Elad Strohmayer … Television news anchor and author of five bestselling finance guides, Nicole Lapin… Israeli actress and singer, Ester Rada… Author, popular science writer, spaceflight historian, YouTuber and podcaster, best known for writing Breaking the Chains of Gravity, Amy Shira Teitel… Climate deals reporter at Axios Pro, Alan Neuhauser… Attorney in Reno, Nev., Sasha Ahuva Farahi… President of Every Minute Communications, Rachel Zuckerman… Digital engagement director at AIPAC, Cory Meyer… Comedian, actress, and screenwriter, known professionally as Sarah Squirm, now a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” Sarah Sherman… Jake Hirth… Yaakov Spira…