Your Daily Phil: YIVO’s turnaround story + New Israeli budget a boost to social programs

Good Friday morning!

Israel’s passage of a budget for the first time in more than three years this week will unfreeze many social programs that had been approved but not funded, Michael Bloch, co-founder of Israel Impact Partners, a nonprofit consulting firm, told eJewishPhilanthropy. The budget was delayed by government infighting and four rounds of elections in two years.

NGO leaders and staff had struggled to survive during the years between budgets, said Maya Natan, CEO of Keshet, Israel’s first donor-advised fund. Some closed, and many adapted; others were saved by donors. “I don’t think it’s a huge sigh of relief, but at least they can plan ahead,” Natan said.

If the government had failed to pass the budget, it would have had to call early elections again, Bloch pointed out. “The previous instability made it very hard for NGOs,” he said, as the new governments tended to restart each ministry’s budget negotiations.

UJA-Federation of New York commended the new spending plan, praising the state for investing in social mobility for Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations. “UJA-Federation of New York is also now hopeful that, together with our partners, we will be able to proceed with several initiatives that have been frozen due to a lack of budget,” said CEO Eric S. Goldstein. Eric Fingerhut, CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, said his organization was “particularly pleased” to see the largest-ever allocation to the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.


YIVO is professionalizing, growing and reviving a lost world

Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

One digitized page at a time, until four million pages of books and other documents are clickable online, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York is capturing for a new generation what life was like in the Jewish intellectual center of Vilna, Lithuania, before the Holocaust, YIVO CEO Jonathan Brent told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff. The effort, called the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project, is salvaging Jewish memory at a time when those who remember that long-ago world fade away. “We’re talking about a lost civilization here,” said Glenn Dynner, a professor of religion at Sarah Lawrence College who has drawn on YIVO’s archives in his scholarship.

A new calm: YIVO, which is now in an unexpected phase of growth and increased revenue, is in the final stages of finishing the digitization project. And it is becoming a more professional operation, Brent said. “We have had a rocky financial history. There was instability on the board of directors and churn among the staff,” said Brent, who came to YIVO in 2009 from Yale University Press in New Haven, Conn., where he served as editorial director. “We had a reputation of not being able to complete a project on time, or on budget.” All of that is changing. 

Recurring dream: When YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was created in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1925, its founders had planned to offer advanced degrees in Yiddish studies. World War II forced them to relocate the institute in New York, where it frequently struggled to secure adequate funding, even into the early 2000s. Now, the dream of offering a master’s degree has been revived, thanks to a period of growth in support and an expanding public reach, Brent said. When it was founded, YIVO was embedded in the world of East European Jewry that was destroyed by World War II. Today, it still serves as a center for culture and scholarship, but also as a repository of books, documents and other artifacts.

Meeting deadlines: Brent said he is hoping to start improving YIVO’s professional image with its execution of the Vilna digitization project. “The Vilna project is a way to keep alive for future generations the Ashkenazi Jewish history, culture and way of life before the Holocaust —  the one my parents knew and brought with them from Eastern Europe, but which has been fading with each new generation,” Blank said. YIVO will complete the Vilna project in January — on time and without going over its $7 million budget, a first for a project of this size, Brent said.

Read the full article here.


Beyond disruption: Learning, leading and healing in 2021


“I used to encourage our education students to be disruptors. The Jewish educational system was stuck in hard-wired routines, with an outdated compass, serving a population that craved something different, better, more attuned to their needs,” writes Miriam Heller Stern of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

New Goal: “But now life itself is disrupted. Indefinitely. Things we used to take for granted as linear and whole are now fragmented, shuffled, unsettled… The goal is no longer to make a name as a disruptor, defined as a cool, edgy innovator. The goal is to learn how to lead and teach the disrupted with empathy, strategy and flexibility.”

Rejoining: “How do we practice the dispositions to lead as Jewish educators in today’s disrupted world?… Kintsugi, the Japanese art of ‘golden rejoining,’ is a practice of reassembling the pieces of a broken precious vessel and painting over the cracks with gold. In our ‘Kintsugi Beit Midrash,’ I lead students in exploring classical Jewish texts about the power of remaking ourselves and honoring our broken pieces. We can both validate our human fallibility and empower ourselves to improve at the same time.”

Read the full piece here.


Jewish investors score a win in the fight against COVID


“Last week, pharmaceutical giant Merck made a historic announcement: it would widely share its COVID-19 therapy drug patents royalty-free to enable mass production for the poorest countries in the world. Jewish investors helped them get there,” write Dani Nurick and Rabbi Jacob Siegel at Jlens Network, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Prep work: “A month ago, JLens staff met with six of Merck’s senior corporate social responsibility staff and executives to advocate directly with the company to share its technology and increase its transparency around drug pricing… JLens has been in dialogue with Merck for years, including attending the company’s annual meeting in 2017 to dialogue with the CEO.”

Saving a life is a primary value in Judaism: “As investors, we are motivated by Judaism’s historic focus on affordable access to medical care. While the pandemic was devastating London – the bubonic plague, that is, in the late 17th century – Jews in neighboring Italy were still often forced to practice in secret. Rabbi Refael Mordechai Malachi left Italy for Jerusalem and published a book on medical wisdom and Jewish practice. He noted that ‘the community has established, in every single place where Jewish community dwells, to dedicate funds for the sick who are unable to afford the costs of medical care…’ Relatedly, Jewish wisdom explicitly limits monopolistic price-gouging for pharmaceutical drugs. As early as the 12th century, the physician and scholar Nachmanides articulated a prohibition against charging more the fair costs of a pharmaceutical drug, especially when a sick person is desperate, a position echoed throughout the generations since.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Up For Debate: United Nations World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley said he’s optimistic that the outcome of his Twitter exchange with billionaire Elon Musk might mean more help from the wealthy for the world’s poor, but experts are divided about the wisdom of having a policy debate in public and on social media, report Stephanie Beasley and Shabtai Gold in Devex. Food and famine experts are concerned that Beasley might have muddied the waters about famine, hunger and what can solve those problems, but those focused on philanthropy said that pressuring the wealthy to work with organizations on global issues could be helpful in raising awareness. “It does not make a lot of sense to compare the wealth of a few billionaires with the recurrent needs to deal with hunger and/or famine,” said David Laborde, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “That’s 101 economics, let’s try to compare things comparable and not mix up things just for the sake of a headline.” [Devex]

Raw Talent: In Inside Philanthropy, Ade Adeniji interviews Wendy Schmidt, wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, about the couple’s new program, “Rise,” a lifetime fellowship for teenagers. Participants begin the program between the ages of 15 and 17 and are provided with scholarships, mentorships and funding opportunities. The program is based on research that shows talented people can be identified at a young age. “I think all the stories are incredibly interesting. There’s a hundred of them, and there’s a whole lot more. I think we’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg right now,” Schmidt said. [InsidePhilanthropy]

Other People’s Children: Naomi Schaefer Riley, the author of No Way to Treat a Child. How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives, asks in Tablet why more Jews don’t take in more foster children compared with evangelical and other Christians, whose pastors called on their congregations to help these children and trained them to do so. She believes that the problem might be one of the norms of conformity and politeness in Jewish spaces. “In a world in which parents seem to be engaged in an ever-escalating battle over whose child has achieved the most academic, athletic, or social successes, where is the community that welcomes kids who look and act different, kids who have been abused or neglected and who can’t behave calmly in any kind of social setting, let alone ace their SATs?” Schaefer Riley asks. [Tablet]

Community Comms

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Word on the Street

national soccer team from the United Arab Emirates will compete in a soccer tournament in Israel for the first time ever… JFN West is planning an in-person January conference in Los Angeles… Phuong Thao, who is known as Madam Thao, Vietnam’s first and only female billionaire, donated $210 million to Linacre College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford… The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced grants totaling $13 million in support of patient-led, rare disease advocacy organizations working to accelerate research on rare diseases… The London School of Economics’ Marshall Institute received a $68 million commitment from investor Sir Paul Marshall to launch an accelerator for social impact ventures… A report from Monitor Institute by Deloitte highlights emerging social, economic and political shifts with the potential to significantly influence philanthropy over the next decade and outlines promising approaches to responding to those shifts…

Pic of the Day

Keren Hayesod

Israeli President Isaac Herzog attending a mass prayer celebrating the Sigd holiday in Jerusalem yesterday.


Bernard-Henri Lévy at Tel Aviv University, June 2011; Itzik Edri, Creative Commons.

French public intellectual, media personality and author, Bernard-Henri Lévy… 

FRIDAY: Former hedge fund manager and Olympic fencer in Munich in ’72, he once described both activities as having to “Defend, Adjust and Attack,” James Laurence Melcher… Former Oregon governor, state legislator and Oregon Supreme Court justice, Ted Kulongoski… Singer, poet and actor, best known as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, Art Garfunkel… Co-founder and chairman of Rexford Industrial Realty, Richard Ziman… Television and film critic, Jeffrey Lyons… Economist and former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs… Israeli ceramic artist and sculptor, Daniela Yaniv-Richter… Psychologist and wife of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu… Director at The Gottesman Fund and vice president of the Chatham Synagogue Netivot Torah, Diane Bennett Eidman… Music producer and entertainment attorney, Kevon Glickman… Chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, where he serves as the alternate prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Yair Lapid… CEO at Healthcare Foundation of NJ, Michael Schmidt… Senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, Benjamin Wittes… Host, anchor and correspondent for CBS News and CBS Sports, Dana Jacobson… General counsel of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Keath Blatt… Jerusalem-born pianist, Orli Shaham… Former deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Justin Muzinich… Executive director of Chaya Community, Tara Khoshbin… Senior reporter covering legal affairs at Business InsiderJacob Shamsian… Talia Katz…

SATURDAY: Belgian theoretical physicist, a Holocaust survivor and 2013 Nobel Prize laureate, François Englert… Former president and CEO of American Jewish World Service (1998-2016), prior to that she served as the Manhattan borough president, Ruth Wyler Messinger… Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Andrew Saul… Former longtime Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal… Research scientist at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, Barbara Volsky… Chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell, Joseph C. Shenker… Actress and cellist best known for her lead role in the 1984 film “Footloose” and the television series “Fame,” Lori Singer… and her twin brother, founder and music director of the Manhattan Symphonie, Gregory Singer… Managing director of the NFL Players Association, Ira Fishman… Founder of Nourish Snacks, she is the host of NBC’s “Health & Happiness” and author of 12 New York Times best sellers, Joy Bauer… Principal in Douglass Winthrop Advisors, Andrew S. Weinberg… Managing director and SVP of investments in the Beverly Hills office of Raymond James, Seth A. Radow… Chairman at IDTFS Bank in Gibraltar, he is a partner in Covenant Winery, Geoffrey Rochwarger… Executive at Elliott Management, author of “Start-up Nation” and host of the “Post Corona” podcast, Dan Senor… Program director for Jewish life at the William Davidson Foundation, Kari Alterman… Film producer together with her husband Robert Downey Jr., Susan Nicole Levin Downey… South Florida entrepreneur, Earl J. Campos-Devine… Head cantor of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, Yaakov “Yanky” Lemmer

SUNDAY: Neuropsychiatrist, a 1944 graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush and 2000 Nobel Prize laureate in Medicine, Eric Kandel… Former United States senator from Minnesota from 1978 to 1991, Rudy Boschwitz… Stage, screen and television actor, Barry Newman… MIT professor in electrical engineering and computer science, Barbara Liskov… Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former governor in the Federal Reserve System, Donald Kohn… Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor of the humanities at Harvard, Stephen Greenblatt… Founding president of Santa Monica, Calif., synagogue, Kehilat Maarav, and senior partner in the West Los Angeles law firm of Selvin & Weiner, Beryl Weiner… Constituent affairs representative and community liaison for Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Laurie Tobias Cohen… Volunteer coordinator for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Marcy Meyers… Canadian entrepreneur and CEO of Canada Goose, Dani Reiss… Managing director of global public affairs at Blackstone, previously a deputy White House press secretary, Jennifer B. Friedman… Founder and co-editor at The IntercollegiateDaniel Libit… Ph.D. candidate at the Yale University Department of Nursing, Avi Zenilman… National political reporter at PoliticoElena Schneider… Founder and CEO at Swipe Out Hunger, Rachel Sumekh… Founder and CEO of Count Me In, Shane Feldman… Co-founder and CEO at NYX Technologies, Tomer Aharonovitch

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