Your Daily Phil: Grants help Jewish camps get creative + New director of Boston’s historic Vilna Shul talks post-COVID reopening

Good Wednesday morning!

A group of 32 Jewish overnight camps will likely be able to serve about 16,000 children this summer, as many as they did in 2019, due to a $2.6 million “Capacity Extension Grant” program from the Jewish Communal Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF), Felicia Herman, director of JCRIF’s aligned grant program, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The grants will also help the system of 180 Jewish overnight camps start to reduce the deficit created by last summer’s closures, Foundation for Jewish Camp CEO Jeremy Fingerman said. “It’s $13 million of revenue, much of which will fall to the bottom line,” he said. “It’s an incredible multiplier.”

Each camp in the grant program will receive between $50,000 and $100,000 to create extra space by renting equipment, temporary structures or property. Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp in upstate New York, for example, will turn an adult vacation center into housing for its older campers into order to free up space in other bunks.

The Aviv Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Maimonides Fund, the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and The Paul E. Singer Foundation are backing the capacity extension grants, Fingerman said. Each dollar granted is conditioned on the camps raising a matching 50 cents.


Under new director, Boston’s Vilna Shul eyes post-COVID reopening


Boston’s Vilna Shul is more than a century old, welcoming generations of the city’s Jewish community before falling into disrepair in the 1980s. But now, it’s being given an unlikely second life — as a start-up serving not just as a gathering place for Jewish Bostonians, but as a nonprofit cultural center open to the broader Boston community. Its new executive director, Dalit Ballen Horn, spoke with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff about her vision for the Vilna Shul.

Original founders: Located in historic Beacon Hill and named for the founders’ storied native city in Lithuania — the Vilna Shul was built in 1919 at a time when the neighborhood was home to 40 synagogues. By the 1980s, most of the city’s Jewish population had moved to the suburbs, and the building — the last immigrant-era synagogue still standing downtown — was abandoned. 

Lawyer savior: Richard Mintz, a Boston lawyer who died in 2011, led the effort to save it from the same fate as the other old shuls by purchasing it in the mid-1990s, rather than let the city raze it for parking. Mintz and his allies turned it into a nonprofit cultural center, which launched a period of experimental programming and gradual renovation on a budget that was sometimes as low as $100,000 a year, Horn said.

Growing demand: The process, she said, upended traditional practice. Normally, an organization — like the original Vilna Shul — is created to serve particular people, for a certain purpose. This iteration was born out of the desire to preserve a piece of history in a particular place. In 2015, the community that had grown up around the Vilna Shul, and its board realized that the Jewish population in the immediate area had itself grown. “There were so many people who were searching for community, and wanted to be connected to Jewish life, who were not going to do it at a Hillel or a synagogue or a JCC. This was downtown,” she said. “The JCC here is thriving, but it’s in the suburbs.”

Read the full article here.

Silver linings

Marking one year of COVID in Jewish education

Matthew T Rader / Unsplash

Although no one is bold enough to predict the future, Jewish educators have found that in the adversity and challenges of the past year, their eyes were opened to possibilities in Jewish education that might have enduring value beyond the pandemic, writes David Bryfman in an opinion piece where Jewish educators — covering adult education, day schools, and early childhood education — reflect on the last 12 months in Jewish education and imagine what the future of Jewish education might look like.

Adult education: Organizations of all sizes have seen an increase in the number of adult learners in their online programs during this year. Adults recognize that Jewish learning can offer them spiritual nourishment, intellectual stimulation, and social connection during this time of isolation and restriction. The virtual classroom allows these devoted learners to invite friends and family from across the world to join them. Virtual classrooms also allow learners to take classes with gifted educators from near and far — it makes every scholar “in residence.”

Silver lining: Adult Jewish learning may turn out to be one of the strongest silver linings of the pandemic, re-invigorating a multiplicity of ways for us to share our engagement, curiosity, and discovery, and build together a stronger Jewish future. 

Read the full piece here.

Shehechiyanu moment

Shifting a Shabbaton

The Leffell School

In an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy, Josh Ull and Rena Sichel Rosen ask, “When was the last time you did something for the first time? What does it take to make an ‘old’ experience new? While it’s easy to hit copy and paste each school year, the pandemic has challenged educators to rethink and reimagine.”

Background: At our school, Shabbatonim set the foundation for each school year by kick-starting new friendships, strengthening grade identities, and increasing each student’s understanding of and appreciation for Shabbat. While our classroom educators were able to return to some normalcy with in-person learning, these travel-based extracurricular experiences faced seemingly insurmountable restrictions. How could we find a way to measure up to the 25 hours typically filled with bonding through late-night conversations, spirited singing and dancing, and ice skating motzei Shabbat? 

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Stress States: Leaders and staff at charities who have responded to the pandemic are struggling with exhaustion and stress, exacerbated by the coming transition to hybrid programming, writes Jim Rendon in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.Rendon cites a Florida survey that revealed that two-thirds of groups reported that staff is suffering from fear and frustration. In Arkansas, three-quarters of charities need help managing employee stress. An Arizona survey of 500 nonprofits showed a loss of 30,000 volunteers, creating a burden on staff. The situation could create a period of high turnover that will challenge the entire sector. [ChroniclePhilanthropy]

Go Easy: Writing in The Conversation, David Chesire, an associate professor at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, and Mark S. McIntosh, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida, predict a surge in post-COVID survivor guilt. A form of grief that a person feels that they were unjustly spared while others perished, survivor guilt in the COVID era can take an extreme form when someone realizes or suspects that they transmitted the virus. “We believe that people should be forgiving of themselves should they accidentally transmit COVID-19. Self-forgiveness requires recognition we cannot control everything and that our motives were benign,” they conclude. [Conversation]

Win-Win: We are a nation plagued by zero-sum thinking, and the only way out is a radical shift in mindset, contends Wendy Feliz, founding director at the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council, at the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s blog. False dichotomies — like the idea that justice has to come before unity, or vice versa — must be identified and rejected. In Feliz’ field of immigration, the most widespread fallacy is the notion that if an immigrant gains something, a native-born citizen must lose something. [CenterEffectivePhilanthropy]

Looking Back: On HistPhil, a web-based publication focused on the history of philanthropy, Stanley Carlson-Thies reveals the backstory behind the White House office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Carlson-Thies says the office must also be understood as the fifth phase of major changes that go back to the Clinton administration, chief among them the “Charitable Choice” provision in former President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill, which specified the equal eligibility of faith-based organizations for federal funding. [HistPhil]

Community Comms

Opening: The Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund announces the opening of its 2021 grant cycle. Go to for details.

Apply! Want to join the team at Jewish Insider / eJewish Philanthropy? We’re looking for a top-notch philanthropy editor. Learn more here.

Be featured: Email us to inform the eJP readership of your upcoming event, job opening, or other communication.

Word on the Street

Boston philanthropist Carl J. Shapiro has died at age 108… The Institute for Jewish Policy Research published “Moving beyond COVID-19: What needs to be done to help preserve and enhance Jewish communal life?”… Goldman Sachs will invest $10 billion in a new ‘One Million Black Women’ initiative… Telemarketing firm Associated Community Services has agreed to settle charges by the FTC and state agencies that they duped donors into giving to charities that failed to provide the services they promised… 

The Israeli Women Museum will open in Haifa later this year… The sixth annual Infertility Awareness Shabbat, an initiative to raise awareness and sensitivity regarding infertility, will take place March 11-13… Conversations on inclusion and diversity, hosted by Dr. Erica Brown, have returned to GWU’s Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership…

Pic of the Day


Hilary Kener Regelman, director of national outreach and marketing at JScreen, the genetic testing non-profit, yesterday conducted a virtual demonstration for Yeshiva University students, showing them how to collect and package their saliva samples.



Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, he won four medals in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games and is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Mitch Gaylord… 
Long Beach, California general surgeon, Leonard M. Lovitch, MD… Author and publisher of the Phoenix Scottsdale Jewish Friendship Trail Guidebook, Michael Alan Ross… Senior cryogenics engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Lawrence Sobel… Founder and CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Pegasystems, Alan N. Trefler… CEO of Strategy3i Ltd. and Beyond Remotely, Jeffrey Kahn… Record producer, former co-president of Columbia Records and a co-founder of Def Jam Records, Frederick Jay “Rick” Rubin… Co-host of CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” David Faber… Executive director of the America Israel Friendship League, Wayne L. Firestone… Actor and the son of novelist Norman Mailer, Stephen Mailer turns… Investigative reporter for The New York Times, Danny Hakim… Real estate agent and reality television personality, Josh Altman… VP of lending and exchanges at Celsius Network, Aliza Landes… Former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. State Department, Carrie Filipetti… Actor and director, Sawyer Avery Spielberg… Editor-at-large of Mishpacha Magazine, Binyamin Rose