Your Daily Phil: Ziegler School to reduce length of program, time in Israel, tuition
Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Your Daily Phil, we report on big changes at L.A.’s Ziegler rabbinical school, and feature an op-ed by Jen Schiffer on tikkun olam through composting. Also in this newsletter: Lisa Barkan, Luz Liebeskind and Enes Kanter Freedom. We’ll start with the inside story on Birthright’s trip cuts.
The Adelson family’s sharp reduction in funding to Birthright, which has helped spur cuts to the number of trip participants the organization will bring to Israel next year, has been in the works since 2016, Birthright Foundation CEO Izzy Tapoohi told eJewishPhilanthropy yesterday.
The Adelson family has been Birthright’s largest donor — and slashed the family’s annual gift to the Israel trip provider recently, leaving it scrambling for cash. According to Haaretz, Miriam Adelson and her late husband, Sheldon, used to give the foundation, which funds the free 10-day trips to Israel for young adults, $35-40 million annually, but reduced that number to $20 million this year and $10 million for next year. Last week, the foundation announced that it will need to decrease the number of trip participants by up to one-third.
Speaking to eJewishPhilanthropy, Tapoohi said the cuts in the Adelsons’ donations were first discussed in a meeting six years ago and are part of a plan to gain broader buy-in for the program from rank-and-file Jewish donors. “We believe Birthright Israel is an endeavor that the whole Jewish community benefits from and everyone needs to contribute to its success,” Tapoohi told eJP. “We were always aware that there was a plan to decrease what the Adelsons could give us.”
Tapoohi said that he did not try to defer the cuts in light of the impact COVID-19, and then inflation, have had on the trips, which were halted throughout much of 2020 and, he said, cost significantly more now than they once did. He said that the foundation had increased other donations in recent years, but did not expect inflation to further raise the costs of the trips.
“There is never a perfect time, but you can either make a decision or you can’t and never resolve it,” he said. He added later, “Who planned that inflation in 2022 would go the way it went? None of the most serious business people anticipated this kind of inflation.”
Birthright is facing steep cuts next year. The organization, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned, is expecting to take approximately 23,500 participants on trips in 2023, less than half the number it took in 2019 and a significant decrease from the 2022 figure of 35,000. Its budget will drop to roughly $120 million, from roughly $150 million in 2022. Tapoohi said his foundation is now placing a new emphasis on growing its endowment and on planned giving.
In a show of support for Birthright, Miriam Adelson showed up to its virtual board meeting yesterday, and sought to reassure the board that she and her family would “remain the biggest donor” to Birthright, according to a statement from the foundation. The Adelsons have given a total of nearly $500 million to Birthright over the past 15 years.
“We are creating space for others to commit, to re-commit or to increase their commitment,” Adelson said, according to the statement. “Birthright is not an Adelson family investment. It is an investment in us all, in our collective, communal future.”
Read the full story here.
Ziegler rabbinical school to shorten program and shrink students’ time in Israel
Earlier this month, American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies announced a set of programmatic and structural changes that its leadership hopes will produce rabbis who are better equipped to serve today’s American Jewish community, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther Kustanowitz.
Big changes: The changes at the Conservative rabbinical seminary in Los Angeles impact the school’s schedule, curriculum and duration of students’ Israel experience. They follow an announcement earlier this year that Ziegler, founded in 1996 as an alternative to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, would be slashing tuition from more than $30,000 to $7,000 annually. “It’s good to reinvent rabbinical school now and again, to not just go on the assumptions of what worked 2025 years ago, but to say, ‘what do people need now that’s essential,’” Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School, told eJP.
Declining enrollment: The changes also come amid declining enrollment at Ziegler. The school ordained seven rabbis this past May, and its 2021 ordination ceremony, which included the 2020 class as well, saw a total of eight graduates. Its enrollment is consistently lower than that of JTS, and it welcomed just five incoming students in 2021.
The details: The seminary’s curriculum will move from a five-year or six-year program to a four-year program. At present, most Ziegler students spend their third year of school in Israel; moving forward, that program will be restructured into an intensive 10- to 12-week summer program. The fourth year of school, meanwhile, will be a residency, modeled after the structure of medical school and providing an opportunity for rabbinical students to work in a synagogue, school or other chaplaincy — or an organization or institution that will provide them with immersive, hands-on training.
caring through composting
Repairing the world and enriching our lives
“Every year, the month of November in our early childhood center usually includes a discussion about gratitude, and the idea of being thankful. While Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday per se, the overall concept and meaning serves as a jumping- off point for staff in our Jewish preschool to talk about important Jewish values such as tikkun olam (repairing the world) and being shomrei adamah (protectors of the earth),” writes Jen Schiffer, director of The Community Synagogue L’Dor V’Dor Early Childhood Center in Port Washington, N.Y., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Sustaining, caring and growing: “During November of this year, we began a new composting initiative. Our preschool is fortunate enough to be located in North Hempstead, a town that values sustainability programs and caring for our environment, providing compost bins at a discounted rate to residents. Composting involves the breakdown of outdoor and kitchen waste into nutrient-rich soil. By composting, we are actively reducing waste that ends up in landfills and in turn, providing valuable plant nutrients and reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.”
Save our scraps: “The concept of gratitude can be a challenge to teach to young children. Using the leftover food scraps as an example, the ECC teachers were able to show the children tangible evidence of having something to ‘give back’ to the earth through composting. The students could see that they were fortunate to have fresh fruit and vegetables to eat, and that they too could help to ‘repair the world’ by saving their scraps.”
Partnering for Cultural Change: Leaders of four prominent nonprofits — Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA; Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America; and Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International — are launching “A Nation of Bridgebuilders,” a partnership to deepen and expand connections between and within communities across the country in an effort to combat polarization, they write in The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Through coordinated training, funding, and networking opportunities, we will invest in local leaders as key agents of change to bridge divides and strengthen relationships at the community level. This will include, for example, adding relationship-building activities for volunteers who are constructing Habitat for Humanity homes and providing training on active listening at YMCA summer camps. As we learn from early experiences, we will seek to expand and scale up the training and funding throughout our networks with the goal of creating a nation of thousands of individual and institutional bridge builders… Living in modern America often means living and working with those with whom we deeply disagree.” [ChronicleofPhilanthropy]
Make Smart Choices: With Giving Tuesday in the rearview mirror, some people may still need help determining how their philanthropic dollars can make the biggest impact, Emily Kane Miller writes for the EthosTracking blog, providing some guiding questions to consider: “Some philanthropic work is a guaranteed ‘sure thing’ – the task has been done before, the system is set, and your dollars are essentially guaranteed to accomplish a given goal. Other work falls into the ‘moonshot’ category – new, innovative approaches, which if successful could disrupt the status-quo, and prove to be game changing. These efforts also have a much higher likelihood of ‘failure.’ The question here – are you comfortable with risk? …Reflecting on your personal impact history, here are the questions we’d recommend considering: How deeply engaged are you with your ‘double down’ organization(s)? If you’re on the board, or otherwise deeply committed, this could be a very helpful time to support unlocking a matching gift or meeting a key benchmark. On the other hand, if you are simply making a donation to a group you’ve already supported, it might be worth taking a minute to consider if there are any other groups who may benefit from your funds this year.” [EthosTracking]
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