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FROM OUR CEO

3/1/2024

Shabbat Shalom

Today is Day 147 of the war with Hamas and 134 individuals are still being held captive against their will in Gaza.

Like most weeks since October 7th, this week has been difficult. There was hope that a deal to release the hostages would be announced but that did not happen. Then there was the incident at UC Berkeley that was disturbing. I was surprised this morning when I picked up the LA Times that the front page was not covered with photographs from the recent incident in Gaza with the humanitarian aid riot. Has the world started, after almost five months released that Hamas’s reports need to be fact-checked?

What happened this week at UC Berkeley is an indication of another war front we are witnessing on college campuses and city halls. The verbal and physical attacks on Jews and Israel’s supporters have grown to a degree causing concerns for Jewish leaders. In addition to UC Berkeley, today I learned the Associated Students at UCR voted “to adopt a resolution that demonizes Israel and marginalizes the Jewish community at UCR.” Check out the statement by Hillel.

Also, please check out the recent articles and interviews I posted on the resource blog.

On Tuesday, March 5th, at 11:30 AM we will have a briefing from Israel with Dr. Mordechai Kedar. Space is limited RSVP to gloria.benavides@jfedps.org .

The Torah portion this week is Ki Tissa, famous for the story of the golden calf. When Moses witnessed this, he shattered the tablets (the Ten Commandments). I could write and discuss so much to learn in this Torah Portion for days. If you are interested, please check out the many commentaries available online a good source is Sefaria.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

2/23/2024

Shabbat Shalom. Today is Day 140 of the war with Hamas. There are 134 individuals held captive someplace in Gaza. Call your elected officials to demand their release.

To get updated information about the war, visit our website’s resource blog. Here is the link

This week I posted the job description for the Educational Program Director for the Tolerance Education Center. You can also find it on our website. If you know anyone who meets the qualifications, please send it to them. Here is the link

The Late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks Z”L wrote several years ago about this week’s Torah Portion, Tetzaveh. It resonates with me now as we look at leaders and leadership. Rabbi Sacks looks at leadership as a shared and communal responsibility.

In short, Rabbi Sacks references the roles Moses and Aaron play in the building community. He states, “All human authority needs checks and balances if it is to remain uncorrupted. Political and religious leadership should never be combined. Moses wore the crowns of political and prophetic leadership, Aaron that of priesthood. The division allowed each to be a check on the other.

As the Jewish Federation of the Desert, we strive to strengthen our community whether Jewish or not. We will be successful if everyone works together. Please join us in our work.

Shabbat Shalom

 

2/2/2024

Shabbat Shalom. Today is Day 119 and 136 hostages are still being held captive in Gaza.

I will address three things in my comments today: Fighting Antisemitism at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, Everyone Counts, and volunteering and solidarity mission to Israel.

Fighting Antisemitism

I want to first thank the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival for inviting Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and Emma Blankstein to hold a purposeful conversation on Antisemitism.

I am a newbie when it comes to the Writers Festival. Today’s session was a powerful introduction to the festival. If there is a recording of the session, I will post it in the future.

Bari, Bret, and Emma in 45 minutes brought to light many of the challenges around why antisemitism has reached the levels it has today. According to Weiss, from Academia to the media, “the bad guys have taken seriously the idea of winning the hearts and minds of young people….” Her comment is about the proliferation of ideas that are being spread to make Jews and Israel into the “oppressors” (I will write more on this in the next JCN).

Emma addressed the need to advocate for more education on antisemitism and hold social media companies accountable for the hate. Bret Stephens closed out the conversation with the concept that Jews need to be proud and stand up for their dignity and being Jewish.  He also suggested that we should start constructing centers of Jewish ideas for example, “the weekend, you’re welcome, Honoring your mother and father, you’re welcome...”

Please check out the work of Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and Emma Blankstein.

Everyone Counts

Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polen introduced a tool kit to remember the hostages Everyone Counts. Initiated by the Bring Hersh Home advocacy, M² and Kol HaOt launched a new website of educational resources to inspire sustained awareness and concrete action for hostage liberation (Pidyon Shvuyim) Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who was taken hostage on October 7th: ” With Everyone Counts, communities across the world have a powerful and growing collection of resources to use as access points to inspire action and call for the hostages’ release.”

Time to Volunteer in Israel

I am working on several volunteer opportunities in Israel to help. General agricultural help in the fields, engaging with kids and the elderly, and as I have shared with others “economic volunteering” or as others like to call it “shopping and eating one’s way through Israel.” I am currently working on a mission to help in Ramat HaNegev during the week of March 31-April 4th.  Please email me if you are interested.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

1/12/2024

Today is Day 98 of the hostages being held in captivity in Gaza

 

As the Federation, one of our goals is to strengthen the community. Wednesday night, I witnessed what that looks like, almost a thousand people from across the Coachella Valley hearing and experiencing Azi Schwartz and friends. Close to 1,000 people came together as a community to hear Jewish music. I want to celebrate and acknowledge Lew Rader, Sun City Jewish Services, and the Jewish Men’s Outreach Group of the Desert for bringing the community together. Thank you.

I want to shift to a less-than-positive note. Today marks 98 days of over 130 hostages still being held in captivity in Gaza. The mother of one of the hostages, Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, has been changing out a piece of tape with the number of the day Hersh and others have been held in captivity. This Sunday, unless they are all released from captivity, will mark 100 days these innocent people will be held in captivity, separated from their families.

Rachel is asking the world to take a piece of tape, print the number 100 on it, and stick it on their shirt above the heart. She would like one million people to collectively on Sunday show the world that we care about the hostages. They have been held captive against their will for 100 days. Please put it on your shirt, take a photo, and share it on social media #bringthemhomenow and #Bring_Hersh_Home.

Also, today Israel defended itself before the International Court of Justice at The Hague on charges of genocide by South Africa. I recommend reading or listening to the responses by those representing Israel. A great deal can be learned about Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. Here is a link to the hearing via the ICJ link

Shabbat Shalom

 

01/05/2024

Shabbat Shalom. The hostages are now going on for three months in captivity. It was reported this week that three individuals who were reported missing after October 7th have been held in captivity in Gaza. The number of hostages has unfortunately increased, and we pray for their speedy return.

Again, I am going to comment on current reporting from The New York Times. This week, the Times reported that Hamas did use the Al-Shifa Hospital as a command center. Following the massacre on October 7th international media were quick to be critical of Israel and in some cases still are. In my opinion, The New York Times has been unfairly critical of Israel with their reporting and even with releasing the updated reports too late.  Even though the recent reports show Israel has been justified in their response to Hamas the delay has given fuel to critics of Israel.

The Torah portion this week opens the second book of Torah with  Shemot/Exodus

Reading the opening chapter of Exodus, we are reminded of the story of Moses and the Pharaoh’s desire to kill male Israelite babies. Why? Because the Israelites as a people were multiplying and becoming stronger. The pharaoh becomes fearful and believes the Israelites will become powerful. Out of fear he decides to punish them.

In my belief, this story is the beginning of what we call today's antisemitism. The Pharaoh became fearful and threatened by the Israelites.

The beauty of reading the Torah each year is we can find current connections like the ongoing issue of antisemitism. The other highlight from this opening chapter is the role of Moses as an advocate for the people and the community.

As we look at our world today and the hostages being held in captivity our role as a community becomes ever more important. I think of children and the elderly still in captivity and the collective will of world Jewry to free them. Connection to Jews everywhere in the world is rooted in our DNA coming from the Torah and especially from the book of Exodus. We are truly connected.

The work of the Federation is to strengthen the community here and everywhere to provide for those in need. Without Moses leading the Israelites/us out of Egypt where would we be today?

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 12/29/2023

Today is Day 84 of the worst year in Jewish history in most of our lifetimes. As we close out the awful year, 2023 will be in the rear-view mirror and the pain and emotions will continue into 2024. I want to thank you for supporting our work through our Annual Campaign and Swords of Iron Israel Emergency Fund (links to those funds will be at the end of my comments).

Two things this week triggered a visceral emotion in me and many others. Yesterday, The New York Times printed an investigative report about the barbaric, brutal treatment of Jewish women by the Hamas terrorists on October 7th. It took the UN and Women’s groups months to acknowledge the atrocities. Reading the article demonstrates the Times’ continued lack of understanding of what took place in Israel on October 7th by Hamas. Not sure why they needed the 150 witnesses, first responders, and forensic specialists to relive the horrors they witnessed just to confirm what everyone else knew because the terrorists recorded and live-streamed most of the atrocities.

The other incident this week included two anti-Israel protests that blocked and disrupted traffic into the airports of JFK and LAX. The unchecked rise of blatant Jew hatred and antisemitism around the world since October 7th has been unbelievable which in my opinion has been fueled by biased and unprofessional social media and journalists.

Let us hope for better reporting in 2024.

This week’s Torah portion is Vayechi – “and he (Jacob) lived.” This portion closes out the life of the patriarch Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, and puts the responsibility and the future of the Jewish people on Joseph. Also, included in this Torah portion is the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh from which the custom of blessing children on Shabbat and holidays originates from.

I started my comments with reference to 84 days since October 7th. The 84 also reminds us that there are still hostages being held in captivity in Gaza. As Jacob put the responsibility of the Jewish people in his hands, we need to continue to do whatever we can to rescue the hostages.

Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin says,” Do one thing to save the hostages: call the White House 202-456-1414 every morning and tell them to help release the hostages.”

As we close out 2023 and you want to make a couple of last-minute donations here are the links to the annual campaign and the emergency fund for Israel.

Thank you again, Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year12/22/2023

Shabbat Shalom and I hope

you enjoy this holiday weekend.

Israel is on day 77 of its war with Hamas and the captivity of over 120 hostages. I should not be, but I am amazed by the drum beat of disinformation spewing out of mainstream and social media. It is as though the media has no memory of what Hamas has been doing in Gaza since they took it over in 2007. The humanitarian aid for the Palestinian civilians was used to construct an elaborate tunnel system, purchase, and build weaponry that rivals many countries. Israel is being blamed for the lack of basic needs for the Palestinians in Gaza not Hamas.

There was a bright spot in our community this week. The Indio City Council unanimously passed two resolutions one condemning Hamas and antisemitism and one condemning discrimination of any kind.

While many city councils around the country have been quick to condemn Israel the Indio City Council studied the issues and did the right thing. David Tsikman deserves credit for working with members of the city council. David’s advocacy is a reminder that building relationships with elected officials can have an impact.

Today is the 10th of Tevet, it is considered a minor fast day as it commemorates the attack on Jerusalem in 588 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar II which eventually led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. 

This week’s Torah portion Vayigash is about Joseph and his brothers, especially Judah. I utilized ChatGPT and Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to help with a shortened analysis— “Rabbi Sacks’ interpretation of Vayigash and the story of Judah can offer deeper insights into the relationship between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. The narrative of Judah, who undergoes a profound transformation, resonates with the collective experience of the Jewish people. This transformation is not just about individual moral growth but also about the evolution of a community and its identity.”

I liked this interpretation because it connects directly to the work of the Federation as we continue to transform and strengthen our community. The relationship between Israel and the Jewish diaspora, teaches mutual responsibility, resilience, and the continuous pursuit of moral and spiritual growth.

If you want to make your year-end contribution to the Federation, you can call the office or use the on-line payment portal on the website Annual Campaign Link or to the Swords of Iron.

Also, check out my resource blog for up-to-date information about the impact and war in Israel Alan’s resource blog link

Shabbat Shalom

12/15/2023

As the lights of the menorah begin to go out, we should not stop adding light in the world. The Jewish people are often referred to as “the lights unto the nations.” This original comes from the Prophet Isaiah and was referenced by David Ben Gurion upon the creation of the State of Israel. The symbolism of the Menorah is a reminder of this. Even the logo of the Federation is a menorah. We are living through a very dark time and the more light we can shine on the world the better the world will be. I need to say that I think the world should also try and shine some light on Israel and the Jewish people.

As I look over this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, we are reminded of the influence Joseph had on the Pharaoh in interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream. I think it is interesting to explore how Joseph crafted the message of the dream that satisfied Pharaoh.

In conversations I am having about the current wave of antisemitism and people asking about the future, I respond by saying our strength is who we are as a people, and we have survived thousands of years of persecution because we share common values and an appreciation of Jewish peoplehood that keeps us connected. As the teaching goes, whether or not one keeps Shabbat. Shabbat keeps us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

12/8/2023

Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Sameach: Israel at War Day 63

 

The light of the Hanukkah candle reflects a bright orange hue. Many people are connecting this color to the two red headed Bibas children who are still hostages in captivity in the dark tunnels of Gaza. Kfir has now turned from 9 months to 11 months (the youngest person held captive) and Ariel is 4 years old. They are being held captive as are their parents. It is unclear if the four of them are being held together or are even still alive. The International Red Cross has not used its influence to check on them. So, since the Bibas family are not able to light the menorah this Hanukkah it is suggested if you/we have an extra menorah we light one for the Bibas family and add the prayer for the release of hostages.

The ancient story of Hanukkah is the story of Israel’s survival, and our survival is still relevant today. We all have the responsibility to teach the world who we are as Jews and to stop antisemitism.

The prayer for the hostages and my updates are posted on the resource blog on the Federation website. Alan’s Resource Blog link.

 

11/23/2023

As we enter the holiday of Thanksgiving, I am thankful and grateful for what I have. There is so much more giving at this time we can do for each other. It is important to remember those still in captivity. Below are the faces of the children who have been held in captivity since October 7th. There is talk of their release and I hope that as we sit down at our family tables, they will be home with their families, and we can be thankful for their release and the release of all of the hostages.

There is a request being recommended to leave an empty chair at your table as a reminder of the hostages and the families.

Sincerely,

Alan

 

11/17/2023

Bring Home the

Hostages Day 42

My Shabbat comments today will focus on three items: The March for Israel in Washington, Testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on antisemitism, and a joint community statement by local Jewish leaders and clergy.

I will start with the community statement:

On October 7th, members of Hamas carried out one of the most horrific and brutal terrorist attacks in history against Israel, viciously murdering over 1200 innocent Israelis including babies, toddlers, elderly, and disabled, wounding thousands more, and taking over 240 hostages. The shocking and horrifying series of crimes, which represent the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, were carried out with the clear intention of inflicting the maximum amount of pain and suffering on the Jewish people.  

The United States has been challenged by rising division and expressions of hatred. An alarming number of college campuses have fostered inhospitable environments for Jewish students.  

The CEO and the Jewish Federation of the Desert Board, along with community leaders representing the Jewish community of the Desert condemn antisemitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, and reaffirm our commitment to unity at this crucial time. 

We are steadfast in our condemnation of Hamas – whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jewish people – and we support Israel’s right to defend herself against the evil forces of hate. Hatred must never be allowed to flourish, and we stand together in the battle against it. 

I was moved this week by the speech given by the mother of one of the hostages being held in Gaza. Here is an excerpt: From the March for Israel: Bring them Home Now!

“My name is Rachel, and I am the mother of Hersch Goldberg Polin, a wounded civilian American Israeli kidnapped from the music festival on October 7th. Right now, how we are living is to describe to you, we hostage families have lived the last 39 days in slow-motion torment for 38 nights. None of us have slept the real sleep of the before. We all have third-degree burns on our souls. Our hearts are bruised and seeping with misery, but the real souls suffering are those of the hostages. And they want to ask everyone in the world, all the screamers, the indifferent, the experts, the academics, the knowledgeable, the passives, the perfectly outraged, the righteous, the indignant, the haters, the leaders, the lovers, the every single one of us. Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen and buried alive? 

Ways and Means Hearing:

Also, this week the US House of Representatives’ Ways and Means committee held a hearing on antisemitism on college campuses. I urge you to go to the resource blog on our website and read the testimony by Cornell University student Talia Dror. 

Let’s keep the hostages in our thoughts and pray for their safe return and the safety of the soldiers.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

11/10/2023

Tomorrow, November 11th is Veteran’s Day, a day of honoring military veterans. As Israel and diaspora Jewry are in the middle of the war with Hamas, seeing the support of the United States and the US Military this Veteran’s Day can be a reminder of the importance of honoring men and women who risk their lives to protect the United States and democratic values.

Today also marks day 35 of the war with Hamas and 35 days of captivity of the 242 hostages. The Jewish Federations of North America conducted an attitudinal study around the attack on Israel and the war in Gaza. The findings are interesting. The poll was conducted in America and included responses from Jewish and non-Jewish adults. I will share a few highlights and I encourage you to check out the full report in the resources section of our website.

How closely are you following the War Between Israel and Hamas?

Adult Americans: very closely or somewhat closely 85%

Jewish Americans: very closely or somewhat closely 98%

This Shabbat, continue to pray for the release of the hostages and the well-being and safety of the soldiers.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

10/27/2023

Israel at War - Week 3

It is hard to put together an uplifting message as we move into Shabbat. I have on my mind the lives of the hostages being held in captivity in Gaza. Babies, toddlers, teenagers, men, women, elderly—we need to keep them in our hearts and prayers until they are released.

Rockets continue to be launched from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians and Israel responds by targeting Hamas’ rocket launching sites, leadership, and ammunition depots. America is still standing firm with Israel. It has been reported that Hamas leadership flew from their hiding places in Doha (the leaders do not live in Gaza) to meet with Russian and Iranian leaders in Moscow.

To stay informed please check out the resource page on our website:

  • Call our elected officials in Washington and thank them for their support of Israel.
  • If you know people who have family in Israel reach out to them and let them know you are thinking of them and your support of Israel.
  • Support the Swords of Iron Emergency Relief Fund. 100% of your donation through us goes to organizations on the ground in Israel.

Join us for upcoming programs:

November 7th, 1:00 pm - Jerusalem Post Reporter, Herb Keinon, Israel in Crisis: A war that will alter Israel for generations. RSVP to gloria.benavides@jfedps.org

November 8th - Author Miriam Black will be speaking on her book Shayna.

November 13th - Virtual Presentation by author and commentator Jonathan Freedland on his book The Escape Artist.

November 27th - Cabaret for a Cause, the wrong date is in the printed JCN.

December 3rd - Feast of Jewish Learning, an all-day of learning from authors:

Andrew Lawler - Under Jerusalem, Philip Slayton - Antisemitism, Michael Strassfeld - Judaism Disrupted, Benyamin Cohen - The Einstein Effect, Joel Chasnoff - Israel 201, Fayne Frey - The Skincare Hoax, Omer Bartov - The Butterfly and the Axe, Deborah Applegate - Madam, Sara Birnbach - A Daughter's Kaddish, Rachel Shteir - Betty Friedan, Oren Kessler - Palestine 1936, Joseph Posnanski - Why We Love Baseball, and Van Sise - Invited to Life.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

10/20/2023

My comments on this Shabbat are simple. I am thinking of the 203 hostages taken from their families and now in captivity in Gaza. The movement to bring them home has created a Shabbat table in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum with 200 place settings and highchairs representing the babies. There are 30 hostages under the age of 16 and 20 over 60. The youngest is 9 months and the oldest is 85. Pray for their return.

Please support Swords of Iron in the emergency relief campaign. The needs are great, and we must keep asking for your financial support. 100% of your dollars given to our Swords of Iron campaign will go directly to the needs in Israel.

For more updates, please check the resources page on my blog on our website.

Shabbat Shalom and may the families of the hostages and those who have died find peace.

 

10/06/2023

In light of the attack on Israel and the regular updates we are providing for this Shabbat, I want to share the following three prayers.

Prayer for Israel

Our Father who is in Heaven, Rock, and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel [that it may be] the beginning of our redemption. Shield it with Your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace.  Guide its leaders and advisors with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land.  Deliver them; crown their efforts with victory.  Bless the land with peace and everlasting joy to its inhabitants. And let us say: Amen.

Prayer for Soldiers

May He who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, bless the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, in their standing guard upon our land and the cities of our God from the border of Lebanon to the Wilderness of Egypt and from the Great Sea to the approach of the Arava - on land, in the air, and in the sea. May the Holy One, blessed be God, guard and rescue our soldiers from all trouble and distress and from all affliction and illness; and send blessing and success in all the work of their hands.  And let us say, Amen.

Prayer for Hostages

The One who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Aaron, David, and Solomon, may they bless and safeguard and preserve the captives: (name of captive(s)) among their brethren in the House of Israel in trouble and captivity. In the merit of the prayers of this holy assemblage who pray for them, may the blessed Holy One shower compassion over them, deliver them from darkness and strife, remove their bondage, deliver them from their afflictions, and return them speedily to their families.  Let them give thanks to Adonai for God’s lovingkindness, and for God’s miracles to the children of Adam.

 

10/06/2023

I want to start today’s message with a historical note that I and many others have referenced over the past several weeks. Fifty years ago today October 6, 1973, Israel came under attack by its neighbors who were trying to eliminate the Jewish state. Fortunately, that did not happen. For me, it is amazing that fifty years after Israel survived the threat of destruction, there are people still trying to delegitimize the only Jewish country in the world.

I will not go on and on about the holiday of Sukkot except to reiterate, “The theme is to celebrate and rejoice.” I hope you have been able to do that this week. I am going to mention something here that is out of character for me especially, but I think this is worthy. 120,000 people attended a concert in Tel Aviv. The performer was Bruno Mars at the venue Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv. Two sold-out shows with over 60,000 tickets for each show.  

To combat the anti-Israel movements, I want to acknowledge the persistence of rock bands and performers who see the value of performing and being in Israel. This weekend here in the desert is a music festival with many bands; most of them have performed in Israel against the pressure of the BDS movement. Guns and Roses, AC/DC, and Metallica to name a few.  At a time when the BDS movement challenges artists to not perform in Israel, I want to acknowledge not only Bruno Mars for showing up, but all the performers over the years who continue to perform in Israel. Full disclosure, I am not familiar with Bruno Mars’ music, but the fact that 120,000 Israelis do and bought tickets and had a good time is enough for me to share this story. 

Sometimes it is hard to find something to rejoice about. The sukkah is a reminder to us of the fragility of life. On the second day of Sukkot, if you were here in the Coachella Valley, you experienced 30-50 mph winds for many hours. I rejoiced when my freshly constructed sukkah survived the winds. Sukkahs in New York were not that lucky.

As we observe the concluding days of Sukkot with Shemini Atzeret and rewind the Torah on Simchat Torah, we have another year in front of us. At the Federation, we will be adding value to the work we are doing.

Please join us as we embrace the beauty of our community and our mission to raise money so we can make our community stronger and help Jewish communities around the world.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.

 

09/29/2023

Tonight begins the holiday of Sukkot. Take a minute to look at the full moon tonight. The Jewish calendar follows a lunar calendar so if you see a full moon in the sky good chances are it is a Jewish holiday.

For the record, Sukkot is my favorite holiday of all holidays on the Jewish Calendar. Sukkot connects me to Judaism more than any other holiday. I also enjoy building or putting up a sukkah. Over the years my sukkah design has changed to withstand the elements. One of my first designs did not hold up to an unseasonal blizzard, collapsing under the weight of twelve inches of snow; another did not hold up to the winds of a nearby tornado. Over the past twenty years, they have survived. I mention the design flaws as a reminder of one of the symbols of the holiday. The world is fragile and unpredictable, yet we still find a way to sustain ourselves.

I want to share a few words by the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on Sukkot from his Ceremony & Celebration teaching (sent out by his foundation). “What is truly remarkable is that Sukkot is called, by tradition, zeman simchatenu, “our time of joy.”  That, to me (Rabbi Sacks), is the heart of the Jewish experience: that Jews throughout the ages were able to experience risk and uncertainty at every level of their existence and yet they were still able to rejoice.”

I can’t argue with that. I feel joy every time I am in a sukkah whether it is mine or someone else’s.

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sukkot Sameach!

 

09/22/2023

Eblast before Yom Kippur

Why do we say, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,” on Yom Kippur, when we are taught that it was “decided” on Rosh Hashanah?  That’s why we have ten days in between for reflection and repentance, the Ten Days of Awe.  “Awe” is what it takes to change and grow.  We have the ability to alter what was decided on Rosh Hashanah through the power of change. Powerful concept, not easy to achieve.

Yom Kippur is a solemn day of reflection. Yom Kippur is also a unifier. Almost anywhere in the world you will find a Jewish community coming together for Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre. On Yom Kippur, we stand together as a community. On this day we are unified as one. Even if you don’t go to a synagogue or fast you are still counted as part of the peoplehood.

 Fifty years ago, I was thirteen years old and impressionable. I grew up in an active home filled with Judaism and Israel. Slipping out of synagogue during services to listen to the news about the war and possible distractions of Israel has guided me on my path today. Yes, services are important but Israel’s survival for me was and still is of equal importance. I shared a few weeks ago about the two types of mitzvot; one in relationship to G-d through rituals and the other in relationship to human beings. Sitting in the car on Yom Kippur listening to the war in Israel might have broken the mitzvot of Yom Kippur. The praying for the survival of Israel, for me, was greater than what was going on in synagogue on that Yom Kippur fifty years ago.

Today, Israel’s right to exist and the ability to observe Judaism, however one does, is unique in our time. We have a responsibility to see that these continue. As one of my favorite sages says, Rabbi Tarfon, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it.” This is our work.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life. If you fast, may it be both easy and meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova

 

09/08/2023

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem

 

We might be a small group, but we are a focused and determined group to absorb, learn, and experience as much as possible while we are here.

A not-so-uncommon experience one has on the streets of Jerusalem is running into someone you know.  This time for me is no exception. Walking down the famous Ben Yehuda Street I heard a voice and turned around and it was one of my student leaders when I was a Hillel director at the University of Illinois. After we said our hellos and introductions he turned to his group and said, “This man, mentor, and friend brought me to Israel on my first trip to Israel which was the first round of birthright trips. He started my ripple effect.”

When he said, “The ripple effect,” It made me think about how many people we influence every day not knowing the outcome.

Leading this trip, with this group to Israel is about the future. I can only hope that what they experience will have a meaningful ripple effect on them.

Israel is an amazing place. A social experiment that started way before its independence 75 years ago. David Ben Gurion knew that the day before he and the others declared Israel as a country for the Jews, it wasn’t going to be easy, but he took the chance. He started a ripple that continues today.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

09/01/2023

Eblast Missive

For the past several eblasts, I have focused on the preparation one goes through leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s a time for us to reflect on our actions over the past year and strategize how and what we need to improve for the coming year.

Judaism provides a good tool for making improvements in our lives. The custom of the Mitzvah—basically doing deeds of lovingkindness and following rituals of Jewish life.

Over the past few email blasts, I have been discussing the necessary preparations one should make leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It's a time for us to reflect on our actions over the past year and strategize how we can improve ourselves for the coming year. A "mitzvah" is a term used within Judaism that has multiple, interrelated meanings:

Commandment: The word "mitzvah" is derived from the Hebrew root "tzavta," which means "to command." In this context, a mitzvah refers to one of the 613 commandments, or divine directives, found in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). These commandments cover a wide range of behaviors, beliefs, and practices.

Good Deed: In a broader and colloquial sense, especially among modern English-speaking Jews, "doing a mitzvah" can also mean performing a good deed or act of kindness. For example, helping someone in need or performing a charitable act can be referred to as "doing a mitzvah."

In essence, the concept of mitzvah is central to Jewish life, emphasizing both the obligation to follow divine commandments and the virtue of doing good deeds.

Next, what is the reward for doing Mitzvahs:

While the concept of reward is present in Jewish teachings, it is essential to understand that Judaism often promotes the idea of doing good for its inherent value rather than for a reward.

The work of the Federation is to serve as a conduit for doing mitzvahs.

 

08/25/2023

Shabbat Shalom

I hope those of you who are in the Desert or have homes in the Desert weren’t impacted by the recent hurricane.

I emailed out a message this week with a link to a survey focusing on general demographics of the community.  This is the first of a series of surveys I will be sending out through our eblast list. The first one this week (if you didn’t complete it, you will have a second chance, thank you to those that did complete it), asks very basic questions about who is here in the community.

To have statistics to analyze there needs to be a significant number of responses. The survey goes out to our Friday eblast group that numbers about 1,600 unique email addresses. I would like to be able to get at least a 25% response to the surveys so please click on the link. The survey takes less than 2 minutes to complete.

The next one coming out after the High Holy Days will be more on attitudes towards critical things the Federation works on.  Here is little snapshot of a few of the findings that probably won’t surprise you from those who have responded so far (the survey is anonymous):

What age do you fall under?

80% are over 65

17% are between 46-64

2% between 26-45

0 respondents 18-25

 

Are you?

50%   Female

50%   Male

 

Where do you live in the Desert?

33%   Palm Desert

27%   Rancho Mirage

16%   Palm Springs

12%   Indio

  4%   La Quinta

 

Did you go to Jewish Summer Camp?

30%   Yes

70%   No

 

Do you feel proud to be Jewish?

99% said Yes

 

If you didn’t complete the survey, please click on the link below and complete it: 2023 Jewish Federation of the Desert survey

 Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

 

08/18/2023

The power of Elul. What does it mean to know when to ask for forgiveness over something of yourself? We all have used the phrase guilty pleasure when we take a bite of something we know is bad for us. But we do it anyway. Why? Do we take that bite of something and name it a guilty pleasure? My guess is that we never ask ourselves for forgiveness afterwards. Right? The month of Elul is not so much about reflecting on all those guilty pleasures, but it is about taking the time to reflect. Go inward and look at who we are as human beings. We all can benefit from a little introspection. The many ways one observes the high holy days and customs may vary but one thing is common and that is the saying, “Have a sweet and healthy new year.” When we dip the apple in honey, we sweeten our lips so we should only have sweetness come forth from us.

I recently listened to and then read a piece by David Brooks in The Atlantic titled “How America Got Mean.”

I think this came to my news feed because I had just clicked on an airline story about how rude people have become on planes, followed by another story of a couple helping a mother traveling with three kids carrying diaper bags, toys, and a car seat while waiting for the stroller. A couple looked at her and said, “We are going to help you.” The mother said, “I don’t need the help.” The couple said, “We have been here before, and we can help you.” The couple helped and she met her waiting husband at baggage claim. When the husband asked, “How did you manage this?” She turned to thank the couple, but they were gone.

This is kindness. Is it rare? I don’t think so, but it is becoming less visible in society.

Well, Elul is not about kindness from other people but kindness to yourself. The mother mentioned did not want to ask for help even though it was in front of her. Maybe she was suspicious of the couple wanting to help (we don’t trust people anymore), or maybe she was too proud to ask for help (sometimes our pride gets in our way). I do not know what was on her mind, but I can tell from the story what was in the hearts of the couple that wanted to help. My guess was they saw a person in need and were there and stepped forward.

Stepping forward sometimes is all it takes. Taking steps forward with yourself is not so easy which is why we have the whole month of Elul to try. Judaism is about time. Each minute of each day has value and purpose. We need the full month of Elul to look back through the year and see what we have strengthened or weakened in us.

It is simple.

Start with the shofar. Find one blow, hear it, feel what happens inside of you. What you do with that feeling is what comes next for you.

Back to “How America Got Mean.” Simple answer to a complicated statement, lack of personal responsibility and social engagement. David Brooks focuses on the absence of ethics and morality.

 

08/04/2023

This week we learned that the killer who shot up the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 Jews was found guilty and sentenced to death. I would like to remember the innocent victims who were killed while being proud Jews and praying in their synagogue. This act of blatant hatred of the Jewish people is being called the worst antisemitic incident in America. Do we really need a body count to rank antisemitic incidents?

May their memories be a reminder that it is okay to be proud of being Jewish and be for a blessing: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, and David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.

Shabbat Shalom

 

07/28/2023

This Shabbat is one of the special Shabbatot of the year leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Shabbat Nachamu is a Shabbat of comforting. It comes from this week’s Haftorah reading which traditionally follows Tisha B’Av. I believe a Shabbat of comforting is in order this week following the work of the current Israeli government, the weather, the hearing on UFOs/UAPs, and of course, the observance of Tisha B’Av.  Does anyone else need a little comforting?

Another important takeaway from this Shabbat’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, is the repeat of the Ten Commandments and the introduction of the Shema, “Hear o Israel the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.” Following the Shema is the V’ahavta. The Shema and the V’ahavta are the words that bind us as people to Love and to Teach.

As the Federation we are guided by the words of the Shema and V’ahavta. We are reminded of the words as we look upon the mezuzah on our door posts. Many of us had them taught to us as children and in turn we taught them to our children. The words bind us as a community.

As the Federation we hear the needs of the community and we respond with funds, education and hopefully with compassion and love. When I wrote last week about the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av) and the 15th of Av (Tu B’Av), we were reminded of how we collectively work and find ways to make the world a better place. Some refer to this as Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam starts first with us as individuals to repair our internal world.

Yesterday, I received a letter from Mayor Eran Doran of the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council. He has been a partner of this community for many years. He wanted to share his thoughts on what is taking place in Israel. Please read it.

Shalom our overseas partners,

I have felt the need to write to you for a long time, but I am not sure of the right way to describe what is happening in Israel these days.  As we approach Tisha B'Av, the intensity of separation and its potential consequences weigh heavily on our minds.

 Despite the social turmoil, we find comfort in the deep social involvement of our people and the sincere desire of the citizens of the country to be part of and influence the public agenda. Amidst heart-wrenching expressions of division, we also recognize the importance of engaging in serious discussions and thoughtful contemplation about the principles by which we wish to preserve our beloved country.

 

In the midrashim it is stated that there are fundamental disputes that must exist, and there is no doubt that this is one of those disputes. We are aware that what happens in Israel has, as always, an impact on the entire Jewish world, and we want to thank you for the part you are playing in supporting and being involved in making the State of Israel a liberal and free democracy for all its citizens. As Ben-Gurion said: "The fate of the Jewish people is tied to the fate of democracy." This serves as our guiding compass for our next steps.

 This week's vote on the law to abolish the Reasonableness Standard in the Knesset was a moment of rupture after many months of painful discussion, accompanied by harsh and sometimes even violent expressions. As I mentioned earlier, a victory for one side in this battle constitutes a heavy loss for both sides, and indeed, the moment has come when one side has seemingly won. I assume that you are also worried about the future of the country, but we are determined to ensure that the State of Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state.

 During these days, we are dedicated to building mechanisms that will enable the healing of our painful society. Rest assured, we will continue to keep you updated about our progress.

 Thank you for your continued support and partnership.

Yours,

Eran Doron,

Mayor

Ramat HaNegev Regional Council

 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B’Av

 

07/21/2023

This coming week marks the yearly observance of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av for over 1000 years has been observed by Jews and Jewish communities as a day of mourning recognizing the tragedies of the Jewish people, from the destruction of the first and second temples to the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the Shoah, and other tragedies. It is a day of reflection.  We live in a complex and powerful time as Jews. Today, we celebrate the state of Israel and the success of Jewish communities around the world, especially in America. Yes, there is antisemitism, but we, as Jewish communities, are strong and significant on the world stage.

We are doing so well that most Jews aren’t even aware of why this observance is important. I am reminded of a saying by my grandfather who fled the pogroms of Russia, “When you only look forward, you forget the past, if you forget the past, it will be repeated.” He reminded me that now we are safe in America but know that it might not last forever. He was not a pessimist, but he knew that things change quickly. This is why we observe Tisha B’Av. We need to reflect on what we have and know and work to sustain it.

As I write this, I am watching the President of Israel speak before both the US Congress. Here is a link to his speech.

I am witnessing the lively applause and ovations he is receiving from the members of Congress as he touches on the key points of the connection and strength of the relationship between the United States and Israel. One comment he made that resonated with me as well as the members of Congress,

“Criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation to Israel’s right to exist. Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism.” This comment received the strongest and longest ovation and applause!

I will close by celebrating another date on the Hebrew calendar coming up in the next week, Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, also known as the day of love. So, we have the 9th of Av, a day of mourning, and a week later the 15th of Av, a day of love. How can one not celebrate being Jewish with these incredible connections to the past and to the future.

Shabbat Shalom

 

06/30/2023

California Hate Crimes Report:

This week the California Department of Justice released the 2022 Hate Crimes report. Local law enforcement agencies in California are required to report hate crimes to the department of Justice if a crime is committed of one or more perceived characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or association with a person or group is in. According to the report, a hate crime event contains the occurrence of one or more criminal offenses, committed against one or more victims, by one or more suspects or perpetrators.

Over the past several weeks I have been writing about hate crimes and antisemitism. This is the first time I can share statistic about events targeting Jews, people or institutions perceived to be Jewish. Anti-Jewish bias events rose from 152 in 2021 to 189 in 2022. That is an increase of 24.3 %. Overall hate crimes in California rose by 20.2% from 1,763 events in 2021 to 2,120 events in 2022.  So, anti-Jewish events saw a greater percentage increase compared to the overall numbers for California.

A few other statistics: hate crimes involving sexual orientation bias increased 29% from 303 in 2021 to 391 in 2022, Anti-Asian bias decreased 43.3 % from 247 in 2021 to 140 in 2022, and anti-Black/African American bias events rose 27.1 % from 513 in 2021 to 652 in 2022.

To read more about this I will post the report on our website.

Torah Thoughts:

This week’s Torah Portion, Chukat: reflects on a community dealing with water shortages, a search for the “red heifer,” Aaron’s death, and Miriam’s death and her well drying up. One of the most memorable events in this Torah portion is the witnessing of Moses’ frustration with the Israelites, which he is then punished by not being allowed to enter the “Promised Land.” The event in question, Moses is instructed to speak to the rock willing it to bring forth the much-needed water, which the Israelites have been protesting to Moses about. Instead, his frustration takes over and instead of wiling the rock to bring forth the water, he strikes the rock for water, but the water does not flow. There are many lessons one can take from this story, one that most of us have dealt with; and that is trying to control our composure when we are frustrated, like the time we desperately tapped the side of the t.v. because of bad reception! Whether it is dealing with people, projects, or problems, the solution does not usually follow an outburst. It only makes it worse. Also, if this is done in the presence of others, our status or image can change.

 I must think that Moses looked as ridiculous to the Israelites as we do when our acting out is in view of others. l would you think if you witnessed a person striking a rock for water or talking to the same rock asking it for water.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Independence Day,

 

06/23/2023

Monday, June 26th is the last day to sign up for the Israel at 75 Mission, Sept 4th-12. Please call me if you are interested.

This week’s events:

This week has been a riveting week for those following the search and recovery of the Titan and its crew. In addition, following the tragic capsizing of the refugee ship in Greece.

Exploring the Titanic has been an interest for so many people.

 By now you already know I look to the Torah for insights. Not a connection to explain what happened but a connection to human nature and the power of the universe—in this case the power of the sea. Jewish writings are filled with teachings and connections to the sea and tragedies: Noah and Jonah, to name two.

This week’s Torah Portion, Korach, resonates for me as I ponder the tragic outcomes of the Titan and of the refuge ship. Why are we drawn to something and not something else?

The teaching from the Torah about Korach is not a unique story. One might be able to draw a connection to either tragedy. In short, Korach, a Levite, created a rebellion against Moses’ leadership and failed. The result of the rebellion: The earth opened and swallowed Korach and his followers.

The refugees, on the sinking, overcrowded ship, were fleeing oppression from their country; and the men on the Titan were exploring the Titanic, an historic tragic icon. It is not for us to judge either one.

Something I took away from these situations and the teaching from the Torah is that we all must look at our lives and the challenges we face. When there is pain from a tragedy, we must not ignore it but use it to strengthen our resolve, find compassion, and find ways to help others through their pain.

Leadership and responsibility take on different dimensions for all of us. Seeking wisdom from others and sharing our own wisdom strengthens us as well as our community.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

06/16/2023

Happy Father’s Day!

I tried to find a connection in this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach and Father’s Day. Here is a try.

I am going to weave a few thoughts together based on this week’s Torah portion with a connection to Father’s Day. The Torah portion Sh’lach has always been inspiring to me because of the responsibility of the messengers (often referred to as spies), to go into Canaan and report back what they discovered.

Sending people out to explore the land in preparation for the Israelites’ arrival and to settle the land reminds me of the challenges one faces when they go on a family vacation. The parents might know where they are going but the children do not, and they are filled with expectations and questions. I am sure we all have either said or heard, “Are we there yet?

Upon arrival at the destination everyone has an opinion and often they are not aligned. We learn that from these twelve messengers.

In this story Moses sends out 12 messengers to explore the land and report back. Of the twelve, ten report back negatively and two report back enthusiastically. What did these two see that the others didn’t? Did they approach their mission with a blank slate where the others had preconceived expectations? We could go deeper but I think the bottom line is the two positive reviews set out with a vision and saw possibilities where the others couldn’t see beyond their own expectations.

The other take away from this story is connected to leadership and community responsibility. Most leaders, like Moses, take their leadership seriously and with humility; plus, they motivate others to embrace the mission. Caleb and Joshua did this. They understood what was expected of them as leaders and to find a way to make it work. This is my connection to Father’s Day. It isn’t that fathers have a unique vision, but it is the collective role they play in raising the family. Moses couldn’t lead the Israelites alone and fathers need the partnership of others to lead the family (this is not social commentary just speaking from my own experience as a child and a father.)

I watched a documentary the other night that also connects to the Torah Portion in a unique way. Two individuals spent a year teaching in South America and while they were there, they discovered the students didn’t have a school. So, these two teachers went home to Germany and decided they needed to raise money to build a school for their students. They did something unusual, they bicycled from Berlin to Beijing to raise the money. Can you imagine bicycling over 10,000 miles. It took them 9 months to do it and they raised enough money to build two schools. Like Caleb and Joshua, they set out with a vision and even though there was hardship they found a way to make it work.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Father’s Day.

 

06/09/2023

A few things of interest I followed this week:

War in Ukraine

The Jewish Community was impacted with the explosion of the dam in Ukraine. As a result of flooding of the dam I learned about the history of the small but resilient Jewish community of Kherson and how they are dealing with the flooding and the ongoing battle between Russia and Ukraine. We continue to provide support for Ukraine through our partner organizations.

Pride Parade

Over 150,000 people from around the world gathered in Tel Aviv for the 25th annual Pride Parade. This is the largest gathering of its kind in the Middle East.

World Cup Soccer

A sporting event that dominated the attention of most Israelis was the success of the Israeli team in the U-20 World Cup competition. It beat the powerhouse team from Brazil to make it into the semifinals against Uruguay.  After losing to Uruguay, the Israeli team will play South Korea to vie for third place on Sunday.

Battling Antisemitism and the Sustainability of the Jewish Community.

I read a headline in an article this week that tweaked my interest enough to read the article. The article, by Dara Horn, titled “Is Holocaust Education making Anti-Semitism Worse?” She wrote this as an outgrowth of experiences she had while lecturing on her book, People Love Dead Jews. In her words that title was “deliberately provocative.” More on this book after I read it.

As we see a rise in antisemitic incidents being reported I found her thesis worth reflecting on. It reminded me of an incident I was contacted about many years ago by a parent whose son had been expelled from school for drawing nazi symbols in his notebook. The parents reached out to me to help understand what was wrong with what he did; and to ask if I could talk to the school to let him back in.

His class was studying the Holocaust. They read The Diary of Anne Frank and they went to a synagogue that had a Holocaust exhibit.  He became interested in the design of the swastika and other graphic images of the nazi period which he was exposed to during the class, and he started drawing the symbols in his notebook.  “Did that make him an antisemite?” his parents asked me.

At that time this was an isolated incident. When he learned that the drawings were offensive, hateful, and inappropriate, he apologized and stopped drawing them, and the school let him back in. This example is just one of many that I came across while working for the ADL.

When teaching about the Holocaust, it is important to understand the depth this experience has on kids. Our hope is that it builds an understanding and respect of others, in addition to learning the horrors of the Shoah. In my opinion, Dara Horn’s article is a look into the positive and negative outcomes of teaching about the Holocaust, if teachers, parents, and students are not prepared.

Speaking of swastikas, did you read about the swastika that someone cut into the grass in front of a person’s home in Oklahoma? It is huge! And the person isn’t even Jewish! I will not provide a link because I do not want to perpetuate the image of a swastika.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 06/02/2023

US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism

As the trial of the Tree of Life killer began this week and attention on the recent White House National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism, the focus in many Jewish communities is about antisemitism and security. If you haven’t had a chance to read the report, I will share the link to it. There are four pillars to align the work:

  1. Increase awareness and understanding of Antisemitism, including its threat to America, and broaden appreciation of Jewish American heritage.
  2. Improve safety and security for Jewish communities.
  3. Reverse the normalization of antisemitism and counter antisemitic discrimination.
  4. Build cross-community solidarity and collective action to counter hate.

These are all ambitious goals and in an interview with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, explained that the White House and Congress will be held accountable to implement these pillars and the strategy and it is up to all of us to be part of the work. Here is the link to the report and the interview with Deborah Lipstadt.

ADL’s Reports

Paying attention to the rise of antisemitism, the ADL has released two reports recently looking at the number of antisemitic incidents across the United States and global attitudes towards Jews. In the audit of Antisemitic incidents 2022 ADL tabulated 3697 antisemitic incidents throughout the US which is a 30% increase from 2021. To breakdown the 3697 incidents the ADL uses three categories: Harassment (2,298), vandalism (1,288), and assault (111). Check out the report: 2022 Audit of Antisemitic incidents.

Also, this week ADL released the Global 100 which looks at attitudes and opinions toward Jews in over 100 countries around the world. This is one of the most interesting surveys that exists today. ADL and the researchers asked 11 questions based on Jewish stereotypes. The index then looks at the responses and if the respondent responds “probably true” to 6 of the 11 then they border on having antisemitic attitudes. Take a deeper look at the survey, questions, and responses here  Global 100 Index.

Jewish Book Council

Our library is filling up with recently released books by the Jewish Book Council, we will be reviewing the books over the next couple of weeks and determine which authors we would like to invite to our community. Here is a link to the authors let me know if you are interested in reading one of their books.

https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/jbc-authors/all/network/current

Shabbat shalom

 

05/24/2023

Shavuot eblast

I would like to start by wishing everyone a sweet and cheesy Shavuot and a meaningful Memorial Day. I am going to share a short story about my cheesecake journeys. For some reason cheesecake with strawberries on top was a family favorite. When I was sixteen, I started working in a restaurant in Omaha. Shortly after it opened, I found myself working alongside the head chef as his prep cook. I learned a great deal about food prep and how to work in a kitchen. My responsibilities included making many of the basic items: French Onion soup, crepes, duck, and cheesecake. I mention this because cheesecake is delicious and spiritual at the same time and always a crowd favorite.

Fast forward 10 years, I am living in Israel and looking for an apartment in Jerusalem. Through the magic of Jerusalem, I found an apartment and a housemate. The housemate was opening a restaurant in Jerusalem called Cheesecake. It was the place to be in the 80’s and early 90’s because it had the best cheesecakes in all of Israel and great coffee. Weeks before Shavuot the orders for cheesecakes started coming in. Marc’s cheesecakes were known for taste, quality, and variety. I could go on and on talking about cheesecake, but the real question is why is cheesecake connected to the holiday of Shavuot? The answer I like to share is Shavuot is the holiday about receiving the Torah and when you go to someone's home for Shavuot, they enjoy receiving a cheesecake…. also, the land of Israel is flowing with milk and honey.

Hag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom, and have a meaningful Memorial Day

 

05/19/2023

Planning for the future:

            As many in our community are leaving town, we, at the Federation, use this time to plan for next year. Our fiscal year ends June 30th and then we start all over again. In thinking about the future of the Jewish Federation of the Desert and the Jewish community in general, planning for the future is a lot more than programming events and the annual campaign: all important.

            While I was contemplating the future, I recalled an old and common Talmudic story: of Honi the Circle Maker. The story goes like this, Honi is walking and came across an elderly man planting a tree. Honi tells him you know that tree won’t produce fruit for many years, long after you have passed away. The man replied, yes, I know. This tree isn’t for me it is for future generations. Just as the trees that I have eaten from were planted by generations before me. It is my responsibility to provide for future generations.

            This story has been used by fundraisers for many years. I too have used it to talk about endowments and legacy giving. But the subtleness of the story is one action today has the power to sustain future generations. We can do things today that we will not enjoy the fruits of our labor, but we can take pride in knowing that we have produced something that will make a difference for someone else that we don’t even know.

 Jewish Book Council and our Library:

            This week we received a shipment of books from the Jewish Book Council. The JBC is one of the longest standing Jewish organizations committed to literacy and Jewish learning. Each year authors and publishers submit their new books for review and acceptance into their program. The authors that are selected commit to being available for interested communities to speak and promote their book. Last year we took advantage of this with several authors, and we will do the same this year. Pay attention to our eblasts and Jewish Community News (JCN) as we decide who and when to invite.

            We have also set up a little library in our building to house the books we receive from the Jewish Book Council as well as books that have been donated to the Federation over the years. Please feel free to stop by and check out a book.

             I met this week with Rabbi Kreiman. He was so emotional as he shared with me that his son Mendy volunteered to donate a kidney. What an incredible act of Tzedakah. It is interesting that he shared this with me as I had just started writing the story about Honi the Circle Maker and the planting of trees for future generations. What Mendy did by donating a kidney was a selfless act that he could not benefit from, but he would make someone’s life much better!

            Rabbi told me that the recovery for the one who donates the kidney is often longer and more painful than for the recipient. Wishing Mendy, a refuah shleimah, a speedy and healthy recovery.

 

05/12/2023

Israel Update

I wrote several weeks ago that Israel was going to take a legislative pause during the holidays from Passover through Yom Ha'atzmaut. I also wrote that during this time period there were several terrorist attacks killing Israelis and tourists. Also, over the past weeks there have been rockets being launched out of Gaza into Israel. As of this writing, just under a thousand rockets have been launched into Israel. Most are either intercepted by the Iron Dome or David’s Sling and others fall either in open spaces or land in Gaza often killing civilians in Gaza. The success rate of the Iron Dome and David’s sling is 91% effective although not perfect. One rocket was not intercepted and killed a person in Rehovot. Early this morning rockets continued to fall in areas close to Jerusalem. The rockets are being fired by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, as of now Hamas has not entered this conflict. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has responded by targeting Islamic Jihad leadership and taking out many of the rocket launching sites.

Talk of an Egyptian coordinated ceasefire continues to be discussed. Maybe by the time this is read there will be a ceasefire. I will continue to update as more information comes in.

Jewish Heritage Month

 Not sure if it is well known but May has been designated as Jewish Heritage Month. Congress, in 1980 authorized the week of April 21-28 as Jewish Heritage week and in 2006 President George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish Heritage Month. The Palm Springs City Council proclaimed May as Jewish Heritage Month. There wasn’t a formal event as the City Council meetings are not ceremonial, but I picked up the proclamation along with Jenn Gipson from the organization Combating Antisemitism. She has been working nationally with cities to make the proclamations.

Events:

 I had the pleasure of attending several nice events this week. Chabad of Palm Springs hosted and celebrated Lag B’Omer with a BBQ and Torah Dedication. Thursday morning, I attended as a guest of Jeff Hocker, the Harvey Milk Diversity breakfast.

Dvar Torah

I want to close out with a short look at this week’s Torah Portion. As in all the Torah there are many ideas that can be related and conveyed to us in modern times. Behar-Bechokutai, in the beginning of the reading G-d teaches and commands Moses to teach the Israelites about letting the land rest on the seventh year-so for six years you toil the land and let it rest on the seventh year—this is called Shmita. You continue doing this for 49 years and on the 50th the year will be a Jubilee year. We can get into the details of all these years. I think a simple takeaway is that living in a six-year cycle with changing in the seventh year could be a useful business strategy. Think about it. Change is hard but it can be rewarding.

 

04/21/2023

I landed in Israel a few hours ago. I am here for two purposes. One, to attend the Jewish Federations of North America’s Annual General Assembly, which coincides with Israel’s 75th year of independence; and to observe and celebrate one of the most meaningful holiday transitions from Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrains, to the joyous festive day of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. 

It has been many years since I have been in Israel for the two holidays and this year will be a significant one. 

Arriving to Israel, for me, is always an exhilarating experience. On my arrival today I had Hannah Senesh’s poem “Eli Eli” in my head. “My G-d, My G-d I pray that these things never end. The sand and the sea, The rustle of the waters, Lightning of the Heavens, The prayer of Man.” “Eli Eli” became a very meaningful poem, song, and prayer over the years. As Israel approaches a milestone year amidst the current challenges, this poem continues to resonate and inspire me. 

I will share my experiences next week when we celebrate Israel’s birthday on Sunday, April 30th, at Palm Valley School. Shabbat Shalom from Israel. 

 

04/14/2023

The Israeli flag represents the spirit and love for Israel that Lucy, Maia, and Rina Dee had for the country and people of Israel. They were ambushed and killed last week. Leo Dee, father, and husband of the innocent victims asked that people share the Israeli flag out of unity and support for the country.

Also, last week an Italian visitor to Israel, Alessandro Parini, was also randomly killed while walking with friends on the promenade in Tel Aviv. May their memories be a blessing.

When we think of the teachings of Passover and the exodus from Egypt, it is challenging to think that during this special holiday innocent people could be targeted and killed because they are Jewish.

I often feel a sense of liberation at the conclusion of Passover. Not sure if that was the intention but I do feel liberated. So why do I feel liberated? It is the reminder that we have a shared and collective history as Jews and when we refrain from eating certain foods and retell the story of our freedom, we are physically reminded that we are rooted in the past.

If Passover is our guide to remembering the past, what do we use as our guide for the future? I recall a phrase that was popular several years ago, “pay it forward.” This reminds me of the value of legacies. In reading a speech this morning that Leo Dee gave after burying his wife and two daughters, he shared these words, “If we move forward in doing good, more good will get done this week than last week. We are then putting ourselves on a journey to becoming better. If we are on a journey to becoming better as individuals, then the whole Jewish people will be on a journey to becoming a better example to the world and then the whole world will become a better place because of us.”

Even in death, Lucy Dee made the world a better place; she did this by donating her organs. She saved five lives.

Establishing a legacy is about the future. Our legacy, our reputation, is in a sense paying it forward. As one commits, as we do as Jews, making the world a better place for the next generation, we are paying it forward.

 Shabbat shalom,

 

 

03/31/2023

I am going to write about several things in this blog: Youth Futures, Israel Update, Shabbat, and Passover Prep.

Part of this week’s Torah portion teaches about the power of the eternal light, the ner tamid, and why every synagogue has one on all the time. It is a reminder that we all have a light within us. Some lights can shine brighter than others. This week I checked in with one of the programs you support through our allocations process: Youth Futures.  In my opinion, this program can transform lives in a meaningful way. “One of the central entities Youth Futures creates is a national infrastructure, a true asset for the Jewish Agency for Israeli society, the government of Israel, the State of Israel, and the entire world,” says Amira Aharonovitz, CEO for the Jewish Agency. I will write more about this in the future but as we approach Passover and discuss the history, diversity, and challenges of the Jewish world, Youth Futures is a shining light. 

This week brought to a pause the twelve weeks of demonstrations to the significant debate taking place in Israel. These past three months generated a great deal of tension and divide over the legislative agenda produced by the current government in Israel. As I wrote early on, with this new government, they were going to put forth as much as they could to alter what previous governments have done.  

When the country threatened to go on strike on Tuesday, to close the airport, to close the hospitals, and with over 100,000 people peacefully demonstrating at the gates of the Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu called for a pause until after the holidays. The pause is not a guarantee that an agreement will be found but it slows down the rapid pace of this legislative agenda. One could say that the people’s voices were heard loud enough to bring a pause to the chaos that unfolded.  

Moving into the Passover holiday, one where we recall our story of our exodus out of Egypt and to freedom; the legislative pause in Israel and the call for democracy are a reminder of the challenges our world is in. This shabbat is a special Shabbat. It is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath. It occurs the Shabbat before Passover. Just as we clean and prepare for Passover, this Shabbat creates a pathway for us to understand the value of what freedom means, to reflect and prepare on the importance of why we recall our exodus from Egypt and our ability to take charge of our lives. We are also reminded of others and our responsibility to care for those less fortunate—open your doors, welcome in the stranger, feed those who are hungry, and may your light shine as possible.

Shabbat Shalom, Hag Sameach 

 

03/24/2023

There is a lot to share today in this eblast. I first want to congratulate Jane Sherman for recently being honored by Masa Israel Journey on International Women’s Day. Jane was honored for her leadership and impact globally on behalf of the Jewish community.

Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival:

This weekend begins the Palm Springs Jewish Film Festival. The Jewish Federation of the Desert has been a sponsor of the festival for many years. As part of the film festival, Rabbi Rosenberg will be in conversation tonight at Temple Isaiah with Helen Ayer Patton, the granddaughter of General Patton. Services are at 7:30 pm.

Happiness:

This week as part of the UN’s International Day of Happiness was the release of the World Happiness Index. This is one of my favorite world studies. Over the past ten years a study has been conducted on the state of happiness around the world. The study focuses on six factors and ranks each country on these factors. The factors are GDP per capita, Social Support, Healthy life expectancy, Freedom to make life choices, Generosity, perceptions of corruption, and Dystopia + Residual. A quick rundown of the top five countries includes Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Israel, and the Netherlands. United States came in 15th behind Canada and Ireland. I have shared in the past that Israel has ranked high in this study, but this is the first time they have made it in the top five. Feel free to check out the full study https://worldhappiness.report/

Day School Focus Group:

On Sunday, March 26th, I will be facilitating a focus group on the interests and needs for the community to have a Jewish day school. We will meet at the Federation building at 1:00 pm. Please contact the office if you are interested in participating.

Federation Golf Day at Tamarisk

Due to the inclement weather last week we had to make changes to the day. We split the event into two parts. Part one was lunch and cards and part two will take place Monday, March 27th.

 For planning purposes, please confirm your attendance at the cocktail party to either Bob Diamond at dimobob@me.com or Kim Shwachman at ksps2324@comcast.net

 Also, on Monday we will be hosting our Pomegranate event.

D’Var Torah:

As we look at this week’s Torah Portion, Vayikra, we enter the concept of sacrifices and the roles of leadership. While the concept of animal sacrifices is no longer practiced, the values embedded in the system are still relevant today in the form of philanthropy. As we examine the lessons from Vayikra we are reminded of the importance of generosity. May we give generously and wholeheartedly in our ability to strengthen our community and uplift those in need.

 

03/17/2023

I discovered an interesting study which was released this week by the Pew Research Center. As you have probably learned by now, I like to share studies and research articles on Jewish and Israel topics. This one by Pew caught my attention by the title of the study: Americans Feel More Positive about Jews, Mainline Protestants, Catholics. During a time of increased attention and incidents on Antisemitism I was excited to find something positive.

On the whole, 35% of Americans express very or somewhat favorable attitudes toward Jews, while 6% express unfavorable attitudes. The groups examined all rate themselves favorably, on balance. For instance, about eight-in-ten U.S. Jews (81%) rate Jews very or somewhat favorably, versus just 2% who express unfavorable views. Similarly, 80% of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view Mormons favorably, while just 3% hold an unfavorable opinion – a difference of 78 percentage points. Majorities of atheists (72%) and Catholics (66%) also hold favorable views of their own religious groups.

If you want to read more about this study, please check it out at www.pewresearch.org

JFNA Update:

This week Julie Platt, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, led a group of leaders on a twenty-four-hour fly-in to Jerusalem to meet with Israel’s political, civic and business leaders about the advancing legislations in the Knesset that would change the relationship between Israel’s legislative and executive branches on the one hand and the relationship with the independent judiciary on the other. According to the report by Julie Platt, the bottom line is clear, “There is a real issue in Israel regarding legislative versus judicial power that must be addressed, and there are real concerns that addressing these issues in the wrong way could fundamentally alter Israel’s Jewish, democratic character. Both sides need to listen, learn, and compromise. When a situation becomes so contentious, it is often hard for even obvious compromises to take shape. We are doing everything we can to encourage this process along. In so doing, we believe Federations are acting in the best traditions of Jewish communal leadership”

This week’s Torah Portion continues the construction of the tabernacle under Moses’ directions and appeals to the community for their skills and dedication. Moses’s leadership focuses on the importance of following rules and regulations for the benefit of the community. This highlights the idea of civic responsibility, where individuals are accountable for their actions and decisions and work towards creating a just and equitable society. Overall, the Torah portion Vayakhel-Pekudei emphasizes the importance of community, cooperation, and responsibility towards the collective good, which are all important civic and democratic values.

It is interesting that the teachings from this Torah portion are still relevant today. As a community we are responsible for the collective good to build, maintain and strengthen our community.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

03/10/2023

This has been a very informative week at the Federation of the Desert. On Monday we hosted former Israeli Parliament member and the first Druze woman elected to the Knesset Gadeer Kamel Mreeh. Currently she is traveling around the country as the Senior Envoy of the Jewish Agency for Israel to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her presentation focused on her life as a member of the Druze community in Israel and her role as a leader in a patriarchal culture. As a former journalist and TV News Anchor, doing broadcasts in both Hebrew and Arabic, she brought a unique voice to Knesset by speaking to the needs of the Druze community and other minority in Israel. After her noon presentation at the Federation, she spoke to students at Hillel at UC Riverside. She spoke to not only Jewish students but other students who were interested in learning about the Druze Community in Israel.

 

Alberto and I were invited to attend a special program here in the Desert, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. As a community made up of snowbirds several Federations make a special trip to the Desert to meet with their community members and donors. I am working on building relationships with my colleagues, so they feel comfortable about including our Federation in their events or meetings. If you are a member of another community and they are planning a visit, please let them know that we are here as a resource.

Thursday, March 16th, 3:00 at the Federation.

I will be leading an introductory conversation about our September Israel trip:

 

March 21st, Federation Golf Day at Tamarisk.

There is still time to sign up. You may visit our website jfedps.org or call the Federation office to register.

Is there a need for a Jewish Day School?

I will be hosting a discussion at the Federation on Sunday, March 26th, at 1:00 pm, to discuss the need and interest in a Jewish Day School for our community. Please RSVP to gloria.benavides@jfedps.org if you are interested in attending.

A quick glimpse at this week’s Torah Portion and how it relates to building community. Ki Tisa. I mentioned in previous emails about the census and the contribution of the half-shekel needed to build the tabernacle—I will leave out the part about the golden calf and focus on the building of the tabernacle. Moses, as a visionary and project manager, needs the skill set of the community to construct each part for the tabernacle. He needs to not only instruct them but to inspire and motivate them to build and assemble them into parts. As leaders in our community, whether you represent the federation, a synagogue, Hillel, or a country club, we are dependent on the collective skills of the community to be successful. So, if you are called upon to be a leader like Moses, to be successful, you need the community with you. 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

03/02/2023

This coming week we celebrate the holiday of Purim. Purim is one the most vivid stories that reminds us of the courage needed to combat antisemitism.  Despite Purim’s festive customs, Purim has a serious message that is relevant to us today. One of the central themes of Purim is the danger of antisemitism, the hatred and prejudice that has plagued Jews throughout history and continues to threaten our well-being and dignity. The story of Esther shows how antisemitism can arise from fear, envy, and ignorance, and how it can be overcome by courage, wisdom, and solidarity.

“We know that one way to combat antisemitism is through education,” this was reaffirmed by Elon Carr, former Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating antisemitism, who spoke on this topic at JNF’s Legacy lunch this week.

Earlier this week under the leadership of Leslie Pepper and the Holocaust Commemoration Committee we hosted the winners of our poetry contest submitted by middle school and high school students. In attendance were parents and teachers. Listening to these students read their poems, I was inspired by the wisdom and sensitivity that went into these poems.

The commitment by their teachers to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and for these students to absorb and create meaningful poems was inspiring to everyone in attendance.

Also, this Shabbat, included in the Torah reading is the portion Zachor, which instructs us to remember what the Amalekites did to us when we left Egypt. This reading serves as a reminder to the Jewish people of the dangers of forgetting our past and the importance of maintaining our identity and connection to our history.

In short, throughout history, we have had examples of how we have been subjected to hatred. It is up to us to change this tide by educating ourselves, our children, and others on the collective responsibility to stand up against hate in all forms.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim.

 

 

02/25/2023

 

Ukraine:

I do not really want to start my Friday comments with the war in Ukraine.  It is now the start of year 2. Today, Friday, February 24th, marks a year since Russia invaded Ukraine.  This is not something I thought I would be writing about a year ago. I will say that we, here in the Valley, have made a difference in the relief efforts towards the people of Ukraine (both Jewish and non-Jewish). In short, we raised (and are still raising funds) over $165,000 in our community. Thank you.

A snapshot of what the collective relief funds from just the Jewish Federations looks like:

500,000 people have received humanitarian assistance, relief, or support:

700,000 meals distributed

65,000 people supported in making Aliyah

130,000 received medical care

4,000 medical and mental health professionals trained

180,000 Ukrainian newcomers supported by our advocacy.

These are meaningful accomplishments coming out of a network of 146 Federations that collectively raised over $85 million.

LOJE:

One of the most meaningful components of our philanthropy comes from the Lion of Judah program. I learned this week of a new Lion of Judah initiative that started in Memphis, that will be shared across the Lion of Judah community. It is called the Lion Behind the Pin. The Lion Behind the Pin is about how you pass on the values and legacy to the next generation. This came about when someone discovered a Lion Pin at a second-hand store, not just a Lion, but one that included a ruby, a diamond, and a gold flame. The gold flame means that the Lion endowed her Pin.

What does it mean to endow a Pin? A Lion of Judah Endowment or LOJE is a commitment by the Lion to secure a legacy in your name. I do not know the whole story about the Pin that was discovered in a shop.  I can guess that the estate of the woman who passed away did not understand the meaning behind the Pin. The Lion Behind the Pin is a program to help future generations understand the legacy, value, and philanthropic commitment women made back when they became a Lion. In March I hope to bring this program to our Lions here to help sustain their values and commitment to supporting Jewish causes. If you are a Lion or know of a Lion, please share this with them.

Israel Guide Dogs for the Blind:

I had the pleasure of attending the Israel Guide Dog for the Blind luncheon this week, hosted by Helen Varon (she is a Lion and endowed her Lion).  I am proud to say that as one of our overseas allocations, the Jewish Federation of the Desert supports the Israel Guide Dogs for the Blind program. It is a worthy organization, and I could tell by the crowd at the lunch that many people agree with me. Helen, thank you for bringing this event to my attention.

Correction:

I made a small error in last week’s eblast. I referenced Joanne Chunowitz as the president of Jewish Family Service; she is the incoming president. Aviva Snow is the current President of Jewish Family Service. I apologize for any confusion.

Shabbat Shalom

 

02/17/2023

I learned that today is the official day for random acts of kindness. I have to say, I am a little perplexed that there is only one day needed to be kind. This is a recognized international holiday that originated in New Zealand. I wonder if there is a connection to this day and this week’s Torah Portion, Mishpatim also known as Shabbat Sheklim. More on this at the end of my comments.

The Jewish Federation of the Desert is mourning the passing of longtime supporter, Ted Lerner, who passed away on Sunday, February 12th. Our sincere condolences go out to his wife Annette and the entire Lerner Family. May his memory be for a blessing.

On Monday, we hosted Hebrew University Professor, Reuven Hazan. He gave a very practical and informative look at the current political issues in Israel. He said, "It is very important for Americans to not compare America’s governmental systems to Israel. They are two vastly different systems. America’s is a presidential system and Israel’s is a parliamentary system." I will try to draft an overview of his talk with an update on the issues the current coalition is working on and post it on the website.

This week we held our Major Gifts dinner. In addition to hearing from our guest speaker, former 60 Minutes producer, Ira Rosen, we honored two significant community and Federation leaders, Ellen and Phil Glass. Co-Chairs, Barry Kaiman and Ron Langus, presented them with a beautiful piece of art and read letters recognizing their impact. The CEO of the Jewish United Fund of Chicago also sent a nice tribute letter honoring the work of the Glasses in Chicago.

During our Major Gifts dinner, one of the serving staff from Morningside noticed that Jewish Family Services is one of the organizations that receives financial support from the Federation. After thanking me for supporting JFS (Jewish Family Service) she wanted to know if anyone from JFS was present so she could thank them for the help she received. I took her to meet the new president of JFS, Joanne Chunowitz.

News out of LA this week of two shootings, thankfully not fatal, made its way to us in the Coachella Valley as the suspect headed towards Palm Springs. We were notified by law enforcement that the suspect was in our community and to update the area clergy. The suspect was apprehended Thursday evening.

This week the Jewish Men's Outreach Group of the Desert held a meeting and program in our building. Our building is here to be utilized. If you have a group or event that needs a location, please call Gloria Benavides.

The Torah portion this Shabbat is Mishpatim also knows as Shabbat Shekelim. Shabbat Shekelim is about the commandment to take a census of the community by way of collecting a half-shekel from every adult male equally. The collected funds were used for maintenance and operations of the Tabernacle.

Today, we would call this fund “to keep the lights on and the doors open,” (Operating Funds). I want to connect Shabbat Shekelim with the idea of kindness. We collect funds to help people. Yes, we need to keep the lights on, but our purpose is to help people and strengthen the community. It is easier to do this through kindness, as one act of kindness leads to another act of kindness.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

The tragedy in Turkey and Siria

2/10/2023

I know we all have been following the tragic earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Knowing that earthquakes are natural occurrences here in California we shouldn’t be surprised when they happen. But when they happen in parts of the world that aren’t as developed as America, we know the results can be tragic, and this one was and is tragic.

With each news update we learn of more and more deaths. As I write this, there have been over 20,000 deaths reported. I listened this morning to a report by the Israeli team that went in to help.  They described the extraction of a young woman who had been trapped for over 2 1/2 days in a space not much larger than her body and was exposed to the winter elements. The extraction took over 12 hours. During that time, they were able to try and keep her warm and give her fluids. When they finally got her out, she was alive but in very bad shape. 

Israel has a strong tradition of providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief to communities in need around the world, and they have been recognized for their expertise and effectiveness in responding to earthquakes and other crises.

This tragedy is a reminder of the importance of our global humanitarian network, which is supported through our annual campaigns.  Our core partners, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) have had professionals on the ground since the earthquake hit. They have been supporting the Jewish community there and are also providing broader humanitarian assistance. We are also in close contact with the Israeli government and other organizations that are assisting in relief efforts.

When events like this week’s earthquake take place, I look at the Torah portion to see if I can find some solace. What I took away from this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, is about community and personal responsibility. Moses is charged with receiving the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and as he does this, he is given the responsibility to lead the Israelites who are wandering in the desert. Not an easy task. The responsibility is overwhelming, and he takes it one step at a time.

Now leading a relief effort to save lives is not the same as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and there isn’t one person doing it all. It is a collective effort by individuals who have taken it on as their mission to help others no matter what the situation is. That is leadership.

In this sense, the story of Yitro and the giving of the Ten Commandments can serve as a reminder of the importance of personal responsibility and the role we each play in creating a more just and compassionate world. By working together and using our unique skills and abilities to help others, we can make a positive impact in the wake of disasters like earthquakes and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

If you are interested in helping with the relief effort, here is the link for JFNA  or you can contact our office and we will see that it goes to the right sources. 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Operational Notice: Recent tax letters

2/3/2023

I don’t usually start these updates with operational or administrative information, but I need to do so this week. We, like most non-profit organizations, send out year-end tax letters. As supporters of our work, you provide us with funds to do our work.  We, and the recipients of our allocations, are grateful.

The database and accounting systems we use are designed on a “pledged based” format (this can get complicated to explain), which means that we record a pledge when we get one, but the pledge doesn’t become a donation until paid. In addition, if the payment comes from a donor advised fund, IRA, or other security that has already received a tax benefit, our system does not produce a tax letter.

Why is this confusing? Recently, you might have received a letter from us listing a donation but not listing all of the pledges and contributions you have made this year. This can be startling to read, I noticed this when I received a letter only listing the contributions I made as tributes and not the Annual Campaign support.

Moving forward, we will be sending letters with the total amount of your support. If you have further questions about this, please contact me or Bebsy Morrison at the office (760) 324-4737. My apologies for any confusion.

Upcoming Events:  

Monday, February 13, 3:00 p.m., Hebrew University Professor Reuvan Hazan will lead a discussion on the current political situation in Israel. Please RSVP to Gloria.benavides@jfedps.org or (760) 324-4737.

Wednesday, February 15, Major Gifts Event, honoring Ellen and Phil Glass and featuring Ira Rosen, author of “The Ticking Clock, Behind the Scenes of 60 Minutes.”

Israel Updates: 

Keeping up to date on Israel can be a full-time job. I try and stay on top of it as best I can. The fatal shootings last week in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, recent rockets from Gaza, Rallies around the country, there is a lot going on.

One issue out of Israel that seems to be in the headlines in America is the issue of Judicial Reform. I will be writing an overview of this for the March issue of the JCN. If you can’t wait until then, the Times of Israel has a new podcast (not mine) that goes into depth on this issue. Here is the link.

Something a little different coming out of Israel’s science community is a recent brain study, using MRI scans.  Scientists can determine if someone is politically left leaning or right leaning—more on this in the future.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B’shvat.

 

Upcoming Federation Events

1/27/2023

I would like to start this week’s update highlighting several upcoming Federation events.

Sunday, January 29th, 3:00 to 5:00 pm, at UCR Palm Desert, our Holocaust Commemoration Observance. Check out the posting below for details.

Monday, February 13th, 3:00 pm, at the Federation Building, a conversation about current issues in Israel with Hebrew University Political Science Professor Reuven Hazan.

Wednesday, February 15th, our Major Gifts dinner with author Ira Rosen sharing insights and behind the scenes of 60 minutes. We will also be honoring Ellen and Phil Glass for their years of leadership for the Jewish Federation of the Desert.

On another issue, there was a report released the other day listing top Jewish philanthropists. The tone of the report was that these philanthropists are very generous except towards Jewish causes. I wonder why people with significant financial means to support organizations do not support Jewish causes. I hope this isn’t the case in the Coachella Valley.

The Jewish holiday of Tu’bishvat is coming up—it is called, Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot, the New Year for Trees. For some reason dried fruits and nuts are the culinary specialties. Enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom, Alan

 

Better Times

12/16/2022

 

I want to open with wishing everyone Happy Hanukkah. This Hanukkah, my heart is heavy. As we gather in safety and in comfort, I am reflecting on a Hanukkah experience I had over twenty years ago in Ukraine. I had the opportunity to take fifteen college students from America, who were paired up with fifteen college students from Kyiv, to lead Hanukkah programs throughout Ukraine. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, there was a resurgence in connecting with Jewish life and customs. After years of not being able to practice Judaism in the FSU there was a yearning to learn more.

 Through the work of Federations, the Jewish Agency, the JDC and others, informal Jewish learning opportunities were organized to teach teens and young adults about the holidays and customs. In turn, these students would bring their experiences home with them and share it with their families. Through a grant from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago a program was created to partner these college students to go out into the shtetls and teach. From small towns to large cities, we had teams of students teaching about Hanukkah. We would be in homes with one or two people or at community centers with hundreds of people—it was amazing!

 As I think back to those joyous visits twenty years ago, I am troubled by the continuation of the war in Ukraine. I know, through our work and the work of our partners in Ukraine, the Jewish community will be able to observe Hanukkah but not as joyous as it should be.

 The Jewish Federation of the Desert’s 2023 Annual camping is underway. Thank you to those who have already made a gift. I and others will be calling over the next several weeks and months to ask for your support. We will also ask you to make a separate gift of support for Ukraine.

 Below is a photograph of the first home we visited in Ukraine. As the students started singing traditional Hanukkah songs, the eyes of the woman sitting at the end of the table opened and she started singing and clapping along. Her children and grandchildren were surprised as they had never heard her sing anything Jewish. These visiting students brought back memories for her from a time before when Judaism was not allowed to be practiced.

 Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,

 

Lion of Judah Conference

12/09/2022

This weekend some of the most influential philanthropists from around the world will be gathering in Phoenix for the Lion of Judah Conference. Lions of Judah is a movement of women who are dedicated to supporting and raising funds for Jewish causes. Women philanthropists are the change-makers and community-shapers of the world. They are sisters and daughters, mothers, and friends, compassionate and committed women at every stage of life and career. Federation's Women’s Philanthropy engages Jewish women in the fulfilling work of making the world a better place. In every community, they are building and supporting Jewish life for today and for generations to come.

During this year’s conference, Fran Kaufman will be recognized as one of the extraordinary women from 58 Federation communities who are the 2022 recipients of the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, recognizing female leaders who embody the spirit and vision of Lions of Judah through a commitment to tzedakah, tikkun olam and community service. Congratulations, Fran!

The conference will feature sessions and dialogue around urgent issues the Jewish community is facing and opportunities to effect impact through philanthropic giving. Guests will hear from a variety of thought-leaders, activists, and industry leaders, including award-winning journalist Katie Couric, Rep. Kathy Manning, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Academy Award Winner Marlee Matlin and more.

 The Lion of Judah is a giving society for women who donate at least $5,000 to their Federation's annual campaign. These women are among the most dynamic philanthropic Jewish women in the world, deeply involved at the local, national and international level. They also have the opportunity to endow their gift to ensure flourishing Jewish life for generations to come.

The Jewish Federation of the Desert’s Lion of Judah event will take place on January 16, 2023. Contact Leslie Pepper if you want to attend or learn more about how to become a Lion.

In the near future, I will ask the women who are attending the conference to share their experiences with the community.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

 

 

Kaf tet b’november

12/02/2022

Last week I introduced the holiday celebrated by the Ethiopian community and now a holiday in Israel called Sigd. This week I want to draw attention to a very important date on the Israeli calendar kaf tet b’november. If you are interested here is a quick Hebrew numbering lesson: the letter kaf כ is 20 and tet ט is 9, so, known as November 29th. November 29th, 1947 marks the day the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution that adopted the plan for partitioning Eretz Israel.  Which led to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14th, 1948. I mention this because this year Israel is celebrating 75 years of independence and we are celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary this year on April 30th with a community wide celebration (details to follow in the coming weeks).

I also think it is interesting in Israel almost every city has a street named Kaf tet b’november. On a side note, when someone tells you they live on November 29th Street you immediately are walking on a modern Israeli street. When I first moved to Jerusalem in the 80s, I had a friend that lived on kaf tet b’november street and I would smile and chuckle when I made it to the street. Smile, I think out of happiness that we as a Jewish people have a place we can call home.

Speaking of Israel: I am working on a mission to Israel for September of 2023 (working dates are Sept 4-12th). A mission is a unique way to experience Israel.  We will focus on seeing where and how our allocation dollars are used and we will visit some very interesting sites. This mission will be designed for people who have been to Israel before not necessarily for first timers. I will say though, if you haven’t been to Israel before and you want to go this will be a great experience and will inspire you to go again. I will have details in a few weeks. Feel free to drop me an email if you are interested in this trip.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Antisemitism

11/18/2022

Antisemitism isn’t my favorite topic to write about or discuss, but I have to say it dominated most of my conversations this week. Following the Saturday Night Live monologue by Dave Chappelle and the commentaries around it, I thought it would be helpful to revisit the definition of antisemitism. While I was sitting on the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel (as an associate member) we had a discussion around the definition of antisemitism as it was being proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jews or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

One of the tropes that Chappelle implied was Jews run/control Hollywood—“it’s a lot of Jews, like a lot….not a crazy thing to think ....but a crazy thing to say out loud.”

So, where does this trope or stereotype come from? Andrew Lappin, writing for the Jewish Telegraph Agency explains it this way….As such, Jews (particularly recent immigrants) were able to thrive in show business in a way they couldn’t in most other industries. Once they were in, family ties or the general phenomenon of affinity groups often led to them elevating other Jews in the industry: For example, prolific Jewish producer David O. Selznick, whose credits include “Gone With The Wind,” “Rebecca” and a huge string of other hits in the 1930s and ’40s, spent many years at MGM, run by his father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer. CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE!

Antisemitism dates back thousands of years and will probably exist long into the future. Besides monitoring incidents in our community, the Federation believes education and advocacy are needed to teach and inform people about why it is harmful. Dave Chappelle used his profession as a comedian to address the current wave of antisemitism.  One of my perceptions of his monologue about antisemitism is he normalized it, and in doing so makes it okay to make light of antisemitism (not sure if that was his intention, but that is the way it came across to me).

I can write more on this topic, and I am sure I will, but it is important to understand that one reason we are seeing so much more anti-Semitism in social media and the town square is because it has become okay to make fun of Jews.

On an unrelated topic or maybe not, the UN came out with the world population estimate of 8 billion people. If there are on 15-16 million Jews in the world, we are only .2% of the world population.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Spark IL

11/1/2022

Microlending takes a new form in Israel. Spark IL is an interest free loan program that connects the lender in the diaspora or in Israel to new businesses in Israel. Starting a business anywhere is challenging. With the help of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Ogen Group, Jewish Federations and others are providing interest-free loans to help entrepreneurs get started. What is unique about this program is that the lender gets to know the business.  Plus, when the business pays back the lender the lender can reinvest the money in another business or cash out the loan.

I have been an active purchaser of Israel bonds for a long time and when I learned about Spark IL it reminded me of the value of Israel Bonds. You buy a bond and when it matures get more money back and at the same time you are helping build the country of Israel.

Spark IL is designed to help businesses that are not typical. Spark IL connects business from different parts of the country representing the diversity of people across the country working in many markets. For example; Ethiopian, Haredi, Israeli Arab, LGBTQ or Women Led. Most of the recipients are usually from outside of a major city such as the Negev, Galilee, Golan Heights and the outskirts of the major cities.

On this last trip to Israel, we had the opportunity to meet one of the businesses that received a loan and as of today paid it back. Hoshen is a Judaica gift shop in Jerusalem on the popular Emek Rafaim street. Hoshen’s story was so compelling that it met the qualifications to be accepted into the program even though it was based in Jerusalem.

Here is Ziva’s (Hoshen’s owner) story:

I have been working at Hoshen since I was 17 years old. A few years later my boss moved to Canada and made me the store Manager. Soon thereafter he decided he could not own a store from that far away and offered me the chance to buy it. I leapt at the opportunity. This store is my baby and I believe in it so much.  I work hard to provide a beautiful cross section of merchandise to our customers, including a selection of pieces that are made by those with disabilities. Corona-virus has hit the store very hard. A bulk of our business came from foreign tourists, so when Israel closed the borders, we had to pivot. We quickly enhanced our e-commerce site and managed to skate by. We now need a loan for cash flow, creating new marketing materials, and to purchase fresh inventory that will increase revenue. With your help we can continue providing beautiful items that will be used in one’s home for years to come.

If you are interested in investing or learning more about Spark IL please check out the website www.sparkil.org or contact me.

 

The Jewish Calendar

10/14/2022

During the time between Rosh Hashana and Simchat Torah some in the Jewish world take a little pause. I have found that it is a time that connects one to the Jewish calendar.  As I walked outside last Sunday night and I saw the brightness of the full moon, I contemplated the importance of why the origin of the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle. There are many reasons why, but I like the connection between the full moon to the Jewish Festival holidays. I am not trying to provide Jewish education here. It is just a glimpse into the long-standing traditions that fills Jewish history.

Jewish peoplehood is a strong component of what we do as the Jewish Federation of the Desert—we want to connect all of us no matter our interests or passions. We are linked together whether we agree on things or not. We cannot escape nor ignore that no matter where we are in the world, we are connected. We know this because the text in Torah scroll that is read in every synagogue in the world is the same.

The style might be a little different, but the words are the same. Each Simchat Torah we rewind the Torah and start over again.  If you haven’t had a chance to experience the rewinding of the Torah, I recommend you do so at some point in your life. A technique that I happen to enjoy is getting a line of people sitting and the Torah is placed on the knees (some places put a talis on their lap, so the Torah doesn’t touch the clothes).

Then from one end to the other end of the Torah is rolled completely open. What is interesting with this process is the Torah is completely open and if you walk from end to end you can see the whole Torah and the unique structure that is there, how sections are separated and other special features. Then when everyone has had a chance to see the Torah it is rolled back up and ready to read Bereshit-in the beginning....

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

 

The issue of anti-Semitism

10/07/2022

A common theme running through many of my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur conversations revolved around the issue of antisemitism. I have found over the years the lead up to the High Holy Days, anti-Semitism seems to be on peoples’ minds. I completely understand that. Historic threats to Jewish Communities often come at this time of the year.

The added attention on synagogue security and media focus on the holiday enhances that concern. This year was no different, except for antisemitic flyers, graffiti and physical attacks on Jews going to synagogue that were reported across the country, I guess there wasn’t much to be concerned about. "What?” you might shout, “There shouldn’t be any of these incidents.” You are right!

Speaking of antisemitism, I want to invite you to a webinar we are hosting next week with Lana Melman. As part of the Jewish Book Council author series, we were able to arrange a virtual presentation with her on her new book; Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews and Israel. This book is an incredible resource on addressing antisemitism through the lens of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting artists and celebrities who perform in or support Israel.

Lana Melman is an attorney, a 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry and the CEO of Liberate Art Inc. Since 2011, she has been a leader in combating the cultural boycott (BDS) campaign against Israel working both behind the scenes with the people artists trust the most —their representatives-and in the public discourse. Set in the world of entertainment, Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel, helps readers understand the connection between the growing distain for Israel and rising global antisemitism and offers a step-by-step plan to combat it.

Hillel Director, Eran Vaisben, and I will engage with her about the current state of the BDS movement and challenges college students have today in dealing with antisemitism and antizionism.

In closing, we will observe Sukkot next week. On a personal note, Sukkot is my favorite holiday. The sukkah reminds us of how fragile our world and lives are by living in a temporary structure for a week.  Looking at the devastation of the recent hurricane there are people without even a shelter over their heads. The prayer Hashkivenu that we say on Shabbat that resonates with me and makes me think of Sukkot now more than ever, "Spread over us your shelter of peace."

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach,

 

Hurricane Relief Fund

09/30/2022

I want this update to focus on the impact of hurricane Ian that has significantly impacted Florida and the Southeast.

In the coming days we will observe the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. I think it is important to acknowledge the devastation that has taken place as a result of hurricane Ian. Jewish and other communities have been significantly impacted. Many people will not be able to observe the Yom Kippur holiday. We are learning more and more of the impact on the Jewish Community. It will be weeks if not months or years before these communities will be able to gather again.

The Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) has established a relief fund to help with recovery. Hurricane Relief Fund. Many of us have friends and relatives that live in Florida; we want to let them know we are thinking of them.

Fasting this year during Yom Kippur might take on different feelings as we think about those whose lives have been upended by recent tragedies.

It is customary to ask for forgiveness on Yom Kippur. If I have done anything to offend you this year, I ask for your forgiveness.

May you be inscribed in the book of life. Have a meaningful fast.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Happy Rosh Hashanah

09/26/2022

I want to wish everyone a sweet, healthy, and prosperous New Year! First, we all observe and experience Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in different ways. No matter how one observes the holiday this time of the year, the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) connects us as Jewish people. We who continue to carry on customs and traditions and pass them on to the next generation; l’dor v’dor. Sunday night at sundown we transition from 5782 to the New Year 5783. In past updates I wrote about the value of the month of Elul, I believe many of you spent time during the month of Elul and reflected on the past year and planning for the coming. I know our paths will cross this coming year and I will be eager to talk with you about the work the Federation has planned for the coming year, and I hope you will join us in our work to care for the vulnerable, strengthen the community and support Jews in Israel and around the world.

This week, as part of the Jewish Book Council authors series we hosted a conversation with Dan Grunfeld about his new book, By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an unprecedented American Dream. This book as well as the conversation with Dan was amazing. He successfully weaves three generations of his family into a memoir that covers his grandmother’s experience during the Holocaust, his father’s story as an immigrant turned basketball superhero (Ernie Grunfeld) and his own story as a top high school and college basketball player who lost out on an NBA career because of an injury but persevered with his dream to play professional basketball by playing in Europe and Israel. This book was one of the best books I read this year! Please check it out. By the Grace of the Game. Our next virtual author presentation will be Lana Melman, Artists Under Fire: The BDS war against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel. This will be at 4:00 pm on October 12th.

Each new year at Rosh Hashanah Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics publishes Israel’s current population. As in years past the overall population of Israel has increased by 187,000 (1.8%). Here is the current breakdown as published in the Times of Israel, 9.5 million residents, 7.069 million Jewish (74%), 2.026 million (21%) Arab and 498,000 (5%) are neither Jewish nor Arab. A few more interesting data points; among Jews over the age of 20 45.3% define themselves as secular, 19.2% traditional but not observant, 13.9% are traditional-religious, 10.7% are religious, 10.5% Haredi (ultrareligious).  177,000 babies were born in Israel last year, 53,000 people died, around 4,000 from Coronavirus. Plus, 59,000 new immigrants fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Check out the full story at Times of Israel.

Once again, wishing you Shana Tova Umetuka, “A sweet and healthy year.”

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

Israel Update

09/01/2022

A lot of interesting news is coming out of Israel these days. If you haven’t picked up on my writing interests yet you will after reading this piece. I feel strongly about addressing current events in Israel.

Several things I am following now and will be writing about include the upcoming fifth election in Israel. In my opinion, nothing beats an Israeli election to learn how Israeli politics works. I find the Israeli elections to be a master class on understanding how representative democracies work or don’t work and how a party achieves power.

A quick recap of where Israel is right now; the very fragile coalition that brought a diverse group of eight parties together to form a government with a weak 61 seats has ended. What happened was, because the government only had the 61 seat majority it didn’t have any room if a member or two left the coalition. That’s what happened.  I won’t go into that now. But several members just couldn’t agree with how things were being done and decided to see what a new election and a new government would look like.

When the coalition was formed Yair Lapid said to his partner Naftali Bennett, “as a reward for joining this coalition, even though your party has fewer seats, and I am more popular than you, I think we should share the role of prime minister and you can go first.” Bennett accepted and held the position for one year and a week and then, as the coalition folded, he said to Yair, “It is your turn.”

Unfortunately, the coalition collapsed and no one else was able to form a government, so they have to now go to elections, again, scheduled for November. In the meantime, Yair Lapid takes over since Bennett stepped down and handed the leadership over to Lapid sooner than scheduled. Unfortunately for Lapid, he doesn’t really have a government to lead but he still gets to be Prime Minister, a special type of prime minister, a “caretaker” Prime Minister.

A “caretaker” is a Prime Minister but with the responsibility to just keep the train on the tracks—no real mandate to do anything. He holds this title until the elections and hopes his party can form a coalition so he gets to be a real prime minister.

I will write more about the elections in the next JCN. Please feel free to contact me with questions.

 

 

The tragedy in

Turkey and Siria

2/10/2023

I know we all have been following the tragic earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Knowing that earthquakes are natural occurrences here in California we shouldn’t be surprised when they happen. But when they happen in parts of the world that aren’t as developed as America, we know the results can be tragic, and this one was and is tragic.

With each news update we learn of more and more deaths. As I write this, there have been over 20,000 deaths reported. I listened this morning to a report by the Israeli team that went in to help.  They described the extraction of a young woman who had been trapped for over 2 1/2 days in a space not much larger than her body and was exposed to the winter elements. The extraction took over 12 hours. During that time, they were able to try and keep her warm and give her fluids. When they finally got her out, she was alive but in very bad shape. 

Israel has a strong tradition of providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief to communities in need around the world, and they have been recognized for their expertise and effectiveness in responding to earthquakes and other crises.

This tragedy is a reminder of the importance of our global humanitarian network, which is supported through our annual campaigns.  Our core partners, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) have had professionals on the ground since the earthquake hit. They have been supporting the Jewish community there and are also providing broader humanitarian assistance. We are also in close contact with the Israeli government and other organizations that are assisting in relief efforts.

When events like this week’s earthquake take place, I look at the Torah portion to see if I can find some solace. What I took away from this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, is about community and personal responsibility. Moses is charged with receiving the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and as he does this, he is given the responsibility to lead the Israelites who are wandering in the desert. Not an easy task. The responsibility is overwhelming, and he takes it one step at a time.

Now leading a relief effort to save lives is not the same as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and there isn’t one person doing it all. It is a collective effort by individuals who have taken it on as their mission to help others no matter what the situation is. That is leadership.

In this sense, the story of Yitro and the giving of the Ten Commandments can serve as a reminder of the importance of personal responsibility and the role we each play in creating a more just and compassionate world. By working together and using our unique skills and abilities to help others, we can make a positive impact in the wake of disasters like earthquakes and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

If you are interested in helping with the relief effort, here is the link for JFNA  or you can contact our office and we will see that it goes to the right sources. 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Operational Notice:

Recent tax letters

2/3/2023

I don’t usually start these updates with operational or administrative information, but I need to do so this week. We, like most non-profit organizations, send out year-end tax letters. As supporters of our work, you provide us with funds to do our work.  We, and the recipients of our allocations, are grateful.

The database and accounting systems we use are designed on a “pledged based” format (this can get complicated to explain), which means that we record a pledge when we get one, but the pledge doesn’t become a donation until paid. In addition, if the payment comes from a donor advised fund, IRA, or other security that has already received a tax benefit, our system does not produce a tax letter.

Why is this confusing? Recently, you might have received a letter from us listing a donation but not listing all of the pledges and contributions you have made this year. This can be startling to read, I noticed this when I received a letter only listing the contributions I made as tributes and not the Annual Campaign support.

Moving forward, we will be sending letters with the total amount of your support. If you have further questions about this, please contact me or Bebsy Morrison at the office (760) 324-4737. My apologies for any confusion.

Upcoming Events:  

Monday, February 13, 3:00 p.m., Hebrew University Professor Reuvan Hazan will lead a discussion on the current political situation in Israel. Please RSVP to:

Gloria.benavides@jfedps.org or

(760) 324-4737

Wednesday, February 15, Major Gifts Event, honoring Ellen and Phil Glass and featuring Ira Rosen, author of “The Ticking Clock, Behind the Scenes of 60 Minutes.”

Israel Updates: 

Keeping up to date on Israel can be a full-time job. I try and stay on top of it as best I can. The fatal shootings last week in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, recent rockets from Gaza, Rallies around the country, there is a lot going on.

One issue out of Israel that seems to be in the headlines in America is the issue of Judicial Reform. I will be writing an overview of this for the March issue of the JCN. If you can’t wait until then, the Times of Israel has a new podcast (not mine) that goes into depth on this issue. Here is the link.

Something a little different coming out of Israel’s science community is a recent brain study, using MRI scans.  Scientists can determine if someone is politically left leaning or right leaning—more on this in the future.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B’shvat.

Upcoming Federation Events

1/27/2022

I would like to start this week’s update highlighting several upcoming Federation events.

Sunday, January 29th, 3:00 to 5:00 pm, at UCR Palm Desert, our Holocaust Commemoration Observance. Check out the posting below for details.

Monday, February 13th, 3:00 pm, at the Federation Building, a conversation about current issues in Israel with Hebrew University Political Science Professor Reuven Hazan.

Wednesday, February 15th, our Major Gifts dinner with author Ira Rosen sharing insights and behind the scenes of 60 minutes. We will also be honoring Ellen and Phil Glass for their years of leadership for the Jewish Federation of the Desert.

On another issue, there was a report released the other day listing top Jewish philanthropists. The tone of the report was that these philanthropists are very generous except towards Jewish causes. I wonder why people with significant financial means to support organizations do not support Jewish causes. I hope this isn’t the case in the Coachella Valley.

The Jewish holiday of Tu’bishvat is coming up—it is called, Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot, the New Year for Trees. For some reason dried fruits and nuts are the culinary specialties. Enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom, Alan

 

Better Times

12/16/2022

I want to open with wishing everyone Happy Hanukkah. This Hanukkah, my heart is heavy. As we gather in safety and in comfort, I am reflecting on a Hanukkah experience I had over twenty years ago in Ukraine. I had the opportunity to take fifteen college students from America, who were paired up with fifteen college students from Kyiv, to lead Hanukkah programs throughout Ukraine. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, there was a resurgence in connecting with Jewish life and customs. After years of not being able to practice Judaism in the FSU there was a yearning to learn more.

 Through the work of Federations, the Jewish Agency, the JDC and others, informal Jewish learning opportunities were organized to teach teens and young adults about the holidays and customs. In turn, these students would bring their experiences home with them and share it with their families. Through a grant from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago a program was created to partner these college students to go out into the shtetls and teach. From small towns to large cities, we had teams of students teaching about Hanukkah. We would be in homes with one or two people or at community centers with hundreds of people—it was amazing!

 As I think back to those joyous visits twenty years ago, I am troubled by the continuation of the war in Ukraine. I know, through our work and the work of our partners in Ukraine, the Jewish community will be able to observe Hanukkah but not as joyous as it should be.

 The Jewish Federation of the Desert’s 2023 Annual camping is underway. Thank you to those who have already made a gift. I and others will be calling over the next several weeks and months to ask for your support. We will also ask you to make a separate gift of support for Ukraine.

 Below is a photograph of the first home we visited in Ukraine. As the students started singing traditional Hanukkah songs, the eyes of the woman sitting at the end of the table opened and she started singing and clapping along. Her children and grandchildren were surprised as they had never heard her sing anything Jewish. These visiting students brought back memories for her from a time before when Judaism was not allowed to be practiced.

 Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,

 

Lion of Judah Conference

12/09/2022

This weekend some of the most influential philanthropists from around the world will be gathering in Phoenix for the Lion of Judah Conference. Lions of Judah is a movement of women who are dedicated to supporting and raising funds for Jewish causes. Women philanthropists are the change-makers and community-shapers of the world. They are sisters and daughters, mothers, and friends, compassionate and committed women at every stage of life and career. Federation's Women’s Philanthropy engages Jewish women in the fulfilling work of making the world a better place. In every community, they are building and supporting Jewish life for today and for generations to come.

During this year’s conference, Fran Kaufman will be recognized as one of the extraordinary women from 58 Federation communities who are the 2022 recipients of the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, recognizing female leaders who embody the spirit and vision of Lions of Judah through a commitment to tzedakah, tikkun olam and community service.

Congratulations, Fran!

The conference will feature sessions and dialogue around urgent issues the Jewish community is facing and opportunities to effect impact through philanthropic giving. Guests will hear from a variety of thought-leaders, activists, and industry leaders, including award-winning journalist Katie Couric, Rep. Kathy Manning, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Academy Award Winner Marlee Matlin and more.

 The Lion of Judah is a giving society for women who donate at least $5,000 to their Federation's annual campaign. These women are among the most dynamic philanthropic Jewish women in the world, deeply involved at the local, national and international level. They also have the opportunity to endow their gift to ensure flourishing Jewish life for generations to come.

The Jewish Federation of the Desert’s Lion of Judah event will take place on January 16, 2023. Contact Leslie Pepper if you want to attend or learn more about how to become a Lion.

In the near future, I will ask the women who are attending the conference to share their experiences with the community.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Kaf tet b’november

12/02/2022

Last week I introduced the holiday celebrated by the Ethiopian community and now a holiday in Israel called Sigd. This week I want to draw attention to a very important date on the Israeli calendar kaf tet b’november. If you are interested here is a quick Hebrew numbering lesson: the letter kaf כ is 20 and tet ט is 9, so, known as November 29th. November 29th, 1947 marks the day the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution that adopted the plan for partitioning Eretz Israel.  Which led to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14th, 1948. I mention this because this year Israel is celebrating 75 years of independence and we are celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary this year on April 30th with a community wide celebration (details to follow in the coming weeks).

I also think it is interesting in Israel almost every city has a street named Kaf tet b’november. On a side note, when someone tells you they live on November 29th Street you immediately are walking on a modern Israeli street. When I first moved to Jerusalem in the 80s, I had a friend that lived on kaf tet b’november street and I would smile and chuckle when I made it to the street. Smile, I think out of happiness that we as a Jewish people have a place we can call home.

Speaking of Israel:

I am working on a mission to Israel for September of 2023 (working dates are Sept 4-12th). A mission is a unique way to experience Israel.  We will focus on seeing where and how our allocation dollars are used and we will visit some very interesting sites. This mission will be designed for people who have been to Israel before not necessarily for first timers. I will say though, if you haven’t been to Israel before and you want to go this will be a great experience and will inspire you to go again. I will have details in a few weeks. Feel free to drop me an email if you are interested in this trip.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Antisemitism

11/18/2022

Antisemitism isn’t my favorite topic to write about or discuss, but I have to say it dominated most of my conversations this week. Following the Saturday Night Live monologue by Dave Chappelle and the commentaries around it, I thought it would be helpful to revisit the definition of antisemitism. While I was sitting on the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel (as an associate member) we had a discussion around the definition of antisemitism as it was being proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jews or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

One of the tropes that Chappelle implied was Jews run/control Hollywood—“it’s a lot of Jews, like a lot….not a crazy thing to think ....but a crazy thing to say out loud.”

So, where does this trope or stereotype come from? Andrew Lappin, writing for the Jewish Telegraph Agency explains it this way….As such, Jews (particularly recent immigrants) were able to thrive in show business in a way they couldn’t in most other industries. Once they were in, family ties or the general phenomenon of affinity groups often led to them elevating other Jews in the industry: For example, prolific Jewish producer David O. Selznick, whose credits include “Gone With The Wind,” “Rebecca” and a huge string of other hits in the 1930s and ’40s, spent many years at MGM, run by his father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer. CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE!

Antisemitism dates back thousands of years and will probably exist long into the future. Besides monitoring incidents in our community, the Federation believes education and advocacy are needed to teach and inform people about why it is harmful. Dave Chappelle used his profession as a comedian to address the current wave of antisemitism.  One of my perceptions of his monologue about antisemitism is he normalized it, and in doing so makes it okay to make light of antisemitism (not sure if that was his intention, but that is the way it came across to me).

I can write more on this topic, and I am sure I will, but it is important to understand that one reason we are seeing so much more anti-Semitism in social media and the town square is because it has become okay to make fun of Jews.

On an unrelated topic or maybe not, the UN came out with the world population estimate of 8 billion people. If there are on 15-16 million Jews in the world, we are only .2% of the world population.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Spark IL

11/1/2022

Microlending takes a new form in Israel. Spark IL is an interest free loan program that connects the lender in the diaspora or in Israel to new businesses in Israel. Starting a business anywhere is challenging. With the help of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Ogen Group, Jewish Federations and others are providing interest-free loans to help entrepreneurs get started. What is unique about this program is that the lender gets to know the business.  Plus, when the business pays back the lender the lender can reinvest the money in another business or cash out the loan.

I have been an active purchaser of Israel bonds for a long time and when I learned about Spark IL it reminded me of the value of Israel Bonds. You buy a bond and when it matures get more money back and at the same time you are helping build the country of Israel.

Spark IL is designed to help businesses that are not typical. Spark IL connects business from different parts of the country representing the diversity of people across the country working in many markets. For example; Ethiopian, Haredi, Israeli Arab, LGBTQ or Women Led. Most of the recipients are usually from outside of a major city such as the Negev, Galilee, Golan Heights and the outskirts of the major cities.

On this last trip to Israel, we had the opportunity to meet one of the businesses that received a loan and as of today paid it back. Hoshen is a Judaica gift shop in Jerusalem on the popular Emek Rafaim street. Hoshen’s story was so compelling that it met the qualifications to be accepted into the program even though it was based in Jerusalem.

Here is Ziva’s (Hoshen’s owner) story:

I have been working at Hoshen since I was 17 years old. A few years later my boss moved to Canada and made me the store Manager. Soon thereafter he decided he could not own a store from that far away and offered me the chance to buy it. I leapt at the opportunity. This store is my baby and I believe in it so much.  I work hard to provide a beautiful cross section of merchandise to our customers, including a selection of pieces that are made by those with disabilities. Corona-virus has hit the store very hard. A bulk of our business came from foreign tourists, so when Israel closed the borders, we had to pivot. We quickly enhanced our e-commerce site and managed to skate by. We now need a loan for cash flow, creating new marketing materials, and to purchase fresh inventory that will increase revenue. With your help we can continue providing beautiful items that will be used in one’s home for years to come.

If you are interested in investing or learning more about Spark IL please check out the website www.sparkil.org or contact me.

 

The Jewish Calendar

10/14/2022

During the time between Rosh Hashana and Simchat Torah some in the Jewish world take a little pause. I have found that it is a time that connects one to the Jewish calendar.  As I walked outside last Sunday night and I saw the brightness of the full moon, I contemplated the importance of why the origin of the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle. There are many reasons why, but I like the connection between the full moon to the Jewish Festival holidays. I am not trying to provide Jewish education here. It is just a glimpse into the long-standing traditions that fills Jewish history.

Jewish peoplehood is a strong component of what we do as the Jewish Federation of the Desert—we want to connect all of us no matter our interests or passions. We are linked together whether we agree on things or not. We cannot escape nor ignore that no matter where we are in the world, we are connected. We know this because the text in Torah scroll that is read in every synagogue in the world is the same.

The style might be a little different, but the words are the same. Each Simchat Torah we rewind the Torah and start over again.  If you haven’t had a chance to experience the rewinding of the Torah, I recommend you do so at some point in your life. A technique that I happen to enjoy is getting a line of people sitting and the Torah is placed on the knees (some places put a talis on their lap, so the Torah doesn’t touch the clothes).

Then from one end to the other end of the Torah is rolled completely open. What is interesting with this process is the Torah is completely open and if you walk from end to end you can see the whole Torah and the unique structure that is there, how sections are separated and other special features. Then when everyone has had a chance to see the Torah it is rolled back up and ready to read Bereshit-in the beginning....

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

 

 

The issue of anti-Semitism

10/07/2022

A common theme running through many of my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur conversations revolved around the issue of antisemitism. I have found over the years the lead up to the High Holy Days, anti-Semitism seems to be on peoples’ minds. I completely understand that. Historic threats to Jewish Communities often come at this time of the year.

The added attention on synagogue security and media focus on the holiday enhances that concern. This year was no different, except for antisemitic flyers, graffiti and physical attacks on Jews going to synagogue that were reported across the country, I guess there wasn’t much to be concerned about. "What?” you might shout, “There shouldn’t be any of these incidents.” You are right!

Speaking of antisemitism, I want to invite you to a webinar we are hosting next week with Lana Melman. As part of the Jewish Book Council author series, we were able to arrange a virtual presentation with her on her new book; Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews and Israel. This book is an incredible resource on addressing antisemitism through the lens of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting artists and celebrities who perform in or support Israel.

Lana Melman is an attorney, a 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry and the CEO of Liberate Art Inc. Since 2011, she has been a leader in combating the cultural boycott (BDS) campaign against Israel working both behind the scenes with the people artists trust the most —their representatives-and in the public discourse. Set in the world of entertainment, Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel, helps readers understand the connection between the growing distain for Israel and rising global antisemitism and offers a step-by-step plan to combat it.

Hillel Director, Eran Vaisben, and I will engage with her about the current state of the BDS movement and challenges college students have today in dealing with antisemitism and antizionism.

In closing, we will observe Sukkot next week. On a personal note, Sukkot is my favorite holiday. The sukkah reminds us of how fragile our world and lives are by living in a temporary structure for a week.  Looking at the devastation of the recent hurricane there are people without even a shelter over their heads. The prayer Hashkivenu that we say on Shabbat that resonates with me and makes me think of Sukkot now more than ever, "Spread over us your shelter of peace."

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach,

 

Hurricane Fund Relief

09/30/2022

I want this update to focus on the impact of hurricane Ian that has significantly impacted Florida and the Southeast.

In the coming days we will observe the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. I think it is important to acknowledge the devastation that has taken place as a result of hurricane Ian. Jewish and other communities have been significantly impacted. Many people will not be able to observe the Yom Kippur holiday. We are learning more and more of the impact on the Jewish Community. It will be weeks if not months or years before these communities will be able to gather again.

The Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) has established a relief fund to help with recovery. Hurricane Relief Fund. Many of us have friends and relatives that live in Florida; we want to let them know we are thinking of them.

Fasting this year during Yom Kippur might take on different feelings as we think about those whose lives have been upended by recent tragedies.

It is customary to ask for forgiveness on Yom Kippur. If I have done anything to offend you this year, I ask for your forgiveness.

May you be inscribed in the book of life. Have a meaningful fast.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Happy Rosh Hashanah

09/26/2022

I want to wish everyone a sweet, healthy, and prosperous New Year! First, we all observe and experience Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in different ways. No matter how one observes the holiday this time of the year, the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) connects us as Jewish people. We who continue to carry on customs and traditions and pass them on to the next generation; l’dor v’dor. Sunday night at sundown we transition from 5782 to the New Year 5783. In past updates I wrote about the value of the month of Elul, I believe many of you spent time during the month of Elul and reflected on the past year and planning for the coming. I know our paths will cross this coming year and I will be eager to talk with you about the work the Federation has planned for the coming year, and I hope you will join us in our work to care for the vulnerable, strengthen the community and support Jews in Israel and around the world.

This week, as part of the Jewish Book Council authors series we hosted a conversation with Dan Grunfeld about his new book, By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an unprecedented American Dream. This book as well as the conversation with Dan was amazing. He successfully weaves three generations of his family into a memoir that covers his grandmother’s experience during the Holocaust, his father’s story as an immigrant turned basketball superhero (Ernie Grunfeld) and his own story as a top high school and college basketball player who lost out on an NBA career because of an injury but persevered with his dream to play professional basketball by playing in Europe and Israel. This book was one of the best books I read this year! Please check it out. By the Grace of the Game. Our next virtual author presentation will be Lana Melman, Artists Under Fire: The BDS war against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel. This will be at 4:00 pm on October 12th.

Each new year at Rosh Hashanah Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics publishes Israel’s current population. As in years past the overall population of Israel has increased by 187,000 (1.8%). Here is the current breakdown as published in the Times of Israel, 9.5 million residents, 7.069 million Jewish (74%), 2.026 million (21%) Arab and 498,000 (5%) are neither Jewish nor Arab. A few more interesting data points; among Jews over the age of 20 45.3% define themselves as secular, 19.2% traditional but not observant, 13.9% are traditional-religious, 10.7% are religious, 10.5% Haredi (ultrareligious).  177,000 babies were born in Israel last year, 53,000 people died, around 4,000 from Coronavirus. Plus, 59,000 new immigrants fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Check out the full story at Times of Israel.

Once again, wishing you Shana Tova Umetuka, “A sweet and healthy year.”

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Israel Update

09/01/2022

A lot of interesting news is coming out of Israel these days. If you haven’t picked up on my writing interests yet you will after reading this piece. I feel strongly about addressing current events in Israel.

Several things I am following now and will be writing about include the upcoming fifth election in Israel. In my opinion, nothing beats an Israeli election to learn how Israeli politics works. I find the Israeli elections to be a master class on understanding how representative democracies work or don’t work and how a party achieves power.

A quick recap of where Israel is right now; the very fragile coalition that brought a diverse group of eight parties together to form a government with a weak 61 seats has ended. What happened was, because the government only had the 61 seat majority it didn’t have any room if a member or two left the coalition. That’s what happened.  I won’t go into that now. But several members just couldn’t agree with how things were being done and decided to see what a new election and a new government would look like.

When the coalition was formed Yair Lapid said to his partner Naftali Bennett, “as a reward for joining this coalition, even though your party has fewer seats, and I am more popular than you, I think we should share the role of prime minister and you can go first.” Bennett accepted and held the position for one year and a week and then, as the coalition folded, he said to Yair, “It is your turn.”

Unfortunately, the coalition collapsed and no one else was able to form a government, so they have to now go to elections, again, scheduled for November. In the meantime, Yair Lapid takes over since Bennett stepped down and handed the leadership over to Lapid sooner than scheduled. Unfortunately for Lapid, he doesn’t really have a government to lead but he still gets to be Prime Minister, a special type of prime minister, a “caretaker” Prime Minister.

A “caretaker” is a Prime Minister but with the responsibility to just keep the train on the tracks—no real mandate to do anything. He holds this title until the elections and hopes his party can form a coalition so he gets to be a real prime minister.

I will write more about the elections in the next JCN. Please feel free to contact me with questions.

 

 

 

 

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