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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Kim Shwachman at email@example.com
Also, on Monday we will be hosting our Pomegranate event.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The tragedy in Turkey and Siria
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.
Operational Notice: Recent tax letters
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.
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.email@example.com 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.”
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
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
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
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.
Kaf tet b’november
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Happy Rosh Hashanah
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.”
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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