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U.N. to investigate Israel’s targeting of its Gaza schools, Ban says

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 05:45

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United Nations is preparing to investigate the targeting of its schools in Gaza during Israel’s recent operation in Gaza, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Several U.N. workers were killed in airstrikes on the schools, which were housing internally displaced Palestinians. The United Nations found weapons stored by Gaza terror groups in at least three U.N. schools.

The investigation is separate from a U.N. Human Rights Council panel investigating possible war crimes committed by Israel during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, Ban told the London-based Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper.

Israel has said soldiers were responding to rocket fire emanating from next to or inside the schools’ yards.

The investigation would not begin until the end of the Human Rights Council investigation led by Canadian judge William Schabas.

Ban told the newspaper that he already told the Israelis about the future probe, which will look into “the killing and wounding of United Nations personnel and the destruction of its facilities and to hold accountable those responsible,” as well as to investigate the storage of weapons in some of the facilities.

Palestinian man killed in IDF raid on West Bank refugee camp

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 05:08

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man who threw an explosive device at them during a raid on a West Bank refugee camp.

The man was shot in the chest early Wednesday morning in the al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. The soldiers were in the camp to arrest a wanted Hamas operative, according to the IDF spokesman.

Some 50 Palestinians surrounded and attacked the soldiers, the spokesman said.

Protesters “showered the invading forces with stones, and soldiers responded with live ammunition, injuring a number of other Palestinians,” an eyewitness told the Palestinian Maan news agency.

The dead man, identified as Issa Khaled al-Qatri, 22, was scheduled to be married next week, according to Maan.

At least six other Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank overnight, accused of participating in attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Meanwhile, Palestinian riots continued in eastern Jerusalem following a visit Tuesday by Israel’s public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who vowed to increase security amid increased violence there following the death Sunday of a Palestinian teenager who was shot a week earlier by Israeli troops during a demonstration.

Greece bans Holocaust denial, cracks down on hate speech

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 03:32

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — Lawmakers in Greece passed a law that bans Holocaust denial and imposes stricter penalties for hate speech.

The government had been trying to enact the bill for more than a year in an effort to confront the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and a surge in anti-immigrant violence.

Passed late Tuesday with 55 of the 99 lawmakers present in the 300-member Parliament voting in favor, the measure criminalizes the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust or other recognized genocides.

It also increases jail time for instigating racist violence from two years to three years and imposes fines on individuals and groups. Groups found inciting racism can be barred from receiving state funds.

The Greek Jewish community and international Jewish groups have long pressed the Greek government to take a tougher legislative stance on hate speech.

Many of Golden Dawn’s leaders are awaiting trial on charges of running a criminal organization. The party, which has 18 seats in Parliament, frequently uses Nazi imagery. Its leaders have denied the existence of Nazi death camps and gas chambers.


Ashkenazi Jews descend from 350 individuals, study finds

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 03:24

NEW YORK (JTA) — Ashkenazi Jews can trace their ancestry to a “bottleneck” of just 350 individuals dating back to between 600 and 800 years ago, a new study concludes.

The study, published Tuesday in the Nature Communications journal, was authored by Shai Carmi, a computer science professor at Columbia University, and more than 20 medical researchers from Yale, Columbia, Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and other institutions.

Researchers analyzed genomes of 128 Ashkenazi Jews and compared them to those of non-Jewish Europeans in order to determine which genetic markers are unique to the Ashkenazim. They found that the Ashkenazim’s genetic similarities were so acute that one of the study’s researchers, Columbia professor Itsik Pe’er, told the Live Science website that among Ashkenazi Jews, “everyone is a 30th cousin.”

The findings will enable researchers to catalog nearly all of the genetic variations from the founding population, the study’s authors said.

Such thorough genetic cataloging could help clinicians interpret individual genetic mutations, improve disease mapping and provide insight into the histories of Middle Eastern and European populations, the study said.

New outbreak of anti-Semitic graffiti hits Miami area

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 03:10

(JTA) — An arrest was made in anti-Semitic vandalism at a Miami Beach synagogue — one among a spate of new hate incidents that have struck the Miami area.

Several incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti have been discovered in the area since the weekend, rekindling fears sparked this summer by a visiting rabbi’s murder and vandalism.

Maximo De La Cruz-De Jesus, 43, a homeless man, was arrested and charged Tuesday night with criminal mischief on a place of worship in the scrawling of anti-Semitic graffiti on a banner outside Temple Emanu-El, the oldest Conservative congregation in Miami Beach, according to CBS Miami. The graffiti was discovered earlier in the day.

Police said La Cruz-DeJesus was identified by fingerprints found on the vandalized sign and by an eyewitness.

On Sunday, swastikas were found spray-painted on the walls of Temple Beth Tov-Ahavat Shalom in West Miami. A day earlier, spray-painted swastikas were found on the street near a park and on a wall behind a Publix supermarket in the city of Surfside.

Two weeks ago, a note left in a Temple Emanu-El bathroom called to “Boycott Israel” and defended the Palestinians’ right to fight back against Israeli occupation, CBS Miami reported. Synagogue leaders said they notified the Miami Beach police and law enforcement declared the incident was not serious.

Over the summer, two synagogues in heavily Orthodox North Miami Beach were vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, as were several cars. Community fears were inflamed when Rabbi Joseph Raksin of Brooklyn, N.Y., was shot and murdered on Aug. 9 in North Miami Beach while walking to synagogue for Sabbath morning services. Police have classified the shooting of Raksin, who was visiting family, a hate crime. The killers remain at large.

The latest series of anti-Semitic vandalism has spread concerns about safety throughout the Miami Jewish community.

“Given these new incidents in conjunction with other recent incidents in Miami-Dade and the upcoming Jewish High Holidays, the Jewish community is understandably shaken and apprehensive,” said Hava Holzhauer, ADL’s Florida Regional director, in a statement.

Prof denied post at Illinois over Israel tweets threatens to sue

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:50

(JTA) — A professor whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded following anti-Israel tweets demanded that the offer be reinstated.

Steven Salaita, making his first public remarks since losing the appointment, said at a news conference Tuesday that the university’s decision last month to take back its offer of a tenured position in its American Indian studies program caused him personal hardship and represented a threat to academic freedom.

Salaita’s attorney on Tuesday threatened a lawsuit if the offer is not reinstated, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“Professor Salaita, of course, is prepared to pursue legal remedies,” Anand Swminathan told the Tribune. “He will ask a court to require the university to complete the employment process and reinstate him.

“Professor Salaita’s goal is not to go down that road, but he is prepared to do so.”

The university in Champaign-Urbana revoked the offer after objections emerged from a number of corners — including major university donors — about Salaita’s strongly worded tweets criticizing Israel’s military actions in Gaza. The school called the tweets “uncivil.”

Salaita countered at the news conference on the Illinois campus, “My comments were not made in a classroom or on campus; they were made through my personal Twitter account. The university’s policing and judgment of those messages places any faculty member at risk of termination if university administrators deem the tone or content of his or her speech ‘uncivil’ without regard to the forum or medium in which the speech is made.”

In response to Salaita’s remarks, the university’s associate chancellor for public affairs, Robin Kaler, said the university stood by its decision not to hire Salaita.

His appointment had not been approved by the university’s board of trustees, normally a pro-forma step. Chancellor Phyllis Wise informed Salaita that she would not submit his appointment to the board.

At the news conference, which was held following a student walkout by his supporters, Salaita also spoke of how he had resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech in order to take the job at Illinois. His wife also had resigned at Virginia Tech and they gave up their house in Virginia.

“As a result, my family has no income, no health insurance and no home of our own,” he said.

Brigitte Bardot calls for ban on shechitah, terms it ‘ritual sacrifice’

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:30

(JTA) — Brigitte Bardot published an open letter in several leading French newspapers calling for a ban on shechitah, or Jewish ritual slaughter.

The one-time French actress terms the practice “ritual sacrifice” in the letter that appeared Monday in newspapers such as Le Parisien, Le Figaro and Le Monde. The letter also calls for a ban on halal Muslim ritual slaughter as well as on horse meat.

Jewish and Muslim religious laws require that animals be conscious when their necks are cut — a practice deemed cruel by some animal welfare activists.

The letter drew condemnation from the European Jewish Congress.

“Ms. Bardot’s depiction of shechitah as ‘ritual sacrifice’ is not only deeply offensive and a slur against the Jewish People, but also shows a stunning lack of knowledge in an area where she purports to be an expert,” EJC President Moshe  Kantor said in a statement. “Bardot has once again shown her clear insensitivity for minority groups with the substance and style of her letter.”

In January 2011, Bardot launched a campaign against ritual slaughter through her animal rights foundation.


Hamas ‘toy rockets’ remark sparks calls for ouster of Cardiff city official

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:11

(JTA) — Remarks by a leading city official in Cardiff, Wales, dismissing Hamas attacks as “toy rockets” have spurred calls for his resignation or dismissal.

The Israeli honorary consul for Wales and the opposition leader of the Cardiff City Council have demanded that Ali Ahmed, the deputy lord mayor of the Wales capital and a councilman, step down over remarks he made at an Aug. 30 “No NATO” rally held in Newport, Wales, according to a report by WalesOnline.

In his remarks, which were posted online, Ahmed declared, “The Palestinians — they complain they’re throwing rockets. They’re toy rockets!”

He also said, “We all talk about democracy.  When Hamas was elected in Palestine, we said no. Where’s the democracy stance here?” Ahmed closed by twice saying “Freedom for Palestine.”

Ahmed was introduced at the rally as the deputy lord mayor of Cardiff but opened by declaring that he was speaking in a personal capacity. The rally was held in advance of the NATO 2014 Summit on Sept. 4-5.

Philip Kaye, a Cardiff businessman who serves as Israel’s honorary consul in Wales, said, “To refer to the rockets launched against Israel as ‘toy rockets’ is appalling,” according to WalesOnline. “One of them killed a 4-year-old child.”

In an email to the Cardiff City Council chief executive, Kaye reportedly said that Ahmed “should step down immediately from his post or be dismissed.”

Judith Woodman, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats on the City Council, likewise called for Ahmed to resign or be fired, noting that his opposition to the NATO summit was contrary to the council’s official support.

Ahmed told WalesOnline, “I made it clear that I was speaking at the rally in a personal capacity, and not as Deputy Lord Mayor. As a citizen of this country I have a right to express my views.”


Study: Jewish settlements receive higher share of state funds

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:20

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jewish settlements in the West Bank and on the Golan Heights received a higher share of state funds than other communities, according to a new report.

Arab towns receive the second highest amount of state funds per capita followed by development towns, according to the report by the Adva Center, which tracked Israeli government spending in communities over 20 years ending in 2012.

The report compares four types of localities: The Forum of 15, relatively affluent localities with balanced budgets;  Jewish development towns; Arab localities; and Jewish settlements in the West Bank and on the Golan Heights. The haredi Orthodox settlements of Betar Ilit, Modiin and Emanuel are considered separately from other settlements.

For Service Grants, or grants for state services provided by municipalities — the main services are education and for social welfare — settlement communities received about $743 per capita per year compared to $522 for periphery communities, according to the report. Residents of the Forum 15 cities, including Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, received $465.

Arab communities received $628 per capita per year, the most significant increase in government funds in the 20 years.

The haredi settlements received less money per capita than the non-haredi settlements because the money for education goes directly to the education system instead of being funneled through the municipality.

Over the past two decades, Israel’s population has grown by 60 percent. The greatest rate of growth, at 240 percent, occurred in the settlements, with most of the increase in the three haredi Orthodox settlements. Their growth rate alone amounted to 376 percent, while the rest of the settlements grew by 80 percent — closer to the overall average, according to the study.


Jill Biden tells Jewish philanthropists she is praying for ‘peace in Gaza’

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:02

NEW YORK (JTA) – Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, told a group of American Jewish women that she was praying for “lasting peace in Gaza.”

Jill Biden’s comments on Sunday during a speech at the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual Lions of Judah conference in New York City led some to wonder if she had meant to say “Israel” rather than “Gaza,” according to BuzzFeed.

The speech focused on the philanthropic efforts of Jewish women in the United States.

Neither Biden nor Jewish federation officials responded to BuzzFeed’s request for clarification.

Swastika spray-painted on sidewalk in N.Y. suburb

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 13:32

NEW YORK (JTA) — Police are investigating an incident of anti-Semitic vandalism in a Rockland County, N.Y., community with a large haredi Orthodox population.

The graffiti, consisting of a swastika and the words “Hail Hitler” spray-painted inside a Jewish star were found on a sidewalk Sunday in the town of Spring Valley, The Associated Press reported.

Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, a local rabbi, told AP he suspects that poorly educated teenagers are responsible for the vandalism, pointing to the misspelling of the Nazi slogan.

Some residents reported seeing two teenagers on skateboards over the weekend near the graffiti, radio station WCBS reported.

In July, there were two incidents of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in nearby Pearl River.

Rockland County is approximately 50 miles north of New York City.


Human Rights Watch raps Israel’s African migrant policy

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 13:14

(JTA) — Human Rights Watch issued a report criticizing Israel for its treatment of African migrants.

The report published Tuesday by the international human rights group said that Israel has forced nearly 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to return to their home countries, putting them at serious risk, The Associated Press reported.

It said that some Sudanese have been tortured, detained and charged with treason upon their return from Israel.

In an email to the AP, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Interior Ministry said the government was acting in a legal and appropriate manner and that migrants have been leaving Israel of their own volition.

Human Rights Watch said Israel’s policy of forcing migrants into spartan detention centers is abusive.

The report calls on Israel to end the indefinite detention of the asylum seekers; to facilitate the lodging of asylum claims and to review them fairly; and to grant Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applicants temporary status with work authorization for renewable periods of no less than 12 months until it is safe to return home.

Since 2006, approximately 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese have illegally migrated to Israel through the Sinai.



Early Gaza cease-fire broke down over U.S.-Israel misunderstanding

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 12:04

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas during Israel’s Gaza operation broke down over a misunderstanding between Israel and the United States.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal did not agree to refrain from attacking Israeli troops on the ground during the 72-hour cease fire that started Aug. 1, though the United States promised Israel that Hamas would refrain, according to an Israel Army Radio report citing an unnamed Israeli source.

Israel had asked the U.S. for a cease-fire and the ability to continue destroying Gaza tunnels without intervention by Hamas, according to the report.

The cease-fire ended when Hamas terrorists attacked Israeli soldiers near the mouth of a tunnel in Rafah. During the attack, the Hamas terrorists kidnapped the body of Lt. Hadar Goldin.

Israel’s Gaza operation ended on Aug. 26 after 50 days of fighting.

Rashi Fein, a ‘father of Medicare,’ dies

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:52

(JTA) — Rashi Fein, a Harvard professor known for his contributions to medicine and social policy, has died.

Fein, a professor emeritus of economics of medicine at Harvard Medical School, was the brother of Jewish activist and writer Leonard Fein, who died nearly a month ago.

He was instrumental in the development of U.S. health policy, beginning with the Truman administration. Fein served as a senior staff member of President Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisors and is considered by many as one of the “fathers of Medicare,” according to the  Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. Fein served on the Advisory Committee of the alliance.

“A love of his Yiddish heritage, a passion for social justice, and a strong Zionist, he was always available to consider, discuss, and critique policies undertaken both by the U.S. and Israeli governments,” the alliance said in a statement.

Fein also served as a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s economics program and as chair of the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research Program from 1994 to 2002.

He was honored by national and local organizations for his contributions to medicine and social policy.


Warsaw monument to honor heroic Poles from Shoah

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:53

(JTA) – A design competition will be held for a memorial in Warsaw to Poles who saved Jews during World War II.

Sigmund Rolat of the Remembrance and Future Foundation announced the competition at a news conference Monday in Warsaw.

Rolat, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and philanthropist, said the designs would be judged by an international jury and the winner will be announced in April. The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated in the fall of 2015.

Rolat said the project will be financed entirely by Jews in Israel and other countries.

“This memorial will be an expression of gratitude, not of the [Polish] government or the city [of Warsaw], but of those Jews who were saved,” he said, according to Polish Radio.

More than 6,000 Poles have been named Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel.

The monument is to be located on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, near the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which will have its grand opening on Oct. 28. Plans for the monument were originally announced a year ago.

The Warsaw City Council in March approved plans and appropriated funding for a second monument to the Polish Righteous, this one in the shape of a giant winding ribbon inscribed with the names of Poles who saved Jews, to be located next to the All Saints Church on Grzybowski Square, not far from the Nozyk synagogue.


Slovak priest: Jews to blame for Holocaust-era hate

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:35

(JTA) – A Catholic priest in Slovakia sparked outrage by blaming the Jews for the hatred against them during the Holocaust and warned the Roma are following suit.

Emil Floris leveled the accusation last month during a ceremony in Cadca, located 120 miles northeast of the capital Bratislava, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising against Nazi Germany and the collaborationist government.

“From all over Europe, they took the Jews to concentration camps. And do you know why? Because there was hatred toward them, but those who are hated often do it to themselves,” Floris said, according to the news website zpravy.e15.cz.

“Now there is a risk for some Roma. And you know why? Because of abuse of the system and the kindness of others,” he added. Roma also are  known as Gypsies.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia said in a statement posted on its website last week that Floris’ statement “contained untruths and anti-Semitic cliches, diminishes the suffering of the Jewish people during the time of the First Slovak Republic and insults the memory of victims.”

Rebels sold Sotloff to ISIS, family spokesman says

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:02

(JTA) — Jewish-American journalist Steven Sotloff was kidnapped by a so-called moderate rebel faction and then immediately sold to ISIS, the family’s spokesman said.

Barak Barfi in an interview Monday with CNN’s Anderson Cooper said the jihadist group Islamist State, or ISIS, paid between $25,000 and $50,000 for Sotloff after the rebels set up a fake checkpoint at the border. He said his information came from what he called “sources on the ground” in Syria.

Barfi, who said he spoke by phone with Sotloff immediately after Sotloff crossed over from Turkey to Syria, called Sotloff and slain American journalist James Foley “pawns” of the U.S. intelligence community and the White House.

Both Foley and Sotloff, who also had Israeli citizenship, were shown being beheaded by a British assassin in videos released in the last month by ISIS as a “warning” to the United States to halt airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

Barfi told Cooper that the families were not kept regularly informed by the government and that the hostages were stationary for several months, despite U.S. assertions that the hostages were moved frequently.

“The administration could have done more, they could have helped us, they could have seen them through,” Barfi said.

Israel, U.S. carry out joint test of Arrow 2 interceptor missile

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 05:58

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and the United States conducted a test of the Arrow 2 interceptor missile.

The test by Israel’s Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency was held at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea, Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The Arrow 2 provides the Arrow Weapon System, a long-range ballistic missile defense system, with an interceptor engagement capability.

“An Arrow 2 missile was launched and performed its flight sequence as planned,” the Defense Ministry statement said. “The results are being analyzed by program engineers.”

The primary contractor for the integration and the development of the Arrow Weapon System is the Israel Aerospace Industries in conjunction with Boeing, Elta and Elbit/Elisra.

In February, Israel conducted a successful live test of the Arrow 3 interceptor missile defense system.

Madoff trustee Irving Picard seeks review of decision aiding Merkin

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 05:29

(JTA) — The trustee charged with recovering funds for victims of Bernie Madoff’s fraud scheme said he will appeal a ruling that would decimate a lawsuit against financier J. Ezra Merkin.

Irving Picard asked a New York bankruptcy court on Sept. 5 to finalize a decision severely curtailing his $565 million lawsuit against Merkin, the hedge funder who helped fuel Madoff’s business, so that Picard could appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a report by the legal news website Law360.

The bankruptcy court decision, which was issued by Judge Stuart Bernstein on Aug. 12, dismissed nine of the 13 charges filed by Picard against Merkin on the grounds that Picard could not prove that Merkin knew of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Merkin’s hedge funds were heavily invested with Madoff. Both men are Jewish.

Bernstein allowed the remaining charges, totaling $315 million, to proceed against Merkin, according to Reuters.

Picard’s move is the latest in a flurry of legal decisions and counter moves that have taken place over the last few weeks regarding the fallout from the Madoff financial fraud.

On Aug. 9, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Picard’s effort to overturn Merkin’s $410 million settlement, as well as the Fairfield Greenwich Group’s $80 million settlement with the New York State Attorney General’s office. Picard had argued that the settlements inhibited his ability to recover funds for Madoff’s victims.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 28, Picard asked in a separate case for the right to replead in a suit against several banks, arguing that a pair of district court rulings earlier in the year had altered the legal standard for such cases.

In addition, on Aug. 22, Bernstein ruled that investors whose employers had invested retirement funds with Madoff could not recover their money, a ruling that Picard supported.

Picard has recovered a reported $9.8 billion out of an estimated $17.3 billion of principal lost in Madoff’s investment scheme, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Jewish leadership initiative hires Gali Cooks as executive director

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 05:12

(JTA) — Gali Cooks was named executive director of the Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance, a newly formed group aimed at finding and developing leaders for Jewish nonprofits.

Cooks, the founding director of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s highly regarded PJ Library, will start in her new post on Oct. 13, the alliance announced Monday. She also was the executive director of the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation.

“Gali brings a unique professional skill set, a startup mentality and deep institutional respect to this role,” said Rachel Garbow Monroe, CEO of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and chair of the Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance, in a statement. “Her passion will help us support, champion and build efforts that will ensure a vibrant future for Jewish nonprofits across North America.”

The alliance was convened to address what is expected to be a major turnover of senior executives at Jewish nonprofits, particularly at the CEO level, in the next five to seven years.

Jewish nonprofits have already reported having difficulty in filling high-level executive positions in recent years, according to the JLPA, leading more than 20 major Jewish nonprofits, including family foundations and major federations, to found JLPA. The groups have agreed to fund the alliance with $1 million over two years.

Based on an initial report developed by The Bridgespan Group, JLPA’s initial priorities include programs to help new CEOs integrate into their positions, a coordinated effort with lay leadership to develop executive talent and efforts to prioritize the quality of work environments at Jewish nonprofits.