Jewish Temple group launches Indiegogo campaign to breed sacred cow


It’s been nearly two millennia since the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, bringing to an end the priestly period of Jewish history and commencing the Diaspora.

A third Temple has been prophesied, and in preparation for the messiah, nonprofit Jewish group The Temple Institute wants to build it.

Last month, the institute launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with the goal of raising $125,000 to breed a red heifer, a requirement for Temple purification rituals. It has already raised nearly $33,000 from some 500 donors.

“For 2,000 years we’ve been waiting for a perfect red heifer,” said Richman, an institute director in a video for the fundraising campaign. The project, he said, is “nothing less than the first stage of the reintroduction of biblical purity into the world, the prerequisite for the rebuilding of the holy Temple.”

In short, the pitch is: If we breed it, He will come.

Since 1987, The Temple Institute, located in the Old City of Jerusalem, has been committed to returning to the Jewish traditions of ancient times by constructing a Temple to exact biblical specifications.

The recipe to do so requires very specific ingredients, as relayed in the Torah and the Talmud. To date, the institute has said it has completed the sacred garments of the high priest, and last year, it successfully raised over $100,000 to make architectural plans for the Temple. Now for a biblical bovine.

“The challenge is to raise a red heifer according to the exact biblical requirements here in the Land of Israel,”said Richman in the video. “It’s time to stop waiting and start doing.”

In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites were commanded to use “a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish” as a ritual sacrifice whose ashes would be required for the priests’ sacred rites. Red heifers are extremely rare, according to Jewish tradition, with only a handful said to have ever existed.

The institute has been seeking such a cow since for nearly three decades, even collaborating with Evangelical American breeders. After identifying a few promising cows that ultimately didn’t pass muster, the institute is rolling up its sleeves.

Working with an Israeli cow herder, using “state-of-the-art technique” and “under strict rabbinical supervision,” the institute hopes to produce a herd of red heifers. From the herd, they will select a “proper candidate” to fulfill the commandment.

If this story sounds familiar, similar fictional organizations, also fixated on cultic cattle, are central to USA Network’s 2015 TV show “Dig” and Michael Chabon’s 2007 novel “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.”

The Temple Institute has elected to run a Flexible Funding campaign, meaning it keeps all donations even if it does not hit its ultimate goal. Donor levels begin at $18, which earns the giver the satisfaction of knowing she’s done “a mitzvah.” At the highest level, $25,000, donors receive a private tour of the cattle ranch and updates on the status of the calf.

The project is controversial, of course. The site of the ancient Temples, and thus the prescribed site for the new one, is on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where sites holy to Muslims – the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque – have stood for 13 centuries.

The Temple Institute has admitted that the mosques must be cleared for the building of the Temple to begin. (One peace-seeking group, however, thinks there’s room for everyone.)

Despite these sizable obstacles, some Israelis are supportive of the institute’s ultimate aim. Haaretz reported in 2013 that nearly a third of secular citizens surveyed in a poll supported the building of the Temple, and the numbers rise for religious Jews.

After the fundraising campaign is complete, the plan is for red cow embryos to be deposited in surrogate mother cows – what Haaretz referred to as essentially bovine Virgin Marys. When birthed nine months later, rabbis will determine if any of the offspring meet the strict kosher cow standards.

If so, they will be ritually sacrificed and burned at age 2, allowing newly purified priests to ascend the Temple Mount. Then, according to South Park, the holy wars begin.

Honoring Max Steinberg


Family, friends and supporters of fallen Israeli soldier and Woodland Hills native Max Steinberg gathered on June 28 at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel to commemorate a Torah in his honor.

Families of Lone Soldiers (FOLS), an organization committed to supporting the loved ones of people who leave their home countries to fight for the Israeli military, sponsored the event where guests had the opportunity to write a letter in the Torah, which will be sent to Israel and used by soldiers. A campaign on the crowdfunding site Jewcer raised more than $50,000 for the project from more than 250 donors. 

Steinberg served as a sharpshooter in the Golani Brigade’s 13th battalion. His death during Operation Protective Edge last year when his unit was ambushed in Gaza touched lives across the world; 30,000 people attended his funeral. 

The Steinberg family and the Torah, with help from FOLS, were scheduled to travel to Israel to commemorate Max’s yahrzeit on July 9 at Mount Herzl. On July 12, plans call for the Torah to be ceremoniously completed with the help of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Golani soldiers alongside whom Max fought. 

FOLS co-founder Larry Platt hosted the recent local event and presented several community leaders who honored Steinberg’s memory and his service. He spoke on the strength of the late soldier’s parents, Stuart and Evie Steinberg.

“Their hearts, their emotions, their trials and tribulations, their dedication to family, their dedication to each other, and their commitment to Israel honors Max,” Platt said. “His life will go on in the memory of what he has done, what we have seen and what his parents have shared with us.”

The Steinbergs also addressed loved ones and supporters, many of whom were lone soldiers, like their son. Both spoke emotionally about the loss of their son and the importance of supporting lone soldiers.

“It is still hard for me to grasp that Max is no longer with us in body,” Evie Steinberg said through tears. “Max was and always will be my hero.”

The Steinberg family showed video from Max’s bar mitzvah ceremony, which took place at the Luxe in 2005 and which he shared with his brother, Jake. The video included footage of Max’s bar mitzvah speech, in which he talked about his Torah portion and the importance of the rite of passage. He also spoke about the legacy of generations and overcoming hardships. 

“When the Israelites left Egypt, every obstacle that they faced was a sign of discouragement,” a teenage Max said. “They could only see the obstacles, not the opportunity to move forward, to live in freedom. Having faith in ourselves and in God is really important, but so is our attitude of how we handle what happens to us in life.”

The idea for a Torah-writing ceremony and dedication in Max’s honor was first proposed by Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky of Chabad of the Conejo. The Steinberg family approached FOLS to organize the project and the ceremony. Max’s father credited FOLS with showing the compassion and dedication necessary for helping the unique situations of families of lone soldiers.

“Our biggest disappointment was that we were not there to celebrate Max’s accomplishments as he went through training,” Stuart Steinberg said. “When [FOLS co-founders Platt and Eli Fitlovitz] came to our home, we shared that disappointment with them. They told us what FOLS was about, and we knew that FOLS was a cause we wanted to put our arms around.” 

Tragedy in Brooklyn shines light on charity crowdfunding platform


On Sunday night, the Jewish community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn was shocked by the sudden death of Nadiv Kehaty, 30, a father of four.

Kehaty, a real estate agent who helped found a local Crown Heights synagogue named Itchke’s Shtiebel, did not have life insurance. He collapsed at an event Sunday night at his son’s yeshiva school, suffering an apparent heart attack.

Fortunately, one of Kehaty’s closest friends was Moshe Hecht, a co-founder of Charidy.com, a crowdfunding platform that matches donors willing to quadruple people’s donations to charity and nonprofit causes.

Hecht got together with some of Kehaty’s other friends and decided to start a Charidy campaign for the Kehaty family.

The results were inspiring.

Since Monday, the Charidy campaign, combined with a smaller (but nevertheless substantial) campaign started on fellow crowdfunding site GoFundMe, has raised over $900,000.

In Hecht’s words, the cause “went viral.”

“It was obvious that a lot of people donating didn’t know [Nadiv] and that this campaign went well and beyond his first circle of friends and family,” Hecht said.

Charidy, which was founded by Hecht, Yehuda Gurwitz and Ari Schapiro in 2013, partners each campaign with “Matchers,” who are willing to quadruple the total donation pool. Unlike other platforms that offer campaigns varying lengths of time to reach a goal, each Charidy campaign has only 24 hours to raise its target amount — and no money is earned if the goal isn’t reached.

Most of the nonprofits that have raised money through Charidy have been Jewish organizations, because it was first publicized in New York’s Chabad community. However, Hecht says that his goal is to expand its base of users beyond the Jewish community. In April, for example, the company is planning a day of fundraising for nonprofits of all kinds that aid victims of sexual abuse.

So far, Hecht says that Charidy has a 100 percent success rate, meaning that every campaign has reached its goal in 24 hours.

The $702,398 raised by the Kehaty Charidy campaign (which reached its goal of $253,000 in two hours) was by far the largest amount of money raised in the company’s short lifespan. Hecht said that the day of the campaign drew 50,000 unique visitors to the site — more than double the traffic of any previous day, including one day that involved 20 separate campaigns.

“It’s interesting that over the last few days everyone thought Nadiv was his best friend,” Hecht said. “He was literally the guy with the biggest heart in the whole world. Really a larger than life person.”

Those interested can still donate to this cause here.

At G.A., Jewish federations see future in more collaboration


There was the vice president of the United States, two Supreme Court justices and an Academy Award-winning actress with a compelling Jewish story. There were Jewish professionals, lay leaders, clergy and recent college graduates. The West Point cadets’ Jewish choir performed. The Israeli prime minister appeared via satellite from Jerusalem.

Part pep rally, part training and part family reunion, this week’s annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America drew some 3,000 people to a conference center outside Washington to cheer federations’ philanthropic work, listen to presentations ranging from European anti-Semitism to crowdfunding, and to schmooze.

As usual, much of the talk at the General Assembly was how to bolster North America’s 153 Jewish federations.

“We can go beyond exchanging ideas to actually exchanging services,” Jewish Federations CEO Jerry Silverman said in a speech at the closing plenary. “JFNA expanded the resources of our consulting and community development department, but what if we also leverage and share the resident expertise in this room and across our federations?”

The federations face an uphill battle at a time when studies show younger American Jews are less affiliated than previous generations with Jewish institutional life and less likely to give to Jewish causes — let alone clearinghouses like Jewish federations.

Though federation annual campaigns are up by about 7 percent compared with this time last year, the number of federation donors has declined by about one-third since 2000, according to the sociologist Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Meanwhile, last year’s Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews found that 43 percent of non-Orthodox Jews ages 30-49 donate to Jewish causes — in contrast to their counterparts ages 50–69, some 60 percent of whom give Jewishly.

At the conference, the answer to these trends was twofold. One, organizers showcased dozens of federation programs that are piloting new models for programming and outreach. Billed by organizers as “fedovations” — a mashup of the words “federation” and “innovation” — they included case studies in reaching younger donors, providing services to the elderly, planning profitable events, and finding ways to engage and excite unaffiliated community members. Jewish Federations plans to share these success stories in a federation-wide online database to be deployed in the coming weeks.

The second answer was for federation leaders — and some of the plenary speakers from outside federation, including the actress Marlee Matlin — to drive home the message of the importance of collective action in the Jewish world.

“We do have the intellectual and financial potential to effectuate substantive change, but only if we work together,” Jewish Federations board chairman Michael Siegal said in a plenary address Monday. “Federations must lead this charge and convene the necessary organizations and thought leaders because, simply, we have the reach that others do not.”

Barry Shrage, the president of Boston’s federation, called Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said that while many federations are doing terrific things, the challenge for the federation network as a whole is to identify priorities and then chart a course to address them collectively.

“At the end of the day, do we have an agenda or do we not have an agenda?” Shrage told JTA.  “Where are we going?”

He also dismissed concern about shrinking donor bases, saying the number of high-end donors is growing — they contribute the bulk of federation dollars — and that federations should not measure their successes by the checkbook.

“The most important thing is not to count how much money we’re raising,” Shrage said. “It’s to count how many good things we’re doing.”

Vice President Joe Biden affirmed the Obama administration’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security and talked about his experience taking each of his kids to the site of the Dachau concentration camp when they were 15 to teach them about the “incredible resilience and indomitable nature of the human spirit.”

Biden also called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “really great friend” — in contrast to the recent characterization of Netanyahu as “a chickenshit” by an anonymous Obama administration official in an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who also spoke at the G.A.

Seeking out Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, in the audience, Biden said, “Ron, you’d better damn well report to Bibi that we’re still buddies. You got it, right?”

In another plenary, NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg got U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to discuss the Jewish values that drive his work (tzedakah) and Justice Elena Kagan, who grew up Jewish on the Upper West Side, to reveal that she has become a duck hunter since joining the nation’s highest court.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, gave a rousing plenary address about the importance of Jews’ commitment to each other despite their differences.

“I don’t need you to agree with each other; I need you to care about one another,” he said.

A late-night session featuring Goldberg and the editors of two Israeli papers, Aluf Benn of Haaretz and Steve Linde of The Jerusalem Post, was packed. Goldberg related that his conversations with Netanyahu and officials in his government left him with the impression that the Israelis plan to wait until the next U.S. president takes office before trying to rebuild ties with the White House.

The conference’s theme was “the world is our backyard,” and it included a sprawling indoor space designed like a backyard replete with patio furniture, artificial turf panels and giant dandelions. The corners featured small stages where presenters — the list included author Peter Beinart; Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region; and Matt Nosanchuk and Noam Neusner, the current White House Jewish liaison and a predecessor in the post — held court during mealtimes. But many of the sessions were not listed in the conference booklet and had poor turnout.

Deborah Covington, vice president for planning and allocations at the Chicago Jewish federation, Jewish United Fund, said she came to the G.A. to network with peers and hear about federation work outside of what she regularly encounters. On that count, she said, the G.A. was a success.

“The breakout sessions felt relevant to me,” Covington said. “I thought it was a particularly good conference this year.”

 

Crowdfunding for Israel and Gaza, with condoms and drones


Crowdfunding campaigns, using sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, have become an increasingly popular way to generate money for everything from independent films to new technologies — even healthy-body-image fashion dolls and a rebuilt Third Temple.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that in recent weeks, as the Israel-Gaza war raged on, advocates for both Israelis and Palestinians started crowdfunding campaigns to help their favored sides. (How legitimate these efforts are is anyone’s guess.)

One of the more provocative, albeit not one of the more successful: an Indiegogo campaign seeking to raise money and awareness for the Israel Defense Forces via an “Iron Dome” condom with the motto “safe sex for a safe Israel.” The project’s organizers, Jason Sterling and Idan Twena, describe themselves as “two Canadian Israeli Jews, who have family members currently living in Israel and serving in the Israeli Defence Forces.”

Donor perks include condoms and other “Iron Dome” apparel, with the quantity varying depending on the size of the donation. The perk for those donating $18,000 (so far the largest donation has been $54 — and the total raised is $436) includes two round-trip tickets to Toronto to meet with the co-founders, four nights at the Four Seasons, a one-year supply of Iron Dome condoms and “a crazy night with 10 Iron Dome girls,” whatever an Iron Dome girl is.

At the opposite end of the modesty spectrum is an Indiegogo campaign raising money to provide soldiers with collections of psalms to “send a spiritual protective edge.” That campaign raised over $13,000, with perks ranging from emailed thank-you notes to various religious books — not quite a crazy night with an Iron Dome girl.

Other pro-Israel campaigns include a pizza fund for the troops which exceeded its original goal of 1,000 pizzas and various efforts to provide extra gear for soldiers.

Tzvi (Todd) Wiesel, a member of the Israel Defense Forces’ 97th battalion, turned to Tilt to raise money for extra gear for his unit, claiming in his pitch that “Due to the recent nature of our brigade, the newest in the army, and our battalion, the newest within the brigade the amount of funds allotted for our gear dwarfs in comparison to that of some of the better known units.” (The campaign raised $22,241.75 of its $20,000 goal.)

Meanwhile, a man who goes by “Ron” has raised over $18,000 of his $62,000 goal to help Israel buy more anti-missiles for Iron Dome. Lest you wonder whether an anti-missile is even purchase-able by an individual, Ron has it all figured out.

He writes in his pitch: “Of course, we couldn’t actually buy an Iron Dome anti-missile. But we could donate the exact amount of money to the Israeli government, and ask them to put it towards that defensive system, or any other civilian defence project in affected parts of Israel.”

On the pro-Palestinian side is a campaign for a Gazan version of Iron Dome, but it’s raised just $244 of its billion-dollar goal so far.

On a smaller scale are various campaigns to send humanitarian aid to Gaza’s citizens. While it is difficult to imagine any individual, acting on his or her own and not under the auspices of a larger humanitarian or government organization, getting any amount of aid past the blockade into Gaza, one Indiegogo campaign promises to send a “container” to Palestine. Without specifying the contents of the container, or how it would get into Gaza, it nonetheless surpassed its goal of $842.58. (Dollar amounts aren’t even numbers, because we’ve converted them from the British pounds listed on the campaign page.)

But perhaps the most creative, if not particularly realistic, is a campaign by someone named Syed Ali to send medical aid via drone into Gaza. According to the pitch, “We want to, in addition to the small amounts of aid going in through the border crossings, develop a fleet of remote-controlled drones that can carry 9kg of medical aid through per flight.”

Ali has raised $219 of his $8,846.90 goal so far and says he intends to contribute $7,246 of his own.

The incentive gift for someone donating $5,898? A “keepsake” drone if “the drone is damaged beyond repair (but we have it in our possession).”

Can’t afford the whole drone? For just $1,685.22 you can get the wings.

 

A young artist’s ‘anti-Barbie’ is a runaway crowdfunding success


Almost exactly 55 years after Barbie made her debut at the American International Toy Fair, a more realistically proportioned alternative to the iconic fashion doll has become a crowdfunding sensation, raising more than $400,000 in a week and a half to begin production.

The Lammily doll, which has joints that bend, an athletic physique and a motto of  “Average is Beautiful,” is being described by some fans as the anti-Barbie.

But Lammily’s creator, 25-year-old Pittsburgh artist Nickolay Lamm – who, like Barbie’s late inventor, Ruth Handler, is Jewish — insists he is not trying to pick a fight with the Mattel toy.

“I was just trying to make an alternative, which hasn’t existed yet,” he told JTA. “I can see girls playing with Lammily and other toys at the same time. I’m not really a crusading feminist. I’m just a normal dude with a laptop who thinks we could use another option.”

Lamm, who moved to the United States with his parents and twin brother from St. Petersburg, Russia, at age 6, dreamed up Lammily last year after designing “Real Barbie,” an image he posted online of what Barbie would look like if her measurements were reflective of real women’s bodies.

The project, which garnered a great deal of media coverage, went viral, and after many people urged him to market an actual doll, Lamm created prototypes for the Lammily doll and found a manufacturer in China.

Currently, the dolls are being offered exclusively to backers on Crowdtilt, the crowdfunding platform, and will not be shipped until November. But since he has already exceeded his fundraising goal fourfold — since March 5, the Lammily has raised $416,938 from 11,674 people — Lamm is pursuing plans to get Lammily into stores.

The fundraising success has been a “pleasant surprise” for Lamm.

“In the first hour, I thought it would completely bomb,” he said. “There were only four backers, including my mom. Then it picked up steam in an hour and a half.”

Lamm, who studied marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, has lived in the southwestern Pennsylvania city since the family immigrated to the United States almost 20 years ago. “I thought we were going on a holiday trip,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

He attended Jewish day schools — first an Orthodox one, then a pluralistic community one — through eighth grade and describes his day school years as “one of the best times of my life.”

However, he emphasized that, while he celebrated a bar mitzvah, he “was never really that religious” and is “not a very good practitioner of the holidays.”

“That’s the way our family was in Russia,” he added.

Ironically, Lamm never played with Barbie dolls as a child, although he remembers liking Transformers action figures.

Barbie has long been criticized for her unrealistic proportions, with some feminists claiming the super thin, super busty, long-necked doll has a negative impact on girls’ body images and even causes eating disorders.

But Lamm hadn’t thought much about the issue until one day when he was looking at a Barbie and “thought it looked a little weird.”

“If I can sometimes feel insecure, it’s hard for me to imagine what women have to go through,” he said. “They’re subjected to much higher beauty standards than men.”

One problem the Lammily faces, however, is her limited wardrobe — just a blouse, denim shorts and white sneakers. That’s no small problem for a fashion doll, especially since the obvious size differences make borrowing Barbie’s clothes out of the question.

Lamm said he plans to produce more outfits in the future. In the meantime, perhaps an enterprising designer/seamstress will launch a crowdfunding campaign to clothe the Lammily.