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Synagogues are joining the ‘effective altruism’ movement. Will the Sam Bankman-Fried scandal stop them?

(JTA) — A few years ago, Adam Azari was frustrated over how little he could do to alleviate suffering in the world with his modest income as a writer and caretaker for people with disabilities.

He kept thinking about a set of statistics and ideas he had encountered during his graduate studies in philosophy. For example, he remembered reading that for the price of training a guide dog for the blind in the United States, one could prevent hundreds of cases of blindness in the developing world.

This hyper-rational way of thinking about doing good was called effective altruism, and it was growing into a movement, known as E.A. for short. Some proponents were even opting to pursue lucrative careers in finance and tech that they otherwise might not have chosen so they would have more money to give away.

Azari, meanwhile, had become a believer who was stuck on the sidelines. Then, one day, he had what he calls a “personal eureka moment.” Azari would return to his roots as the son of a Reform rabbi in Tel Aviv and spread the word of E.A. across the Jewish denomination and among its millions of followers.

“It suddenly hit me that the Reform movement has this crazy untapped potential to save thousands and thousands of lives by simply informing Jews about effective giving,” he recalled.

He badgered his father, Rabbi Meir Azari, and, for a moment, thought of becoming a rabbi himself. But he abandoned the idea and focused on pitching E.A. to the Reform movement’s international arm, the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Azari found an ally in WUPJ’s president, Rabbi Sergio Bergman, and the organization soon decided to sponsor his efforts, paying him a salary for his work.

Over the past year, Azari’s Jewish Effective Giving Initiative has presented to about 100 rabbis and secured pledges from 37 Reform congregations to donate at least $3,000 to charities rated as the most impactful by E.A. advocates and which aid poor people in the developing world. Per E.A. calculations, it costs $3,000 to $5,000 to save a single life.

“Progressive Judaism inspires us to carry out tikkun olam, our concrete action to make the world better and repair its injustices,” Bergman said. “With this call we not only do what the heart dictates in values, ​​but also do it effectively to be efficient and responsible for saving a life.”

This charitable philosophy appears to be gaining traction in the Jewish world just as one of the figures most associated with it, who happens to be Jewish, has become engulfed in scandal.

Sam Bankman-Fried built a cryptocurrency empire worth billions, amassing a fortune he pledged to give away to causes such as artificial intelligence, combatting biohazards and climate change, all selected on criteria developed by the proponents of effective altruism.

A few weeks ago, Bankman-Fried’s fortune evaporated amid suspicions of financial misconduct and revelations of improper oversight at his company, FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that was worth as much as $32 billion before a run of withdrawals ultimately left it illiquid. The situation has drawn comparisons to the implosion of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and authorities investigating the situation have said Bankman-Fried could face criminal penalties over his role.

In the wake of FTX’s collapse, Bankman-Fried has suggested that his embrace of E.A. was insincere, a tactic to bolster his reputation.

But Azari and the organizer of another initiative, a growing reading and discussion group called Effective Altruism for Jews, are undaunted and don’t believe the scandal should taint the underlying principles of the movement.

“Whether you call it E.A. or just directly donating to global health and development, it doesn’t matter,” Azari said. “The basic idea is to support these wonderful charities, and I don’t think the FTX scandal changes any of that. Malaria nets, vitamin A supplements and vaccine distribution are still super cost-effective, evidence-based ways of helping others.”

Azari added that he has had several meetings with rabbis since the news about Bankman-Fried broke and that no one has asked him about it.

“I don’t think people are making the connection,” he said. “And to me, there is no connection between us and FTX.”

When talking to rabbis about why E.A. would make a good fit with their congregation’s charitable mission, Azari cites the Jewish value of tikkun olam, a mandate to “repair the world” often used to implore people to care for others. He explains that donating to charities with a proven track record is a concrete way to fulfill a Jewish responsibility.

That kind of thinking proved attractive to Steven Pinker, the prominent Harvard psychologist, who has endorsed Azari’s initiative. In a recorded discussion with Azari and others last year, Pinker recalled his Reform upbringing, which included Hebrew school, summer camp and synagogue services.

“The thing I remember most is how much of my so-called religious education was like a university course in moral philosophy,” Pinker said. “We chewed over moral dilemmas.”

As an adult, Pinker returned to Jewish teachings on charity and, in particular, those of the medieval philosopher Maimonides, examining these ideas through the lens of E.A. He began to wonder about the implications of Maimonides’ focus on evaluating charity based on the motives of the donor. That focus, he concluded, doesn’t always lead to the best outcomes for the beneficiary.

“What ultimately ought to count in tzedakah, in charity, is, are you making people better off?” he said.

Also on the panel with Azari and Pinker was the man credited with authoring the foundational texts upon which E.A. is built. Peter Singer, who is also Jewish and whose grandfather died in the Holocaust, teaches bioethics at Princeton. Starting in the 1970s, Singer wrote a series of books in which he argues for a utilitarian approach to ethics, namely, that we should forgo luxuries and spend our money to save lives. The extremes to which he has taken his thinking include suggesting that parents of newborn babies with severe disabilities be permitted to kill them.

From Bankman-Fried to Singer, the list of Jews who have either promoted E.A. or lead its institutions is long. With their estimated fortune of $11.3 billion, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna have eclipsed Bankman-Fried as the wealthiest Jews in the field. There’s also popular philosopher Sam Harris and New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, who have each dedicated episodes of their podcast to the topic.

The website LessWrong, which defines itself as “a community blog devoted to refining the art of rationality,” is seen as an important early influence; it was founded by Eliezer Yudkowsky, an artificial intelligence researcher who grew up in a Modern Orthodox household but does not identify religiously as a Jew anymore. Two other Jews, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, left the hedge fund world to establish GiveWell, a group whose research is considered the premier authority on which charities are deserving of E.A. donations.

The prevalence of Jews in the movement caught the attention of E.A. enthusiast Ben Schifman, an environmental lawyer for the federal government in Washington, D.C. About two years ago, Schifman proposed creating a group for like-minded individuals in hope of helping grow the movement. In an online post, he laid out the history of Jewish involvement and wrote a brief introduction to the topic of Judaism and charity.

Today, Schifmam runs a group called Effective Altruism for Jews, whose main program is an eight-week fellowship involving a reading and discussion group with designated facilitators. Schifman said about 70 people spread across 10 cohorts are currently participating. There’s also a Shabbat dinner program to bring people together for informal meetings with funding available for hosts.

Participants discuss how ideas that are popular in E.A. might relate to Jewish traditions and concepts, and also brainstorm ways to popularize the movement in the wider Jewish community, according to Schifman.

“There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit with regards to the Jewish community and sharing some of the ideas of Effective Altruism, like through giving circles at synagogues or, during the holidays, offering charities that are effective,” Schifman said in an interview that took place before the Bankman-Fried scandal broke.

Asked to discuss the mood in the community following the collapse of Bankman-Fried’s company and an affiliated charity, FTX Future Fund, Schifman provided a brief statement expressing continued confidence in his project.

He said, “While we’re shocked by the news and our hearts go out to all those affected, as an organization EA for Jews isn’t funded by FTX Future Fund or otherwise connected to FTX. We don’t expect our work will be impacted.”

Even if Schifman and Azari are right that their movement is robust enough to withstand the downfall of a leading evangelist, a debate remains about what impact E.A. can or should have on philanthropy itself.

Andres Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, wrote about the question with skepticism in an article published more than two years ago. He argued against “uncritically importing the values and assumptions” of effective altruists, whose emphasis on the “cold light of reason” struck him as detached from human nature.

In a recent interview, Spokoiny echoed similar concerns, noting that applying pure rationality to all charitable giving would mean the end of cherished programs such as PJ Library, which supplies children’s books for free to Jewish families, that may not directly save lives but do contribute to a community’s culture and sense of identity.

He also worries that too strong a focus on evidence of impact would steer money away from new ideas.

“Risky, creative ideas don’t tend to emerge from rational needs assessments,” he said. “It requires a transformative vision that goes beyond that.”

But Spokoiny also sounded more open to E.A. and said that as long as it does not try to replace traditional modes of philanthropy, it could be a useful tool of analysis for donors.

“If donors want to apply some of E.A. principles to their work, I’d say that is a good idea,” he said. “I am still waiting to see if this will be a fad or buzzword or something that will be incorporated into the practice of philanthropy.”


The post Synagogues are joining the ‘effective altruism’ movement. Will the Sam Bankman-Fried scandal stop them? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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