Hillel Gets $10.7 Million Gift

Hillel announced Monday that it has received a $10.7 million grant, the largest in its history, to support the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, which employs students to involve classmates in Jewish life, and to expand a program piloted at UCLA that encourages Jewish learning through Talmudic studies at coffee shops and fraternity houses.

The Experiential Educator Exemplar Program (E3) focuses on reaching students through small group communities. The gift from the Jim Joseph Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting education of Jewish youth, will be paid over five years and will enable Hillel to expand the program to 10 new campuses.

“Young adults are looking at big questions in their life, questions like: Who am I? What will my legacy be? What kind of career should I have? Who will my partner be?” said Rabbi Daniel Smokler, a senior Jewish educator for Hillel who runs E3 at UCLA. “Jewish learning, meaning the text tradition, is a 3,000-year-old conversation about how to live a good life.”

Campus entrepreneurs — there are 114 at 12 schools — will engage about 7,000 students this year. The grant will help the program reach an additional 30,000 students during the next five years, Hillel officials said.

Both programs will build upon student experiences from immersive programs like Birthright Israel and social justice trips.

“Our strategic planning process told us that today’s students want to learn experientially and in a direct relationship with a teacher,” Julian Sandler, chairman of the Hillel board of directors, said in a statement. “Furthermore, students want to be engaged by their peers. CEI and E3 are direct results of this research.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Drake Stays Mum on UC Irvine Anti-Semitism

UCI chancellor Michael Drake, confronted over his position at the opening plenary of Hillel’s summit Monday in Washington, issued a blanket condemnation of hate speech, including anti-Semitism, saying it had no place in society.

“It’s deplorable,” Drake said. “And we reject it absolutely.” Drake declined to comment, however, when asked after the summit how he feels about some of the anti-Israel activity that has taken place at UC Irvine. He said the university wished to remain “content neutral.” UC Irvine students have charged that they have been physically and verbally harassed by Muslim students, and that speakers are routinely invited to campus who compare Israel to Nazi Germany.

Drake’s participation in the summit generated vocal opposition from groups who say his refusal to condemn specific incidents of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity makes him unfit to speak at the event. Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life has rejected that position.

A representative of the Coalition of Jewish Concerns-Amcha interrupted the plenary following the opening remarks, seizing the microphone on the rostrum and accusing Hillel of adopting a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude. The representative, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, also distributed a letter criticizing Drake.

A letter sent last week to Hillel’s president, Wayne Firestone, from 41 Jewish students condemned Drake’s invitation. Firestone met with the students last Friday. In a meeting with reporters following the plenary, Firestone reiterated Hillel’s position on the Drake invitation and said he was “proud” the organization had given the chancellor a platform. Firestone said Drake’s participation created a “public accounting” and was an opportunity to “build sensitivity” among university administrations to issues of Jewish concern.

— BG

Clinton, Obama Tied Among Jewish Dems

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are in a statistical dead heat in a poll of Jewish Democrats. In the mid-March Gallup Poll of the rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton received 48 percent of the Jewish Democrat vote and Obama 43 percent. That’s within the 6-percentage point margin of error of the sample of 368 Jewish Democrats.

The senators — Clinton of New York and Obama of Illinois — are also tied among Protestants. Clinton owns a substantial edge among Roman Catholics, while Obama leads among those with no affiliation and those affiliating with non-Christian and non-Jewish religions.

Rice Taking Peace Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Israel and the Palestinian areas to encourage peace negotiators to “do more,” her spokesman, Sean McCormack, said Monday, referring to the U.S.-guided peace plan calling for a freeze on Israeli settlement in the West Bank and an end to Palestinian violence, culminating in Palestinian statehood.

“I would just refer back to what the secretary herself has said on this, and that is that each side needs to do more, that they haven’t done enough,” McCormack said.

The precise dates of the trip have yet to be announced.

Saudi Interfaith Forum to Include Jews

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah plans to convene an interfaith conference that will include include Muslims, Christians and Jews, according to the Saudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. It would mark the first time that Jews have been included in religious dialogue in Saudi Arabia, according to Ha’aretz. Abdullah was quoted as saying he discussed the idea of the summit with Pope Benedict during a meeting several months ago.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.