Free speech on campus


New UC president Yudof is part of a dynamic duo


Wedged among the usual academic honors and awards in the official biography of Mark G. Yudof, unanimously chosen last week by a search committee as the next president of the massive University of California system, are entries that Yudof and his wife, Judy, are co-recipients of a Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award, and that he served on the board of directors of the Jewish Children’s Regional Service, as well as on the B’nai B’rith Advisory Council in Austin, Texas.

Yudof, chancellor of the University of Texas since 2002, is to be formally confirmed by the UC Regents within a week. As such, he will take the helm of the world’s leading public research university, with 10 campuses, including Berkeley and UCLA, some 220,000 students and an $18-billion budget.

Even more noteworthy for the Jewish community is the resumÃ(c) of Judy Yudof. She is the immediate past international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing 760 synagogues, the first woman to hold the post in the organization’s 89-year history.

When she assumed the presidency, she bluntly told reporters, “I didn’t decide to run because I’m a woman, but because I have the leadership skills.”

She currently serves on the council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and on the international board of Hillel.

Three years ago, the couple gave $50,000 to the United Synagogue’s Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. The Yudofs have two children, Seth and Samara.

Mark Yudof, 63, was born in Philadelphia and started his academic career in 1971 as an assistant professor of law at the University of Texas, Austin. During 26 years as a teacher and dean, he earned a reputation as an authority on constitutional law, freedom of expression and education law.

After a five-year stint as president of the University of Minnesota, Yudof returned to Texas as chancellor of the multicampus UT system.

In a 2003 interview in the Dallas Morning News, Yudof is characterized as “an energizer, outgoing and at meetings he rarely lets a moment pass without a quip.”

As he described himself, “I am what I am. I have my weird sense of humor and I’m proud of it. What I’ve found works best for me is transparency, being direct and being honest.”

Yudof is not above poking fun at himself, pointing to his habit of getting lost as well as his obsessive love of pancakes.

As chancellor, he has continued teaching classes and likes to open the session by asking students, “How did the university oppress you this week?” Off-campus, he has lectured on Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, at local synagogues.

Along with 10 other American university heads, Yudof visited Israel last July, where he proposed joint research between Israeli and American universities.

He recently reported on his trip at the UT Hillel center, where, as “a longtime supporter of Israel,” he advocated strong academic ties with Israel and urged students to study in the Jewish state.

Rabbi David Komerofsky, the Hillel executive director at UT’s flagship Austin campus, said that, “I’ve never known Mark Yudof to refuse an invitation to a Jewish community event.

“He is a terrific friend of Hillel, a thoughtful man with a sense of humor, who is a real leader and straight shooter,” Komerofsky added. “He and Judy are two points of pride for the Jewish community.”

Yudof will be the second Jewish president in the 140-year history of the University of California. The first was David Saxon, who served from 1975-1983.

As UC president, Yudof will consult frequently with Gene Block, who took over as chancellor of UCLA last year.

Block was a visible figure in the Jewish community in his previous position as provost at the University of Virginia. He has been less involved since coming to Los Angeles, but he and his family attended High Holy Days services at UCLA Hillel last year.

Choose Grrl Power over beauty pageants, grrlz


As children we loved to put on my mother’s old nightgowns, makeup and heels and pretend we were Queen Esther. Somewhere around adolescence this became a little more
uncomfortable.

Why was Vashti banished for refusing to dance — according to some, wearing only her crown — for the drunken King Achashverosh and his buddies? Wasn’t that the right thing to do? And what was a nice Jewish girl like Esther doing in a beauty contest for the Persian king?

Today, in a world saturated by images of beauty and still uncomfortable with a woman asserting her power, these remain relevant questions. How are Jewish girls faring amid this sea of contradiction?

By many measures, Jewish girls are thriving. They are leading extracurricular activities, bettering the world around them, excelling in sports and studying at elite universities. At the same time such success often comes at a cost for girls.

Research and anecdotal evidence point to girls’ perception of intense pressure to accrue academic and extracurricular distinctions. Simultaneously, girls feel bound by the constraints of feminine “niceness,” through which individual ambition becomes untenable, aggressive and selfish.

For some girls, the impact of these contradictions causes suffering.

For others it can lead to the development of eating disorders, cutting, relational bullying, precocious sexuality, abusive relationships and low self-esteem.

Ma’yan: the Jewish Women’s Project is founded on the belief that it is critical to help girls, and those who work with girls, address these contradictions.

Take for example, the case of the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the Reform youth group. Recent reports have sounded the “boy” alarm: 60 percent to 80 percent of participants in Reform youth groups, leadership training, camp and Israel programs are girls. The Union for Reform Judaism has inaugurated a Young Men’s Project to address the dearth of male participants.

What is heard less often is that this year — and it appears not to be atypical — all of the national NFTY officers are boys. An organization in which the overwhelming majority of participants are girls is still led by boys. Leaders involved with the program report that the girls are content with this arrangement, do not seek leadership and are happy to do the behind-the-scenes work.

In other words boys, though few in number, are eager to lead and are apparently groomed to be leaders.

Girls, like women in Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, do not seek leadership, presumably out of fear of being seen as “bossy” or “presumptuous,” or unwilling to set themselves apart from their female peers. Despite their strength in numbers, the girls say they prefer a more collaborative model of leadership.

What future is predicated here? Do we want girls to grow to be women who collaborate nicely and plan events while the men are given center stage? Do we want girls to grow to be women who comprise the backbone of the workforce while the male CEO occupies the corner office? What does it mean if boys, so few in number, still rise to the top?

It is these questions we wish to explore. The Jewish community of late appears to be more interested in questions that concern boys’ absence rather than girls’ lack of leadership. Picking up on national news trends, the Jewish community has sounded its version of the “boy crisis” alarm. Boys are the new girls and are depicted as failing academically, suffering emotionally and dropping out of all things Jewish. Implicit in these arguments is the assumption that attention to girls has served its purpose and should now return where it was always due — to boys.

Although pundits typically lump all boys’ issues into one puddle and declare it a “crisis,” the reality is that Jewish boys are not, and never have been, failing academically. If we are really concerned about boys in crisis, we should turn our attention to poor boys and boys of color, who are truly suffering.

Boys and boys’ issues are worthy of attention, and the Jewish community is surely not serving its sons as well as it could — just as there are gaps in our attention to girls’ needs. Indeed, if it is the case that young men’s participation falls off precipitously after the age of bar mitzvah, it is definitely worth looking at what it takes to engage young men and their interests.

I am agnostic on the question of inherent difference between boys and girls. It is clear, however, that boys and girls from the earliest age are subject to vastly different experiences, which in turn shape them. To truly meet the needs of both boys and girls, we will have to pay specific attention to gender socialization.

Boys and girls must be given the opportunity to explore the social construction of gender, challenge gender norms, examine gender privilege and create a balance of power between boys and girls. We must prepare our daughters to be strong leaders well armed against the sexism they will face in the media and employment at the same time that we raise young men who share an interest in their sisters’ achievements, who have full access to their feelings and who are engaged by Jewish life.

Toward this end, Ma’yan recently launched Koach Banot, Girl Power!

Through training, advocacy and education, we aim to raise the profile of Jewish girls in the community, make excellent resources including curricula and programs more widely available, and to train those who work with girls to better understand issues that confront girls and learn how they can utilize resources to best serve their population.

By exploring these issues and questions together, we can steer clear of the zero-sum game of boys vs. girls and enter into a rich exploration of gender and its implications for our community.

Rabbi Rona Shapiro serves as a senior associate at Undressed up

Fight Against Campus Bias Gets Boost


If you’re a Jewish college student, you no longer have to tolerate anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing on your campus. You are protected under our federal civil rights laws. These were the landmark conclusions of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency that analyzes information about discrimination and reports its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress.

In November 2005, the commission held its first-ever hearing on the issue of campus anti-Semitism. One topic was the Zionist Organization of America’s precedent-setting civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine, who have faced a pattern of anti-Jewish hostility that university administrators have known about but have failed to adequately address. Based on the hearing, the commission recently issued historic findings and recommendations that both Jews and non-Jews can applaud.

According to the commission, the problem of campus anti-Semitism is “serious.” In addition to name-calling, threats, assaults and the vandalism of property, hatred toward Jews is being expressed on campus in subtler ways. Zionism — the expression of Jewish rights and attachment to the historic homeland of Israel — is being unfairly mischaracterized as racism. Israel is being demonized and illegitimately compared to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, and its leaders are being compared to Hitler.

At UC Irvine, annual campus events (titled, “Anti-Zionist Week” and the misnomer “Israel Awareness Week”) have been regular opportunities to attack Jews, Zionists and those who support Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Signs have equated the Star of David with the swastika and depicted it dripping with blood. Speakers have portrayed Jews as overly powerful and conspiratorial; one referred to “the Jewish lobby” as a “den of spies.”

At San Francisco State University, fliers depicted a baby with the caption, “Palestinian Children Meat — Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” The commission rightly condemned all this conduct as anti-Semitism, finding that “[a]nti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”

The commission also recognized that Jewish students face harassment inside the classroom. Many academic departments present a one-sided, anti-Israel view of the Middle East conflict, squelching legitimate debate about Israel. According to a Jewish student at Columbia University, her professor said that she had no claim to the Land of Israel because she had green eyes and therefore could not be a Semite. In response to such incidents, the commission recommended that academic departments “maintain academic standards, respect intellectual diversity and ensure that the rights of all students are fully protected.”

According to the commission, “severe, persistent or pervasive” anti-Semitism on campus may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI requires that colleges and universities ensure that their programs and activities are free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.” Otherwise, they risk losing their federal funding. The commission recognized that Jews are protected under Title VI because they are an ethnic group sharing a common ancestry and heritage.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education ensures that colleges and universities comply with Title VI. The commission recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism.

The commission also urged university leaders to denounce anti-Semitic and other hate speech. Some have already done so: When a cartoon mocking the Holocaust was published in a Rutgers student newspaper, the university president publicly recognized that although the publication was constitutionally protected, it was hurtful to the community and inconsistent with the university’s values. He urged the students involved to take responsibility for their actions and succeeded in getting them to apologize for the hurt they caused to the community.

Not all university leaders have exercised the same moral leadership. Some have remained silent in the face of anti-Semitic speech and conduct, justifying their silence by saying that offensive behavior is constitutionally protected. Of course, we must all stand up for free speech and vigorous debate — especially on a college campus, where the exchange of ideas should be encouraged. But hateful, degrading and demeaning speech is hateful, degrading and demeaning, no matter where it occurs.

We can’t lose our common sense about what is hateful and harmful, just because it is expressed on a college campus. If college officials remain silent, they help perpetuate the bigotry. And their silence contributes to making the targets of the hate feel even more marginalized and unwelcome.

What should you do if you are experiencing anti-Semitism on your campus, to the point that the environment feels hostile or intimidating?

First, you should try to resolve the problem internally by working with university officials to create an atmosphere that is tolerant and respectful. While colleges and universities must uphold the right of free speech, they have a legal obligation to provide you with an educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. If working with university officials fails and the hostile environment persists, then you can and should file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (www.ed.gov/ocr).

More information is forthcoming. The commission has recommended that OCR conduct a public education campaign, and it will be distributing its own materials to inform students of their rights. Hillel directors should be getting the message out to college administrators and to their Jewish constituents. The Zionist Organization of America will be undertaking its own nationwide effort to inform Jewish students and college administrators that anti-Semitism is illegal and that students have legal tools to fight it.

Whatever your campus experience, if you are a Jewish student, it’s important to know that the Civil Rights Commission has staked out its position firmly supporting your right to be free from campus anti-Semitism. You have the right to obtain your education in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and that does not intimidate or harass you because you are Jewish or support Israel.

Susan B. Tuchman, is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, and testified at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ hearing on campus anti-Semitism on Nov 18, 2005. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

 

Superintendant Romer Wants to End Term Early


Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer, the central figure in efforts to improve local schools, has quietly informed top school officials that he would like to leave the job by September, some nine months before his contract expires.

Romer made his request to L.A. Unified school board members at a recent closed-door meeting, where they were discussing the process of choosing his successor. The conversation was confirmed for The Journal Friday by district spokesperson Stephanie Brady, a senior member of Romer’s staff. In the meeting, Romer assured board members that, if needed, he would serve out his contract, which runs through June of next year.

Romer, the former three-term governor of Colorado, has overseen a significant rise in student test scores and academic standards since accepting the job in June 2000. His efforts to build new schools helped jump-start one of the nation’s largest public works projects. At the same time, these reform efforts have been frustrated by an ongoing high dropout rate and lagging academic improvements in middle schools and high schools.

Romer, who is on what staff termed a mini-vacation, was unavailable for comment, but the details of the school board meeting were confirmed by spokesperson Brady. She did not speculate about Romer’s reasons for preferring an early exit. At the meeting during which Romer expressed his wishes, he and board members discussed the hiring of an executive search firm to find a replacement for him and how that firm would do its work.

Board members were less than eager to offer their own confirmation. “He may choose to do that,” said board member Julie Korenstein. “He mentioned he would be willing to leave earlier. But he cannot leave until we find a replacement. We haven’t had a whole lot of discussion on this yet. This has to do with our success in finding a replacement and how long it takes to do our national search.”

Board member David Tokofsky, who could only respond briefly because he was reached during a meeting, said he disagreed with any assertion that Romer would be departing early.

Another board member, Jon Lauritzen commented, “We’ve had some serious conversations in closed session but I can’t confirm anything — although it sounds like your sources of information know what they’re talking about.”

Added board president Marlene Canter: “It’s not something I would even want to comment on. The school board is beginning to do a search for a replacement, as we would have done anyway. His contract goes to June 2007, and he will stay as long as we need him to stay up till June of 2007.”

She added that board members have decided that community input would be an important part of this search. The selection process that, six years ago, led to Romer had been criticized as not sufficiently involving community members.

Rumors about Romer’s future as superintendent already had been circulating widely. These were sparked earlier this week when a senior administrator, addressing a meeting for principals, said, “Romer might be not back for the next school year,” according to two principals in attendance.

The reference was so brief that another principal who was present didn’t recall the remark. The senior administrator was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.

Some of the recent speculation has focused on whether Romer would be willing to work under the auspices of the mayor’s office. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vowed to get control of the L.A. Unified School District, with authority similar to the mayors of New York City and Chicago. But even under the fastest scenario, it was never clear that Romer, who is 77, would still be serving by the time Villaraigosa might be calling the shots.

Individual school board members have criticized Villaraigosa’s efforts, which could complicate the search for Romer’s replacement. A top candidate might be more reluctant to take the job if it isn’t clear to whom he or she will answer.

Romer became the L.A. schools chief with mixed expectations after being persuaded to apply by businessman-philanthropist Eli Broad. The school board’s first choice had been Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and Clinton administration official. L.A. Unified had run through four superintendents in the previous decade and predictions abounded that Romer would be a short-timer or ineffective.

The longtime politician was not an educator, but he’d championed education issues as Colorado’s governor. Romer’s substantial political skills, his selective stubbornness and a determination devoid of personal ambition began both to impress observers and also to make headway on some seemingly intractable issues, notably school overcrowding.

During his tenure, Romer avoided a teachers strike, while also remaining on good terms with a business-civic coalition led by Richard Riordan both during and after his terms as mayor — even though Riordan’s coalition pointedly opposed the influential teachers union.

“I wanted a politically astute leader,” said board member Korenstein. “He was definitely not an educator. On that part, he has been okay. His lasting legacy will be building 180 schools.”

Lauritzen was more unstinting in his praise. “His performance has been fantastic in terms of the building program — absolutely magnificent and his success in increasing performance in test scores has been remarkable as well. In those areas he’s exceeded expectations.

Lauritzen added that there would be plenty of work for Romer’s successor. “The biggest area is the dropout rate. We’ve simply got to get that under control. And we still have a lot of work to do in terms of academic achievement in secondary schools.”

Board president Canter echoed that sentiment: “Governor Romer has brought more change to the district in the last five or six years than has happened in a long time. But none of us is satisfied with where we are. We all feel an urgency for bold reform, and we’re looking for another bold reformer.”

Title VI Debate Focus on Resource Centers


U.S. lawmakers and academics are engaged in fierce debate over the renewal of Title VI of the Higher Education Act.

Under Title VI, select universities get federal funding and prestigious designation as national resource centers for the study of places and languages the government deems vital for meeting global challenges.

The legislation was first enacted in 1958, during the height of the Cold War, as part of the National Defense Education Act. Its purpose, according to its framers, was to ensure “trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States.”

National defense, according to current Department of Education publications, “remains central to the programs 40 years after their inception.”

Critics seeking to amend the legislation contend that universities often promote anti-American and anti-Israel biases and do not merit federal funds that were intended to serve American interests.

Many academics worry that restrictions will violate academic freedoms.

While Title VI may have had a noble purpose, it does not work in practice, according to Middle East scholar Martin Kramer. He analyzed Middle East studies centers and the work of the Title VI national resource centers in his 2001 book, “Ivory Towers on Sand — The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.”

Kramer was the first to charge that using Title VI monies as a base, many Middle East studies departments pushed an anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian agenda on students and faculty.

This “group think” required obeisance, Kramer said, to what he described as the anti-Western “post-colonialist” beliefs of people like Edward Said, the late Palestinian activist and Columbia University professor of comparative literature.

At the same time, these academics denigrated the work of prominent mainstream Middle East scholars, such as Bernard Lewis, the Princeton University professor emeritus, as too pro-Western.

Kramer wrote that these departments encouraged a worldview in which instruction about Israel is twisted and degraded, while instruction about the United States eliminates positive and patriotic references.

The negative emphasis often found in these departments is like “teaching about the United States through the lens of what happened at Abu Ghraib prison” in Baghdad, said Sarah Stern, director of the Washington office for governmental and public affairs of the American Jewish Congress, which formally protested Title VI educational practices to the U.S. Department of Education.

“And it’s teaching about Israel through the lens of Deir Yassin,” she said, referring to an infamous battle during Israel’s War of Independence in which Jewish militias allegedly murdered Arab civilians.

In written testimony submitted to Congress in 2003, the then-director of Georgetown’s national resource center on the Middle East, Barbara Stowasser, and a colleague, defended the work of Georgetown’s national resource centers.

“We have had scholars working at our centers who have come to differing conclusions on an array of issues, as one would expect in an academic setting which is premised on the principle of academic freedom and the belief that rigorous research and serious intellectual discussion are important to informing both our students and others who benefit from contact with the work of our centers.

“We would make the point, however, that in the process, our centers’ work has been balanced and reflective of diverse views,” they wrote.

Legislation introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives this session by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) would create an advisory board to observe the workings of Title VI and report to Congress. Academic associations oppose the legislation as an attack on free speech and academic freedom.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently passed the legislation as part of the Higher Education reauthorization bill, but it has yet to pass the full House.

In the Senate, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) attached a different version of the legislation to the Higher Education reauthorization bill. The Senate version does not include an advisory board provision, but it does require a survey of national and defense agencies to determine what they most need from the university community, with the assumption being that it is Arabic speakers.

The Senate version also requires an objective grievance procedure if university students feel they’re being discriminated against. And it requires schools to show how many students who have studied in these resource centers actually go into national security and defense fields.

The House and the Senate are now slated to try to resolve the different versions of the legislation.

 


Tainted Teachings

Preschool Teaching Methods Stir Debate


Once upon a time, children didn’t step into a classroom until kindergarten. There, 5-year-olds got their first real introduction to ABCs and 123s, colors and shapes and how to share and take turns.

Today, kindergartners are widely expected to know their letters and numbers before the first day of school. One mother, whose child will start kindergarten in the fall, was told that because her child was not yet reading, he was “already behind.”

That’s not truly the case at either a public school or at the vast majority of private schools, but many schools and parents are pushing students to learn material at progressively earlier ages. That presents preschools with the challenge of balancing these demands with the needs and the developing abilities of their young charges.

One result is that parents and educators alike have been thrown into the debate over the merits of a more academic approach — traditional, structured and teacher-directed — vs. a developmental approach — more informal and child directed.

“With the academic approach, kids get information drilled into them that they may not grasp,” said Sarah Maizes, the mother of a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twins. “I want my children to understand the world on their own terms.”

Maizes, who previously worked in children’s publishing and television, chose to send her children to preschool at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, because she considered it developmentally oriented, focusing on “each individual child’s needs.”

April Brown, in contrast, originally chose the developmental route with her then-3-year-old son, Andrew, because she “didn’t want to push him.” But after he grew bored and unhappy, she switched him to a more structured, academic program.

“He did much better in an environment that was more focused on projects, goals and lessons,” Brown said. “The decision wasn’t made based on how I wanted him to perform but on what suited him best.”

Experts say that both academic and developmental approaches have merit, and in fact, can be used in combination.

“For many years, I’ve heard about this dichotomy of developmental vs. academic … They aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Dr. Barbara Gereboff, head of school at Kadima Academy in Woodland Hills. “These terms are used to stand in for ‘kind and gentle and nurturing’ vs. ‘punitive and strict.’ These are the wrong definitions.”

Kadima’s new preschool on a campus it purchased last year is already fully enrolled.

Young children can and do benefit from academic experiences, said Esther Elfenbaum, director of Early Childhood Education Services for the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of Greater Los Angeles.

“By the time children reach the age of 5, their brains have made many connections. The more stimulation a child’s brain receives, the better off that child will be,” she said. At the same time, material should be presented in a manner that is appropriate and interesting for each child. “Children can learn more than we think. The trick is to make it so that they want to learn.”

Seven years ago, Elfenbaum introduced a teaching methodology called Reggio Emilia to Jewish community educators. This approach uses children’s interests as departure points for learning opportunities. For example, if a student raises a question about a certain animal, that can lead to a discussion of the animal’s habitat, diet and lifestyle.

By allowing children to explore what’s significant to them, this type of approach “does academics in a way that’s developmentally appropriate,” she said.

Elfenbaum recently returned from a BJE-sponsored trip to Israel, where she and 17 early childhood educators from Los Angeles observed best practices at Israeli preschools. There, they saw classroom walls covered with children’s artwork and child-dictated captions, which were created around such themes as “the ocean” or “summer.” She believes that teaching reading through such a themed approach is more effective than using “the letter of the week.”

At Harkham Hillel Academy in Beverly Hills, Cecelie Wizenfeld, early childhood director, described her school’s approach as “developmentally academic.” While the curriculum is structured to accommodate both general studies and Hebrew, she said lessons are presented in a way that recognizes children’s “ages and stages.”

Even when schools recognize their student’s capabilities and limitations, the children may still find themselves being pushed.

“Parents at orientation ask, ‘Will my [3-year-old] child be reading?” Wizenfeld said. “I tell them that the No. 1 priority is for children to feel good about learning.”

Children’s early learning experiences are also affected by the caliber of their teachers. Tamar Andrews, preschool director at Temple Isaiah, noted that California requires only 12 units of early childhood education for state preschool teachers, a fact she called “scary.”

Andrews said that she prefers to borrow elements from the many philosophies. The ultimate goals of preschool “are intangible: high self-esteem, a sense of self and a sense of belonging,” she said. In other words, “the goal is for children to turn out to be menches.”

 

A Student’s Plea


 

Often I find myself staring at walls or lying on my bed staring at the ceiling, blank-minded. But I am not one who has the luxury to

be blank-minded. There is too much to do — not by will, but by force. There is work to be done — two lessons of math homework, 26 pages of AP English reading, eight terms a day to study for the AP test, probably some science homework that I don’t remember and the indefinitely intimidating SATs, looming in everyone’s mind. I/we, all students, are collapsing under the weight of our responsibilities, high school beasts of academic burden.

So I will explain to those who ask, such as parents, teachers or siblings, “Why are you not working?” Why I am not working? It seems nothing we students can do is enough. One day there is a chemistry test, the next an essay due, the next an English test, the next a much-needed break, which is not really a break because we still have everyday homework and SAT studying, followed by another test, another essay — and eventually the lines begin to blur. Eventually, all worries and all concerns about school, grades and college just don’t seem worth it.

“Of course they’re worth it,” say parents and educators, and we know they’re worth it. We know we need to study, we know we need to do well in school, well on the SATs, well on the APs, we know it’s all important. So maybe we could find some system of working, making a schedule that encompasses both work and rest that would suit our needs and keep us sane. Not so, friends, not so.

There comes a point where we students are no longer inspired to learn. (Were we ever?) Yes, we enjoy learning what we find interesting, whether it be history, chemistry, philosophy, etc. for each individual. But as the requirements build up, and the pressure rises, our only motivation to work is to avoid being scolded for not working. We no longer care about our grades; it isn’t worth it. We don’t connect the drudgery of studying for tests or the SATs with their necessity. What I mean is that when separating ourselves from work, we understand that we need to do it in order to get into college, to have a stable life and just to learn things we didn’t know before. But when we have to get our hands dirty, get right into it with those pencils, books and calculators, and put C-clamps on our brains, the amount of work we realize we’re facing dismisses all of those long-term accomplishments for the immediacy of stress. So we shut down our brains like blocks of concrete, and stare at the walls.

In my experience, education is no longer about learning; it’s about how a student looks on paper. Letters and numbers that represent our intellect, and how many extracurriculars represent our involvement. They mean little to me. But they mean plenty to parents, schools and colleges, though, so we have to put up with them. But when they become so important that our lives need to revolve around them, it is much easier to ignore them to the extent that we can, so that parental or academic authorities won’t bother us. Not to say this is right, but it’s honest. And not to say we don’t enjoy intellect; I spend much of my free time reading, writing, talking religion or politics, enjoying or creating art, etc. These things are valuable, but, sadly, they don’t appear on our transcripts — the mindless drone of SAT, AP and GPA percentiles do. Sad how five letters and their numbers are likely to define our lives, even if we’re artists and writers and scientists and philosophers and politicians without the papers to prove it.

I do not expect to change any of these things with my words. If I did, I would also ask for a unicorn pony and to be a teenage ninja. I only hope to help parents and educators understand why we students at times are so disheartened and disconnected from our education.

I don’t speak for all students. Of course there are students who don’t feel this way, but they’re sparse. And in a way, I feel real compassion for those who don’t have the ability to disconnect themselves from their responsibilities, their worries of the SATs, the right college, the right jobs, the right mate, the whole right life, and run wild and untethered on the beaches of their own minds. But plenty of us students with our stress-roasted minds understand and relate. Someday when we inherit the world, we’ll change the system so that our children’s children will enjoy their preadulthood wholeheartedly. Someday, my brothers, someday.

Seth Lutske is a senior at YULA Boys School and editor of the school newspaper.

 

Adults-In-Training Hopes and Fears


"Why are you having a bar or bat mitzvah?" Larry Kligman, dean of students at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, asks the school’s 65 seventh-graders.

"Tradition."

"Fun."

"Identity."

"Heritage."

The students are attending a one-day retreat, an event the school has sponsored for more than 10 years, enabling them to reflect on the ritual’s meaning as well as the concomitant anticipation and anguish.

"It’s a difficult year," Kligman explains, "as the students have to cope with their own bar or bat mitzvah in addition to a heavy academic load and the pressures of attending a friend’s bar or bat mitzvah almost every weekend."

This year, Jerry Brown, senior rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, has volunteered to host the retreat at his synagogue as well as lead one of the discussions.

"Why 13? It’s an interesting age, but why 13?" Brown asks the students.

"We become teenagers," Joshua I. Goldberg says.

"Teenagers," Brown says, grimacing as he emphasizes the first syllable. "What’s different about these teenage years?"

"We learn differently."

"We have more ability to understand things."

"Puberty."

He tells them that everything is changing — physically, psychologically and emotionally — faster than anytime in their lives except infancy. And that the ancient sages came up with the same number we have — 13 — to mark the beginning of adolescence.

"Why do you think the word teenager has a bad connotation?" he asks. "What kinds of things happen at bar mitzvah services and receptions?"

"Destruction."

"Food fights."

"Drinking."

"If you see somebody getting into something, do you want to do a very hard thing and say something to them?" Brown asks.

"Yes, because the bar mitzvah is only fun if everybody is having a good time," Benjamin Selski says.

"A successful bar mitzvah depends just as much on your friends," Hal Greenwald, Heschel’s rabbi-in-residence, adds.

Brown tells the students that they are becoming adults in terms of participating in Jewish religious life, but otherwise he considers them "adults-in-training."

He explains that the bar and bat mitzvah is essentially "a big time-out," a chance to think about what adolescence means and to start learning to take on adult responsibilities.

"To be in charge of your own lives is the best thing that you can want. I invite you to take that seriously," he says. "And a bar or bat mitzvah is the perfect place to start."

In another workshop, students are invited to grapple with real life scenarios. "What do you do when you’re invited to two bar mitzvahs on the same day?" Kligman asks them.

"If people know there’s a conflict far enough in advance, maybe one person can change the date. That happened to me," Samantha Hay says.

"You can go to one person’s service and one person’s party," Aviva Fleschler says.

Kligman presents another dilemma. "It’s 9 p.m. The party’s a little boring, but it’s not over until 11. What do you do?"

"You should put yourself in the bar or bat mitzvah’s place. You don’t want that person to feel bad if all the kids are leaving," Alex Kaplan answers.

"And if you’re going to be there, you need to be there more than just physically," Betty Winn, Heschel’s head of school, adds.

In the sanctuary, Judaic studies teacher Jodi Lasker helps the students "get a feel for the choreography" of the service, first showing them how to put on a tallit.

"Why does a tallit have an atara [collar]?" she asks.

"So you know where to hold it when you’re putting it on," Benjamin Wenger answers.

She explains that an atara is not required to have the tallit blessing on it and also tells the students that Torah is read on Mondays and Thursdays, in addition to Shabbat, because those were the traditional market days when people gathered together.

She then asks Josh Goldberg to demonstrate reading from the Torah and shows students where to stand if they’re called up for an aliyah.

After lunch, the students break into small groups where they write responses to specific questions. The answers to the first question — What are you looking forward to? — are read anonymously.

"The best thing is completing my Torah and Haftarah portion."

"The smiles on my family’s faces."

"The party."

"Giving my d’var Torah."

What are you afraid of?

"I’m afraid that at the service only two of my friends will be in the sanctuary when I’m reading my Torah portion and the rest will be in the bathroom."

"I’m worried my friends will be disrespectful."

"I’m afraid I’m going to mess up during the service and my friends will laugh."

"I wish people would not chew gum and talk."

"I’m afraid my dress will rip."

Students then write down their suggestions for invitation etiquette as well as appropriate behavior at both the service and the celebration. These are presented to the entire class, and copies are later distributed to all seventh-graders and their parents.

"We all now know what to do," says Kligman at the retreat’s finish. "Let’s do it."


Bar and Bat Mitzvah Dos and Don’ts

DO mail invitations; DON’T give them out in school.

DON’T leave out just a few classmates if you cannot invite the whole class.

DO R.S.V.P. promptly, before the cutoff date.

DO personally apologize and explain to your classmate why you cannot attend if there is more than one bar or bat mitzvah on the same date, it is a good idea to make your decision about which event to attend independently.

DO be respectful in services:

1. Don’t walk in and out of the temple, especially in large groups.

2. Do participate in the service.

3. If you know you have trouble sitting for a long time, consider coming a little later in the morning, perhaps at the start of the Torah service.

4. Consider going to the service as an important part of the celebration.

5. Dress appropriately in the synagogue — covered shoulders, no jeans, etc.

6. If you must arrive late, do not be disruptive when greeting your friends.

7. Don’t bring or use your cell phone or pager.

DO be a considerate guest while at the party:

1. Don’t be wild in the hallway or restrooms.

2. Stay in the party room, dance, celebrate with your classmates.

3. Thank the host family before going home.

4. Stay for the whole party; don’t decide to leave early, especially in a group.

DO remember, your actions should reflect how you want everyone else to behave when it is your special day. — JU


Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

Jewish Studies Popular With Non-Jews Around the World


Contrary to widespread fears of a rising global wave of anti-Semitism, "we, as Jews, have many more friends than we think we have," said professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, president of the Association of Jewish Studies, which recently held its 34th annual meeting in Los Angeles.

The Dec. 15-17 conference attested to the growth of Jewish studies on university campuses in the United States and around the world, with an increasing number of non-Jews joining the ranks of scholars and students.

In Europe, as in China, there is "the phenomenon of Jewish studies without Jews," said Schiffman, a man of rabbinical mien with a kippah and full black beard, who chairs the Skirball department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Newly discovered Jewish archives are energizing research in the former Soviet Union, and some excellent scholarly work is coming out of German universities, he said.

Jewish studies in the United States really took off after the Six-Day War in 1967, a time that also brought a new awareness "of the centrality of Jews in the general culture," Schiffman said.

"Jewish studies are no longer a sideshow, but are now a respected part of the academic mainstream," said the NYU professor, whose own specialty is the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Current anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian agitation at U.S. colleges has not affected the popularity of Jewish studies but does indicate a need for more emphasis on Israel in the curriculum, Schiffman said.

One practical yardstick of an academic program’s viability is the number of jobs open to rising young doctoral graduates. At the Association of Jewish Studies (AJS) meeting, which also serves as a job fair, 50 openings at various universities were advertised.

"There is neither a glut nor a drought" in the supply line, Schiffman observed.

The AJS membership stands at 2,000 professors, librarians, archivists and graduate students, with Israelis representing about 20 percent of the number. There is also a scattering of European and Latin American members. The Los Angeles meeting drew nearly 800 participants.

Early Jewish studies centers — the one at NYU started in the 1930s — tended to concentrate on classical biblical and religious studies. For a while, in the second part of the last century, it appeared that preoccupation with the Holocaust might preempt the whole field, but a balance has now been achieved, according to Schiffman.

A recent trend points to the popularity of cultural and gender studies, and papers presented at the AJS meeting analyzed Jewish Hollywood and included such topics as "Food, Gender, Sex in Jewish Identity."

There is a growing interest in historical and political issues at Israeli institutions. Israel also hosts the triennial meeting of the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Another trend at U.S. universities is to cross the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines in so-called area studies. For instance, in Middle East studies, historians, economists, linguists, political scientists and sociologists will integrate their special perspectives in analyzing the geographic region.

Schiffman believes that the early Jewish studies centers not only proved that intellectual objectivity is possible in ethnic studies, but served as models for Black, Chicano and Asian centers. On the other hand, he credits the civil rights movement of the 1960s with providing "a greater comfort level with ethnicity" for all minorities, including Jews.

In addition, all such centers help disprove the concept of the American melting pot. "There are some things you can’t melt down," he said.

Schiffman has written eight books and has edited many others, but lately, has found himself much in demand as a television expert and commentator on Jewish topics.

It’s an awesome feeling, he said, "to know that some 18 million people are listening to your remarks on the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Second Temple period."

It’s Not That Easy Being Gifted


Alexa Gelb has learned to pace herself in Hebrew class. If she completes her work too quickly, the academically gifted fifth-grader will only receive additional assignments.

"I’m pleased with the general studies program at Sinai Akiba Academy, but in the area [of Judaic] studies, instead of giving [the gifted children] more challenging work, they just give them more work," explained Alexa’s mother, Jenny Gelb.

In order to keep Alexa in a day school environment, Gelb has had to make concessions for what she believes is a lacking Hebrew program. However, Joseph Hakimi, Sinai Akiba’s Judaic studies director, said that while there is no formal gifted track, the school monitors accelerated students and provides additional resources for them. But Gelb said the monitoring is not sufficient.

The Beverlywood resident is one of many parents in the community faced with the challenge of finding a Jewish day school to accommodate the needs of her accelerated child.

Just as most day schools are not equipped to cater to the needs of special education children, most do not have resources for academically advanced students. While there is a legal mandate enabling special education students to get services through public schools, there is no such mandate for gifted children in California.

Often, parents must choose between a Jewish education or an accelerated program in non-Jewish schools. Gelb’s priority was to educate Alexa in a Jewish environment.

Gifted specialist Dr. Elizabeth Glass believes that gifted children in Jewish schools are underserved. "There’s so much you can do with gifted children by broadening the material covered in class, and I don’t think it’s being done," said Glass, the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) coordinator for Lomed L.A., a corps of volunteer tutor/mentors who are trained to work with children on a one-to-one basis.

While many of the community’s day schools lightly address the needs of gifted students, very few have structured programs, according to Loren Grossman, an educational advocate and consultant on special education and gifted students.

Glass noted that children can be gifted in many areas, including those outside academics. "If we don’t educate the community as to what it means to be gifted, certain areas [of giftedness] can be overlooked," she said.

One school that refuses to overlook a child’s talents is Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School in Los Angeles. This year, the school is offering a new program called PACE (Programs for Academic and Creative Enrichment). While most public schools rely on test scores to identify accelerated students, Wise prides itself on its broad definition of the term "gifted."

"Very often, gifted programs are focused on language arts and math," principal Rochelle Ginsberg said. "We wanted to acknowledge all of the talents and affinities a child might have."

Besides embracing those with high academic achievements, the program, which involves special mentors, individual projects and enrichment groups, also includes children who are exceptional in other areas such as music, art, science and various technologies.

Most of the other day schools address the needs of gifted students on a case-by-case basis. For example, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School started a gifted program that quickly developed into a new schoolwide teaching tool.

Last year, the Northridge school received a grant from the BJE to provide Socratic seminars for its gifted students. Facilitated by a specialist, the seminars involved special discussions in which children answered open-ended questions.

The accelerated students were so enthusiastic about the program, that soon other students wanted to participate, too. As a result, the program was expanded to several grades.

Outside the Socratic program, Heschel provides for academically gifted students with a system of differentiated classes. Both English and math specialists teach the highest-achieving students.

Joyce Black, director of general studies at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino, is looking for a gifted coordinator to increase the school’s program. Black said the new specialist will solidify the structure of the program, which she expects will include all grades.

"Currently, we enrich and modify our curriculum per the needs of the children," Black said. "We feel like we can have greater support, because we want to individualize and meet the needs of the children on all fronts."

While the Judaic studies program does not meet her expectations, Gelb said she is content with the education Alexa is getting at Sinai Akiba. "She’s been very fortunate in that most of the teachers she’s had have different expectations for different kids," Gelb said. "She knows she has to work hard, because the teacher expects more from her than the other kids."

Physician, Heal The Soul


Physicians played a significant role in the Holocaust, and today’s doctors can learn from the ethical failures of that period, according to an article recently published by Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chair of the emergency department (ED) of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

"I’ve always taken an interest in the Holocaust and its lasting effects, because my mother was a survivor," Geiderman said. With 23 years of emergency medicine at Cedars-Sinai under his belt, he has always taken an interest in the philosophies of bioethics but became "passionately" involved five or six years ago. Now, he serves on the ethics committees of Cedars-Sinai and the Academy of Emergency Medicine. "Most of us know about the medical experiments, the doctors in the camps," he said, "but as I started reading about this, about the history, I was blown away."

In "Physician Complicity in the Holocaust: Historical Review and Reflections on Emergency Medicine in the 21st Century," Geiderman sets out a series of moral failures he attributes to German physicians before, during and after WWII. Published in the March issue of Academic Emergency Medicine journal, the two-part article enumerates ethical challenges requiring greater vigilance from today’s physicians.

"So much of the Holocaust is unexplainable. But when you start to break it down, step by step, it starts to make sense in a perverse way," Geiderman said. "So much of what doctors contributed to the horror came out of economic opportunism, greed and convenience."

The first part of the article traces the German medical establishment’s slippery slope, from being healers toward full participants in genocide. Starting long before Hitler came to power, Geiderman shows how German doctors embraced the false science of eugenics, or "racial hygiene." This made it easier to accept, with the rise of National Socialism, the exclusion of Jewish physicians from the practice of medicine (which also advanced many non-Jewish doctors’ careers).

When the Nazis passed the Sterilization Act, doctors not only participated in designing the program to forcibly sterilize the "genetically diseased," they exceeded the government’s goals for implementation. Throughout the regime, ordinary physicians acted as instruments of racist Nazi policies; doctors became murderers, and later made efforts to hide the truth about their activities.

In Part Two of his "Physician Complicity" article, Geiderman examines the ethical challenges faced by his colleagues in emergency medicine today. He worries about doctors being asked to serve as agents of the state, as with mandatory reporting laws for patients whose injuries might be caused by foul play or infectious disease. He considers the denial of modesty to patients when "reality television" films in an emergency room. He considers the various ways in which patients are dehumanized by their doctors, who may refer to them by room number, by their ailment or even by nasty nicknames. Economic pressures affecting the practice of medicine and technology that allows for genetic screening, testing and even genetic engineering also pass through Geiderman’s bioethical radar.

"These are not Holocaust analogies," he says of Part Two, adding that in the article, "I took a neutral stance on physician-assisted suicide. Personally, I’m against it. But I don’t think it’s useful to play the so-called Holocaust card in these debates."

The doctor compares his research and writings to reflection on the Holocaust in other fields. "In ‘Au Revoir les Enfants,’ the French director Louis Malle described the Holocaust through his childhood eyes in a French monastery … while others responded by building new lives or even a new nation. For me, as an emergency physician who has spent 25 years in an ED, dedicated my most recent years to the study of bioethics, and who is the son of a survivor, Part Two is the natural expression of my feelings or philosophy."

It is a decidedly practical sort of philosophy for a doctor of emergency medicine to study. "What’s become really clear to a lot of us who advocate bioethics is that you have to have considered these issues in advance," Geiderman says. "In emergency medicine, there’s not always a lot of time to call in an ethical consult." He views the product of his historical and ethical research as timeless. "Unlike hard science, where the science will change, this will never change."

Though his research relies on previously published materials, and his description of physician complicity in the Holocaust is carefully documented, Geiderman says some peer reviews of his work came back with incredulous comments — doctors who could not believe such events could have happened. He writes: "The keys to preventing such a recurrence lie in understanding and teaching the lessons of the past; in speaking, teaching and writing about ethics; in incorporating ethical principles and professionalism into our medical practices, and in being willing to stand up and make personal sacrifices for the ethical principles in which we believe."

And, as he says, "Certain things need to be learned over and over again."

Balancing the Scales


What is the duty to assist those in danger under Jewish law compared to American law? The question is no mere academic exercise to Neil H. Cogan, dean of the Whittier Law School, who spoke on the topic last week as the inaugural speaker of the recently formed Jewish Lawyers of Orange County.

More than 50 lawyers attended the Newport Beach luncheon at the Pacific Club, the second Jewish professional group organized under the Jewish Federation of Orange County. In addition to a 10-person advisory panel, the group’s honorary chair members include Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor; Joel Kuperberg, Irvine’s city attorney, and Kenneth Wolfson, counsel to developers of the Foothill Ranch and Rancho Santa Margarita.

"What the committee wanted was to tie into Jewish life," said Jeffrey Rips, the Federation’s campaign director and group organizer. Like the Federation’s other professional group, who are real estate executives, the lawyers’ group intends to meet three times a year. In addition to socializing and networking, the goal is for each event to also count as credit toward the State Bar’s continuing-education requirement. Whittier Law School certified the first event met credit requirements.

The school’s dean said such academic-sounding discussions can take on contemporary relevance when considering the extraordinary lengths the U.S. government sometimes takes to aid its citizens throughout the world. Yet, unlike Jewish law, which compels intervention to assist those in danger, most American statutes are absent a legal obligation and instead encourage autonomy, he said.

"Having talks about Jewish law or Japanese law or Islamic law, all of that is helpful because it helps thinking," Cogan said. "Lawyers have been trained to think outside the box before it was a phrase."

Cogan, too, will have to heed his own advice to achieve the goals he has set for himself and the school since relocating from Connecticut last July.

"I hope to take what is already a very fine school and build it into a state and national school," said Cogan, 57, who competed against 100 candidates vying for the job. The school’s previous dean, John A. FitzRandolph, who over a quarter century led drives for accreditation, relocation and growth, died last March, less than a year after retiring.

The 35-year-old law school relocated to a new Costa Mesa campus in 1997 from Los Angeles’ Hancock Park. Next year, two new teachers are to be added to the 27-person faculty, which includes three teaching deans. More than half of the school’s 653 students attend full time and 42 percent are minorities. Among the graduating class of 2000, 86 percent were employed a year later.

Cogan’s goal is burnishing Whittier’s reputation by encouraging faculty scholarship and establishing specialized centers where students learn the rules of their profession. He has also added a summer abroad program, including an alliance with Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University.

"It’s really support and encouragement that will make a difference," said Cogan, editor of three works on constitutional subjects and author of numerous articles cited by law reviews.

When tapped last March for the job, Cogan had been on sabbatical, serving as a visiting scholar at Yale University and coordinator of a distance-learning venture at New York University School of Law. For the previous seven years, Cogan was a professor and dean at Quinnipiac College School of Law in Connecticut.

Cogan, one of the few Orthodox law school deans in the country, often must balance observant practices with the modern workplace. For example, bringing along kosher-prepared food to a lunch meeting would be gauche. "I have to meet people. I can’t bring a brown bag to a restaurant," said Cogan, whose typical order is a tuna fish sandwich. "I don’t neglect any part of my job," he added.

Cogan lives in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles with two of his five children. His wife and three younger children will relocate later this year.

In May, the Federation will consider creating similar networking groups for the county’s Jewish physicians and high-tech executives.

Gordis, Alexander Leave UJ for Posts in Israel


Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism, has good reason to believe that the spirit of Zionism is alive at the institution.

Recently, two prominent school administrators, Dr. Hanan Alexander, vice president of academic affairs, and Rabbi Daniel Gordis, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, announced that they are leaving their posts to assume comparable positions in Israel.

Alexander will become a professor of education at the University of Haifa, where he has previously taught while on sabbatical. Gordis will direct the Mandel Foundation’s Jerusalem Fellows program, which examines Jewish education and public policy as to ensure Jewish continuity both in Israel and the Diaspora. Gordis and his wife and three children are currently in Jerusalem, where he’s on sabbatical at the Mandel Foundation. Both UJ leaders will begin their new positions in the fall of 1999.

Wexler’s search for their successors has already begun.

Alexander and Gordis long have been principal architects of the UJ’s academic and religious design. As the school’s chief academic officer, Alexander, who began his career there in 1983 as a junior faculty member in education, has advanced UJ’s academic reputation and standing in the community by broadening its curriculum and scope.

“Since Alexander had such a defining influence on the curriculum and academic character of the UJ, he will be greatly missed,” said Richard Scaffidi, dean of admissions and financial aid. “Still, I think we can look at this change as an opportunity to take stock and restructure academic programs and build upon his fine work.”

Gordis, an educator and administrator at the UJ for 13 years, is best known for launching the 4-year-old Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies, the only Conservative seminary on the West Coast. Author of “God Was Not in the Fire,” a book that responds to the apathy toward Judaism of assimilated Jews, Gordis has shaped the spiritual direction of Ziegler, aiming to teach rabbis-to-be how to energize, enrich and add meaning to Jewish life in America.

Gordis’ resignation has aroused a wide range of emotions from Ziegler students, who looked to the dean as a guiding spirit and personal mentor. Gordis, who hails from a line of prominent Conservative rabbis, has not only influenced Ziegler’s vision and curriculum but has worked to secure the school’s reputation as a sturdy breeding ground for future Jewish leaders. Gordis believes that the school will continue to strive and excel despite his move.

“I will watch its progress with a small amount of pride and a tremendous amount of joy,” Gordis told the rabbinical students at an informal address last week.

The future dean may affect the religious orientation and philosophy of Ziegler. The seminary will continue its commitment to Conservative Judaism, said Gordis, but which shade of the movement may depend on his replacement.

“In the meantime,” wrote Wexler, in a letter to the UJ staff that announced Gordis’ resignation, “I am considering a new policy for the administrators at the UJ: No more sabbatical leaves in Israel! It’s just too dangerous.”


Conference Explores Peace Through Education


Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and how to achieve it: That was the topic on everybody’s lips when the 24th Annual Academic Conference convened at the Century Plaza Hotel last weekend. The panel, sponsored by American Friends of the Hebrew University, was followed by a luncheon featuring keynote speaker Dennis Prager, the KABC radio host best known for his “Religion on the Line” program.

During the three-hour panel titled “From Conflict to Conciliation: Two Sides of the Same Story — An Israeli and Palestinian Perspective,” Dr. Ruth Firer, a Holocaust survivor, and Dr. Sami Adwan, a Hebron-raised Palestinian, talked about their research and their commitment to bring their two cultures together through education.

Firer and Adwan discussed strategies they have developed at the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, which include focus groups and revisions of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks so as to give schoolchildren a more balanced and empathetic read on their respective and shared histories. In the hope of positively influencing future generations on both sides, the Israeli-based academians will target impressionable pre-adolescents with their methods. Despite their enthusiasm and optimism, the team promised no overnight solutions, describing their work as the beginning steps of a long-term process.

Rounding out the panel were Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller, who served as moderator; Paul L. Scham, J.D., research development coordinator at the Truman Institute; and Joe E. Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, who drew parallels between Israeli-Palestinian dialogue problems with communication breakdown in multi-ethnic Los Angeles.

After the conference, Prager admitted to the luncheon crowd that he has always been “in the middle” regarding the intersection of American Jewry and Israeli politics. The radio personality lectured on the importance for American Jews to concentrate on establishing a strong religious and cultural identity in this country, rather than meddling in Israeli issues. Basing his opinion on discussions with American Muslim and Jewish leaders over his 15-year broadcast career, Prager placed his faith in American forms of Judaism and Islam as role models to resuscitate their ailing Middle Eastern counterparts. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor


Bilingual Blues


Here we go again. For the third time in four years, Californians are about to be treated to another racially tinged slugfest, this time over bilingual education.

Slated for the June 1998 ballot, the measure — called “English for Children” — would direct California’s educational resources away from bilingual programs, which seek to teach children in their native language before moving them to English with the more traditional “immersion” method. Its leading proponent, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, sees the initiative as necessary for ending California’s continuing slide toward educational mediocrity, and as critical for helping our large immigrant population gain greater self-sufficiency. The measure also calls for some $50 million more to be spent on adult English education.

Of course, many, particularly in the left-leaning media and among the political and academic elite, will no doubt castigate “English for Children” as yet another example of roiling anti-immigrant, racist-inspired politics, the legitimate offspring, as it were, of propositions 187 and 209.

Unz, a conservative Republican who ran against Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1994 GOP primary, has already been accused of harboring “anti-Latino racism” by Nativo Lopez, president of the Santa Ana School Board.

But before signing up to fight Unz’s initiative, even knee-jerk Jewish liberals should think twice. For one thing, Ron Unz may be a conservative, but he also strongly opposed Proposition 187, not only with words but with hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money. Indeed, Unz has been one of the nation’s most fervent, even uncritical, supporters of immigration; that was one reason for his 1994 challenge of Wilson.

More to the point, there is compelling evidence that bilingualism does not serve the interest of immigrants — indeed, many Latino parents have campaigned openly against the education establishment’s insistence on steering their kids into bilingual programs.

Nor is “English for Children” easily dismissed as anti-teacher; many teachers, and even union officials, including the late American Federation of Teachers boss Albert Shanker, have long been critical of bilingualism.

Indeed, for Jews, most of whose parents and grandparents learned English through immersion, belief in English-dominated education should be as natural as lox and cream cheese on bagels. As Irving Howe noted in his “World of Our Fathers,” a situation close to hopelessness existed even for the most learned Jews in turn-of-the-century New York. “There are many intelligent people,” he quotes the old Yiddish Forward, “[who] spend their lives in a candy store on Ludlow Street, or a paper stand, wasting way….”

Substitute Spanish for Yiddish, Mexicans or Salvadorans for Jews, and Pico Union or East Los Angeles for New York’s Lower East Side, and you can see the analogy. Jewish immigrants learned English, often painfully, and, in the process, lost Yiddish and much of the shtetl culture. But they gained a new world and a brighter future.

And, over time, the English language and American culture also gained some of its most brilliant voices — Malamud, Roth, Bellow, to name a few. In the coming decades, we should be able to look forward to a comparable effervescence of Latino-American culture, as we can already see in the writing of brilliant essayists, such as Richard Rodriguez, or in the music of Los Lobos.

Yet if the right choice on “English for Children” seems clear, I would join the Unz crusade, but with one critical concern. Attached to the anti-bilingualism drive comes a new ideology — captured in the term used by Unz, “one nation” — that expresses a stronger, and potentially dangerous, reaction to the dangers of the multiculturalist agenda. Having been driven to distraction by the destructive tribalism of the left, the “one nation” ideology answers with a