Birthright trip offering college credits for first time

The first Birthright trip offering participants academic credit is now in Israel.

Some 50 students from colleges and universities in the United States are participating in the inaugural cohort and will be entitled to three academic credits at their academic institutions, according to Taglit Birthright.

They will attend courses at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, or IDC, and at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev during their two-week stay.

At the IDC, the students will learn about “The challenge of terrorism in Israel and the Middle East” and visit an Iron Dome battery in the field. At Ben-Gurion, they will study “Global Warming, Renewable Energy and the Desert Ecosystem,” which includes snorkeling in the coral reef in Eilat.

Birthright Israel provides a free 10-day to two-week trip to Israel for Jews aged 18 to 26.

National Women’s Studies Association votes to join international BDS movement

The National Women’s Studies Association voted to join the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The vote on the BDS referendum passed 653 to 86 at the organization’s annual conference earlier this month, the association announced last week. Slightly more than a third of the members voted.

The recommendation to join the BDS movement was sponsored by Feminists for Justice In/For Palestine, an ad hoc group founded at the studies association’s annual conference in Puerto Rico in 2014.

In January, the association released a solidarity statement against a litany of injustices, including “settler colonialism.”

“As feminist scholars, activists, teachers, and public intellectuals we recognize the interconnectedness of systemic forms of oppression,” the recommendation to join the BDS movement reads. “In the spirit of this intersectional perspective, we cannot overlook the injustice and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated against Palestinians and other Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, within Israel and in the Golan Heights, as well as the colonial displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba [a term that means “catastrophe” in Arabic and refers to the Palestinians’ perception of Israel’s founding].

“These violations, which severely impact the daily lives and working conditions of Palestinian scholars, students, and the society at large, are also enabled by U.S. tax dollars and the tacit support of western powers, thus making any taxpayer in the West complicit in perpetuating these injustices.”

Established in 1977, the association, according to its website, “has as one of its primary objectives promoting and supporting the production and dissemination of knowledge about women and gender through teaching, learning, research and service in academic and other settings.”

A number of academic associations and unions support the BDS movement.

USC leaders visit Israel with eye toward expanding academic ties

A delegation of trustees, professors and faculty from the University of Southern California (USC) benefited from the spring sunshine in Israel, an unexpected bonus (or perhaps lucky selling point) on a trip to explore increased academic ties with Israeli institutions.

The group returned to Los Angeles last week from a trip visiting four internationally renowned Israeli academic institutions — Tel Aviv University, the Technion of Haifa, the Weizmann Institute and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — as well as seizing the opportunity for a bit of sightseeing in a country many of them had never visited before.

USC already has several academic collaborations in Israel, and for some members of the faculty it was a chance to catch up with colleagues who are normally only at the end of a phone line or fiber-optic cable.

The USC delegation was led by President C.L. Max Nikias and included Provost Elizabeth Garrett;  Ken McGillivray, vice provost for global initiatives; Avishai Sadan of the School of Dentistry;  Michalle Mor Barak of the School of Social Work; and trustees Alan Casden and Jeffrey Smulyan.

The desire to increase cooperation with Israeli universities, in particular, is threefold, Nikias told The Journal, citing academic excellence as the primary motivator.  “You have here some of the very best universities in the world,” he said.  “We wanted to expand and strengthen the research collaboration between USC and universities here in Israel.”

The university also sends students to Israel every year as part of its study abroad program. Nikias proudly stressed USC’s high proportion of Jewish undergraduates (12 percent), many of whom choose Israel as their destination for a semester abroad — a trend that has become a key factor in the desire to develop ties with Israeli institutes.

Nikias also highlighted the university’s role as home to the Shoah Foundation Institute — the brainchild of USC trustee Steven Spielberg, which digitally records the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, some 52,000 to date, and each one lasting approximately two hours. These testimonies are used to educate about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the dangers of racial intolerance and importance of tolerance. 

“Exploring collaborations between Shoah and Yad Vashem or other museums or institutes here in Israel, I think is extremely important,” Nikias said. “That’s why the executive director of the Shoah Institute [Stephen Smith] is with us as part of this delegation.”

Indeed, Nikias and his wife joined Smith for a special tour of Yad Vashem, where they laid a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and met with survivor Asher Ud.

The delegation also met a range of Israeli dignitaries, including President Shimon Peres, high-tech guru Yossi Vardi and economic maven Manuel Trajtenberg, as well as defense and research experts. 

Nikias, on his first trip to Israel, even managed to squeeze in a few hours to see the country — from the air, as a passenger on a helicopter ride.

“It’s so beautiful,” he enthused. “What really impressed me the most was all the green, all the agriculture.

“I took a lot of pictures!”

Good writing counts

Each autumn, the Milken Family Foundation throws one of the best luncheons of the year, and it’s not the fine kosher fare at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard hotel that draws us in. This is when Gil Graff, executive director of the BJE (Builders of Jewish Education) and Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken foundation, get to present awards to a handful of Jewish educators.

Think about it — we all love kids, teachers, awards — what could be more inspired, teary and happy?

So each year the Jewish world shows up to celebrate some truly inspiring leaders in the field of education. This year’s winners were Marnie Greenwald, a first-grade teacher at Temple Emanuel Academy Day School (think of piles of adorable kids cheering in the video); Lisa Feldman, head of school at Weizmann Day School in Pasadena (same kind of imagery); Hava Mirovski, Judaic studies and Hebrew teacher at Sinai Akiba Academy (ditto); and Juli Shanblatt, the physics and calculus teacher at Bais Yaakov School for Girls (a more demure, grown-up set of enthusiastic students, but same idea). The teachers all spoke at the lunch, and if they are any indication of what’s going on in our schools, I have one word to say: Bravo.

But I was more focused on another part of the program, which is in only its second year, and which, while honored, sort of flew by in a flash. And that was the Student Essay Contest.

Two categories have been established for this new prize, one for middle-schoolers, the other for high-school students, all of whom must be enrolled at BJE-affiliated schools to enter. This year, both groups were asked to “describe an unforgettable Jewish Los Angeles moment that you experienced.” I was among the jury for the younger group, while my colleague Julie Gruenbaum Fax was one of those judging the high-school students. The winner in the latter category was Emma Maier, a 10th-grade student at Milken Community High School, who ” title=”Nathan Bentolila’s essay” target=”_blank”>Nathan Bentolila’s essay. Titled “Making a Difference,” it begins like this:

“‘Nathan, you’ve got a letter!’ I had eaten my breakfast, brushed my teeth and was about ready to leave for school when my mother became excited. I sprang from my chair and raced to the living room.”

Drama. Who can teach a kid to write such drama? Turns out, Nathan’s letter was from a senior editor of the Glencoe/McGraw-Hill publishing company, a response to