UC Santa Barbara students react to the UCSB student government’s rejection of a proposed Israel divestment resolution. Photo by Rabbi Evan Goodman

Cal State Long Beach, UCSB differ on Israel divestment resolutions

The topic of Israel divestment and higher education returned, front and center, last week as students at two Southern California universities voted on the issue — with differing results.

The student government at Cal State University Long Beach on May 10 voted in favor of Israel divestment while students at the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) voted against it a day later.

Associated Students Inc., an advocacy group at Cal State Long Beach, passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that the resolution alleges perpetuate Israeli oppression against the Palestinians, citing such companies as Caterpillar, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. The vote was 15-7, with one abstention.

“I was very disappointed with the passage of the bill,” Jeffrey Blutinger, the Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and the director of the Jewish studies program at Cal State Long Beach, told the Journal. “While I’m not going to say [all] anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, this one is.”

The resolution is titled “Suggestions for Socially Responsible Investing: Companies Complicit in and Profiting from Palestinian Oppression.” General Electric, according to a draft of the resolution, has provided supplies to the Israel Defense Forces “used in violent attacks on people living in Israel and Palestine.”

The vote followed an April 26 statement by Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley expressing opposition to the resolution. She said she could not support it despite her reservations about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

“A careful study of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement illustrates to me that this movement is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel,” Conoley said.

Blutinger, faculty adviser at Beach Hillel, which serves Cal State Long Beach, said Conoley’s opposition to the resolution garnered criticism from pro-divestment faculty members.

“I thought that was nonsense. The fact that she spoke out does not prevent them from speaking out, and the fact she is the president of the university does not mean she doesn’t have the right to express herself,” he said. “If she was supporting them, they would have been happy.”

While the passage of the resolution at Cal State Long Beach is more symbolic than practical — it will not impact Cal State Long Beach investments — Beach Hillel Executive Director Rachel Kaplan said last week’s events reinforced the unwelcoming environment facing pro-Israel students. “In terms of campus climate, we have a lot of work to do,” Kaplan said.

Further north, the Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the UCSB student senate, voted 16-0 with seven abstentions against an Israel divestment resolution, according to the Daily Nexus, the campus newspaper. The vote followed an all-night debate that concluded at 4 a.m. with more than 400 students and observers attending. Among them was Rabbi Evan Goodman, the Edgar M. Bronfman Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Hillel.

“Resolutions like this are symbolically attempting to destroy Israel, so I don’t stand for it and our students don’t stand for it,” Goodman said in a phone interview on May 12.

This was the fourth time in five years that a resolution calling for divestment in Israel has come before the UCSB student senate. Goodman described last week’s meeting as more agreeable than previous ones.

“It was a pretty civil discussion overall, and the comments made [on both sides of the debate] were by and large appropriate,” he said.

Rose Ettleson, a sophomore and president-elect at Santa Barbara Hillel, said a familial atmosphere galvanized the pro-Israel side.

“On our side, it really felt almost like a family gathering. There were lots of rabbis from the local Chabad. And the local Jewish Awareness Movement, JAM, they brought food for everyone. Hillel staff brought food. People were studying. People were writing what they were going to say,” she said. “Some people were sleeping in some moments.”

The campus group Students for Justice in Palestine on April 23 proposed the UCSB resolution, titled “Divest From Companies that Profit From Human Rights Violations in Palestine/Israel.”

The university “has the highest percentage of Jewish students in the UC system and probably the largest total number of undergraduate Jewish students,” Goodman said.

In statements released May 11, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which works with college students to combat anti-Israel sentiment, hailed the UCSB vote while condemning the vote at Cal State Long Beach.

Tali Shaddaei, a fifth-year Cal State Long Beach student from Pico-Robertson, said the intention of the resolution’s supporters at her school was to quiet pro-Israel advocacy on campus. But the 22-year-old founder of 49ers for Israel, a pro-Israel education club at Cal State Long Beach, said the passage of the resolution could have the opposite effect.

“My hope is it ignites a fire within the pro-Israel community to fight stronger and be more united in our efforts,” she said. 

Peter Beinart, 54 other academics demand Hillel open up Israel dialogue

The Open Hillel student group has established a council of 55 academics who support its mission to open up dialogue about Israel at campus Hillels.

Open Hillel announced the launch of its Academic Council on Thursday, which includes high-profile Jewish academics like Peter Beinart, Judith Butler and Shaul Magid.

The academics were said to have endorsed a statements that reads in part: “Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership narrowly circumscribe discourse about Israel-Palestine and only serve to foster estrangement from the organized Jewish community.”

Open Hillel seeks to change the standards of partnership in Hillel International’s guidelines, which it says on its website “exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel.”

The policy of Hillel, a global Jewish college campus group, is not to work with people or organizations that, among other things, deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state or support boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

“Jewish life on university campuses must reflect the openness to ideas which defines the academy,” Hasia Diner, the director of New York University’s Goldstein-­Goren Center for American Jewish History and one of the 55 academics, said in the news release about council. “Jewish life will be sapped of its vitality, and its broad appeal will narrow when Jewish students are told that their Jewish spaces cannot sustain the same kind of flurry of viewpoints that prevails on the campus at large.”

Four Hillel chapters — at Swarthmore College, Vassar College, Wesleyan University and Guilford College — have joined the Open Hillel movement since 2013.

In December 2013, Swarthmore declared its Hillel chapter “open,” saying it would not abide by Hillel International’s rules prohibiting partnering with or hosting groups or speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish or democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; or support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

The chapter disassociated from Hillel in March after the organization threatened legal action if the Pennsylvania school continued to use Hillel in its group name; the chapter is now known as Swarthmore Kehilah.

Hillel President Eric Fingerhut has said the organization is committed to inclusiveness, but will not give a platform to those who want to attack Israel.

“Hillel should and will always provide students with an open and pluralistic forum where they can explore issues and opinions related to their Jewish identity,” Fingerhut said in 2014 in response to Vassar’s decision to declare its Jewish Union an Open Hillel. “Hillel will not, however, give a platform to groups or individuals to attack the Jewish people, Jewish values or the Jewish state’s right to exist. This includes groups or individuals that support and advance the BDS movement, which represents a vicious attack on the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The effective way to combat anti-Israel activity on campus: Public relations

There has been an incredible growth of anti-Semitism on college campuses in North America. Too often anti-Israel sentiment is simply a veiled and more culturally appropriate form of anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in the United States increased by 21 percent in 2014 when compared to incidents in 2013.

This past October, swastikas were painted on the Jewish fraternity house at Emory University in Atlanta, just one day after Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish day of the year. In May 2014, it was discovered that professors at Temple University were participating in a listserv that contained anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including a denial of the Holocaust. And this March, a student at UCLA was initially rejected from applying to the Student Council’s Judicial Board because she was Jewish.

Much of this anti-Semitism stems from anti-Israel sentiment — or possibly vice versa; regardless, people feel emboldened these days to express anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views. But American Jews are not helpless; we can fight back. American Jewry needs to start valuing public relations to combat effectively anti-Israel bigotry and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement on college campuses.

Unfortunately the activities of anti-Israel forces on campuses are only growing. According to Raphael Shore of Jerusalem University, after Operation Protective Edge during the summer of 2014, anti-Israel activity rose on college campuses in the 2014 fall semester alone by 46 percent. Nationally, sponsorship of anti-Israel events by university departments increased by 142 percent.

As Israel continues to be isolated and maligned in many press outlets, we can expect this trajectory to continue upward. The BDS and Students for Justice in Palestine movements have also grown, as well as their anti-Semitic tactics for expressing their views.

Anti-Israel advocates often use deception to prove their point. I know firsthand how this works. Last year, organizers of National Apartheid Week, an anti-Israel event, corrupted footage to make it seem as if I were agreeing with anti-Israel sentiment. That had not been the case. I was disgusted. But, rather than shrug and say, “What can I do?” — I fought back. I blitzed them with an all-out media campaign and within a few days they had discretely removed the video from YouTube. I had won one battle in this media relations war, and you can, too.

These groups’ tactics of deception need to be exposed, but, more importantly, we need to amplify the voices of young pro-Israel activists on college campuses across the country, making their voices heard. If we do this, the truth, too, will be heard and the misperceptions and falsehoods perpetuated by the opposition will be effectively combated.

To ensure that students are exposed to the truth, we need to develop an effective communications strategy. To address these issues, young pro-Israel activists need a platform and an audience. And it cannot be an audience solely comprised of like-minded individuals, but rather those who are not yet sure where they stand on the issues. We should reach out through the media.

Representation of young pro-Israel activists in the global broadcast media is sorely lacking in today’s pro-Israel advocacy efforts. We need to educate pro-Israel college students on how to address biased or downright false reporting in the media, and how to respond when student organizations hold votes to have their universities divest from Israel. We must educate them on how to use public relations effectively to ensure the deceptions that form the basis of the BDS Movement are exposed.

Today, pro-Israel students can use social and digital media as platforms to disseminate accurate information about Israel and combat the mistruths being propagated. Corporate boardrooms, many run by American Jews, utilize public relations as it pertains to minimizing the impact of crises in Israel; for whatever reason, however, when it comes to the crisis that is escalating on college campuses across North America as the BDS movement gains traction, we are not investing enough resources in public realtions to combat the trend.

That is not to say there is no progress being made. Chabad and Birthright should be commended for their efforts to instill Jewish pride in students who might shy away from it due to the current unfavorable climate toward Israel’s actions. The collaboration between the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity in developing CombatHateU, an app providing a platform for students to report anti-Semitic incidents instantaneously, is yet another example of innovation being used to assist Jewish students in this situation.

But we need to stop speaking to each other and start speaking to our peers who are not sure of their position yet. Do not leave people standing on the sidelines: Give them the facts, both through oratory and the media, and stand up to the false “facts” currently being spread.

Josh Nass is a public relations strategist and a frequent contributor to Fox News.

Ruling on campus hate

Over the past decade, as anti-Israel demonstrations have become a regular occurrence on many U.S. college campuses, Jewish nonprofits and individuals have turned to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for relief, and with some success. They convinced the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), for one, to investigate anti-Israel speech and actions at three University of California campuses, arguing that such speech is tantamount to anti-Semitism and violates the civil rights of Jewish students. 

Yet some of those investigations have remained open for years; none have found evidence of wrongdoing by the universities, and last week a coalition of civil rights groups led by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged the DOE to dismiss the still-open investigations. 

In a letter sent to two DOE staff members on May 14, CAIR and seven other groups argued that the OCR investigations into anti-Israel speech and actions at UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley have dragged on for too long, far longer than the office’s internal benchmark of 180 days. The letter also faults the OCR for not allowing Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students to have input into the investigations, which, these civil rights groups allege, has effectively quashed the students’ ability to express their political opinions about actions taken by Israel against the Palestinians. 

A DOE spokesman acknowledged that some complex cases take the OCR longer than its internal goal of 180 days to resolve, and reaffirmed its position that rules for campus speech must be in line with the First Amendment. He declined to comment on any of the open investigations.

The coalition’s letter represents the latest salvo in a war over campus speech between the organizations purporting to represent Jewish and pro-Israel students and the groups claiming to speak on behalf of Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students. The result has so far been a perpetual stalemate, with advocates on each side claiming that the students on the other side are intimidating, marginalizing and silencing the students they represent. 

Over the years, representatives on both sides have turned to lawmakers in Sacramento and UC leaders in an effort to bolster their claims. But the matter before OCR is of particular importance, in part because, as a federal agency, its decision could have the most far-reaching impact. 

At its core, the question facing OCR investigators is whether anti-Israel speech can be anti-Semitic and, as such, violate the civil rights of Jewish students. 

Since 2004, when OCR first affirmed its policy of investigating allegations of discrimination against students who shared both ethnic and religious characteristics — including Jewish, Muslim and Sikh students — Jewish individuals and groups have filed complaints against a handful of universities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

By and large, the complaints focus on the way anti-Israel demonstrations and speeches on campus make Jewish students feel, and when OCR agreed to open investigations into a number of those complaints, advocates including the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which initiated two separate complaints against UC Irvine, heralded the decision as a partial acknowledgement of their claims’ validity. 

But in 2007, DOE dismissed the ZOA’s first UC Irvine claim, and has not released decisions about either ZOA’s second claim against UC Irvine (which OCR has been investigating since 2008) or the two other open investigations. 

CAIR and its allies argued in their recent letter that by not resolving the complaints, OCR is “causing a profound chilling of student speech,” and they dispute the basic charge that anti-Israel speech could be anti-Semitic. 

“While the DOE should thoroughly look into civil rights complaints, these allegations cross the line between protecting civil rights and targeting certain political views,” CAIR lead staff attorney Ameena Qazi said in a statement accompanying a text of the May 14 letter. 

But Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who teaches Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz and who filed a Title VI complaint against her employer in 2009, argues that certain forms of anti-Israel speech do qualify as anti-Semitic under definitions adopted by the U.S. State Department and other official bodies. As such, -Rossman-Benjamin said the speech practiced by pro-Palestinian and Muslim students and student groups aren’t deserving of protection and wouldn’t be defended if they maligned another ethnic group. 

“What happened to freedom of speech with the ‘Compton Cookout’?” Rossman-Benjamin asked, referring to a 2010 incident of anti-black racism by white fraternity brothers at UC San Diego that provoked investigations by both the DOE and the Department of Justice. “Who argued for their freedom of speech? 

“I’m not trying to say anything about the response of the university to that,” Rossman-Benjamin continued. “I am trying to say that there is an egregious double standard that is discriminatory against Jewish students.”

Even as Rossman-Benjamin complains about certain forms of anti-Israel speech and demonstrations — including the “Apartheid Wall” that pro-Palestinian groups use to outline alleged human rights abuses by Israel — she herself has come under fire for comments. In a video posted on YouTube, Rossman-Benjamin appeared to suggest to an audience at a synagogue near Boston in June 2012 that students involved in pro-Palestinian activism on campuses have ties to terrorist groups. 

“These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats,” Rossman-Benjamin said of groups like the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations.”

The UC Santa Cruz chapter of SJP took offense and posted more than a dozen videos of its members responding to Rossman-Benjamin’s comments. The group also initiated an online petition urging outgoing UC President Mark Yudof to condemn Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks, which has garnered more than 1,800 signatures.
Rossman-Benjamin has stood by her comments, which she said were taken out of context. In a manner typical of the way each side’s claims in this debate often mirrors those of the other, Rossman-Benjamin said the SJP’s “campaign of defamation” is an attack on her own freedom of speech.

The debate has mobilized some more extreme groups on both sides — first and foremost, CAIR, which according to the Anti-Defamation League has offered “a platform to conspiratorial Israel-bashers and outright anti-Semites.” A local chapter of the anti-Islam organization ACT! for America — the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a hate group — recently urged its members to send letters supporting Rossman-Benjamin to UC President Yudof. 

More moderate voices have remained silent. In 2011, when Kenneth Stern, a longtime staff member with the American Jewish Committeen (AJC), co-wrote a letter warning about the perils of restricting speech, Rossman-Benjamin and others protested, and the AJC backed off. 

Stern declined to comment for this article, but his co-author, Cary Nelson, an English professor at University of Illinois and former president of the American Association of University Professors, described the argument that anti-Israel remarks are anti-Semitic in some as a “third rail” in academic discourse. 

And even though Nelson, who is Jewish, has at times made that argument, provoking howls of protest from his peers, he cautioned against taking Rossman-Benjamin’s approach, calling the Title VI complaints a “a portmanteau of very different kinds of impulses with very different origins.” 

“The solution to loathsome speech is more speech,” he said. “Trying to restrict hate speech on campus is certainly a mistake.” 

Univ. of California president defends Farrakhan appearance on campus

University of California President Mark Yudof defended Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s right to speak at the university’s Berkeley campus.

Farrakhan’s speech Saturday was billed as being about black empowerment, but was also peppered with anti-Semitic and hate speech, students told The Daily Californian student newspaper.

A petition circulated after the speech by Jewish student leaders, which opposed Farrakhan’s speech and character, but not the Black Student Union’s right to bring him to campus, garnered more than 350 signatures, the student newspaper reported.

“Louis Farrakhan is a provocative, divisive figure with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic speech,” Yudof said following the speech, which was part of the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference. “It was distressing in the extreme that a student organization invited him to speak on the UC Berkeley campus.”

“But as I have said before we cannot, as a society or as a university community, be provoked by hurtful speech to retreat from the cherished value of free speech,” Yudof said.

The remarks come two days after Yudof condemned the disruption of an event on the University of California, Davis, campus featuring two visiting Israeli soldiers.

“I condemn the actions of those who would disrupt this event. Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech,” Yudof wrote in an open letter.

Opinion: Are haters hiding behind free speech?

Imagine a college student being subjected to verbal abuse, being spat at, and being the focus of harassment because of their gender, religion, national origin, race or simply because of their political beliefs?

Recently, college students on many campuses across the country were once again subject to such harassment and intimidation due to a hatefest known as “Israel Apartheid Week” that has become an international, annual event. Anyone walking through the heart of campus was confronted by a barrier of offensive signs, such as depictions of Jews as bloodthirsty barbarians intent on harming innocent Palestinian women and children, or photos of 13-year old Anne Frank wearing a kefiah (the headscarf worn by Yasser Arafat); one might even have encountered event organizers laughing about the Holocaust. Needless to say, such sentiments have been the basis for anti-Semitic attacks and pogroms for generations.

University administrators facing this issue, to date, have been unable to intervene, because such acts of hatred may be protected by free speech. One young Jewish woman, Jessica Felber, a former student at UC Berkeley, who chose to challenge the status quo, filed a Civil Rights lawsuit against UC Berkeley in federal court alleging that, due to her political views, “…certain individuals and organizations have repeatedly exceeded the boundaries of free speech, engaging in conduct that amounts to harassment, intimidation, threats…both on Sproul Plaza and elsewhere on the Berkeley campus…”

This past December, the presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg, from the northern district of California, while addressing one of the issues of the lawsuit wrote, “As offensive as spitting at someone may be, it very well could constitute protected, expressive conduct, depending on the precise circumstances…”  What are Judge Seeborg’s “precise circumstances” in which spitting at someone is acceptable? And even if it is a legally protected act, is this the atmosphere that we want to nurture on our college campuses?

Under the constitution, a university is legally obligated to protect free speech. That is a given, especially significant at a university such as Ms. Felber’s alma mater, UC Berkeley, where the free speech movement was born in 1964. At that time, on the very same steps of Sproul Hall, students led by Mario Savio and others sought the right to express their political activism. Ultimately they persuaded the university to change its rules, and the steps of Sproul Hall have been the scene of free political expression ever since.

The spirit of those times fomented a breakthrough in how Americans are able to freely express themselves. Where is that same spirit today when it comes to challenging hate? The shift in policy was never intended to provide a breeding ground for the harassment of students because of their identity. Jessica Felber claims that, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the university should have protected her from such a hostile environment. As a result of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s discussions with UC President Mark Yudof, we know that he is well aware of the complexities of this issue – the conflict between free speech versus hatred run rampant.

What is society prepared to do about the evolving ethos that permits hateful forms of expression to hide behind free speech rights?

Rabbi Aron Hier is Director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles.  July Hodara is a graduate of UC Berkeley and an intern for Campus Outreach.

Opinion: The truth about UC Campuses

Feb. 3 was a historic day for the University of California and its Hillels. On that day, UC President Mark Yudof met with all of the UC Hillel directors in his office in Oakland to discuss our observations regarding how Israel is faring on campus, how the Jewish community perceives the university’s actions and inactions, and, most important, how Jewish students are feeling about the situation. It was a momentous meeting — not only because it was the first time that such a gathering took place, but because it signaled the full integration of Jews and of Jewish interests into the administrative agenda of a major American university system and also because on that occasion, the chief executive officer of one of the nation’s largest universities chose to publicly state that as the university president, “I am concerned and do care about the well being of Jewish students on campus.” This is a milestone in the American Jewish experience and, to a great extent, IT is a measure of the character and integrity of Mark Yudof. A student of Maimonides and a constitutional lawyer, Yudof headed the University of Texas system before assuming his present position. As an activist in academic life, he led two groups of university presidents on organized trips to Israel on behalf of Operation Interchange sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. One of his first acts as president of UC was to reinstate the university’s EAP (Education Abroad Program) at the Hebrew University, after years of suspension.

During our meeting, President Yudof expressed his support for the Jewish community and for Israel, and he spoke enthusiastically of his desire to see the establishment of Israel Studies programs at all the UCs, in addition to the remarkably successful initiatives at UC Berkeley and UCLA. It was clear to the group that President Yudof was in touch with all the goings-on (controversial speakers, problematic professors, incidents of purported anti-Semitism), that the reports of the individual Campus Climate Committees and the UC Jewish communal liaison kept him alert to the Jewish student sensibilities, and that he had an abiding interest in hearing what we, the campus Jewish professionals, working with thousands of Jewish students every day, had to say. He also articulated a complex position regarding free speech that was strongly affirmative while noting that “bad” free speech ought to be condemned and countered with “good” speech. The worst possible reaction to “bad” speech is censorship. President Yudof indicated that he, himself, had suffered an anti-Semitic verbal attack from a student protester at a recent UC Regents meeting. He gets it!

Indeed, there are intergroup tensions, anti-Israel events, and the Middle East conflict does impinge on campus life. However, for the most part, as we reported to President Yudof, our students appear to be in control. More of them are becoming involved in campus politics and are influencing the nature of the debate. Some students, with the assistance of university administrators, are rebuilding coalitions with minority groups. And the university, with the president’s energetic backing, is actively promoting a travel/study program to Washington, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan that nurtures coexistence between Jewish and Arab students. In doing so, the University of California is engaged in a pioneering, creative endeavor that could effectively transform the campus and inspire a new generation of public peacemakers who are schooled in conflict resolution and who have benefited from an intense and intimate intergroup experience.

We left our meeting buoyed by President Yudof’s constructive engagement and by his commitment to continue the conversation. In fact, one idea that he embraced involved reaching out to Hillel International with a proposal, that together they convene a consultation involving other university presidents so as to hear how they see the situation on their campuses and to develop a national perspective that reflects the reality on the ground.

As to communal fears that the well-being of Jewish students is threatened on campus and that, confronted with an orgy of hate, young Jews have felt a compulsion to hide their Jewishness and cover up any outer symbols of identification, we are pleased to report that nothing could be further from the truth. A survey of Jewish students at politically vibrant UC Berkeley indicates that the overwhelming majority is enjoying the campus experience and feeling safe, welcome and accepted at UC. The remaining agenda for those in influential administrative positions is to determine how to cope with the inevitable, periodic campus confrontations that constitute negative blips on the screen. With President Mark Yudof heading up our team, we are confident that wisdom, constructive engagement and sober advocacy on behalf of Jewish concerns will carry the day.

Anti-Semitic flags found near Milken Campus

A Milken Community High School official reported the discovery of anti-Semitic renderings of the Israel flag in front of and near its middle school campus on March 1.

The two small flags featured a painted swastika in place of the Star of David. One flag was found in front of David and Hillevi Saperstein Middle School of Milken Community High School, while the other was discovered 1 mile west of the campus, at the intersection of Calneva Drive and Mulholland Boulevard.

Milken Head of School Jason Ablin said that a Milken parent found one of the flags — approximately 4 by 6 inches in size — stapled onto an L.A. Department of Water and Power sign next to the middle school’s exit gate early Thursday morning.

The LAPD and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were notified about the incident.

Milken’s security service reported that the alleged perpetrator drove a “dark-gray SUV” and is a “young-looking male, light-skinned, dark hair, about 5 feet, 4 inches,” Ablin said.

ADL Associate Director Matt Friedman, who saw photographs of the flags, said they looked like “stickers or a notecard.”

Friedman noted the connection between the signs and this week’s Israel Apartheid Week, a series of events in cities and college campuses across the United States that portray Israel as unjust occupiers of the Palestinian people.
“I don’t know if there’s any linkage there, but I was thinking that,” Friedman said.
Ablin assured parents that Milken considers students’ well being to be of utmost importance. “The first thing I did was inform the parents. I sent an announcement to parents this morning because obviously the first thing on everyone’s mind is safety and I wanted to make everyone aware of what happened, so rumors weren’t spreading around and so parents knew we were taking security very seriously,” Ablin said.

ADL prepares students to face campus anti-Semitism

A group of students received their task during a recent workshop at New Community Jewish High School: Craft a response to college students who liken the Israeli occupation to Nazi Germany.

In the proposed scenario, a few fraternity brothers digitally altered a photograph of fellow Jewish student Seth, placing his head on the body of a Nazi soldier. In the image, the soldier held a gun to a concentration camp prisoner. Beneath the photo were the words: “Seth takes aim at the Palestinians.”

The high school students agreed that the frat brothers’ actions were disturbing and unacceptable, but they couldn’t agree on what would be the best way to handle it if they were in Seth’s place.
One insisted it was a hate-crime and that the legal system should be involved. Another student said school administration should intervene and the students should be expelled.

The disagreements continued for several minutes until one suggested something different — educate the fraternity brothers.

“I like that,” said one of the group members, and the other students agreed.

The New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) students are the latest to participate in the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s new interactive workshop, a customized version of “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” a national ADL program that develops middle school and high school students’ skills for combating anti-Semitism or anti-Israel activities. The workshop at NCJHS focuses specifically on preparing students for what they might face once they’re in college.

“We decided to try something different in our region and tailor [‘Confronting Anti-Semitism’] to college-bound students, teaching them about confronting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism when they get to college,” said Alison Mayersohn, ADL’s senior associate regional director.

Run as a pilot program last year with NCJHS’ 2011 senior class, this is the program’s first official year. Held over the course of a week, the ADL program is a two-part program, with part one informational and interactive, and part two mostly interactive. ADL, one of the nation’s premier human relations and civil rights agencies, worked with half of the NCJHS senior class this past fall, and the agency worked with the other half of the senior class during the week of Feb 13. ADL held six sessions, with each group of students participating in two sessions, each session lasting from 55 minutes to a little more than one hour.

Students of the ADL program receive ADL materials and resources, including “Fighting Back: A Handbook for Responding to Anti-Israel Campaigns on College and University Campuses” and “Israel: A Resource Guide,” an advocacy guide of Israel-related terms, responses to inaccuracies about Israel and key dates in Israel’s history.

In part one of the program, Matt Friedman, ADL’s associate director and instructor of this year’s class, defines anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He explained to the students that not all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, that there is legitimate criticism of Israel, including of Israeli’s government, the media and other domestic issues. Friedman taught where the criticism crosses the line, referring to the three “D’s” of anti-Semitism:  double standards, demonization and delegimitzation.

Last year, the pilot program was so successful — and student evaluations so positive — the school asked ADL to return to conduct the same program for its 2012 seniors, said Cheri Mayman, director of marketing at NCJHS.

By encouraging students to intelligently stand up for Israel, when someone is being anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist, the ADL program teaches one of the lessons that NCJHS teacher Rabbi David Vorspan emphasizes in his Jewish studies class — wisdom. The teaching involves a passage of Talmud that says: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be men.”

“We felt the benefits of this [workshop] were too important to pass up the opportunity” of having it again at New Jew, Vorspan said.

Leading the program at NCJHS, Friedman is filling it for ADL Associate Regional Director Ariella Schusterman, who helped design the local program, while she is on maternity leave.

The ADL, which has offices in more than 20 regions nationwide, has taught versions of the “Confronting Anti-Semitism” program to religious school and confirmation classes, including the religious schools at Sinai Temple in Westwood and Temple Sinai of Palm Desert.

ADL offers this program for free at NCJHS — “It’s a community service,” Mayersohn said — and would like to bring the program to other high schools. Currently, NCJHS is the only Jewish high school to embrace the local ADL program.

During the workshop at NCJHS on Feb. 16, 19 students worked on group exercises under Friedman’s guidance. Friedman had passed out pieces of paper outlining real-life scenarios of on-campus anti-Semitism or anti-Israel activity. The students discussed how the scenarios made them feel and what would be ways to respond if they were students at those schools.

When the NCJHS students reconvened following the workshops, they shared their scenarios (e.g., student-led anti-Israel rallies, including an “apartheid wall” and a mock checkpoint) and their responses.

A classroom debate over the best way to handle such situations — telling the appropriate personnel at the university, learning campus free-speech rules, fighting back by planning pro-Israel programming on campus, being proactive rather than reactive — led to a conversation about cyber-bullying and whether it’s a crime.
The answer depends on numerous specifics about the bullying, Friedman said.

Similarly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, he told the class. So much of the truth lies in the space between black and white. Luckily, Friedman added, Jews are used to “nuance.” He drew parallels to issues they’re familiar with — like kosher laws – which rely on nuance.

Horrific real-life anti-Semitic scenarios aside, the ADL program shies away from fear mongering.

The program “doesn’t mean [to say that] every campus is a hot-bed of anti-Semitism,” Friedman said. However, there is acknowledgment of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incidents at colleges such as UC Riverside and UC Irvine.

The harsh truth is necessary, Friedman said. Without this program, “These kids are only getting one narrative. In college, [they] will see a different take on the Palestinian conflict. How are they going to respond to that and how are they going to handle that?”

Cornell, Technion joining for top tech campus

Cornell University and The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will partner to create a world-class applied science and engineering campus in New York City.

The NYC Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island is set to combine the strengths of both institutions.

Cornell President David Skorton and Technion President Peretz Lavie made the announcement Sunday.

“By joining forces in this groundbreaking venture, our two great universities will employ our demonstrated expertise, experience and track record of transforming new ideas into solutions to create the global avenues of economic opportunity and tech leadership that Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg envisions,” Skorton said.

An integral part of the campus will be the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, a 50-50 collaboration between the two universities to form a graduate program to focus on bringing products quickly to the market.

The partners will be joining in a full-scale campus—not a satellite of either school—to open in 2012, initially in either leased space or existing Cornell facilities in New York City. The NYC Tech Campus is planned to grow to more than 2 million square feet on Roosevelt Island, accommodating nearly 2,000 graduate students and 250 faculty, as well as visitors and corporate researchers. Cornell and the Technion will collaborate in teaching, educating and advising students.

The universities’ proposal will be presented to the city by Oct. 28.

Adelsons give $1 million for Israel advocacy on campus

Philanthropists Miri and Sheldon Adelson have pledged $1 million to further expand the Israel Fellows program on North American college campuses, The Jewish Agency said.

The pledge, which was announced Thursday, will increase the number of campuses with the program to 50 from 34.

The Israel Fellows program, a collaborative effort of the Jewish Agency and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, places recent Israeli college graduates in Hillels on U.S. and Canadian campuses to assist with Israel education and advocacy.

Expanding the program in the past couple of years since its inception has been a key goal, The Jewish Agency said in a news release. The program started with 19 campuses.

“What started as a small experimental program is now one of the most central stones of our Shlichut [emissary] program,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Sharansky said the Adelsons’ gift will allow the program to fully fund its expansion for this year. The new emissaries will be designated as Adelson Israel Fellows.

Along with focusing on Israel education and advocacy programming on campus, the Israel Fellows work with Birthright Israel trip participants and returnees, and assist students who choose to explore options for long-term experiential and study programs in Israel.

Hillel students and professionals gear up to face anti-Israel campus activism

Amanda Boris is nervous about what she’ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month.

“There’s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.

Last year, her campus newspaper ran an ad from a notorious Holocaust denier for several weeks, despite protests from the Jewish community. More troubling, she said, were the anonymous posts that appeared under the ad, stating that the Jews “deserved it” and they “better watch themselves.” And a professor who teaches an introductory course on the Middle East makes “openly false statements about Israel,” she charged.

Boris told her story to a group of Jewish students who joined some 300 of their peers from Aug. 11 to 15 at Washington University in St. Louis at the Hillel Institute, a summer training session designed to help them prepare for Jewish engagement work on campus.

A big part of that work is learning how to respond effectively to anti-Israel activities on campus.

Such activity has been on the rise on North American campuses for several years, but pro-Israel activists say last year was different: The new campaigns are better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic.

This summer, a number of national Jewish organizations, including Hillel, held training sessions to help their students and staff prepare for what is expected to be an even more targeted anti-Israel campaign this coming year.

“In the Jewish community there’s a lot of fear and anxiety, and that lands on our campuses, on our students,” said Hillel President Wayne Firestone at the gathering’s plenary session Aug. 11.

“We have seen things on campus, last semester in particular, that are really ugly,” he told the crowd. “We can imagine what we’ll face when we return this fall.”

Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.

And as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, efforts to bring resolutions calling for divestment from companies doing business with Israel were noted at more than half a dozen campuses—a new tactic in the anti-Israel movement that targets student governments.

Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, Hillel activists say, the charged atmosphere it creates leaves lasting wounds.

When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April (see sidebar), Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing on the other side of the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.

As a professional charged with helping students develop all aspects of their Jewish identities, Copans said she found the physical divide painful.

“Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,” she said. “I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that’s not what they get by being glared at across the room.”

Asking students to act as Israel advocates along with all the other things they do at college isn’t easy, activists say.

“Our students are coming to school to learn, and now they’re expected to defend,” said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs , a Los Angeles-based international organization that describes itself as working to ensure that Israel’s side of the story is being told on campuses and in other public spheres. “Israel is the target, but Jewish students who stand up for Israel also become the target.”

In mid-August, StandWithUs flew 40 of its campus leaders to Oxnard, Calif., for a training session, and the organization will host another session in November for 150 students. J Street U, a self-described pro-Israel advocacy organization with a network of supporters on about 40 campuses, sponsored its first student leadership conference in late May outside Baltimore, where work to counter the anti-Israel sanctions campaign was addressed along with other concerns. And AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offers such sessions throughout the year.

“We want to enable students to open up these difficult conversations on campus,” said Daniel May, J Street U’s national director.

“Everyone’s concerned, and that’s good,” said Rothstein of StandWithUs. “Once the year begins, everyone’s work on this will merge and hopefully strengthen the students.”

AIPAC declined to speak about the issue on the record.

Israel advocacy is a nuanced issue, say Jewish campus professionals, and that can be divisive.

“For the average student, Israel is a problem—and they don’t want more problems,” said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. “It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.”

Students with varying religious and political views are being asked to stand together for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and that can bring them into conflict with other friends and other causes, activists say.

“College is emblematic of what’s happening in the general society—Israel both unites and divides the Jewish people. That’s what we’re wrestling with,” said Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Hillel’s executive director at the University of California, Berkeley, which also faced a protracted struggle over a divestment bill last spring. “For me, pro-Israel is someone who wants to develop a deep, meaningful, mature, loving relationship with Israel. How this is manifested may be different for different people.”

But students active in Jewish affairs say it’s something they face whether they want to or not.

“We were very affected by the divestment struggles at Berkeley and San Diego, and we’re fully aware it is coming to our campus,” said Raquel Saxe, who is beginning her sophomore year at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Firestone also weighed in on the issue.

“We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear,” the Hillel executive said. “We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.”

During the Hillel Institute in St. Louis, some 80 Hillel professionals arrived early to take part in a 24-hour simulation exercise in which they played various roles on a mythical university campus faced with a divestment bill and a boycott of visiting Israeli professors.

The techniques used in the simulation are included in an Israel Advocacy Playbook that Hillel distributed at the conference and plans to give every Hillel campus professional.

“The group that went through this exercise together now has a common language,” said Chicago educator Carl Schrag, who developed and ran the exercise on behalf of the Israel on Campus Coalition. “When BDS [the sanctions campaign] hits—and I presume it will—hopefully they’ll remember they’re not alone.”

Coalition building is key to Israel advocacy work on campus, say those involved in leading such efforts. It shouldn’t come down to Jewish students against the rest of the campus community, they add—and as interfaith efforts increase on more and more campuses, Jewish students should find themselves less isolated.

Allison Sheren, now Hillel program director at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that things were different five years ago as divestment efforts hit her campus when she was a student.

Now she points to a “MuJew” program—a Jewish-Muslim alternative spring break option on her campus that has brought Jewish and Muslim students together on social action projects for the past three years.

“There’s a real focus on dialogue, on partnerships,” Sheren said. “When Israel issues come up, even if there are disagreements, there is discussion.”

Samantha Shabman, a student at George Washington University in Washington, says she’ll “defend Israel until the day I die,” but at the same time she notes that her school has a large Arab and Muslim student population she hopes the Jewish students will reach out to.

“We have to work together and show we respect each other,” she said.

Jewish Life on Campus: A Program for Students, Parents

Connecting to Jewish life on U.S. college campuses will be the focus of a panel discussion for graduating high school seniors and their parents. Rabbi Nicole Guzik of Sinai Temple in Westwood will moderate a panel of current Jewish college students and recent graduates on June 2, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the University of UCLA Hillel office.

Titled “Jewish Life on Campus: Where to Find It and How to Be a Part of It,” the program will present students and their families with the many ways students can become involved in Jewish life, such as through Hillel, Birthright Israel, Jewish fraternities and sororities, social activities and sports. The panel may also address anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity, a growing problem on some college campuses.  Following the discussion, Beverly Hills licensed marriage and family therapist Lucy Rimalower will lead a session for parents, “Letting Go.”

Representatives from StandWithUs and Koach, the college outreach project of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, will be available to answer questions about their work on campuses.
The program is free and open to the community.

“The main point [of the program] is that there are different ways to be Jewish on campus,” said Marilyn Stern, a Sinai Temple member who conceived and developed the event. “Everyone has a different level of Judaism, and we’re reaching out to the community. We want people to know there’s a smorgasbord of opportunities, and they can pick and choose.”

“Going away to school can be overwhelming,” said Sinai board member and co-organizer Lisa Pompan. “We hope the program can give them some comfort and resources.”

The event is being sponsored by Sinai Temple’s College Connection and Hillel at UCLA. For information, call (310) 481-3246 or e-mail {encode=”collegeconnection@sinaitemple.org” title=”collegeconnection@sinaitemple.org”}.

Groups seeking policy change on campus anti-Semitism

A coalition of Jewish groups has asked the U.S. secretary of education to review a policy that appears to preclude addressing discrimination complaints on the basis of religion.

The letter to Arne Duncan urges the department’s Office for Civil Rights to treat incidents of campus anti-Semitism as discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, not just religion, the Forward reported Wednesday.

“Jewish students … should have some recourse and some remedy if they’re subject to intimidation or harassment on the basis of their identity of being Jewish,” said Richard Foltin, director of national and legislative affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “We want to make sure that the resources of our national institutions, our federal government, are in place for those students when they’re needed.”

Thirteen national Jewish groups, cutting across ideological territory, signed the March 16 letter. They include the AJC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the Orthodox Union.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act bars federal funding of institutions that discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. The Office for Civil Rights apparently has construed that statute to exclude incidents of religious discrimination, which is what the office appears to consider anti-Semitism. Consequently, Jewish students do not have recourse to the Civil Rights Act if they are the targets of discrimination on the basis of religion.

The department did not respond to a request for clarification of the policy by the Forward.

L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move

A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.

Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.

BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.

But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.

The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.

“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.

But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.

Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.

Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.

“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”

Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.

“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.

Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.

The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.

“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people.  The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part.  But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”

Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.

“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”

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Who you calling rebbetzin, why you dissing Palin, what college anti-Semitism?

The Rabbi’s Spouse

In her recent story, Danielle Berrin contemplates the role of the clergy’s spouse (“Who You Calling Rebbetzin?” Sept. 12).

It seems that one of the downsides is being misunderstood.  
I repeatedly emphasized to Danielle that my voluntary role in our community is one which I gladly fill both at our synagogue and in our children’s school, because these are the communities where our family belongs, and I feel a personal responsibility to help.  Never at any time did I or will I expect any financial compensation for the work I volunteer to do in my community. 

I created the position that I fill because I care about the community and am proud to help build our congregation along with my husband.  

I wish there would have been some way for that positive message to have been better expressed in the article.

Pnina Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

We would like to thank Danielle Berrin for her article on the contemporary rebbetzin.

We were subjects in this piece, and we could not be more pleased. Within the Jewish world so many of us seek connection — with God, with community, with mitzvot, and yes — with the rabbi’s family!? Through her article Ms. Berrin gave our community a chance to get to know us a little better, with the hope of strengthening those connections — that is indeed a holy pursuit, a true mitzvah.

As rabbis who are also rebbetzins, we are grateful for Ms. Berrin’s attention to the value of the rabbinic spouse.

Rabbis Deborah and Brian Schuldenfrei
via e-mail

The Iranian Vote

Iranian American Jews are mostly wary and distrustful of the Obama-Biden ticket.
In your Aug. 11 Iranian American Jews blog report on my debate with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Judge Bruce Einhorn on the U.S. presidential elections, you mistakenly mentioned that I had emphasized the issue of Sen. John McCain’s experience.

In fact, my main and repeated emphasis was on the lack of understanding by Sen. Barack Obama of the nature and the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the worldwide jihadist movement, as well as Sen. Joe Biden’s long-time record of encouraging appeasement and giving one-sided concessions to the Iranian theocratic dictatorship.

I mentioned that as a Democrat, I would strongly suggest putting aside our differences and voting for McCain, due to the overwhelming urgency of the worldwide threats facing us all.

I, like most Iranian Jews, fear that the Obama-Biden administration will fail to stand up to this worldwide threat.

Frank Nikbakht
Committee for
Religious Minority Rights in Iran

Post-Palin Depression

I wanted you to know that I ran across your piece as I scoured the Internet looking for my minute-by-minute updates on the election (“Post-Palin Depression” Sept. 12).

I am just an average person that fits the person you describe in “Post-Palin Depression.” I do not have a therapist, but I have been in depression for almost two weeks now.

But your article inspired me to go nearly cold turkey on election news (I didn’t think about limiting to C-SPAN and, of course, I just can’t go without “The Daily Show”). One question, before I go into detox, can I finish out my obsession until I fall asleep tonight?

Thanks for the great piece. I can’t wait for my blood pressure to resume to normal levels.

Catherine Devericks
Via e-mail

Fields of Dreams

I would like to thank David Suissa and The Jewish Journal for the moving article comparing/contrasting Trochenbrod and Camp Ramah (“Fields of Dreams,” Sept. 12).

Filmmaker Jeremy Goldscheider is doing a big mitzvah in producing a film that will preserve a part of European Jewish History, which would otherwise be lost forever.

I would like to support this project and would like more information on how to get involved. I am writing as a representative of the Blitstein family of Trochenbrod.

Paula Verbit
Trochenbrod Descendant
Second Generation

Strange Love

In his recent letter to David Suissa, Jeff Kramer stated “The truth is that they (missionaries) don’t want your soul, what they want is to help you draw closer to God and in so doing, enjoy a fuller and more complete life now and in eternity.”

This statement is written more like a true believer in Jesus than a faithful Jew who understands that the roots of Christianity originate from Roman and Hellenistic paganism and belief in the trinity and bodily incarnation of God is considered idolatrous for Jews? (“Strange Love,” Aug. 22).

This is something all denominations of Judaism agree represents the spiritual destruction of the Jewish soul.

So yes, regardless of their intention, the end result is that missionaries, who seek to convert Jews, want our soul and in doing so perpetuate a long history of anti-Judaism that disrespects and invalidates the spiritual integrity of Jews and Judaism.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder and Executive Director

Sleight of Hand

The directors of Stand With Us have engaged in a bit of sleight of hand (Letters, Sept. 12).

Rather than confront the fact that anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on college campuses today, they engage in name-calling. We are “elitists,” a common epithet in today’s political discourse.

If by characterizing our response as elitist, Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid mean that we actually know what we are talking about, since we work on various college campuses (not just UCLA), then we plead guilty. Actually knowing what one is talking about is something that is very helpful in political discussions — both this one and larger national ones.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

Sarah Palin

There are issues pertaining to Gov. Sarah Palin’s judgment privately that should be judged publicly (“Sarah Palin and the Jews,” Sept. 5).

First, why is it not immoral to have a baby when you know that the baby has Down syndrome and the baby is your fifth?

Second, why is it not immoral to get pregnant at age 42 with your fifth child when you know or should know that the odds of having a baby with Down syndrome is increased exponentially when a women reaches 40?

According to the March of Dimes Web site, at 25, a woman has about one chance in 1,250 of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 30, a one in 1,000 chance; at age 35, a one in 400 chance; at age 40, a one in 100 chance; at 45, a one in 30 chance.

Lastly, why is it not immoral to have a fifth baby when given our current world environment. Zero population growth should be a goal for all of us? Why not adopt instead?

The above questions should all be asked of this person, but our media just won’t go there.

Martin H. Kodish
Woodland Hills

Yes, it was nice to know that Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has good relationships with Alaska’s Jewish population, although it was hardly surprising that she is strongly pro-Israel, given that she is an evangelical Christian.

However, to describe her simply as a social conservative is a gross understatement. From all we know of her, insufficient as that is as yet, she is a rabid, right-wing ideologue.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, with its clever one- and two-line zingers written by a group of the best-paid communications professionals in the business and rehearsed by Gov. Palin for at least five hours prior to its presentation, with a mixture of homey references to her family and herself, she likened her small-town roots to those of President Harry S. Truman (a senator from Missouri for 10 years before becoming vice president in January 1945).

It remains the challenge of the media to break through the blockade surrounding their access to her — talk about protectionism run amok — to ask penetrating questions about her positions on policy issues, among them: the kinds of justices she would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court; whether she believes in multilateral, rather than unilateral, approaches to international affairs; given her opposition to government intervention into our private lives, why a woman should not have the right to make her own reproductive choices without big brother dictating her decisions.

Also, how she intends to protect the guarantees of our Bill of Rights and their erosion in the name of fighting terror; why, if she is so staunchly pro-life, she does not support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research — using embryos that will be discarded or destroyed — to improve the quality of life of those living with terrible diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, etc.; why she opposes sex education in the schools, including teaching even kindergartners — as Barack Obama has proposed — about what they need to know, at the most primary level, in order to protect themselves from sexual predators.

In addition, where she stands on our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state, in general, and the teaching of creationism, along with the theory of evolution, in particular; regulating gun ownership; outlawing hate crimes; drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on and on.

With less than two months remaining before Election Day on Nov. 4, it is urgent that the media reveal what the new kid on the political block — who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency — believes about many of the most urgent issues facing our country.

Rachel Galperin

I am not a supporter of the Republican ticket. However, let’s be fair to Sarah Palin on Jewish issues. First of all, most gentiles are probably not familiar with Pat Buchanan’s views on matters of Jewish concern, particularly people such as Palin, who are not known for their deep knowledge of such things. So her wearing of a Buchanan button does not signify anti-Jewish feelings.

Second, whatever one’s views may be on abortion rights, it is not a Jewish issue. The Orthodox Jewish view on abortion is similar to that of most Christian religious groups. The only pertinent Jewish issue in today’s political world is support for Israel.

Marshall Giller

The disclosure that last month Gov. Sarah Palin’s church hosted the executive director of Jews for Jesus, who told congregants that violence against Israeli Jews is God’s punishment for their failure to accept Jesus, is going to be the next club that Palin’s leftist critics pick up against her.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes Palin’s pastor at Wasilla Bible Church, the Rev. Larry Kroon, as saying that he doesn’t believe Jews for Jesus are deceptive.

“Look at Paul and Peter and the others, they were Jews and believed in Jesus as the messiah,” he told JTA. “There’s gentile believers and there’s Jewish believers that acknowledge Jesus as messiah. There’re Swedish believers.”

Mainstream Judaism today rejects the idea that one can believe in Jesus and still be a practicing Jew. Anyone who maintains that the two beliefs are compatible is a pariah in the Jewish community.

But these columns have been cautioning against the idea that politicians need to be held accountable for every thing that is said from the pulpits of their congregations. In an editorial of March 18, 2008, “Obama’s Moment,” we said that religion by its nature calls forth great passion, and that religious institutions, churches, synagogues, mosques, are places where things are often said that strike the congregation in a way that they might not strike the wider public.

None of this is to excuse the errors of Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Kroon. But it is Obama and Palin who are running for office, not the clergymen.

To make a big issue of these kinds of things in respect of the candidates, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, would be to impose a religious test for office of the sort that the framers of the Constitution forbade right in Article VI, when they wrote, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

No, ever, any. They couldn’t have been more emphatic and not even in an amendment but right there in the original body of the Constitution.

Reyna Oro
via e-mail

Campus hate — while down — is still a problem, wailin’ on Palin

Quiet War at UCI

We agree with the Sept 5 letter from five UCLA academics that anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism at UCLA is less severe than that at UC Irvine (“Quiet War on Campus,” Aug. 22).

However we commend The Journal for running [Brad] Greenberg’s review of the situation on American campuses. It was a comprehensive piece that included differing views about the problem’s severity, and was of great service to Journal readers who are concerned about the issue.

We disagree however with the professors’ strategic recommendations and the elitist tone of their letter. Minimization or denial will not solve the problem, nor will denigrating off campus groups who share concern about the immediate and long-range impact of campus anti-Zionism. The 20,000 faculty members who felt it necessary to form an organization, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) to combat imbalance and poor scholarship about the Middle East conflict certainly cannot be accused of being “amateurish,” promoting “shoddy research” and “propaganda,” and of not understanding the campus or “academic freedom.”

SPME’s roster includes highly acclaimed professors and Nobel Prize winners.

There is a crying need for united action so Jewish students and faculty can proudly support Israel, not only in Hillel buildings, but also in classrooms, faculty offices and on campus quads. Jewish campus institutions have a vital role to play in this effort, but they may be constrained by sensitive campus affiliations. Independent organizations also have an important role because they are freer to express student and faculty concerns about abuses, intimidation and propaganda-like distortions.

If the five academics collaborated with other well-intentioned groups, they would find them much more reasonable, open-minded and sophisticated than their letter implies.

Roz Rothstein, Executive Director
Roberta Seid, Education Director

Palin and the Jews

In response to your recent article, “Sarah Palin and the Jews” (Sept. 5), please count me as one reader who was shocked and sickened by the nastiness and pettiness of Sarah Palin’s speech [at the Republican National Convention].

If insulting community organizers, making snide remarks about Sen. Barack Obama’s popularity and mocking the location of Obama’s acceptance speech make her presidential material, then America is in serious trouble.

Jeff Goldman
Culver City

I was shocked by your flattering treatment of Gov. Sarah Palin. After picking through the trivia and smears for substance, you conclude that she “has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents … and appears to have a fondness for Israel.” However, you present no evidence that she has genuinely warm feelings about Jews or genuine fondness for Israel.

Furthermore, you brush off her wearing a Pat Buchanan button when he visited her town “as a courtesy.” Come on! Would it be acceptable for her to put a sheet over her head as a courtesy if the Ku Klux Klan paraded through her town?

James Kallis
Los Angeles

I hear Jews around America saying that they are voting for Sen. John McCain because he is good for Israel. Democrats are better for Israel than McCain could ever dream to be, but now that Gov. Sarah Palin is on McCain’s ticket, there are more pressing matters at hand.

Palin recently said that the war in Iraq is “God’s task.” She’s even admitted she hasn’t thought about the war much … just last year, she was quoted as saying, “I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.”

Palin wants to teach creationism in public schools. Creationism is not going to be taught from the Tanach; it will be from the New Testament — how can we allow that?

I hope that the Jews of Los Angeles will stand up against Palin so that she will not be able to continue on her path toward ruining our country.

Aimee Sax
Los Angeles

Charter School

As a retired Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) middle school teacher, I was elated to read about the New Los Angeles Charter School (New L.A.) that will be opening this month (“P.S. Tikkun Olam,” Aug. 29).

Given the poor academic performance and high dropout rate throughout much of the LAUSD, it is imperative that parents have meaningful options, such as New L.A., to assure that their children receive quality instruction in a safe and nurturing environment.

Unfortunately, both the LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) have misplaced priorities. LAUSD’s insular district office personnel are often insensitive to the real needs of on-site administrators, school faculties and students. Meanwhile, the teachers union (UTLA) spends much of its resources blocking sorely needed reform.

It was the union that stood in the way of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to create 100 additional charter schools in Los Angeles. Little wonder that New L.A. received almost three times as many applications as it has openings.
Anything that can topple the status quo is welcome relief. On behalf of the children of Los Angeles, todah rabbah and yasher koach to Matt Albert and his crew for putting forth the effort and accepting the risk associated with starting the New Los Angeles Charter School.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Singles Comic Strip

Never Mind Amy the Date (“True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict,” Sept. 5). Amy’s comic strip should get dumped. Three words sum up that inert strip: worst comic ever.

Seriously, with all of the amazing Jewish comedic minds out there in Hollywood and beyond, can’t you find one real cartoonist to create something funny? Maybe you can poach a guy from HEEB.

Erin Stack
Beverly Hills

Ed. Note: We like it. Judge for yourself.

The D.I.S.C caption in the Sept. 5 issue (page 41) should have read "Dr. John T. Knight, Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon, D.I.S.C. Spine and Sports Center," instead of "Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., CEO and Founder, one of the country's preeminent neurological spinal surgeons."

Free speech on campus

That campus anti-Semitism thing, you say it’s your birthday

Quiet War at UCI

It is unfortunate that The Jewish Journal would choose to run as its cover story two weeks ago an article by Brad Greenberg that preys on the deep and recurrent fears of some in our community of a rampant anti-Semitism on our college campuses (“Quiet War on Campus,” Aug. 22).

There was nothing newsworthy about the article, no recent event or episode to prompt it. The episodes and anecdotes recounted in the story were months and, in most cases, years old — and have been amply rehashed in the Jewish press.

Indeed, the chief novelty that we discerned in Mr. Greenberg’s article was his willingness to report that “the amount of anti-Israel activity on campus is so negligible that it is almost impossible for students to find unless they are looking on all but maybe three campuses a year” —and this from the director of student programs at AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], an organization that is usually not deemed to be slack in defending Israel.

What is even more unfortunate were the letters last week in support of the article. They revealed precious little awareness of the state of affairs on college campuses, and even less of the nature of academic freedom. One letter suggested that we should be outraged because a certain UCLA professor did not submit to a request from an off-campus group to invite a “mainstream speaker” to offer a competing view to his on Zionism. We value the principle of academic freedom and regard it not only as the cornerstone of the American university, but as a key stimulus to intellectual creativity and innovation.

We may not agree with the views of all our colleagues on Israel or other subjects. But to begin to demand — and even legislate — the introduction of so-called balanced perspectives in the classroom is a step not to be taken lightly. Where does it start and where does it end? Should we have insisted that the course on the history of Israel taught at UCLA last year by a distinguished historian of Zionism should have included a speaker who advocated the dismantling of the State of Israel? Is that the kind of balance required? We think not and see the university as a free marketplace of ideas, where logic, quality of argumentation and fine scholarship win out over shoddy research and propaganda.

At the end of the day, we, as longstanding observers of and participants in college life today, concur with the AIPAC official that, thankfully, anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on our campuses today. To regurgitate episodes from four to six years ago is not only not news. It is a disservice to the legitimate fight against anti-Semitism, as well as to the important work of Hillel and other groups in nurturing a vibrant Jewish life on so many college campuses today.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

There was little explanation in your article as to why the conclusions of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) — dismissing the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) civil rights complaint that anti-Semitic harassment at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) was not being adequately addressed by university officials — were wrong.

The major problem with OCR’s decision was that it denied Jewish students the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI protects against racial and ethnic harassment, but to OCR, Jewish Americans are a religious group, not an ethnic group, and thus fall outside the scope of the law.

Jews are an ethnic group, sharing an ancestry, a heritage, traditions, language, homeland and culture. Not protecting them from anti-Semitism on college campuses means that a national problem may go unaddressed, because colleges and universities need not answer for their conduct.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, representing groups across the religious and political spectrums, complained about the decision in the ZOA’s case against UCI and urged OCR to reconsider it, saying that “[t]his decision will affect Jewish students not only at UCI, but also at other colleges and universities across the United States.”

In addition, three Republican U.S. Senators and six Democratic U.S. Representatives, including California Representatives Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Linda Sanchez (D-Cerritos), sent letters to the secretary of education, complaining about OCR’s decision. According to the Senators, OCR’s conclusion was “inconsistent with its prior policy statements.”

Similarly, the Congress Members emphasized that it “reversed OCR policy, as clarified in 2004, of protecting Jews against anti-Semitism.”

Fortunately, congressional efforts are underway to amend Title VI so that it is clear that Jewish students are protected and they can get their education in an environment that is tolerant and welcoming, rather than intimidating or threatening.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Susan B. Tuchman
Center for Law and Justice
Zionist Organization of America

Kaplan’s Birthday

There is a time and a place for everything. Marty Kaplan’s birthday article is inappropriate and does not belong in The Jewish Journal (“Happy Birthday to Me,” Aug. 22).

Paul Venze
Los Angeles

Joe Biden

I am happy to say that I spent many years in Delaware. My children and granddaughter still live there [and] I have worked on Senator Biden’s campaigns (“Rob Eshman’s Monday Journal,” Aug. 18).

Biden understands the issues of the Israel and her neighbors better than most Senators including our own California Senators.

Biden definitely makes a difference I am thrilled to be able to say that I worked on his campaign and that he would always answer my phone calls when I needed him.

I believe he is a great asset to the ticket.

Gila Katz
via e-mail

DeLet: The Solution

I was pleased to note that Rob Eshman identified DeLeT as a “solution” to the “shortage of top-quality teachers in Jewish day schools” and that he singled it out as a “model” of how “to streamline qualified professionals into the teaching profession” (“The Teacher,” Aug. 29).

This is precisely what the funders and founders hoped DeLeT would become when they designed the program seven years ago.

In the ensuing years, DeLeT — Day School Leadership through Teaching — a fellowship program of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with a parallel program at Brandeis University, has launched over 90 new Jewish day school teachers.

Today, DeLeT continues to take a novel approach to preparing teachers for day schools by helping novices learn the most powerful research-based approaches to teaching and learning while integrating Jewish and general studies.

Anyone interested in learning more about this novel approach to teacher preparation can check out the DeLeT website (www.huc.edu/delet) or e-mail Rivka Ben Daniel, DeLeT’s Education Director at rbendaniel@huc.edu.

Dr. Michael Zeldin
Rhea Hirsch School of Education
and DeLeT
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

The New Jewish Funeral

Your article takes me back several years when a friend lost her 4 1/2-year-old son (“Green is the New Black,” Aug 8).

Thank God I knew someone, Rob Karlin from Los Angeles Funeral Service, who was the most helpful and compassionate person in this time of sorrow. Through his knowledge and contacts, he arranged casket, service and flowers through several resources and by the time we were finished with the comparison of prices from the first quote, Mr. Karlin saved by friend over $3,500 … a major difference in my friends needs.

Several months after the funeral, my friend contributed a portion of her savings to the Tay-Sachs Disease Support Group in memory of her son.

Ursula Reeg
Los Angeles

Hillel opens doors to non-Jews, campus at large

Hillel centers on university campuses were viewed not long ago as little more than the local Jewish hangout, a place where students could come for kosher meals or socialize with other Jews.

But in a move that Hillel leaders say has been forced upon them by this generation’s altered social landscape, the organization is throwing open its doors to everyone, designing programs that appeal to Jews and non-Jews and hyping its contribution to university — not only Jewish — life.

Examples of the shift are abundant.

Rabbi Joshua Feigelson, the self-described “campus rabbi” at Northwestern University, has designed a campus-wide program called “Ask Big Questions” that stresses the value of Jewish wisdom in addressing contemporary challenges. Other Hillel chapters are organizing interfaith programs, like Jewish-Muslim coexistence houses or trips to rebuild the Gulf Coast. And it’s becoming more common to find non-Jews serving on local Hillel boards or as regular attendees at Shabbat dinners.

The shift is even evident in Hillel’s changed mission statement. Prior to 2006, the organization sought to increase the number of Jews “doing Jewish with other Jews.” Now it seeks to “enrich” Jewish student life, the Jewish people and the world.

“Most of the students that we have are not interested in doing Jewish with other Jews,” Feigelson said. “They’re interested in doing Jewish with their friends who are doing Catholic and Puerto Rican and Turkish — their friends and their family. The challenge for us is how do you create expressions of Jewish life that students will deem to be authentic at the same time as they are not exclusive or tribal.”

Beginning under the leadership of Richard Joel, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life sought to expand its reach beyond the minority of students with strong Jewish identities who naturally gravitated to the local Hillel chapter.

But Hillel leaders say increasingly that to reach the majority who might view the organization with anything from disdain to indifference, it must actively counter the perception that its chapters are “Jews-only” venues.

As it attempts to do so, Hillel finds itself negotiating a tricky line between Jewish particularism and universality, between the twin imperatives of creating uniquely Jewish programming and protecting the fluidity of personal identities that today’s college students see as their birthright.

“We’re in a world that has no boundaries — no boundaries and infinite choices, literally,” said Beth Cousens, Hillel’s director of organizational learning and the author of a 2007 monograph, “Hillel’s Journey: Distinctively Jewish, Universally Human,” which lays out guiding principles for Hillel in the coming years.

“It is just dumb, it’s counterproductive for us to create boundaries,” Cousens said. “The way to make Jewish life vibrant, and help people fall in love with Judaism and discover who they are Jewishly, is not to be afraid.”

Much discussion at Hillel’s recent summit in Washington, D.C., focused on the peculiarities of so-called millennials, the generation born after 1980, and their unique set of cultural dispositions: globally minded, skeptical of institutional authority and unwilling to have their identities narrowly defined.

At the summit’s opening plenary, Robert Putnam, the Harvard University professor who authored “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” described how he could name the religion of every person in his high school class because faith defined the limits of his generation’s dating pool. High-schoolers today, he contended, couldn’t perform a similar feat.

“It’s not that people have stopped being religious, it’s just not that big a deal anymore,” Putnam said. “That line has been somewhat deconstructed.”

For those who worry about the threat of intermarriage to Jewish continuity, the rise of the millennial generation, and Hillel’s response to it, is likely to keep them up at night.

Hillel responds that it simply has no choice, that if an intermarried couple doesn’t meet at Hillel, they will meet at a party or in the classroom where the organization will have no influence on them.

“Hillel is acknowledging that we don’t live in a Jewish bubble,” Cousens said. “If we don’t do this, we’ll be irrelevant.”

Putnam has written extensively on the decline of community in America, and he urged the 675 summit participants — most of them Hillel professionals — to look for ways to create social connections that stretch across the boundaries of race or ethnicity.

In interviews on the sidelines of the summit, evidence emerged to suggest that process is already well under way.

At Syracuse University, the election of a non-Jewish student to the Hillel board occasioned some opposition. But while a meeting must sometimes pause to explain a particular Jewish phrase or practice, student leaders mostly say the addition has been positive.

“I think it’s been a mutually beneficial experience for not only him and the board, but for also the community at large to see that we’ve reached beyond the Jewish student, that we’ve reached beyond what Hillel’s stereotype is, and to bring in other types of people, and to really let ourselves realize that Hillel isn’t just for one type of person,” sophomore Jillian Zarem said. “It’s for as many different people as we can reach out to.”

At the Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, a Korean student who regularly attended Shabbat dinners at Hillel managed to recruit his Jewish roommate who previously wouldn’t set foot inside the building.

“How did he do it?” asked Aaron Weil, the executive director of the Pitt center. “He said, ‘John, I’m a Baptist. I’m Korean. I’m going to Hillel. Don’t you think it’s a little bit odd that I’m willing to go to Hillel and you’re not?’ He didn’t have a comeback for that, and he came in and saw the open community.”

“The benefit to us,” Weil continued, “is by making ourself a place that is open to all, Jews are going to feel more comfortable to go there because they’re not going to a place that is Jewish only. Jews are looking today, in general, for opportunities to be Jewish but not to be separate.”

Broad Art Center lifts concrete divide from UCLA

In remodeling UCLA’s old art school building, architects Richard Meier and Michael Palladino have taken a building that was essentially a wall and made it into a window. And the view through the window is good.

Far more than a facelift of a tired facade, the Broad Arts Center is a thorough rethinking of the building, inside and out, particularly the way the building interacts with the campus around it. The architects have taken an uninviting, barrier-like structure and created a see-through building, looking north and south. On sunny days, the glass doors of the bottom two levels disappear behind adjoining walls, and the building literally becomes both a window and a hallway, as well as a much improved locale for arts education.

The wall in our analogy was formerly the facade of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture — a dreary, “functionalist” flop by the late William Pereira, a prominent local architect who had done better things. A seven-story structure with a horizontal orientation, the school building was one of several from the 1960s and 1970s that seemed determined to wall off the university campus from its northern edge along Sunset Boulevard.

Even worse, Pereira’s building, with its uninterrupted facade of concrete sun screens, was an inward-looking, anti-social building that seemed embarrassed by its highly visible setting amid UCLA’s superb Franklin Murphy Sculpture Garden, the Ralph Freud Playhouse and the Wight Gallery.

The makeover of the UCLA arts complex could be called a collaboration between two prominent members of the American Jewish community: Meier and donor Eli Broad. Businessman, philanthropist and fixer extraordinaire, Broad is the angel of the story in both the moral and financial senses. Two years ago, Broad, a noted art collector with a taste for architecture, personally hired Getty Center architect Richard Meier and contributed $23.2 million, or roughly half the cost, to remake the grim arts building into something both more useful for students and more cheerful for the public.

The assignment was an unusual one for Meier, the New York-based Meier, who is best known for museum designs (the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills is also his), as well as for Michael Palladino, co-principal of the firm, who runs Meier’s Westwood office and who took an active design role in the UCLA project. Although Meier’s firm is accustomed to stamping its own distinctive modernist style — a kind of classicized version of Franco-Swiss master Le Corbusier — on its projects, the architects put image-making on the back burner at UCLA while focusing on the quality of experience of both students and visitors.

The solution hinged on several straightforward moves: The first was to change the direction along which people walk through the building. By removing a structural wall that ran east and west, Meier and Palladino opened the building from north to south so students and visitors can stroll through the 40-foot depth of the building, rather than being forced to walk its 150-foot length, with its long hallways and creepy blind corridors.

Jack-hammering the east-west wall removed part of the building’s structural support. To replace the lost support, the architects added a new system of horizontal reinforcements on each floor, held in place by massive new concrete “book ends” on either side of the building. “They’re like flying buttresses,” a proud Palladino said of the concrete walls, comparing them to the exterior structural supports that helped prop up Gothic cathedrals.

The removal of the old structural wall essentially also opened much of the building to the sun, providing enough natural light for students to work without turning on lights — a definite plus for a structure built to strict energy-saving and “green building” standards.

Not all aspects of the “base building” were bad. Its orientation was ideal for capturing prevailing breezes and inducing natural cooling. “You have to give Pereira credit for siting the building in a way that would take advantage of those breezes,” Palladino said. With the interiors now largely open from window to window, the cooling air circulates better than ever.
It’s not surprising that one of Palladino’s favorite buildings is the Carpenter Center at Harvard, by Le Corbusier. That building works hard to create pedestrian movement and the mood of a public place at an awkward spot on that campus. Although the UCLA arts complex bears little outward resemblance to the Harvard building, the Broad Arts Center accomplishes an analogous repair job on the UCLA campus. The Broad takes a walled-off, hard-to-get-to corner spot of the campus and connects it to the rest of UCLA with a front entrance that also serves as a public hallway leading from one part of the campus to another.

The formerly inward looking building has now become a confident public building, which is appropriate for a spot on the campus that brings together the Wight Gallery, the Freud Theater and the sculpture gallery, newly adorned with the 42-ton “T.E.U.C.L.A.” (as in torqued ellipse at UCLA) by Richard Serra. Like the Carpenter Center, the Broad Arts Center is an example of architecture as problem solving, and an object lesson in the way a single building can do more than one thing.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

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.


Hooray for Holy-wood

When the media or politicians chatter about Los Angeles’ urban resurgence, they usually refer to such things as $700,000 lofts in downtown Los Angeles, grandiose projects like the proposed Grand Avenue development, million-dollar postage stamp lots on the Westside, clubs on Sunset Boulevard or perhaps glittering new cultural institutions like the Getty Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

But perhaps a better reflection of Los Angeles’ overall civic health might be to look at Temple Israel in Hollywood. There, a $20 million new building program — this being Los Angeles, an expanding parking lot is one centerpiece — will soon be tearing down aging adjacent apartments to make way for an expanded campus, including a new education complex and chapel.

Just two decades ago, Temple Israel was floundering like many shuls in more urban parts of Los Angeles. Membership was down to about 500 families, and there were thoughts that perhaps this synagogue would go the way of so many urban religious institutions, becoming increasingly isolated and rarely attended.

Over the past decade, however, membership has grown to more than 900 families today. What Temple Israel provides, suggested Rabbi John Rosove, is “a community” for its congregation, “a home away from home.”

This is all the more remarkable because of the horrific events that overtook Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

“The earthquake, the riots, the disaster years, but still the Jews didn’t leave,” Rosove said with some pride. “Things were supposed to be shifting away.”

What turned this around? Rosove suggested it may have been a need to find roots and a safe place, a critical shelter in the urban storm.

“A lot of people are coming back to the synagogue for a lot of things,” he explained. “There are young people looking for schools, and there are people who want a spiritual community.”

Critically, this resurgence in religious activity is not confined to Jews, but is a citywide, multiethnic phenomenon.

Religious affiliation, according to one recent study available on the Internet at www.nazarene.org, stands at nearly 60 percent in Los Angeles, compared to barely 40 percent in the Bay Area or in the Portland and Seattle areas.

In contrast with many regions, particularly in bigger cities, Los Angeles’ religious growth is keeping pace with its population expansion, up some 700,000 since 1990. The number of congregations has grown to over 4,000 from roughly 3,500 a decade earlier.

Like Los Angeles itself, this renewal of faith has many faces. Among Jews it includes expanding synagogues in the Conejo Valley and scores of smaller, largely Orthodox congregations spread from Pico-Robertson and Hancock Park to Valley Village and North Hollywood.

The non-Jewish communities show similar diversity, both in terms of faith and location. South Central Los Angeles is home to some of the largest churches. There is the Faithful Central Bible Church at the former site of the 17,500-seat Forum in Inglewood and the West Angeles Church of God and Christ on Crenshaw. And the new $163 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown represents a major continued commitment to the urban center by the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese.

You can also see this in the growth of relatively new religious institutions, including the North Hollywood Thai Temple, the Northridge Islamic Center, the Hindu temple in Malibu and the 1,600-seat Korean Valley Christian Presbyterian Church in Porter Ranch. In many ways, these new buildings, many of them quite impressive, suggest the scale of renewed religious sentiment throughout the region.

“What is happening among Jews is not an isolated phenomenon,” observed Rabbi Mark Diamond, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “People are looking around for something, and the more successful congregations are those that are providing for the needs of their flocks.”

Immigrants Drive L.A. Revival

Perhaps most heartening has been the restoration of religious life close to the historic heart of the city. Among Jews, this has been sustained largely by the growth of the Orthodox shuls around Hancock Park, but now there are signs of life even among the less observant.

For decades, the venerable Wilshire Boulevard Temple has been shifting west along with its membership to its $30 million Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus. But now, the congregation is developing a plan to restore and expand its original facilities in Koreatown, hoping to draw a new generation of Reform Jews moving to the increasingly fashionable neighborhoods of Hancock Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz, as well as the Hollywood Hills.

In the same area near Wilshire Boulevard Temple, others of the city’s leading religious institutions are finding new life after decades of neglect and decline. Like the venerable temple itself, great churches are welcoming new parishioners in a way not seen for a generation.

Back in the 1920s, most of the major religious institutions moved out of downtown and to the west on Wilshire. Burgeoning with new businesses and residences, the boulevard, notes Kevin Roderick, author of the recently published “Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles,” also became home to “the churches and synagogues of the L.A. power elite.”

The 1960s and 1970s — with the flight of the middle class outward, particularly to the Valley and the Westside — saw the decline of many of these once well-heeled congregations — Catholic, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, as well as Jewish. Yet unlike in many Eastern and Midwestern cities, where urban churches have been largely abandoned, Roderick notes, Wilshire’s have come back to life, largely by serving new immigrants from around the world in languages as diverse as Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Ethiopian and Spanish.

In the inner city, as well as elsewhere, immigrants have done much to power our strong religious revival. This process can be seen in virtually every religious community.

Among evangelicals, it has been driven largely by Hispanics and, to a lesser extent, Asian immigrants. Koreans, in particular, have been a force in the more mainstream Protestant faith. Many synagogues, both new and old, have grown to serve newcomers from Iran, North Africa, Israel and the former Soviet Union.

The immigrant desire to preserve one’s national culture, moral values and languages certainly represents one clear motivation. Take for example the rapid growth of day schools affiliated with the Armenian Orthodox Church, with some 5,000 students. Armenian Archbishop Hovnan Derderian believes his church, its 15 day schools and 30 Saturday academies provide a means to transcend a largely secular, morally relativist reality.

“I think somehow we help people hold on to our identity and culture,” explained the archbishop, spiritual leader of the region’s roughly 450,000 Armenians. “We try to continue the faith of our fathers — just like the Jewish and Greek Orthodox communities. It’s a sense of security and a way to provide some authority over morality.”

Derderian added that this revival is broad based across many faiths and reflects to a large extent a growing unease with our public, secular institutions. It can be seen in the continued success of Catholic schools in the region, which serve some 13,000 families, according to a new study by the Pacific Research Institute, as well as scores of Lutheran, Episcopal and conservative Christian establishments.

The Jewish community has certainly also been influenced by this trend. There is today a revival across the city. Jewish day schools, once largely restricted to Orthodox yeshivas, are flourishing as never before.

According to Dr. Gil Graff, director of the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, the number of affiliated Jewish day schools in the Los Angeles region has risen from 22 two decades ago to 37 today. The number of students attending these schools has almost doubled, to near 10,000. This is all the more remarkable, Graff suggested, since the total number of Jewish youngsters is believed to have dropped significantly in that period.

The reasons for this growth are varied. As Derderian suggested, there is a growing interest in traditional values and ethnic identity.

There is also the state of the city’s public schools, which, at least judging by test scores, are bad even by the poor standards of urban state-funded education. And finally, there are other reasons, such as concern for safety, that may be driving parents to the religiously oriented schools.

Cities and Religion: A View From the Past

The notion of linking religious faith and urban vitality goes back to great historians from the fifth century Greek Herodotus to the 14th century Arab ibn Khaldun but has fallen largely out of favor among contemporary urban scholars and commentators.

In the four months since my latest book, “The City: A Global History” appeared, the assertion that “the sacred space” has been, and continues to be, a critical element in the development of cities has perplexed, surprised and even infuriated many critics.

Most observers, like Alan Ehrenhalt, writing in Governing magazine, easily assented to my other two underpinnings of urban success — safety and commerce. But Ehrenhalt took issue with my third key urban component, “sacredness.”

It’s not that he doesn’t buy my argument through history, but he believes that applying this characteristic to today’s contemporary, decidedly secular metropolis may be problematic.

Others were less polite. One writer, an art critic in Dallas, thought my emphasis on religion was not only misplaced, but revealed a “longing for the old priestly class.” By even mentioning religion, I was violating the conception — popularized by urban theorist Richard Florida — that it is hipness, style and the arts that make cities great.

“It’s all about aesthetics,” this reviewer suggested at the end of his attack.

Such comments reveal precisely one critical issue for the urban future. Some see cities depending on creating hip, cool, aesthetically pleasing environments. Issues about moral order, and creating an atmosphere for raising children — things inevitably tied up with nonmaterial considerations — are left to the side as so much historical baggage.

This approach reflects the post-modernist interpretation of urban history, which sees humanity as shaped by largely predominant economic, social or environmental forces. Faith, moral order and religion — even in serious works like Peter Hall’s “Cities and Civilization” — have been all but blotted out as critical components of the urban narrative.

In contrast, in “The City,” I cling to the old idea that great cities, or regions, always have been inextricably connected to sacred spaces. The universality of this phenomenon is inarguable. It was expressed by the central location of temples in cities from Ur and Babylon, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the imperial shrines of ancient Chin, the mosques of Baghdad, the cathedrals of Medieval and Renaissance Europe and the Protestant churches in the heart of Amsterdam, London and Boston.

The moral content of these places — the statement they made about the relationship between the city and the universe — was critical to making those cities great. The ancient Judeans may have admired the architecture and fine detail of David’s or Herod’s temples, but it was the symbolic foundation of the place, not the aesthetics, that gave them transcendent importance. Similar things can be said of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral or the great mosques of Baghdad, Cairo or Istanbul.

As the commercial role of cities expanded with the rise of capitalism, this explicit religious role declined. Great cities, which had been primarily centers of government or religion, now arose largely on the basis of their commercial prowess.

In America, this was also necessitated by our founders’ correct desire to avoid any specific official religion. Still, over the past 150 years, churches and synagogues have played a critical role in pushing reform — from the abolition of slavery — as well as spearheading the progressive movement for urban sanitation and fair labor standards. More recently, it was churches, particularly the evangelical denominations — black and white — that did much of the heavy lifting for the hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

The Modern American and European Experience

Today, the ill-effects of a declining religious component in cities are clearly evident. In many older cities, many once-great religious institutions lie empty and abandoned, as their middle- and working-class parishioners have fled to the suburbs.

Perhaps most tragic has been the decline of black churches in many major metropolitan areas. The “suburbanization of the black church,” notes Jacqueline Trussell, president of the Web site BlackandChristian.com, has taken from some of our most troubled neighborhoods a critical bastion of security, stability, moral clarity and an important source of services.

Religion is also fading in many of the hip, cool cities so widely celebrated in the media, the political left and cultural communities. Attendance by parishioners at Catholic churches in greater Boston — once one of the bastions of religious observance in America — has dropped from 75 percent to less than half that today. Barely 5 percent of the people in San Francisco, once a largely Catholic city named after a saint, now attend Mass. Manhattan’s parishes, slipping in attendance, also appear to be experiencing a major downsizing.

Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas seem to be bucking this trend. This may be in part due to their high number of single-family homes. Or it may be one of the unintended consequences of a sprawled, multipolar city as people seek a center in a place without one.

This trend is even further advanced in Europe’s shrinking cities, where religion is now largely a matter of preserving the past as a tourist friendly museum piece. There, religious schools (except Muslim ones) are closing, while churches are converted to, among other things, discos, yuppie apartments and even carpet stores.

In both the old industrial bastions and the yuppie ephemeral cities, the waning of religious institutions signals a deep decline in civic culture, in part driven by the loss of the middle- and working-class families that once filled the pews. Whether the decline of religion is a primary cause or an effect can be debated, but certainly the erosion of spiritual centers — and the sustaining power of religious institutions for the sense of community — has contributed to the loss of population and, in particular, families in most of these cities.

Longer Term Implications

The interrelationship of the overall health of cities and religion should be a centerpiece in discussion of the urban future. Both sides of the political debate have politicized much of this.

Conservatives and many Republicans believe that churches could fulfill the needs of the poor and address deep-seated urban concerns better than public policy and government money. To some in the religious right, the city itself is seen as inherently evil and hardly worth the trouble of the divinely anointed.

Many liberals, on the other hand, fear that raising the role of religion in civic life suggests aligning with a kind of right-wing conspiracy. They consign religion, like suburbia, to the toolbox of the hated Bush, Rove and Cheney bogeymen, the secularist left’s satanic trinity.

On a policy level, liberal commitment to secularism is reflected in the anti-religious jihads conducted by groups like the ACLU. In Los Angeles, this was evidenced recently in the recent, ill-advised removal of an offending mission cross from the Los Angeles County Seal.

Yet in reality, it is difficult to pin a particular political cast on Los Angeles’ renewed religiosity. For one thing, the growth of affiliation in Los Angeles does not completely mirror national trends, which have tended to favor conservatives.

In Los Angeles, theologically and politically conservative groups like the Southern Baptists are losing ground just as badly as their more liberal Episcopalian, Methodist and Presbyterian counterparts.

The religious growth comes here instead from very diverse quarters. Certainly the charismatic churches and the Assemblies of God, both of whom appeal to immigrants, have grown handily. But the big winners have been among the oldest religions, including the Catholics, whose numbers swelled by some 800,000 in the 1990s, and, surprisingly, the Jews who picked up more than 60,000 adherents. Much of this is due to the growing immigrant populations.

In sum, Los Angeles’ religious revival reflects not right-wing politics but a city that is demographically changing and vital. In fact, the big gains among many Jewish congregations — outside of the Orthodox and Sephardim — and Catholic parishes may well be more liberal than conservative in their orientation, at least on some issues.

“Jews in the past have thrown out the baby with the bath water,” observed Temple Israel’s Rosove. “You have a reaction against religion that sees it as oppressive.”

The instinctive anti-religious notion, Rosove believes, is beginning to fade, at least among some Jews. More, he said, focus less on narrow political categories and more on larger issues of family, morality and spirituality.

Yet none of this insures that Los Angeles’ religious communities will continue to expand in numbers. Diamond suggested we might focus more on the “qualitative” as opposed to “quantitative” aspects of this shift. He looks to a growing core of committed Jews, as well as people from other faiths, as having the greatest long-term effects on the health of both religious institutions and the city itself.

Healthy, dynamic religious institutions, outside of the intolerant fringes, suggest a unique and enduring form of commitment far more lasting than that offered by companies or political organizations. There are also sure signs that families — and multigenerational communities — can continue to be nurtured in an urban environment.

Far more than celebrity architect creations or fancy museums celebrated by our civic elites, these new patterns of commitment represent the real hope of Los Angeles’ future. It is they who provide the clearest sign that ours can still become ever more a City of Angels.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of “The City: A Global History” (Modern Library 2005).


Jewish Life Blooms at Christian College

From different points along the ever-ascending road up this Malibu hillside, the beckoning ocean, the preternaturally landscaped lawn and the roughly rounded mountains peek through the three-story cross that has been punched out of a solid obelisk.

The breathtaking beauty of Pepperdine University inspires spirituality, surely not unintentional for the founders of this 67-year-old Churches of Christ institution, where instilling moral values based on a love of God is as much a part of the mission as academic excellence.

At the very top of the tiered campus is Pepperdine’s School of Law. On its top floor is the office of Sam Levine, an associate professor of law who happens to be an Orthodox rabbi at the nexus of quietly flourishing Jewish community in the middle of a Christian university.

"I think practicing religion is more natural in this type of setting," said Levine, a 36-year-old New Jersey native who moved to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood two years ago with his wife and two small children. "They understand religion and respect religion."

Levine’s hiring seems to be part of a conscious effort in the past few years to make the university more diverse, in part by building up the Jewish faculty and fostering inclusiveness for Jewish students.

"On the one hand we are not narrow and doctrinaire, but on the other hand we do care about our faith mission and we represent ourselves as a Christian university," Provost Darryl Tippens said. "That raises interesting questions of where people of other faiths fit into the institution, and we’re saying they do fit in."

Faculty and students attest to the spirit of warmth and welcoming that characterizes Pepperdine and its willingness to accommodate Jews, whether it is by scheduling meetings and events around Jewish holidays, not calling on first-year law students the day after Yom Kippur or procuring kosher food.

On a deeper level, Jewish insights and ideas are often sought out in the classroom, meetings and conferences, enriching the religious conversation that is central to the school’s mission.

"I think the key to Pepperdine is that it is such a religious school that they really honor people who come in from other traditions," said Laurie Buchan, the only other self-identified Jewish faculty member at the law school, who organized a mock seder with the Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA).

It hasn’t always been this comfortable for Jews here.

"My impression was that Pepperdine was strictly Christian and that other points of view were not going to be welcome, and that was how I lived my first year," said Nancy Harding, who came to work at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) in 2000.

That changed for Harding when a new dean took over GSEP, eventually initiating a diversity task force. About a year before that, new president Andrew Benton had made diversity a stated goal.

Even with these advances, being a Jew at Pepperdine can be internally dissonant.

Undergrads, including the estimated 30 or 40 Jewish students, are expected to regularly attend convocations, and religious classes are part of the core requirements. While graduate students (there are roughly 300 Jewish students in Pepperdine’s four schools) do not have religious requirements, attending any number of Bible study groups at faculty’s homes can heighten a student’s visibility.

Levine and other faculty and students say no one has tried to proselytize or confront them in a hostile way.

Levine has become the unofficial rabbi of Pepperdine. Jewish students often come to him for counseling, and faculty members consult with him on Jewish law and Tanach. Levine has declined invitations to offer opening prayers at meetings, but has delivered a devotional — basically, a d’var Torah — at a faculty seminar. Even the provost had Levine review a speech on the Bible.

Levine’s class in Jewish law and his extracurricular weekly Torah study classes are attended by Jews and a fair number of non-Jews.

The Torah study was started last year by Bob Hull, a 35-year-old first-year student inspired by the Bible study going on around him. Now, he brings in a borrowed stack of Bibles and kosher Krispy Kremes every week.

Hull said the prevalence of religion at Pepperdine makes him feel at home.

"An invocation at the front of a meeting or get together really informs it as a moment of reflection and spiritual connection," he said.

Emily Berg, a Reform rabbi’s daughter and a JLSA leader, said her connection to Judaism has become stronger while at Pepperdine.

"Before, Judaism was something I did and I removed it from the rest of my life. The Jewish community at Pepperdine really lets you bring it out and incorporate it into your life," said Berg, who has helped build the JSLA from 15 students to about 40.

The visible Jewish presence of JSLA and Levine has had a deeper influence as well.

When Bob Cochran, director of the law school’s Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics, puts together conferences, he always includes Jewish scholars, who, Cochran says, "are our religious cousins."

Cochran also includes in the brochures a "Note to our Jewish Colleagues," stating that lectures on Saturday are kept philosophical in honor of Shabbat, and pointing to local synagogues and the availability of kosher food.

Berg sees accommodations such as this as the core of Pepperdine’s identity.

"Pepperdine is a place for people who believe in something more than just themselves — whether it is religion or the law — people who subscribe to the idea of community and to contributing to more than just your own well being," she said. "They are going to make it a welcoming place for anybody who shares that idea."

Parents Don’t Kid About Day Schools

After extensive research, campus tours, a detailed application and an interview, Aidan Buckner was recently accepted into the school of his choice. While his parents may have done the legwork, it is Aidan who will enter kindergarten at the Ronald and Trana Labowe Family Day School at Adat Ari El in Valley Village this fall. The 5 1/2-year-old seems unfazed by the upcoming transition, but for his parents, the news marks the end of a long journey.

“We put Aidan on the wait list at Adat Ari El and Valley Beth Shalom when we moved [to Sherman Oaks] when he was 1 1¼2,” remembers Denise Buckner, Aidan’s mom. Since that time, Buckner has gone to numerous day school open houses over the years, sat in on classes and spent countless hours making school-related phone calls.

“I [visited the schools] every year because I felt every year I learned more about who my son was and what kind of person he was,” Buckner said.

Like many Jewish parents in the Southland, Buckner knew she wanted her child to attend Jewish day school, but the process of selecting a school and getting in proved nerve-wracking at times.

With the shaky reputation of local public schools around Los Angeles, many families look to day schools for a solid education. While Jewish schools are eager to accommodate young students, class size limits can make the process feel cutthroat.

Samara Fabrick, a licensed clinical social worker on the Westside, remembers the competitive vibe she felt last year when looking at schools for her 6-year-old son Zachary.

“I kept having to remind myself that we’re not talking about Columbia. We’re not talking about Tufts. This is kindergarten,” said Fabrick, whose son now attends the Geri and Richard Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

While her son was accepted to both schools where the family applied, Fabrick’s worries were not completely unfounded, as many schools cannot take every applicant.

“We have only 40 spaces [for kindergarten] and this year we had over 80 applications,” said Maxine Keith, the assistant head of school and director of admissions at Whilshire Boulevard’s Brawerman Elementary.

In addition, since siblings of current students and children from Wilshire’s preschool have priority, it is clear that not everyone is a shoo-in.

Psychologist Lisa Lainer recalls the stress of waiting to see if her daughter, Sophie, now 6, got accepted to Sinai Akiba Academy at Sinai Temple last year. Even through Sophie attended Sinai’s preschool, more preschoolers than there were available spots in the day school kindergarten program that year.

“In part, we felt confident that she’d get in, but then there’s there anxiety of ‘What if I’m wrong?'” Lainer said.

For the Reform and Conservative day schools in Los Angeles, applications are usually due in December and the admissions decision letters usually go out in March. For the Orthodox day schools, admissions are on a rolling basis and most students enter in preschool rather than kindergarten. At Maimonides Academy about 80 percent to 90 percent of the students come through the early childhood program. “We sometimes tell parents to make sure they get in on the preschool level because the classes are jampacked and may be closed by the time pre-one rolls around,” principal Rabbi Karmi Gross said.

Even though many day schools continue to fill up quickly, there is actually a decline in the number of Jewish children in the United States. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, only 20 percent of the U.S. Jewish population is 18 and younger, a number that has decreased in the last 10 years. As a result, the number of kindergartners in Los Angeles Jewish day schools has decreased over the last few years, as well.

While getting in can be anxiety-provoking, parents seem to feel the stress is worth it in the end.

“I’m exceedingly happy,” Fabrick said. “We made a great choice and Zach is getting a great education.”

Buckner is excited for Aidan to start kindergarten in September.

“I’m hoping that going to a values-based school is going to change who my son is for the better,” she said.

L.A.’s ‘New Jew’ Hits First Birthday

In the Valley suburb of West Hills, a small bit of history is being made: It’s home to the first and only all-Jewish lacrosse team at any school in the country. The sport’s newest fans are the ninth-grade boys at the New Community Jewish High School (NCJH).

When history teacher Neil Kramer signed on as part of the new faculty, he doubted he’d have a chance to coach the sport at a small start-up school.

“But remarkably, out of the 20 boys we had, 16 of them signed up,” he told The Journal.

Lacrosse is just one example of this kind of can-do enthusiasm at NCJH (or “New Jew,” as it has been dubbed), which is headed by educator Bruce Powell and currently housed at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus.

One hears a lot about this adventurousness of spirit during a visit to the “New Jew” campus.

After years working at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, Milken Community High School and as a national consultant, Powell said of his student body, “These kids are unique. Many of them could have gotten into any private school they wanted to, but they chose to come do something completely new. This is a lively, gutsy class. The idea that they could be pioneers, this really appealed to them.”

Powell said that a girl came to his office to request a photography elective. “I said, ‘Fine, what are you going to do about it?’ She handed me a sheet with a dozen names she had collected of other interested kids.”

Now they have photographer Bill Aron as a faculty member for spring semester.

Students share the feeling.

Shira Shane said that the kids are great, and they’re from “all different backgrounds,” but what she liked most about her new school is the teachers, because the students are close with them and the teachers provide unique learning experiences.

“In honors’ biology we went to the UCLA Medical Center. I had never really thought in-depth about science before. I didn’t know I’d be any good at it. Now I love it,” Shane said.

Powell said a supportive board was critical for attracting an exceptional faculty. Twenty-something wunderkind Lisa Ansell, a Harvard graduate who heads up the language department, is fluent in Hebrew, French, Spanish and three Arabic dialects, and is proficient in Farsi, Russian, Portuguese and Turkish.

Kramer holds a doctorate in history and has wide-ranging experience at exclusive private schools and Jewish communal institutions.

Rabbi David Vorspan, the Jewish studies director and “rabbi-in-residence,” has an impressive track record as both a pulpit rabbi and an academic. The rest of the faculty is equally seasoned.

Like the students, the teachers seem jazzed about building a fresh school from scratch. During a recent class discussion, kids expressed impatience with homelessness, declaring that they didn’t understand how anyone could be unable to get off the street. The next day, Vorspan brought in a homeless — and Jewish — mother and son he was acquainted with to speak to the kids about their struggles. The students were riveted. After that visit, the kids flooded the school with donated items they wanted to pass along to the family.

“One boy came up to me,” Powell said, “and told me, ‘I have $65 dollars that is just burning a hole in my pocket. I really want to give it to them.'”

This is a unique chance to have an effect on the students, Vorspan said. “We see each other every day. They come to my house for Shabbat dinner. I have the real opportunity to be a role model.”

Sina Monjazeb, the school’s athletic director, came from the public school system. “Until now, I have never been in a job where I feel guilty coming to work every day because it’s such a pleasure, but that’s how much I love it here,” he said. “We don’t stop teaching values when we get to the playing field.”

Kramer praised his fellow faculty members as inspired by common values, vision and a high degree of “kid-centeredness,” noting that “I’ve never seen anything like it before in the 26 years I’ve been doing this.” Too often, he said, parents mistakenly look at the wrong things, like the flashiness of the campus, the number of AP courses, or how many “greeters in cashmere and pearls are posted at the door [during open house]. School is about the humans,” he said. “Look at the faculty.”

His advice to parents is to avoid the list of stock questions that he dismisses as “catalog information,” and instead, to ask teachers the kind of things that will prompt a story.

Teacher morale is one measure of success. Powell will continue to augment his staff, and is adding a college adviser next year. Another test is retaining students and attracting new ones. Here, too, results are positive. With the first class of 40 heading into 10th grade, a new class of ninth-graders will double the population next September. Ultimately, Powell said, he’d like the school to top out at a maximum of 400 kids, 100 students per grade.

But growth, he insists, will not be at the expense of the school’s soul.

“The beauty of starting a school is that you put together a good culture from the get-go, and then you don’t become complacent,” he said. Part of that culture is a strong values education, or what Powell likes to call “Advanced Placement kindness.” Another part is not turning away families who can’t afford the full tuition.

West Hills parent Bob Goldrich is a case in point. He and his wife originally dismissed private high school for their son, Michael, as out of their financial range.

“We were going to move to the El Camino Real school district,” Goldrich said. “But they made it affordable for us to send our son here, and now I can’t imagine him anywhere else.”

Jews Embrace Life in the Conejo Valley

It took me 15 years of living on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley to find what I was looking for — a Jewish lifestyle in Los Angeles fit for my family.

It has been seven years — although it seems a lot longer — since my family and I moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Conejo Valley. The Conejo Valley stretches from the hills of Calabasas in the West San Fernando Valley to the Camarillo grade, encompassing the cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park. It is part L.A. County and part Ventura County.

This area of Los Angeles is not that well-known by Jews on the Westside, but year after year, more and more Jews are migrating westward. Starting in Boyle Heights, then through Fairfax, Beverly Hills, the Westside and into the San Fernando Valley, Jews in Los Angeles have left a trail steeped in tradition, success and community involvement. And, now, as this westward migration continues through Woodland Hills and West Hills and into Calabasas and the Conejo Valley, we expect nothing less from our Jewish leadership.

At last count the Conejo Valley has two Reform temples, two Conservative temples, one modern Orthodox synagogue, five Chabad houses and a Jewish day school, a small JCC/preschool, a kosher makolet (grocery store), a glatt kosher pizza place, a glatt kosher restaurant and a Judaica store. A kosher bakery is on the way. If you’re a Reconstructionist, you will be accommodated with a 10-minute drive over the hill into Malibu. (We joined Temple Beth Haverim, a small temple in Agoura Hills housed in an industrial park that used to rent classrooms at the local public elementary school for Hebrew school. It turned out that, after school, at least five kids in my eldest son’s public school class walk down the hall into his Hebrew school class.)

Many Jewish organizations are now focusing their efforts on the West Valley and Conejo Valley. These organizations include some of Hadassah fastest-growing groups, the New Community Jewish High School located at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, and the Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills. Heschel West Day School — now located in a temporary location in Agoura Hills — is looking forward to moving into its new location, also located in Agoura Hills, the land for which has already been purchased.

The largest contingent of Los Angeles Hebrew High School this past year has come from the Conejo Valley (including Calabasas and parts West), accounting for more than 200 of the 500 students. So it is not surprising that next year’s Sunday campus of Hebrew High will be at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where they will have almost one-third more classrooms than their current home at the University of Judaism. Hebrew High will be busing the students from the Westside.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles conducted an extensive study in the early ’90s showing that the Conejo Valley is one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country. They could have saved some money by asking me. Living here, you really feel the migration of Jews to the area. You see the “for sale” sign going up around the corner. Then, a month later, you see the moving trucks, only to be followed days later by the comforting appearance of the mezuzah.

My family and I moved to the Conejo Valley for the typical reasons: safer neighborhoods, better schools and, yes, to be around other Jews like us. I consider that move to be the best thing I have done for my family. I have never met anyone who has made the move who regrets it. Yes, for those who work in downtown Los Angeles, it’s a bit of a shlep, but the rewards outweigh any of the downsides, by far.

On the behalf of the extended Jewish family of the Conejo Valley, I invite you to come join us in celebrating Jewish life and values in this thriving Jewish area called the Conejo Valley.

Peter Fehler is vice president of communications at Temple Beth Haverim and can be reached at communications@templebethhaverim.org.

Center Construction Moves Ahead Despite Shortfall

Though Irvine’s Samueli Jewish Campus is $2 million short of $20 million required to finish a community building, the project’s supporters are moving ahead to avoid the potential costs of delay.

Permits for the 123,000-square-foot building adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School were issued in March.

"We’re moving ahead as originally scheduled," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who is leading fundraising. In a communitywide appeal in May 2002, he promised a fiscally conservative stance: construction would start when financial goals were met.

"If it weren’t for potentially inflationary pressure, we wouldn’t have started," he said last month.

Waiting for the till to fill would incur extra costs from disbanding the building’s construction team, an expected hike in steel prices and bid escalation due to a predicted surge of postwar construction, Stern said. Known costs alone amounted to $500,000, said Irving M. Chase, of Irvine, a member of the capital campaign committee.

"This is one way to protect the bids we had," Stern said.

Adequate funds have been pledged for the $6.5 million first phase, which includes grading, utilities, a foundation and steel-support structure. Stern hopes to raise the remainder by July, as the initial construction nears completion.

An anonymous donor and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli provided two-thirds of the project’s total $60 million cost. Jewish agencies now in Costa Mesa anticipate relocating next spring.

Reality For Campus Ills

During the past year, if you were to mention the campus to anyone involved in Jewish life, you would surely elicit a response that was a mixture of anxiety, contempt and anger.

Headlines screamed with assertions that our universities were hotbeds of anti-Semitism and that Jewish students were front-line troops in a war to defend Israel. San Francisco State, Berkeley and Concordia — all of them scenes of belligerence, hateful expression and anti-Jewish violence — became code words denoting the rise of a vicious strain of worldwide anti-Semitic bigotry.

In fact, the events at these institutions appear to have revived the dormant anti-anti-Semitism industry and infused Jewish survivalists with new vitality and with a dose of ethnic pride. The message that these survivalists are disseminating is that we are a community in peril, that the college campus is an intimidating environment for young Jews and that the very survival of Israel is at stake.

But most campus professionals, who are certainly disturbed by the well-publicized anti-Jewish confrontations at a handful of particularly volatile universities, see little evidence of a widespread increase in anti-Semitism at their institutions. In fact, the most recent Anti-Defamation League survey (June 2002) supports this perception statistically with its finding that "anti-Semitism on college campuses is virtually non-existent" (3 percent of college undergraduates are in the most anti-Semitic category, as compared to 17 percent of the national population).

It turns out that contrary to the dominant dogma, "tolerance is more prevalent on college campuses than elsewhere in America."

However, the perception of Jewish students is that they are being victimized, and, notwithstanding the above analysis, their sense of siege requires strategic responses. So, what can be done to improve the atmosphere and buttress the position of Israel supporters on campus?

1. Sponsor speakers who offer healing messages of hope and coexistence, rather than contentious polemicists who project a future of hopelessness and endless confrontation. It is especially important that we maintain our focus on the ultimate goal — peace — and that we consistently affirm that the citizens of Israel are willing to accept a two-state compromise, but that there is no partner in our quest.

Furthermore, it is vital to admit our mistakes and engage in genuine self-criticism. Remember, it is our capacity to recognize our flaws that is one of the keys to our creative survival as a people. What’s more, if you are always right, you lose.

2. Build coalitions with moderate Arabs and Muslims. What is entirely missing from the agenda of the advocacy experts, who represent various communal agencies, is a program for nurturing campus coexistence. This is absolutely vital for the well-being of Jews, Arabs and Muslims, the entire campus community and for the social and political future of America.

My experience has taught me that the vast majority of Arab and Muslim students do not wish to pursue a path of discord and conflict and if approached in a sensitive manner, will agree to enter a dialogue. We simply have to learn how to break through the artificial wall of separation that prevails.

As a result of our efforts at UCLA, we successfully organized a course that was co-taught by myself and a Palestinian graduate student titled, "Voices of Peace: Perspectives on Confrontation and Reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli Conflict."

Just recently, we held the second annual Ramadan break-the-fast, co-sponsored by Hillel, the Progressive Jewish Student Alliance and the Muslim Student Association. One could argue that these activities have contributed to the relative calm at UCLA.

3. Raise funds to endow academic chairs, programs and graduate fellowships in Israel studies. By far, the most important long-term proposal that I can suggest is creating professorships in the field of Israel studies. This addresses an essential educational lacuna, or gap, at our universities that has been generated, to a large extent, by the chilling impact of Edward Said’s polemics on Middle East Studies programs.

There are few institutions that can boast of a Middle East scholar whose sympathies lie with Israel. Such scholarly appointments will not only engender academic balance, but will provide a permanent presence on campus of an instructor who will contribute to the public discourse regarding the conflict, who will function as a resource to colleagues and to students and who, as a regular member of the faculty, will touch the lives and influence the minds of countless number of students by introducing a positive educational approach to the subject.

This is a far more effective utilization of our scarce funds than the current rush by the survivalists to produce propaganda brochures of questionable utility. This is the priority.

Returning to the Ramadan program, what was most moving was that a Jewish participant stood before the crowd of 100 Muslim and Jewish students and faculty and read a poem advocating peace in Arabic, while a Muslim student read a prayer for peace in Hebrew.

When I told the Muslim representative that the prayer had been adapted by Abraham Joshua Heschel, he said, "That’s amazing! I read everything written by Heschel that I can find."

And I thought to myself: "Only on campus."

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is director of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA and an instructor in sociology and Jewish studies at UCLA.

World Briefs

Princeton, MIT Professors Win Nobels

A professor with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship is sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences. Daniel Kahneman, 68, based at Princeton University, is sharing the roughly $1 million prize with professor Vernon Smith, 75, of George Mason University. They were given the award for their work using psychological research and laboratory experiments in economic analysis. On Monday, H. Robert Horvitz, a professor at MIT, was announced as one of three winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Israel Dismantles Three Settler

Israeli soldiers dismantled three uninhabited settler outposts in the West Bank. Wednesday’s move came after Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer pledged to remove all illegal enclaves, including populated ones. The head of the army’s Central Command on Wednesday presented settler leaders with a list of some 24 outposts due to be dismantled within a week, Israel Radio reported. Settlers asked to be allowed to appeal before steps are taken, according to the report. On Tuesday, settler leaders accused Ben-Eliezer of targeting the outposts for political reasons. His detractors allege that his stance on the outposts was taken in an effort to win votes from the dovish wing of the party as he fights for reelection as Labor Party leader in November.

Israel Transfers Funds to Palestinian

Israel transferred nearly $15 million in tax money to the Palestinian Authority. The money was the third and final payment of Israel’s promised transfer of some $42 million in tax revenues that Israel had refused to turn over to the Palestinian Authority since the outbreak of the intifada two years ago. The latest transfer was approved following U.S. pressure on Israel to ease the economic hardships of the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.

Students Sue Mich. U

Two students sued the University of Michigan for hosting a Palestinian solidarity conference. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, is intended to force the university to cancel the conference, slated for this weekend, on the grounds that it “violates free speech by inciting hatred against Americans and Jews,” according to Rick Dorfman. Plaintiffs Dorfman and Adi Neuman head the Michigan Student Zionists campus group, which is supported by Aish HaTorah, the Zionist Organization of America and Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha.

Israel to Close Fuel Depot

Israel’s central fuel depot, a feared target of mega-terror attacks, is to be closed by January. Infrastructure Minister Efraim Eitam decided in consultations Oct. 2 with the director general of the Pi Glilot facility that the fuel stored there would be moved to other installations around the country. Pi Glilot is located near densely populated areas north of Tel Aviv. An attempt earlier this year to carry out an attack at the site failed when a bomb planted beneath a tanker caused only a small fire.

Two Israeli Women on Fortune List

Two Israelis have been included in a list of the most powerful women in business. Bank Leumi President and CEO Galia Maor and Strauss-Elite Group chair Ofra Strauss-Lahat made Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business list, to appear in the Oct. 14 issue. Maor was ranked 34th, while Strauss-Lahat placed 46th on the list of 50 women.

Crown Heights Riots Retrial Likely

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for a third trial stemming from the 1991 Crown Heights riots. The high court decided this week not to consider a defense request to throw out charges against Lemrick Nelson stemming from the riots in Brooklyn. During those riots, Yankel Rosenbaum, a Chasidic man, was fatally stabbed during violence that followed the death of Gavin Cato, an African American child hit by a car in a Chasidic motorcade. In January, after an appeals court overturned the convictions of Nelson and Charles Price for civil rights violations in the 1991 murder of Rosenbaum, citing technicalities, the Anti-Defamation League wrote the Justice Department to continue the case. The department’s civil rights division subsequently affirmed the office’s commitment to “continue to pursue meaningful and serious punishment” against Nelson. Price struck a plea bargain in April for 11 years and eight months in prison, but Nelson’s case is still pending.

Y.U. Bequest Now Worth $36 Million

Yeshiva University plans to begin awarding scholarships from a multimillion dollar bequest to the school. The scholarship and loan fund was created after Anne Scheiber, a retired New York civil servant, left $22 million to the school when she died in 1995. The bequest was invested during extended probate hearings and is now worth $36 million. Beginning with the current academic year, students enrolled in Y.U.’s Stern College for Women and those attending the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who previously graduated from Stern will be eligible for the scholarship.

Report Slams Publisher’s Wartime Past

German media giant Bertelsmann used Jewish slave labor and made large profits by selling millions of anti-Semitic books during the Nazi era, according to a commission set up by the firm. The commission also said in a report issued Monday that the longtime company contention that it was a victim of the Nazis was a lie. According to the commision, the Nazis closed the firm in 1944, but probably because the Nazis’ own publishing house wanted to kill off competition, not because of any subversive texts published by Bertelsmann. When Bertelsmann became America’s biggest book publisher by acquiring Random House in 1998, it had said it was prosecuted by the Nazis for its theological works. Accepting the report, the company immediately issued a statement expressing regret for its wartime activities and for subsequent inaccuracies in its corporate history.

Campus Anti-Semitism Blasted

Hundreds of college presidents blasted anti-Semitism on college campuses in a New York Times ad that appeared Monday. Spearheaded by the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Task Force on Anti-Semitism, the statement was created in response to campus activism on the Middle East that in some cases has veered into overt anti-Semitism.

The letter was initiated by James Freedman, former president of Dartmouth College and chair of the AJC’s Domestic Policy Commission. It follows a September speech by Harvard University’s president in which he said that some activities of the campus anti-Israel movement are anti-Semitic.

Musicians on Solidarity Tour

Three American musicians arrived in Israel on a solidarity tour sponsored by the United Jewish Communities. The “Gift to Israel” tour was organized in response to reports that international artists were avoiding appearances in Israel because of the security situation. Andy Statman, Peter Himmelman and Steve Hancoff were due to team up with Israeli musicians in a series of performances around the country.

Lanner Plans to Appeal Conviction

Rabbi Baruch Lanner plans to appeal his conviction for sexually abusing two teenage girls. Lanner, 52, was sentenced last Friday to seven years in prison for fondling the two students between 1992 and 1996, when he was their principal at the Hillel High School in Ocean Township, N.J. The judge denied Lanner’s request for a new trial and for bail pending appeal of the sentence, instead ordering him to prison.

Museum to Act on Artwork Claim

The British Museum said it may return four Old Masters drawings seized from a Jewish collector by the Nazis during World War II.

According to surviving family members, the 16th- and 18th-century drawings were part of the collection of Dr. Arthur Feldmann, a Czech citizen who died during the Holocaust.

Feldmann’s family has spent years searching for his collection of more than 750 drawings, which was seized by the Gestapo.

On Oct. 2, The museum called the family’s claim “detailed” and “compelling,” according to Reuters. A spokeswoman for the museum said the works may be returned to the family, or they will be paid compensation.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.