Cool Jews on Campus


College can be a time for Jewish students to further explore their Judaism — religiously, socially and politically. The following is a compilation of resources available to Jewish students and a summary of what these groups are doing on campus.

UCLA

UCLA is the largest college campus in Los Angeles, with a Jewish population of about 3,000 students, constituting 7 percent of the student body. The largest Jewish group at UCLA is Hillel, which offers a range of student activity from Shabbat services to political advocacy and social action.

UCLA’S Hillel has been in existence for more than 65 years. This year, Hillel is expanding greatly and has hired many new leaders in order to cater to the very diverse Jewish population on campus and in anticipation of Hillel’s move to a new building, the Hillel Center for Jewish Student Life.

Uri and Julie Goldstein, new to Hillel, will become religious leaders, organizing programs and leading services for Orthodox students on campus, in addition to the programs led by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Hillel director.

This year, Hillel at UCLA has become one of only eight Tzedek campuses, meaning it has been given a $10,000 grant to get involved in the entire community of Los Angeles through social action and community service. Tzedek had its kickoff fair this month, when organizations from around the city came to educate students and help them become politically aware.

“Our goal is to transform Hillel into a social service and political advocacy center on campus,” said Rabbi Mychal Rosenbaum, Hillel’s associate director for Jewish student life.

Hillel at UCLA is also the umbrella organization for many student-led groups on campus, including Bruins for Israel, which will be educating other students about Israel and combating anti-Zionist sentiment on campus. Bruins for Israel is currently planning a weeklong campaign called Pro-Israel week, to provide information about Israel’s history.

University of Southern California

There are about 1,500 Jewish undergrads at USC, representing between 8 and 10 percent of the undergraduate student body. Hillel at USC serves as the only Jewish group on campus, having incorporated all other groups into it a few years ago. Services there are led by Rabbi Jonathan Klein. Hillel sponsors 13 student groups in a roundtable, each chaired by someone on the Hillel student board. These groups include ones for students interested in theater, a capella singing, social action and Jewish films. There is a group for freshmen; for Persian students; a Greek group for Jews within the Greek system; a pro-Israel advocacy group, the progressive Jewish Student Alliance, and groups for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox students.

A week after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., USC Hillel was part of an interfaith service held in the middle of campus. Jewish students at the service raised over $1,600 for relief funds.

The Israel advocacy group, which is associated with AIPAC, is working to educate students about Israel and help them become more politically aware. “Students are not educated enough to combat anti-Israel sentiment,” said Matt Davidson, associate director. “We need to educate students and become more proactive, as opposed to reactive.”

CSUN

At CSUN, 8 percent of the student body, or 3,500 students, are Jewish. CSUN’s main Jewish group is Hillel. This year CSUN’s Hillel has become a Hamagshimim (fulfillment) organization, meaning it has received funding from Hadassah for the purpose of Israel programming. With this money, Hillel sponsors a monthly Israel culture night and has begun a student political advocacy group called SIPAC, or Student Israeli Public Affairs Committee, which is attempting to raise the political awareness on CSUN’s traditionally apolitical campus. SIPAC recently held a forum on the Sept. 11 attacks and how they affect Israel.

CSUN Hillel also offers Shabbat dinner and services, led by Rabbi Jordan Goldson, at least three times a month, and maintains a Rosh Chodesh group and a group for freshmen.

Cover Story


The recent revelations about the South OrangeCounty Community College District’s desire to offer a course that, inpart, blames the Mossad and the Anti-Defamation League for theassassination of President John F. Kennedy read something like a badclipping from the area’s far-right past.

Even as the county continues to emerge as anincreasingly cosmopolitan, high-tech region, it appears that theregressive gene, with its racist and anti-Semitic characteristics,remains all too embedded in the county’s public policy. Despite thecancellation of the course (due to various outside pressures), theelected head of the board of trustees, Steven T. Frogue, continues tospew out the right-wing conspiratorial line, which, in other parts ofSouthern California, has thankfully receded into history.

Indeed, despite rapid demographic and economicchange, the county still is bedeviled with a significant, highlyvisible group of people whose views seem more in line with the MiddleAges than the Information Age. Of course, such views do not representanything like a majority in Orange County, notes UC Irvine’s MarcBaldassare, the region’s leading pollster. By his estimation, no morethan 20 percent of Orange County residents share the kind of”hard-right” politics that produces leaders such as Frogue. Evenwithin the Republican Party, Baldassare believes, the vast majoritytend more toward a libertarian, fiscally conservative but sociallymoderate philosophy.

“The whole right-wing social agenda, ‘familyvalues’ thing does not play well here,” Baldassare says, noting thatin the 1996 elections, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole wononly 50 percent of the Orange County vote and moderate DemocratLoretta Sanchez upset far-right (but not anti-Semitic) incumbentCongressman Bob Dornan. “I don’t think there’s a vast undercurrent ofracism or anti-Semitism here at all. That conflicts with theprevailing sense of personal rights and responsibility.”

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of University Synagogue inIrvine essentially shares these views, suggesting that the region’sJewish community, estimated to be between 70,000 and 100,000 strong,has little to fear from anti-Semitism from its non-Jewishneighbors.

Life in Orange County may be plagued by a kind of”Stepford Wives” suburbanite conformity, but not by rabidanti-Semitism. “People like Frogue are exceptional,” Rachlis says.”When you go out to soccer practice, it’s white, Gentile andconservative, but not a bunch of Birchers and skinheads.”

Perhaps so, but having Frogue entrenched as anelected official still should give pause to Jews in Orange County andthroughout Southern California. For one thing, Frogue’s anti-Semiticpolitics are not a new development on the other side of the OrangeCurtain.

Since the 1920s, racist, anti-Semitic and nativistsentiments have surfaced repeatedly in Orange County politics.Indeed, back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan gainedpolitical power in cities such as Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea and LaHabra; the rabidly anti-Semitic group was hardly on the fringe. Asone scholar noted later, most Klansmen were considered “civicallyactive, substantial citizens.”

Nor did the extremist element die with the demiseof the Klan in the 1930s. Although Jews, African-Americans andAsian-Americans were only a tiny proportion of the county’spopulation — itself nearly 75 percent white Protestant — the racistculture continued to exist in Orange County’s fertile soil. Into the1960s, extreme right-wing politicians, such as James B. Utt,represented the southern end of the county, even proposing aconstitutional amendment that called for official recognition of “theauthority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations.” TheJohn Birch Society also found its strongest California base in OrangeCounty.

As the county grew in population and economicpower, far-right anti-Semitic and racist elements still found succorwithin prominent institutions, such as Knott’s Berry Farm. In thiscase, recalls marketing consultant Bob Kelley, it may have been morea matter of indifference and ignorance than outright activeanti-Semitism. Walter Knott, Kelley says, was himself not ananti-Semite and even had Jewish secretaries, but he tolerated afundamentalist-run bookstore that openly sold anti-Jewish tracts.Eventually, Kelley and other advisers persuaded Knott to shut downthe bookstore.

But Kelley, my own longtime personal friend and aprominent adviser to many Orange County high-tech companies, believesthat the region is now at a crossroads between its far-right,intolerant past and a more cosmopolitan future. The bulk of OrangeCounty’s increasingly high-tech and trade-oriented businessleadership remains politically conservative but far from racist orexclusive. Indeed, Kelley points out, some of the county’s leadingbusiness figures — such as Quicksilver Software’s Bill Fisher,Westec’s Michael Kaye and Toshiba Information Systems’ Paul Wexler –are themselves Jews.

“In the high-tech and medical world that I dealwith, it’s pretty Jewish these days,” Kelley says. “In that world, Inever encounter anti-Semitism. But, sometimes, when I was dealingwith car dealers and with insurance brokers, well, some of themclearly came from wherever rednecks are minted.”

In other words, Kelley and other business leaderssuggest, Orange County’s new, and buoyant, economy, increasinglydominated by Asians and Latinos, has no room for bigots — even ifonly in its own self-interest. To compete for educated workers,capital and media attention against Silicon Valley or other high-techregions, Orange County must purge itself as much as possible of itsugly regressive genes. It may be blind optimism to believe this willhappen, but I’m betting that it will.

Joel Kotkin is the John M. Olin Fellow at thePepperdine Institute for Public Policy.