OPINION: Keep down the rates of student loans


Education is the key to success—a “silver bullet” for changing lives in all segments of society. An affordable, quality college education must be available to all, not just the wealthy.

Horace Mann, the renowned innovator in public education, said that “Education … beyond all other devices of human origin is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

This is why, as educators, we must do all we can to convince lawmakers in Washington that they must not allow the interest rate on millions of so-called Stafford loans to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That will happen automatically on July 1 if Congress fails to act. It would affect 7 million students nationwide—400,000 in New York alone—and raise costs by an average of $1,000 each, the White House says. Doubling loan rates would cost New York students and their families an estimated $419.7 million.

Student loan debt is among the vital issues facing young Americans today. It has reached more than $1 trillion—higher than the debt on credit cards and car loans. The average balance nationally is about $23,000.

President Obama is urging Congress to keep the interest rates low; his presumptive Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, agrees. The political fight in Congress seems to be over how to pay for it.

This crushing debt comes on top of tuition increases. Tuition and related expenses increased 400 percent in the 30 years between 1980 and 2010, while median family income rose just 150 percent in the same period.

As a college president, I know firsthand how important it is that something be worked out. We must educate our young people in order to have a productive workforce. Hampering higher education will ultimately lead to the decline of America as a world power. We cannot survive as a nation in the global marketplace without student loans at a reasonable rate.

A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that two-thirds of Americans feel there is too much disparity between the haves and have-nots in our country. In considering ways to narrow the income gap, one constant factor is the strong relationship between education and lifetime income.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that median weekly earnings for college graduates for the third quarter of 2011 was $1,152 per week, compared to $636 for high school graduates and $459 for those without a high school diploma. So one of the most important goals of higher education ought to be to provide our young people with a high-quality education based on merit rather than means.

Increasing the interest rate on student loans will only serve to make it more difficult for low- and middle-income students to receive a high-quality education that will ensure upward mobility.

It is the responsibility of those in leadership positions to help provide access to a good education for all sectors of our nation. We must help nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs, thinkers, innovators and business leaders who one day will make their mark in the global marketplace and fortify our country’s status as a world power.

Making college affordable is one way to do this. Holding down the interest rate on student loans is another.

Dr. Alan Kadish is the president and CEO of Touro College and University System.

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.

Collegians do the ‘Write Thing’ at GA


College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are
covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as
members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place
in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or
secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and
participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to
sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of
what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama
department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated
by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to “fulfillment,” explains New York-based fulfillment’
and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is
through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to
be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish
leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants
will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in
sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt,
publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor
of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in
the American Jewish Press.” Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops
with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the
agenda.

For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a
professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the
Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press
officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein,
who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a
producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of
writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by
Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The
Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved
to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who
were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam
says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT
confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and
personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is
nothing like it,” she says.

Students remind General Assembly they’ve got a lot to give, too


In 1969, a group of college students staged a protest at the premiere gathering of the organized Jewish community, demanding more say and more attention to issues that mattered to them — such as Soviet Jewry, Jewish identity and culture. They also wanted a younger voice to be heard within Jewish power structures.
 
The demonstrations and vocal disruptions at the Boston General Assembly — an annual gathering of federation and other communal leaders — lead to the formation of the North American Jewish Students Appeal, which was funded by federations until 1995.
Ever since then, students have been a part of the GA, which this year is taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center Nov. 12-15.
 
As it has for many years, Hillel — the international student organization that is supported in part by federations — will host 300 student delegates, many of them leaders on their campuses.
 
The students, who registered at a reduced rate, will participate in regular conference sessions and a Monday night program of film and interactive activities that will expose students to new approaches to building Jewish communities.
 
But Hillel is trying something new to expose even more students to the organized Jewish community — and to demonstrate to the community that students care.
 
On Sunday, Nov. 12, 1,000 college students from Southern California schools and from universities across the country, including GA participants, will be deployed across Los Angeles to do social justice work. They will lend a hand at more than 20 community service projects, such as the Beit T’Shuvah rehab residence, the Venice Family Clinic, the Midnight Mission and Heal the Bay. The program, called “Just for a Day,” will end with an exclusive concert by GUSTER and the LeeVees at the Henry Fonda Theater.

“We know that community service and social justice are the best ways of engaging students, so by doing that in conjunction with the GA we are letting the students know about the larger Jewish community,” said David Levy, director of the Los Angeles Hillel Council.

About 30 students are also participating through a journalism track called Do the Write Thing, sponsored by World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Press Association.

Student journalists get access to high-level politicians, publishers and editors, and this year will focus on Israel’s image in the media.
Many of the issues that faced students in 1969 still linger today — how to make the established community understand the desire for culture and identity, for spirituality, to get the oldsters to listen to the younger generation’s concerns.

And with today’s wired movers communicating and connecting in entirely different ways, cross-generational interface becomes even more challenging.

“This is a qualitatively different generation,” Levy said. “The whole way we organize is not the way they organize, and the pressures that used to be on students are not the same as they are now.”

Student identity has become more complex, as a generation raised by multitaskers comes of age.
 
“Students have multiple identities and multiple parts of their identities — like windows open on a computer screen. They have multiple windows open at one time — Israel, spirituality, social justice, being a sorority member. We need to give them an opportunity to connect through whichever window happens to be open at that moment, and working within one window can lead to others and strengthens them all,” Levy said.
 
That multipronged identity, and the desire for real-life community, carries through to college graduates as well, as young 20- and 30-somethings try to integrate into the Jewish community.
 
“The age of wine and cheese is over,” said Rhoda Weisman, director of Professional Leadership Project, which inspires and mentors young people for work in the Jewish community. “They are looking for a deep connection to the Jewish people — a meaningful connection. There is a search for spiritual depth and intellectual depth, and a very great need for community among them.”
 
About 100 competitively selected leaders in their 20s and 30s are part of Weisman’s Live Network, which every few weeks brings participants together at five regional hubs for seminars in leadership skills, Jewish content, case studies and personal development. The first cohort will soon begin year two, which will entail working with each other and experienced mentors to develop and follow through on a project.

At the GA, 10 participants in the Professional Leadership Project will be teamed up with seasoned Jewish communal leaders.
 
“The purpose is for them is to shadow some of the influential leaders, professional and volunteer, to learn about the inside workings of the Jewish community and to make connections for the future,” Weisman said.

The young leaders will also be filming a documentary, interviewing people of all ages at the GA about how the next generation of leaders can affect the community, and what sort of changes they can or should make. The film will be posted on the Web.

Mostly, Weisman hopes their presence will have an impact — both by allowing established leaders to dialogue with the up-and-comings, and by helping participants learn about existing organizations and structures to see where they can contribute.
 
“You can’t change things unless you already know what is happening,” Weisman said.
 
At the same time, she encourages the young leaders to integrate themselves into the existing community.
 
“Whether it’s by working with an established organization or creating a new one, you have to be connected to the greater Jewish community,” Weisman said.

For information, go to www.hillel.org, www.wzo.org.il/en/dtwt/ or www.jewishleaders.net
 

Keeping the SAT Drama to a Minimum


As if getting myself into college hadn’t been difficult enough, now I’m embarking on the adventure of navigating my son through the process. I call it an “adventure,” because it truly is nothing less — a roller-coaster ride fraught with sudden turns, unexpected pitfalls, one-mistake-and-you’re-doomed scenarios. I’m sure there’s a spine-tingling reality show possibility here, something between “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” and “Extreme Makeover: How to Survive Getting Your Kid Into College Without Getting Fired and Still Looking Fabulous.” You start with 20 Jewish mothers and see who’s not in therapy by the time acceptance letters arrive.

Luckily, I know plenty of moms who have treaded these waters before — many of my friends have kids who are already in college or at least thoroughly enmeshed in college entrance preparation.

“Are you signing Mickey up for the PSAT next month?” my friend Ginny asked. (Mickey is a high school sophomore).

“He just took a PSAT a few weeks ago,” I said.

“That was the practice PSAT,” Ginny explained.

“There’s a practice, practice PSAT?”

“No, a practice, practice SAT.”

“OK,” I got a pen and paper to draft a quick flowchart. “So, first they take a preliminary test to practice for the Practice-SAT.”

“That’s right! And then they’ll do better on the PSAT, which is important because that one counts.”

“But it’s just practice. What does it count for?”

“I don’t know, but it does. Or maybe it doesn’t. Well, it doesn’t now, but it will later.”

“Does he have to take it now?”

“No.”

“Then when would he take it?”

“In his junior year, right before the SAT. In fact, he probably should wait because he’ll do better on it next year after a year of practice.”

“Practicing what? He already took the practice PSAT. If he doesn’t take the PSAT, what’s he going to practice?” I ripped my flowchart into pieces.

“He’ll take a practice course at school.”

“He will?”

“Or you’ll get him a private SAT tutor.”

“I will?”

“If you want him to get into a good college….”

“Hold on,” I said. I stuffed three Oreos into my mouth and washed them down with cold coffee. My tentative grip on teenager management was about to come loose, sending me plunging into a deep chasm where all my accomplishments as a mother would wither, and my son’s life would unravel, because I couldn’t understand the structure of college entrance exam signups.

Ginny could hear the panic in my voice.

“Julie,” she said, “you’re eating cookies again, aren’t you?”

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, trying to keep the chocolate crumbs in my mouth.

“Listen,” she said reassuringly, “it’s not that complicated. The kids can pick up the information in the college center at school. And I’ll tell you what, I’ll let you know what I’m doing as I do it, and you can just copy me….”

That was exactly what I needed — a virtual guidance counselor who could tell me what to do and when to do it. Then I would just cooperate and follow along.

Applying to college was not this complicated 25(ish) years ago. I think I took a PSAT. I know I took the SAT. I took it one time. I did relatively well. I got into UCLA. But times have changed. If I packaged up my high school transcripts and SAT score today, UCLA probably would laugh my application right out of the admissions building.

While everyone agrees that getting into college is more difficult and complex than it was a generation ago, most acknowledge that parents and kids need to step back, set realistic goals and try to relieve some of that SAT trauma and drama.

No one sees more distress over scores than Wendy Gilbertson, a partner with Coast 2 Coast College Admissions, a certified college consulting company.

“Scores are important,” Gilbertson said, “but students have much more to offer than just a test score. Most colleges seek well-rounded kids, and they look at many other factors when considering applicants.”

If a student is concerned about improving his or her score, then a prep course is very helpful.

“But it’s usually best if parents are not overly involved in that process,” Gilbertson said. “Kids will be more motivated if they are accountable to a third party and not to mom or dad.”

Students should be open-minded when considering where they want to submit their applications. Marc Mayerson, an assistant dean at UCLA, explained that a narrow band of elite colleges, including the Ivy Leagues and several UC campuses, are overwhelmed by the number of applications they receive.

“When a college receives 35,000 to 50,000 applications for only 5,000 freshman spots or even much fewer, the admissions staff must weed out applications with gross measures, and those measures often include SAT scores,” he said.

The good news is that there are hundreds of excellent colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad that do not weigh entrance exam scores as heavily as the larger, more well-known schools that many California kids have their hearts set on.

“One of the biggest mistakes high school seniors make is that they convince themselves that only an Ivy League or a particular university is the right school for them,” Mayerson said. “By considering a few more schools, they can alleviate much of the stress and anxiety for themselves and for their parents.”

Feel better? I know I do. But I suggest you keep a few packs of your favorite cookies in the cupboard, just in case.

For information on test schedules and other things to keep you up at night, go to

Between the Pages for Young, Young-at-Heart


Let’s face it. Many people go to synagogue on the High Holidays because they have to. A feeling of poorly understood and unappreciated obligation can pervade this time of year. But it doesn’t have to. You can put yourself or your children in the spirit and in the know with help from this by-no-means-comprehensive list of titles that elucidate the prayers and customs of the holiday.

For Young Children:

“My First Book of Jewish Holidays”
by Shmuel Blitz, illustrated by Tova Katz, (Artscroll Mesorah, 2004)

“My First Book,” which is beautifully illustrated, explains the historical significance of the holidays (i.e., the world was created on Rosh Hashanah, as well as the laws). In addition to their regular text, the pages have “Did you know?” boxes. It is not a storybook, but it is written clearly and its pictures are mesmerizing.

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah”
by Yaffa Ganz
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1990)

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah” is one in a series of books about Jewish holidays, in which two young children and their talking dove go on a learning mission. In this pleasantly illustrated book, children can learn about holiday customs, such as dipping an apple into honey, and different names of Rosh Hashanah. For example, Yom Hakeseh is called the Day of Concealment, because the moon is concealed on that day — just a sliver in the sky. And metaphorically, the outcome of the new year, too, is concealed from us.

For Teenagers:

“Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” by Shimon Apisdorf
(Leviathan Press, 1997)

The “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” is aimed at those who

would really rather be elsewhere during the services — sound like any teenager you know? The book gives tips about how to make the service meaningful, without being bogged down with effort. (Sample tip: “Five minutes of prayer said with understanding [and] feeling … means far more than five hours of lip service.”)

It also offers cute factoids about Rosh Hashana, presenting an easy and fun-to-read overview of the prayer service and Torah readings.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — “Survival Kit” does not shy away from the weightier matters; it offers compelling expositions on teshuva (repentance) and personal development.

For College Students:

“60 Days, a Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays”
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
(Kiyum Press, 2003)

In “60 Days,” Jacobson looks at the months of Elul (the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays) and Tishrei (the Hebrew month in which the High Holidays occur) as a period for self-improvement. Basing many of his teaching on Kabbalah, Jacobson goes through each day of the two months, explaining the historical significance of the day well beyond the obvious holidays. For example, the 18th of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.

But he also describes exercises to enable the reader to use the 60 days for introspection. Jacobson wants us to be our better selves, and to use that improvement for an enhanced relationship with God.

For the Prayerfully Challenged:

“Pathway to Prayer: A Translation and Explanation of All the Amidah Prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”
by Rabbi Meir Birnbaum
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1997)

Even for those familiar with the daily prayers, the Rosh Hashanah service can seem formidable. It is long, different and should ideally be infused with enough kavannah (concentration and devotion) to change the destiny of the upcoming year for the better.

In “Pathway to Prayer,” Birnbaum explains the prayers line by line — often word by word. He is not merely content with translating. Rather, he explains what the thought process should be when each word is said. For example, in the musaf prayer, the repeatedly used word. “Hagadol [the Great One], referring to God, really means God who is great “in exercising the attribute of kindness.”

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer”
by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
(Schocken Books, 2000)

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer” provides great background reading for those interested in the history and development of prayer in Judaism. The chapter on Days of Awe, as the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known, provides a brief overview of the holiday and the origins of the prayers that developed in conjunction with it.

This book will not necessarily help you navigate a machzor (special prayer book for the holidays), but it does outline what we will be saying on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., which prayer comes after which, when the shofar is blown, etc.) as well as explanations and customs of shofar blowing. Steinsaltz also explains differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic nusachs (the order of the prayers).

For Meaning Searchers:

“Days of Awe: Sfas Emes, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on the High Holy Days”
by Rabbi Yosef Stern
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1996)

The Sfas Emes, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Alter of Ger, became leader of the great Gerer Chasidic dynasty in Poland in 1870, when he was only 23. Under his guidance, Ger became one of the biggest Chasidic groups in Poland.

In this volume, Stern distills the Sfas Emes’ Chasidic teachings into illuminating essays on topics such as “The Omission of Hallel on Rosh Hashanah” to the “Symbolism and Significance” of Shofar blowing.

“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared — The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”
by Alan Lew
(Little Brown and Company, 2003)

“This Is Real” follows no ordinary Rosh Hashanah book path, because it encompasses so many different elements. Part memoir, part Zen mediation, part rumination on life in general, interspersed with Torah readings, Jewish teachings and Zen parables (Lew considers himself a Buddhist rabbi), this is a book that describes a soul’s journey from Tisha B’Av through Yom Kippur, as it “heads home.”

Lew sees the High Holidays as a metaphor for life itself, and he wants us to experience “oneness with everything.” Rosh Hashanah is a time that we can “experience the truth of our lives.”

Though the title is ominous, the book is ultimately uplifting, about a person’s power to transform sadness to joy.

For General Background:
“Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days”
by Shmuel Yosef Agnon
(Schocken, 1995)

This is a collection of writings on the Days of Awe culled from traditional sources, such as the Torah, Talmud and Zohar. Agnon lets the writings speak for themselves, but he compiles them in a way that tells the history of the holidays.

In the section on Rosh Hashanah, he starts with the commandment from Leviticus to observe Rosh Hashanah (“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns”).

He then moves on to descriptions from Ezra in Chronicles of the Jewish people bringing sacrifices on Rosh Hashanah, and then quotes from the Mishna and Talmud about what Rosh Hashanah means.

The book is a fascinating compilation, perfect for those who want to understand the meaning of the holiday from original sources.

For Contemporary Approaches:

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Poems, Stories, Essays.”
edited by Steven J. Rubin
(Brandeis University Press, 2003)

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays” is not a book for those who simply want laws or traditions laid out for them. Rather it’s for those seeking creative or artistic musings on the holidays.

Gathering verse from poets as diverse as Solomon Ibn Gabirol (an 11th-century Jewish Spanish scholar) and Emma Lazarus, the poems convey a range of experience, from the spiritually awesome to the skeptically modern. The stories and memoirs are evocative. Eli Weisel tells of Rosh Hashanah in the concentration camp, others of Rosh Hashanah in the shtetl.

“The Jewish Way, Living the Holidays”
By Rabbi Irving Greenberg
(Simon and Schuster, 1988)

In “The Jewish Way,” Greenberg explains the holidays as “the quintessential Jewish religious expression, because the main teachings of Judaism are incorporated in their messages.”

In his essay on Rosh Hashanah, he explains that it is a somber time when we must confront our own mortality, since one’s life “is placed on balance scales.” In addition, Greenberg gives a summary of the prayers and customs of Rosh Hashanah.

 

Stanford’s Grunfeld Flies High


It’s March Madness and all eyes are on the Stanford Cardinals. Ranked No. 1 in the nation, the near-perfect team enters this weekend’s Pac 10 Tournament as the Pac 10 regular season champions and will enter next week’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. Key to the Cardinal’s success is reserve guard/forward Dan Grunfeld. Grunfeld, who averages 11.7 minutes a game, heads into the tournament with a levelheaded perspective on his team’s near-perfect season.

“We’ve had success this year, but it’s because of our hard work. We don’t lose sight of what’s gotten us to this point. We’re still focused and we still have a lot more to achieve,” Grunfeld said. Finishing the season with an outstanding 26-1 record, the Cardinals hope to continue their winning streak in the weeks of tournament play ahead.

Grunfeld, who scored a career-high 21 points against Southern Utah in December, has come into his own in his second year of play.

“This year I’m more comfortable with the offense and I’ve got a better feel for all of the guys,” said the 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore. “I feel like I’m more a part of it.”

Grunfeld comes from a basketball family. His paternal grandfather spent the Holocaust in a Romanian work camp; his paternal grandmother hid in a basement with false papers. They immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, where their son, Ernie, learned to play basketball. Ernie earned a basketball scholarship to Tennessee and, after college, played for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Kansas City Kings and the New York Knicks. He later became the general manager of the Knicks, then the Bucks, and today is the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards.

“People talk about my dad and his career a lot,” said Grunfeld, 20. “But it’s just who I am and where I come from. It’s no added pressure.”

Grunfeld is also unfazed by the added pressure of being a Stanford student-athlete. With a great deal of time dedicated to practice, weight training and traveling, Grunfeld’s learned to juggle athletics and academics.

“Going to college at any school in the country you’ve got to do your work. As an athlete, you’ve got to do your work and you’ve got to go to practice. It’s not an impossible thing to do, you just have to find the balance that works best for you.”

Grunfeld learned to balance his basketball and his Judaism early on. He gets a smile on his face as he recalls his after-school regiment.

“My attendance at Hebrew school probably wasn’t as perfect as some other kids’,” said Grunfeld, who was bar mitzvahed. “I remember going to Hebrew school in my uniform and going straight to basketball games. I only get asked about my Judaism occasionally, but I don’t forget those times in Hebrew school, or who I am.”

Stanford plays No. 8 Washington State University in the first round of the 2004 Pac-10 Men’s Tournament on March 11 at 12:20 p.m.

Sports a Family Affair for Israeli
Bruin

Ortal Oren hopes to be the first Israeli to play in the WNBA, but for now she’s happy being the only Israeli on the UCLA women’s basketball team.

“I love being a Bruin,” said the sophomore guard.

Oren lead Kiriat-Sharet High School to back-to-back Israeli championship titles her junior and senior years and was named MVP of both title games. The heavily recruited Oren chose UCLA for its strong basketball program, challenging academics, sunny weather and proximity to her uncle in Orange County.

“I also enjoy being around such diverse people. I thought coming from a different country would make me different, but everyone at UCLA has a different background and ethnicity,” said Oren, who picked jersey number 00 because it’s also spells out her initials.

Oren was a key force off the Bruin bench this season, averaging 9.2 minutes per game.

“I have more confidence this year and have a bigger role on the team,” said Oren, who played for the Israeli Junior National Team this summer. “I’m having a better year overall. Last year I had to adjust to the language, classes and different basketball play, but this year it’s much easier. I’m doing well in school, and I’m more comfortable with the team,” said Oren who rooms in the dorms with teammates Nikki Blue and Emma Tautolo.

Oren’s parents are both well-known Israeli athletes. Her father, Ronen, was the director of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Academy and her mother, Ronit Gazit, was a competitive high jumper.

“I miss my family and friends, but I don’t miss being in Israel because I’m having so much fun here,” said Oren who left four younger brothers and a sister back in Rishon-Lezion. “The girls on the team are like sisters to me.”

Oren and the UCLA Bruins finished the regular season 16-11 overall and 11-7 in conference. They lost to Stanford in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament on March 7 in San Jose.

YULA Takes Pride in Its Panthers

YULA Panthers head coach Edward Gelb has led his team to roaring success over the past 13 years. Under his guidance, the team has won seven Liberty League Championships in 10 years, advanced to the quarterfinals several times and recently clocked in its 200th victory.

“I first started coaching at YULA because I wanted kids who were committed to getting a Jewish education to have the option to play basketball at the same competitive level as kids who were attending other schools,” said Gelb. “I didn’t want them to feel they’re missing out just because they’re Jewish.”

With the JV and varsity teams having 12-13 players each, just getting on the YULA team has become competitive. Every year 40-50 freshmen try out in hopes of filling the few spots left open by exiting seniors.

“Boys basketball is our most popular sport, it’s the one the students follow most closely,” said YULA Athletic Director Joel Fisher.

While other high school teams practice daily, YULA practices three times a week. The students attend school from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. — many take advanced Talmud classes from 7:30-9:30 p.m. twice a week — and attend Sunday school.

“The key to our success is concentration,” Gelb said. “We don’t practice as much as other teams, so the kids really have to focus and concentrate when we do. Then they bring that concentration to the game. But still, practice time is our biggest challenge.”

Fisher would say Gelb and his team face an even greater challenge.

“The most impressive thing about Ed’s coaching at YULA is that he’s had all this success without a gym,” Fisher said. With no on-site gymnasium, the YULA Panthers practice at the Westside JCC or outside on playground courts.

This year, the Panthers beat Calvary Chapel Murietta 58-43 in the first round of playoffs. They went on to lose a tough game (58-53) to Santa Clara in the round of 16.

“Our basketball team has been extremely successful over the years, and that’s greatly due to Ed’s tremendous time, effort and dedication to the program,” Fisher said.

Book Preps Jewish Students for College


Jeff Gabriel knows that when he arrives at the University of Colorado in Boulder this September, connecting to his Jewish roots won’t be a priority. As the Calabasas High School senior prepares for college, his primary concern is adjusting to his new lifestyle, while living more than 1,000 miles from home.

“I love Judaism, but it won’t be the No. 1 thing on my list,” admitted the 17-year-old Reform Jew from Calabasas. “If I have time and I can go [to synagogue] with my family friend, who is a senior there, maybe I will.”

Like many incoming freshman and older students, Gabriel is already anticipating the challenges of staying in touch with Judaism while in college. For the first time, young Jews find that observing the Jewish holidays and traditions, as well as engaging in the local Jewish community, is not a requirement but a choice.

Rabbi Scott Aaron, education director at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, believes part of the problem is that American Jewish education neglects to focus on students after high school.

“Once children leave the nest, we assume they are on their own,” said the educator, noting that many Jews reconnect when they marry and have children. “We as a community say, ‘It’s college,’ and we let them go. We skip a crucial life step in there.”

To help students over the hump, Aaron, who worked as a Hillel director at several East Coast colleges, including New York University and Ohio State, wrote “Jewish U: A Contemporary Guide for the Jewish College Student” (UAHC Press, 2002).

Aimed at both affiliated and nonaffiliated students, the book offers suggestions for “Jewishly” preparing for college, dealing with anxious parents, communicating with roommates, handling holidays, finding Jewish resources and practicing without parental guidance. Early on, Aaron advises students to think about what being a Jewish college student means and to consider finding the Jewish community on campus.

“Even if you have no interest right now in being Jewishly involved or identified, just find out some basic details in case you ever need to know,” Aaron writes.

For some out-of-state students, like Alison Peck from Houston, establishing an on-campus Jewish connection can be crucial. “Where I grew up, it was not a strong Jewish community, so it was important for me to find it in college,” the 20-year-old admitted.

Peck, who just completed her sophomore year at USC, chose the school, in part, because of its growing Jewish population, which is now up to 10 percent. She considers the campus Hillel center her “home away from home.”

The filmic writing major attends services and has Shabbat dinners at Hillel every Friday night. She is also a member of Alpha Gamma Gamma, a local Jewish sorority.

For students like Linda Alpert, a senior a Milken Community High School, choosing a school close to home may be enough of a Jewish connection for now. Alpert, 17, plans to continue her Conservative observance with her family when she attends USC in the fall.

“That’s the attraction for going to USC — to come home for the holidays,” the Encino resident explained. In addition, Alpert takes comfort in knowing that many of her Milken classmates also plan to attend USC. “If I were going away to college, I’d probably try to get involved with Hillel or the Jewish Student Union,” she explained.

While Peck and Alpert are more concerned with simply staying connected, other students feel that college is an opportunity to grow religiously. Chad Rosen, a UCLA freshman, arrived from Scottsdale, Ariz., with hopes of reaching beyond his Reform roots.

“I came to UCLA with the knowledge that I wanted to be more traditional,” said the 19-year-old, who is a double major in psychology and Hebrew. “Living at home, I had more limitations, and at college, I’m able to explore Judaism more.”

Involved in both the campus Hillel and JAM (Jewish Awareness Movement), Rosen believes that college has allowed him to learn more about Jewish politics, community and text.

While some students may opt to disengage from Judaism in college, Aaron said that many students — particularly those with strong religious backgrounds — will eventually turn back to religion.

“Going to college into your first adult freedom and choice experience is overwhelming and [students] have to adjust to making their decisions,” the rabbi explained. “They know that they are supported and that their Jewish identity is there for them. They come back.”

Israel Fest Expands Celebration Borders


UCLA Hillel special events coordinator Guy Kochlani was born in Tel Aviv, but he was never actively involved in supporting Israel — until the day three years ago when a group of Palestinian students interrupted the Yom HaAtzmaut celebration on campus.

"I couldn’t believe it — these 15 guys dressed in black militia garb came storming across campus, shouting and carrying signs reading, ‘You Nazis, You killers!’" Kochlani recalled. "It didn’t stop the other [Jewish] students, they just kept on dancing, but it stopped me cold. That was my breaking point."

Kochlani is one of the planners of this year’s Israel Independence Day Celebration Festival to be held Sunday, May 11 in Woodley Park in Encino. In the three years since the incident on campus, he has co-founded two groups for Israeli college students — Bruinpac, which became Bruins for Israel, and the social group Israelis Biyachad — and was chair of the 55th Israel Independence Day Block Party at UCLA held May 7. He also joined the board of both the Israeli Festival’s planning committee and the Council for Israel Community, a local political action group that seeks to promote positive images of Israel in the media.

Kochlani, 23, hopes the Israeli Festival will attract more young people. Last year, he helped institute a teen stage (which will also appear at this year’s event) featuring popular Israeli DJs cranking out a variety of music, from house and hip hop to Israeli pop. This year, he will direct the festival’s fashion show on the main stage at 3 p.m.

The all-day festival commemorates Israel’s 55th Independence Day and includes activities for all ages. There will be a children’s village featuring rides, an arts-and-crafts area and a petting zoo, along with live musical performances and magic shows. An Israeli Pavilion, sponsored by the Israeli Consulate, will showcase music and art from across Jewish culture. Visitors can indulge in a variety of ethnic food, such as schwarma, falafel and kabobs, or stroll through the marketplace for Israeli artwork, jewelry and Judaica.

Dignitaries participating in this year’s ceremony will include Gov. Gray Davis, Reps. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Yuval Rotem and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

During the ceremony, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will be honored as a "distinguished friend of the Israeli community."

This is the festival’s third year in Encino, where it moved after many years at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles. The festival usually attracts around 40,000 people, said organizers, who expect even larger crowds this year.

Festival chair Itzik Glazer said that this year’s festival has expanded to include nearby Lake Balboa Park area, as well as Woodley Park, increasing vendor space and parking. The number of vendors for 2003 has more than doubled, from 120 last year to 250 this year, spurring festival organizers to create an "Israel street" market area. Security for the event was also revamped, Glazer said.

"The private company working for us will have more people on staff," he said. "All of the park will be fenced, and because we’re busing people from the Lake Balboa parking lot [to the main festival area], on each bus there will be a security guard. We also worked with the police [the West Valley Division of the Los Angeles Police Department], so there will be more security people inside and more police outside."

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel, who is honorary chair of the Israeli Festival, said a demonstration in support of Israel is more important now than ever.

"This is an opportunity for the residents of the second-largest Jewish community in the country to come out in force, to show that we stand strongly with Israel at this critical time," Fishel said.

Kochlani agreed that the State of Israel needs a powerful demonstration of support from Angelenos, and he hoped that people along the political spectrum can put their feelings about the road map aside for the sake of the festival.

"Any event you do for Israel, politics are included — it just comes with the package," Kochlani said. "But we’re trying to keep the event in the center, so both sides can enjoy it."

The Israel Festival will take place Sunday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Woodley Park, corner of Victory Boulevard and Woodley Avenue in Encino. Admission is $3 per person and parking is free. For more information, call (818) 757-0123 or visit www.israelfestival.com.

Students Get Religion


The Sept. 11 terrorist attack propelled already soaring interest in religious studies courses at mainstream college campuses in Orange County and around the nation.

Enrollment in religious studies curriculum, climbing for a decade, closed a month before the 2002 fall semester began at Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton. Yet, the subject’s popularity has not translated into an equivalent number of students who major in the discipline. Besides exacerbating a shortage of graduate students seeking admission to theological seminaries, the number in undergraduate religious studies departments remains small. With few faculty members, they typically are comparable in size to other specialty studies programs that focus on women, Asians or Chicanos, all nurtured by ’60s-era ethnic awareness.

Times may be changing, though. One professor predicts that the collapse of business ethics, exposed in recent months by a drumbeat of accounting scandals, is likely to reverse the academic pendulum. Instead of a stampede for practical career training, professor Marvin Meyer, co-chair of Chapman’s religious studies department, expects humanities — and possibly religious studies — will regain favor. “What has been exposed will have a huge impact on business schools,” he said.

Religious studies, whose curriculum draws on history, philosophy, art and ethnic studies, is a de facto liberal arts education. “Intercultural sensitivity holds them in good stead in a place like Southern California,” added professor Benjamin Hubbard, who chairs Cal State University Fullerton’s comparative religion department.

Moreover, studying religion in an academic environment is a more balanced approach compared to synagogue- or church-based Bible study, academics argue. “Temple schools have an agenda,” said professor Arlene Lazarowitz, director of Cal State University Long Beach’s Jewish studies, offered as a minor this fall for the first time. “The university agenda is much more open. You’re not going to get this from a rabbi; he’ll incur the wrath of his board.”

Academic distance from religious studies narrowed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1961 outlawed Bible reading in public schools. In the opinion of one jurist, academic study comparing religions was preferable to indoctrination, Hubbard recalls. That was the green light for a new scholarly niche.

In academic circles, any lingering hesitancy to embrace the new discipline ended with the 1978 Iranian revolution and the seizure of American hostages.

“As I’ve tried to argue to my colleagues, not to understand the religious component in geopolitical situations is to miss a huge component,” said Hubbard, noting that Osama bin Laden was not the first extremist overlooked by the U.S. government, which supported the Shah of Iran. “Religion is a powerful, powerful factor in human life, often for ill,” said he. About 550 students enroll in Fullerton’s 22 religious studies classes each semester, though only 40 major in the topic.

As political science departments and history majors study fascism and communism, so, too, Hubbard argues, should religious studies students examine religion as a factor in extremism. Its examples make front pages daily: the U.S. abortion debate, Tibet’s Dalai Lama; India-Pakistan hostilities in Kashmir; warfare between Britain and Ireland.

Sept. 11 and the Palestinian intifada underscore religion’s capacity for unabated virulence.

In the ’60s, religious studies appealed to students intrigued by remote Eastern beliefs and discontent with academia’s Western orientation. Today, cultural awareness is far greater because of immigration and globalization. Today’s students wrestle with different questions. “More focus is on ethical and spiritual issues,” said professor Marilyn Harran, co-chair of Chapman’s religious studies department and director of its Holocaust studies center. “We cannot offer a sufficient number of classes to meet the kind of interest there is,” added Meyer. Seven faculty, supplemented by adjunct professors, teach 15 classes each semester, drawing about 450 students. But only 10 a year major in the topic.

To accommodate the few students who want to pursue Jewish studies at public universities, the state college system permits an intercampus major, allowing students to fulfill requirements by enrolling in classes at alternate locations. So far, the consortium consists of California State Universities in Chico, San Diego and San Francisco. Approval is expected in fall 2003 at Long Beach, and at Fullerton soon thereafter, said Lazarowitz. For example, she said, Fullerton students can enroll in Hebrew and American Jewish history at Long Beach, while Long Beach students enroll in Fullerton’s “Introduction to Judaism” classes.

Long Beach established a Jewish studies minor following lobbying in 1999 by Michael S. Rassler, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach. “This came out of nowhere; this was a bolt out of the blue,” said Lazarowitz, who for years has supervised student teachers at the campus and is an expert in American foreign policy. “I never knew Jewish studies existed.”

Jewish studies at Long Beach remains a virtual department: the emphasis is created by drawing on pre-existing, interdisciplinary classes in history, literature and religious studies. Students include evangelical Christians who want to read the Old Testament in Hebrew, said Lazarowitz. “That’s very important. We don’t want this to be a major for Jewish students, but for anyone.”

In a sign of its commitment to strengthen the fledgling program, Long Beach’s religious studies department recently hired an expert in Judaism, Yechiel Shalom Goldberg, who starts this semester. Goldberg, a former Indiana University professor, specializes in Jewish mysticism.

“Now we can get off the ground,” said Lazarowitz, who expects about 85 students to fulfill the 19-unit minor this year. New to the curriculum is “Literature of the Holocaust,” taught by Carl Fisher, a professor of comparative literature.

Personally, her new academic responsibilities enriched Lazarowitz’s scholarly work. Her most recent research topic is Jacob Javits, the former New York senator who pushed a bill to penalize financially the former Soviet Union for restrictive immigration policies toward Soviet Jews. Her article was accepted for publication next summer in the scholarly Jewish studies journal, Shofar. “I’ve got a new publishing field now, too,” she said.

In the UC system, the Santa Barbara campus has the most mature religious studies program, even granting doctoral degrees. UC Irvine offers a religious studies minor around three core courses, which each quarter fill with 100 students, said Daniel S. Schroeter, the Teller Family professor of Jewish history at UCI.

A major would require a faculty whose primary emphasis is religious studies, and none of the faculty that are currently involved meet that description, Schroeter said. He thinks a religious studies major is likely within a few years.

Balanced Action for Israel


Nearly 100 college students from San Diego to San Francisco gathered at Sinai Temple on Sunday, Feb. 24, to dispute the anti-Israel action that has become increasingly prevalent on campuses. Action Israel offered intensive strategy and communications training in order to equip students with the tools necessary to counteract anti-Israeli sentiment.

The day began with an impressive panel of speakers, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Yuval Rotem.

"Without a physical homeland, your existence would be significantly different," Yaroslavsky said. "We would be vulnerable and at other people’s mercies." The county supervisor offered advocacy strategies such as public protests and writing letters to newspapers. "Don’t forget the impact that you can have on the course of history."

Rotem strongly held to his opinion that "anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic."

The next panel, moderated by Elan Carr, supreme governor of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), included speakers David Suissa, founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising and founder of Olam magazine; and David N. Myers, professor of history at UCLA. Suissa expressed his belief that Palestinian civilians are not the enemy. Rather, they are at the mercy of corrupt leaders. Thus, he encouraged students "not to do advocacy for Israel, but to do advocacy for American ideologies."

The remainder of the day included dividing students into two discussion groups led by Dan Schurr, media and Republican political strategist, and Michael Parks, former Jerusalem bureau chief and editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times. Schurr’s presentation, "Stand and Deliver: The right words at the right times," dealt with the importance of knowing one’s audience and what interests them, as well as knowing one’s message and delivering it effectively. Parks’ presentation, "The Pen and the Sword: Critical reading and strategic writing,’ dealt with the media and how to engage an audience. In addition, Schurr gave tips on writing a good Letter to the Editor.

Plans have been made to follow up the program with the individual campuses in attendance in order to focus upon their unique needs.

The one-day seminar was sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, the Anti-Defamation League, the Consulate General of Israel, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Los Angeles Hillel Council, AEPi, Israel Aliyah Center, Jewish National Fund, Betar and Hamagshimim.

Back to School


A college instructor in Orange County will return to his teaching position later this month after he was barred from campus over a confrontation with Muslim students in his class.

The four-month-long suspension of political science instructor Ken Hearlson from his position at Orange Coast College has triggered a national debate about free speech in higher education, particularly in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A Sept. 18 classroom discussion on the World Trade Center attacks and their comparison to suicide bombings in Israel set off the furor at the community college in Costa Mesa.

Hearlson, a 57-year-old Marine veteran who describes himself as a "born-again Christian conservative" and "blue-collar professor," opened the evening class session with some provocative questions.

Why, he asked, have Muslim nations failed to uniformly condemn Osama bin Laden? Why do leading Muslim spokesmen deny the Holocaust and complain that the Nazis had not killed enough Jews?

Hearlson also criticized a flyer circulated on campus and signed by Hizb-Ul-Haq (Party of Truth) that was headed "The Reality of Zionism" and showed a swastika superimposed on a Star of David.

Four Muslim students in the class complained to the college that during the class, Hearlson pointed a finger at one of them, saying, "You drove two planes into the World Trade Center," "You killed 5,000 people" and "You are a terrorist."

Two days after the class, Hearlson was placed on paid administrative leave and barred from the campus where he has taught for 18 years as a tenured instructor.

Following the suspension, the college district appointed an independent counsel, Geraldine Jaffe, to investigate the matter.

After interviewing 25 witnesses and listening to audiotapes of the class session, Jaffe concluded that "most of the allegations" by the Muslim students "are unsubstantiated."

College President Margaret Gratton then lifted Hearlson’s suspension, effective at the start of the spring semester, but also sent a confidential letter to the instructor that he described as a "reprimand."

Left unresolved was the question of a teacher’s freedom of speech in the classroom. This issue has made the case somewhat of a cause celebre among academics and teachers’ unions across the country.

The issue of due process and to what extent political sensitivities are propelling college administrators to abridge free expression are also at stake.

"In this politically correct environment, innocence is no longer a sufficient defense," Thor Halvorssen, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told the Los Angeles Times. "They reprimand a man who they themselves declared was innocent, and that’s unspeakable."

Hearlson said that the letter of reprimand "puts me in a box. I can’t say anything that might offend any ethnicity or religion."

He makes no bones that as a member of the Calvary Chapel, a Protestant church "that you might call fundamentalist" and which sends large groups of pilgrims to Israel, he is a great believer in the Jewish state.

"We know more about the Hebrew Bible than many of our Jewish students," he said.

He faults the college administration for "looking the other way" during anti-Jewish rallies on campus and taking no action when a rabbi, trying to address a group, was shouted down by Muslim students.

"These Muslim students can say what they want in their hate rallies, that’s freedom of speech, but when I speak up, I’m suspended," Hearlson added.

Hearlson said he has received death threats but has been heartened by the support of colleagues and 348 students who signed a petition on his behalf.

He said he also appreciated the advice and support of the Orange County chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, and plans to invite a speaker from the Simon Wiesenthal Center when he is finally allowed back into his classroom.

Funding the Future


In the past, the Jewish Community Foundation has used its grant-making powers to help senior citizens, Conejo Valley preschoolers, and teens traveling to Israel. Now it has announced a major initiative on behalf of Jewish college students on local campuses.

Marvin I. Schotland, the foundation’s president and CEO, notes that “roughly 25,000 Jewish students are currently attending colleges and universities in greater Los Angeles, and many of them are not Jewishly active.” The foundation’s hope is to change that picture, by way of an eight-year, $1.9 million Comprehensive Development Grant and an innovative partnership that will include Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), the Shalom Nature Center, and Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Created byFederation in 1964, the foundation is a philanthropic agency with the power to allocate millions of dollars each year.

Its new College Campus Initiative, spearheaded by program director Susan Grinel, was launched because it is in college that young people generally form the attitudes that shape their adult lives. As the foundation’s Lewis Groner puts it, “The college audience is really a group that we can approach and access for the last time before they venture out beyond our borders and disperse into the world.”

The goal of the initiative is to connect these young Jews to the Jewish community through a range of attractive offerings that capitalize on their interest in hot topics like social action and the environment.

To implement its initiative, the foundation is looking to Hillel and its existing network of Jewish Campus Service Corps fellows. These are young men and women who work on campuses throughout the nation, encouraging Jewish students to get involved in Jewish activities. Eventually, fellows will operate at seven local universities.

The scope of the initiative does not stop here. Research shows that unaffiliated Jewish students tend to gravitate toward social activism and environmental causes. This is why the Shalom Nature Center and the JCRC have been brought aboard, to contribute quality programming in their areas of specialization.

The Shalom Nature Center, established with the Foundation’s help in 1999, is a brand-new adjunct of the Jewish Centers Association’s Shalom Institute Camp and Conference Center in Malibu. Beginning this September, the Nature Center will be able to hire two full-time Jewish educators to provide college students with hikes and other challenging outdoor activities. The $552,000 coming from the Jewish Community Foundation will also fund campus lectures on such topics as “Environmental Issues in Israel,” “Jewish Perspectives on Genetic Engineering,” and even “The Influence of Hollywood on Our Fear of Nature.”

Bill Kaplan, Shalom Institute executive director, points out that “most of the world’s environmental leaders are Jewish. But a lot of people don’t know that love of nature is a strong ethic in the Jewish tradition.”

JCRC executive director Michael Hirschfeld looks forward to introducing college students to social action projects from a Jewish perspective.

The JCRC will receive $255,000 to help hook college students on meaningful social service and public policy activities. Hirschfeld acknowledges that today’s students possibly may not be as public-spirited as his own generation was. He says, “I want to think that politics and social action are still interesting to young people. We’ll soon find out if I’m right or wrong.”

Eitan Ginsburg, acting executive director of Los Angeles Hillel Council, is delighted by the magnitude and scope of the Foundation’s investment in college students. He makes clear that “we want to sustain this over the long term, not only the eight-year duration of the grant.”

As time passes, he predicts that other subject areas will be explored, with special programming for Jewish students interested in sports, the arts, and the Greek scene. Ginsburg notes that Hillel has learned over the past decade that “one size doesn’t fit all. We don’t try to program one single activity that’s going to attract every student.” He suspects “there’re probably things we haven’t thought of, that the students will think of. If we do less talking and more listening, the students will tell us what they want.”