Study: Chabad rabbis are counselors of first resort on college campuses


Among their normal responsibilities on college campuses across America, Chabad emissaries organize events, teach Torah and engage students one-on-one in learning sessions. But whether by design or happenstance, these emissaries often are the first line of defense when students face personal crises as well, according to a recent study.

“A life crisis can deepen a relationship when a distraught student turns to their campus rabbi or rebbetzin for help. … We heard stories of emissaries bailing students out of jail for drunk driving, consoling them when a close friend has an illness, or spending time with them when a loved one dies,” noted the authors of “Chabad on Campus,” a study funded by the Hertog Foundation, which offers educational programs for people seeking to influence intellectual, civic and political life.

Chabad houses cater to students on more than 500 campuses via 264 college centers worldwide, up from 35 centers in 2000. In the study, published in September, four Jewish studies researchers spent the better part of 134 pages trying to quantify the impact these houses have on the college students who frequent them. Buried about halfway through it was this curious fact that defies metrics. But it wasn’t news to many Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins reading the document.

“It’s not like I found anything they don’t know,” said Mark I. Rosen, a Brandeis University professor who researches Jewish life and one of the study authors, who presented the results to a group of Jewish professionals at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in December.

Rosen said he wasn’t surprised by the result, either.

“Kids who are away from home, they don’t always want to tell their parents what’s going on,” he said.

Unlike Hillel houses, Chabads are built around the family of the campus emissary, with home cooking and toddlers often scurrying underfoot. The study authors didn’t formally address Hillel, but suggested that the family-like atmosphere of Chabad houses played a part in its attraction for students, giving them a place to bring their personal struggles.

“Some of the individuals we interviewed indicated that the rabbi and rebbetzin had become like family to them,” they wrote.

College campuses are “big, cold, impersonal places, basically,” said Rabbi Dov Wagner, the Chabad emissary at USC.  When you’re around to listen to people, he said, “people wanna have a conversation.”

Wagner has seen students walk into his Craftsman home near campus to seek guidance with issues ranging from eating disorders to a death in the family. When mental health care is the appropriate solution, he refers the students to professional help, but more often students show up with more mundane personal troubles.

“Sometimes it’s a breakup or not getting into a fraternity, which, I laugh and you laugh, but at the moment in a student’s life, it’s a traumatic experience,” he said.

Occasionally, students will show up whom he barely knows at all. A few years ago, a USC student died after falling off a roof during spring break in Mexico. A number of students showed up looking for someone to talk to.

“I barely knew them before,” Wagner said. “They just wanted to come over and talk.”

Sometimes, students will share information with Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins that they’re not comfortable speaking about with anyone else.

“Just this week, I had a meeting with someone who felt comfortable enough to share something with me that he did not share with his therapist of many years,” Rabbi Dovid Gurevich of Chabad at UCLA said. “It’s anecdotal, but it happens relatively often.”

In those cases, he said, it’s important to “know our limitations,” he said.

“We’re not mental health professionals, but at the same time, we’re there to help and to be there for those needs,” Gurevich said.

It’s not only rabbis but also their wives who are called on to provide emotional and spiritual support. In cases of sexual assault, for instance, female students sometimes seek out the rebbetzin for support.

Elisa Gurevich, Dovid’s wife, said students sometimes use their home as a safe space after being attacked. Once, she accompanied an undergraduate to file a police report after a rape. And she’s visited students at the psych ward at UCLA more times than she can count, on occasion bringing along one of her older children.

Chabad is sometimes the first point of contact for students experiencing a traumatic event. In an interview, Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum of the Rohr Chabad of UC Irvine said a female student recently came to his house after an alleged rape.

“We were the first place she came to,” he said. “She didn’t go back to her dorm room.”

According to the study, informal counseling by Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins plays a part in Chabad’s mission on campus — namely, bringing students closer to their Jewish identities. 

Personal relationships with emissaries are among the most crucial engagement tools Chabad has. So by spending time with students in crisis and strengthening their relationships, emissaries advance the organization’s religious mission.

“One rabbi explained that post-crisis, when students may struggle for understanding, some made ‘amazing spiritual advances,’ ” the study authors wrote. “The relationships that developed played a key role.”

Dorm decorating ideas that will give you an A+ in style


Dorm life isn’t usually glamorous, but with a little inspiration, it can certainly be more chic than you’d imagine. You can up the style quotient with creative thinking for wall decor, furniture and accessories — without breaking the bank. Whether you’re a college student living on campus or a parent helping to furnish your undergrad’s home away from home, here are some decorating ideas to move your dorm room to the head of the class.

Wall tiles

” target=”_blank”>mioculture.com) are three-dimensional, 12-inch square tiles made of recycled paper that can be mounted with removable tape. Because they’re modular and sold in sets of 12, the tiles can cover an entire wall, serve as a headboard or be displayed as art. As an added bonus, they help dampen noise. I’ve been using these wall tiles for years for temporary wall installations, so I know firsthand what a practical, yet stylish wall treatment they are. 

Peel and stick

Another wall covering that makes a big design statement is peel-and-stick wallpaper, which you can customize using your own photographs at Pet pillows

” target=”_blank”>uncommongoods.com, or if you’re the DIY type, check out my tutorial on how to make your own pet pillows at Get lofty

Hang a canopy

Aesthetically, a canopy hanging above a bed provides an unexpected design touch to a dorm room, but more importantly, it can provide some privacy in very cramped quarters. And if the canopy makes you feel like a princess, all the better. (But you still have to study for your midterms.) 

Monogrammed towels

Chicken wire DIY

” target=”_blank”>jonathanfongstyle.com.

Birthright trip offering college credits for first time


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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitic incidents on US college campuses doubled in 2015, ADL reports


Anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

In addition, the number of anti-Semitic assaults across the country increased by more than 60 percent, according to the audit of such incidents released Wednesday.

A total of 90 incidents were reported on 60 college campuses last year, compared with 47 incidents on 43 campuses in 2014. Campus anti-Semitic incidents accounted for 10 percent of the total.

 

In one incident in January, swastikas were spray-painted on the exterior wall of a Jewish fraternity at the University of California, Davis on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis.

In another in November, students chanted anti-Semitic slogans at a protest at City University of New York’s Hunter College in Manhattan after organizers on Facebook called for participants to oppose the school’s “Zionist administration.” Protesters, who ostensibly gathered to fight for free tuition and other benefits, shouted, “Zionists out of CUNY! Zionists out of CUNY!”

The ADL audit recorded a total of 941 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2015, an increase of 3 percent over the previous year.

Fifty-six of the incidents were assaults, the most violent category recorded in the audit, up from the 36 reported in 2014.

The incidents of assault included attacks on visibly Jewish men as they returned home from synagogue in New York and Florida, and a kippah-wearing high school student in Denver who was struck with a rock by an assailant who also called him “Jewboy” and “kike.”

A high school student wearing a kippah was approached by two other high school students who made statements including, “Hey Jewboy, come over here,” and, “Hey Jewboy, do my bills for me.” One of the assailants then shouted, “Hey you kike, when I talk to you, you talk back,” before throwing a large rock that hit the victim in the back.

Anti-Semitic incidents were reported in 39 states and the District of Columbia in 2015. In addition to the assaults, 377 of the incidents were vandalism, up from 363 in 2014, and 508 were harassment, threats and other events, down by five incidents from the previous year.

Continuing a long-standing trend, the most-Jewish states had the most anti-Semitic incidents. But amid the upward national trend, New York, the state with the largest Jewish population, and California saw declines. New York, which has the biggest Jewish population, had 198 incidents in 2015, down 17 percent from 231 in 2014. California recorded 175 incidents, down from 184.

“We are disturbed that violent anti-Semitic incidents are rising,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said in a statement about the audit. “And we know that for every incident reported, there’s likely another that goes unreported. So even as the total incidents have remained statistically steady from year to year, the trend toward anti-Semitic violence is very concerning.”

Online harassment has increased in recent months, and appears to correspond to the current presidential campaign, the ADL said. Much of the harassment has been directed at Jewish journalists and other public figures. The ADL recently launched a Task Force on Online Harassment and Journalism to investigate the issue of anti-Semitism directed at journalists through social media and to develop recommendations on how to respond to it.

The ADL has been tracking anti-Semitic incidents since 1979.  During the last decade, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents peaked at 1,554 in 2006 and has been mostly on the decline ever since.

Back to school: A bittersweet visit to my alma mater


Last week, I went back to school. 

Not for an additional degree, but for a visit to my alma mater, the University of Florida, which is located in Gainesville, a strange, small town in north central Florida best known for worshipping a predatory swamp creature and football. 

UF and I were a bad fit from the start, like awkward roommates who have nothing in common but matching shower shoes and a mini fridge. I probably shouldn’t have applied there, but I took very seriously the Hollywood imperative dictated by J.J. Abrams’ first TV series and pulled a “Felicity,” following my older high school boyfriend to the college of his choice because my hormones couldn’t live without him. I had that unwavering youthful confidence that I could make lemonade from coconuts, and I was none too concerned about squandering the first major decision of my adult life when my fairy-tale fantasy of one true love hung in the balance. 

We broke up before I received my acceptance letter — a letter, I might add, that was about as hard-won as politely asking the high school registrar to send over my transcripts. I was accepted through early decision with a 75 percent scholarship, but that didn’t stop me from crumpling up my shiny gold “Congratulations” letter the day it arrived. I never applied anywhere else, my college fate sealed in mid-November of senior year, allowing me a good seven months to mourn the end of my relationship and the fateful choice I’d made to throw my destiny into the hands of an 18-year-old male. 

So romance got me to Gainesville the first time, but last week it was my sister, Jessi Berrin, who lured me back, because UF was honoring her with an alumni young leadership award. Given a campus population of some 50,000 students, this was a pretty big deal; my sister is a superstar in Miami, the youngest corporate director of government and community relations at Baptist Health, the largest health care network in South Florida. A group of family and friends joined the five-hour trip from Miami up the Florida Turnpike, where billboards remind you that “A heart beats at 18 days” and endeavor to stimulate conversations such as, “Aren’t you glad your mother chose life?” It was like a Ted Cruz infomercial playing nonstop for five hours. And don’t get me started on the rest-stop food options.

Needless to say, from the moment we packed into the car at my grandmother’s Coral Gables condo and my sister insisted we wear sunglasses with Florida Gators for eyes, I knew I had made the right choice to grab wine on the way out.

As a teenager, I had always imagined myself at a sophisticated school, perhaps in a big city, at a place like NYU, or at an edgy, hip Ivy like Brown — so long as it was a place sufficiently cultured, with a worldly student body and grown-up diversions. But Gainesville was the opposite: very southern, very blond (and not highlights blond, real blond), where women wore Lilly Pulitzer pastels year-round, seemingly everyone joined the Greek system, and beer halls, frat parties and football games ruled the day. UF was a world of Pita Pit and “Pokey Stix,” strip malls and Wal-Mart. So you can imagine how psyched I was to go back to visit.

It was bad enough that I never wanted to go to Gainesville, but it became substantially worse after I got there. I joined a sorority despite the fact that I am not a joiner and possess strong moral objections to the expressed values of Greek life (which is about as “Greek” as Disney World; and for young women, safe as a swamp of gators). I made bad decisions one after the other — I barely studied, gained at least a freshman 15, and got myself into some real mischief on more than one occasion. I’ll spare you the details of my wildly rebellious antics, because frankly, there isn’t enough column space. But imagine all the things you wouldn’t want your children to do and consider that a mild start. 

To be fair, the University of Florida itself is a great academic institution. And after all the messing up I did, I eventually found my niche in the film studies department, where my demanding film professor, Roger Beebe, first mocked me for joining a sorority and then taught me how to think. His experimental, 16mm production class changed the way I saw the world. Maureen Turim’s “Women in Film” class taught me the meaning of feminism and introduced me to Rita Hayworth. So it wasn’t all bad. “Put the Blame on Mame” could have been my theme song.

But the fact is I made choices during my undergraduate years that I regret. I remember college as a time of feeling lost, alienated and unanchored (it didn’t help that my parents were splitting up just then, after 27 years of marriage). I didn’t fit in anywhere, and when I didn’t fit in, instead of quietly turning to my studies, I insisted on exploding my container.

Revisiting that place and recalling a difficult period of my life was unsettling. Uncomfortable thoughts crept in, forcing me to wonder: Am I still that mischievous person? Am I someone who really doesn’t belong but has gotten quite good at faking it? Will the mistakes of my past resurface in the future? All this swirled through my mind as I re-entered The Swamp (the nickname of the Ben Hill Griffin football stadium) for a preseason scrimmage. The team playing itself was symbolic: A decade after graduation, my adult self was confronting my college self. 

Today it’s hard to measure how much my college choice mattered to the rest of my life. Had I gone to Harvard or some other Ivy from which students are catapulted into a powerful network of global leaders, maybe my life would be different. (Going to UF, on the other hand, didn’t preclude my sister from snagging a boyfriend with a doctorate from Harvard). 

My four years in Gainesville were not happy years, but they were full of growth. I didn’t excel academically, but I acquired a good deal of life wisdom I’m glad I got when I was 20. I can’t imagine ever being a “Proud Gator” like my sister, but that’s mostly my fault. Going back to school was a powerful reminder that it’s OK to accept what was, what wasn’t, feel the discomfort, and then let it go.

A letter to my daughters in college


To My Daughters:

We didn’t mean to lie to you — it just happened. 

We raised you with a rich sense of Jewish life. We sent you to Jewish schools, to Jewish camps, to Israel. We helped found a synagogue in L.A., in no small measure because of you. We wanted to give you the Jewish literacy that we were deprived of as children. We wanted you to experience Judaism both as a source of joy and also as a call to action.

We taught you about the horrors of the Holocaust and the miracle of 1948. We also demanded that you remember that the history of the Jews, your history, compels you to understand that the story of the Exodus is, sadly, never ending, for Jews and non-Jews alike. We boasted of the role of the Jews in the great civil rights movements of the last century and shared the stories of the young Jews who worked to tear down Jim Crow. We proudly showed you pictures of our Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with the great Martin Luther King Jr. 

We taught you that you should not be embarrassed by your privilege, but that your privilege calls on you to understand and act on the suffering of others. We taught you to honor your heritage, but we demanded that you avoid the dangers of parochialism and tribalism, of reflexively preferring the interests of your own to the exclusion of the interests of others, especially those less fortunate than you. …

We told you that anti-Semitism exists, but that you should not look for anti-Semitism under every rock. 

We taught you of the importance of Israel and to love Israel with all of your heart, while, at the same time, decrying the immorality of the occupation. We taught you that to be constructively critical of Israel is not anti-Semitic, but is rather, an act of chesed, loving kindness, for the people and country of Israel, our people. We told you that if you seek to heal the world, you would be joined by like-minded individuals finding common cause in righting the wrongs of the world — that only through joining forces across religious, national and ethnic lines could the world be restored.

You listened and have focused your passion and intellect on understanding and addressing oppression, in all of its forms.  However, despite the best of our intentions, we have let you down.

We’ve recently seen a spate of incidents on college campuses and elsewhere attacking Israel. The tenor of these attacks, whether the anti-Semitic rantings of an Oberlin professor or the pink-washing allegations in Chicago, has fundamentally altered the liberal landscape. It does not matter whether you are supportive of the occupation or opposed to it with all of your heart, if you support and love Israel, according to the logic of these protesters, you’re on the side of the oppressors. Indeed, the mere fact of being Jewish makes you suspect to many of the dominant voices on the far left today. We’ve told you to dismiss such behavior as anti-Semitic. But you’re smart enough to see that as reductive, as some of the criticism of Israel is manifestly justified and some of those people leveling such attacks are Jewish, and not just born Jewish, but feel their Judaism in much the same way you feel it. They, you tell me, feel the same moral imperative of the Exodus story to make the world a better place.

We’ve told you that there are organizations where you can find your people, people who don’t see any contradiction between a commitment to social justice and a commitment to Israel. However, joining organizations such as J Street or New Israel Fund is viewed in some pro-Israel circles as an act of treason. Yet, perversely, membership in such groups does not pass muster with the more extreme elements on the left, where anything short of calling for the destruction of Israel constitutes a rejection of Palestinian rights. 

The once-concentric circles of your Jewish community and your social justice community are now more like Venn diagrams with an ever-receding area of commonality. Yet, mercifully, you have not changed — you’re still the living manifestation of our greatest hopes and aspirations, galvanized by the Jewish spirit and imperative of narrowing the chasm between the world as it is and the world as it should be.

I wish I had an easy answer for you. The easiest path would be to pick one of the circles and forget the other. That’s the path that many would take and will take. However, you must not allow yourselves to be bullied into giving up a part of yourself for the sake of ease or social comfort. Such an outcome would be a tragic capitulation to a false choice and a rejection of your birthright. Instead you must join with others in forging a new path — a path that honors the singularity of your Judaism, love and concern for Israel, and the ethical and moral imperatives that guide you. Only by following that path do we have a chance of bringing the once concentric circles back into alignment. 

Love,

Dad


Adam F. Wergeles is a Los Angeles technology lawyer and a co-founder of IKAR.

[UPDATED] UC Regents committee condemns anti-Semitism on UC campuses, but not all anti-Zionism


UPDATE 3/24/2016. 1:40 p.m.:  On Thursday, March 24, the full board of Regents of the University of California unanimously approved the amended “Principles Against Intolerance” approved by its Committee on Educational Policy on Wednesday. “I think it’s a giant win for the community,” Avi Oved, a student member of the Board of Regents and a senior at UCLA, said in a phone interview following Thursday's vote.

The amended prinicpals now state “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” An earlier version of the document had stated, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”  Oved called the amendment a positive addition to the document. “I think that amendment strengthens the statement as a whole,” he said.

 

In a unanimous vote on the morning of March 23, the University of California Board of Regents' Committee on Educational Policy adopted a new “Principles Against Intolerance,” condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry on UC college campuses. The full Board of Regents is expected to vote on the propsed principles on Thursday, March 24.

The three-part, 12-page report containing the sections, “Contextual Statement,” “Working Group Observations” and “Principles Against Intolerance” was made public on March 15.

The public draft had been more broad, saying, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” However, prior to the vote, the working group’s members amended the statement to read, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” The amendment was put forth by UC Board of Regents member Norman Pattiz.

Multiple members of the working group spoke to the committee, saying they amended the text out of concern that not allowing campus expression of “anti-Zionism” could potentially stem legitimate criticism of Israel and thereby limit constitutional rights to free speech.

A working group of eight UC Regents faculty and students drafted the approved report, including UCLA Student Regent Avi Oved, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and others.

On Wednesday, Oved, wearing a yarmulke, spoke at the meeting, urging the UC Board of Regents members to adopt the report.

“For now, by adopting the ‘Statement of Principles,’ the UC will cement its stance against the growing tide of bigotry and discrimination,” Oved said. “These forms of hate and ignorance run contrary to the principles and values deeply rooted in this university. Simply put, this hateful invective does not represent our community, nor does it represent our hearts and spirits.”

The report was drafted in the wake of a series of anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses.

In 2015, the fraternity house of the UC Davis chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) was vandalized by spray-painted swastikas. The incident, which followed the school’s student government passing a resolution to divest from Israel, was one of several anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred on UC college campuses over the past several years as debate about Israeli occupation of the West Bank  has intensified on campus.

At UCLA, in 2015, UCLA student Rachel Beyda, a candidate for a student judicial position, was questioned by a panel about whether being Jewish would affect her ability to serve on the school’s student government. The students initially rejected her, and then after a faculty member intervened and explained the rules, she was approved for the position.

At Wednesday’s meeting, UC President Janet Napolitano described anti-Semitism on UC campuses as among the “thorniest issues facing the university today.”

One way that anti-Israel attitudes have manifested on college campuses is through student support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS), including passing student resolutions asking that universities divest from Israel.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, an umbrella organization for Reform rabbis, is among the groups that have condemned the divestment movement on college campuses. But, “CCAR promotes the opportunity for campuses to be open and safe to talk about Israel,” CCAR President Rabbi Denise Eger said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Pro-Israel organizations American Jewish Committee (AJC) and StandWithUs, respectively, applauded the regents’ vote.

“We commend the UC Regents for taking action against hostility toward Jewish students on UC campuses,” AJC Regional Director Janna Weinstein Smith and AJC San Francisco Director Sarah Persitz said in a statement.

During a public forum that preceded the meeting, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at University of California, Santa Cruz and co-founder and director of AMCHA Initiative, called anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the university,” the report’s final section says. “The Regents call on the University leaders actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community.” 

UC Board of Regents Member and California State Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez told the Journal that the report aims to prohibit criticism of Israel that crosses into anti-Semitism. “We want to be very clear: When people use anti-Zionist language as a proxy for anti-Semitic sentiment it is something we will not abide,” Perez said in a phone interview.

Estee Chandler, an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization promoting Palestianian rights, denounced today's vote. “I think there’s been a false narrative perpetuated that there is increased anti-Semitism on campus, and it is being perpetuated specially to try to get an outcome like they got today, where there is a policy being put in place that will definitely put a chilling effect on activism and maybe even further infringe on students’ rights to do pro-Palestinian or Palestinian solidarity activism on campuses,” Chandler said. “They are creating a solution for a problem that does not exist, to get a desired outcome.”

On the pro-Israel side, Judea Pearl, professor of computer science and statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, called the amendment to the Principles a capitulation on the part of the UC Board of Regents. “They did it under the pressure of free speech champions or whatever,” he said in a phone interview. He believes today's vote puts the onus on the Jewish community to respond if an act of anti-Semitism occurs on a UC campus.

“If this gives license to students to be assertive in class and the courage to raise their hand and say, 'You know, Professor, you don’t belong in this university,' and if this gives the audacity to Hillel and the ADL to take things seriously, to say, ‘From now on, enough is enough,’ then we won,” Pearl said. “It all depends on what the Jews do and not what the goyim think, to quote David Ben-Gurion.”

 

Prepping students for friction on college campuses


Fewer than 30,000 fans were at Dodger Stadium in 1965 when Sandy Koufax pitched his perfect game, although hundreds of thousands of people subsequently claimed to have been present to witness the feat firsthand. 

Referencing that historic game from 50 years ago and those wishful claims, The Israel Group’s (TIG) Jack Saltzberg recently assured a group of 120 high-school juniors and seniors that their presence in a Shalhevet High School conference room for the launch of TIG’s High School Speakers Program was unique and potentially historic.

“Today, you are the first students to be part of this program,” Saltzberg, TIG’s founder and executive director told the students on Nov. 6. “In 10 years, you are all going to be hearing about The Israel Group and a program that is in high schools all over the country. Every person who said they were there, you all will know that you were the first.”

The intent of the program will be to open a discussion and to prepare pro-Israel high school students for the type of arguments and opposition they will face when they get to college and beyond. TIG was founded in December 2014 to combat the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and speaker topics will include media bias, the Gaza Strip and the challenge of counterterrorism, terminology in the
Arab-Israeli conflict and political warfare. 

“The disinformation and the rewriting of history is one of the most insidious crimes of our time,” said Daniel Kaufman, president of TIG, which is based in Los Angeles. “I just can’t sit back and let this happen. It seems to me the most important people to educate are high school students. If you’re trying to educate them when they get to college, it’s too little, too late. You have to start now.” 

The Shalhevet presentation by Palestinian Media Watch founder and director Itamar Marcus represented the first visit in a high school program that will reach several local Jewish high schools in Los Angeles in the spring before expanding to New York and New Jersey in 2017. Ultimately, it will grow to include schools in the Christian community, too, according to TIG administrators 

More than a dozen speakers and organizations have been lined up to visit participating schools — including YULA Girls High School, YULA Boys High School, Milken Community Schools and Harkham GAON Academy (formerly Yeshiva High Tech) — where they will speak and hold post-presentation Q-and-A sessions with students. Schedules permitting, these speakers will include comedian Bill Maher of “Real Time With Bill Maher”; Bar-Ilan University political  studies professor Gerald Steinberg; and Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.

Since bringing well-known speakers directly to high school campuses requires funds and resources that many schools don’t possess, the High School Speakers Program fills a distinct need, said Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school. Its objective also meshes with Shelhevet’s goals in ways that some might find controversial, he said, explaining that he expects students to question and take issue with difficult topics, not simply to blindly take the speakers’ perspectives as truth.

“When Jack and Danny first presented the idea, we said, ‘Hey listen, we don’t want people coming in here and telling the students what they already know and believe,’ ” Segal said. “At the end of the day, if that’s all that happened, they’re not going to be equipped to get onto a college campus and hear voices that disagree with them and push back in a kind of confident and thoughtful way. They’re just going to be overwhelmed.

“I know that’s relatively controversial,” Segal continued. “Some think, ‘Why are we exposing students to views that push back,’ whether it’s against the legitimacy of Israel or the support of Israel. This is a situation where the kids feel comfortable in their classrooms and they feel comfortable asking questions. They can ask their teachers for ideas. That’s the kind of educational experience we’re looking for.”

During his approximately 45-minute presentation last week, Marcus reviewed a selection of photos, graphics and videos across a spectrum of Palestinian media showing hatred toward or dehumanization of Jews. Some came in the form of songs taught to Palestinian kindergarten students. Others involved inflammatory speeches made by clergy during services at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Marcus said multiple Palestinian schools are named after people who have committed terrorist acts and that social media posts label cities in Israel as being “occupied.” Many of these examples are distributed through channels that are sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority (PA), he added.

Marcus, who has represented Israel in negotiations with the PA on incitement, said these sentiments against Jews or Israel are rooted in racial hatred rather than linked to any diplomatic efforts to resolve border disputes between Israel and Palestine.

“If the problem with Israel and the Jews is that we are the sons of monkeys and pigs and we’re the most evil of God’s creations, then what difference would an adjustment of borders make?” Marcus said. “This is not about territory. It’s about who we are.” 

Marcus’ presentation also included examples of hope for the future, including a 2014 soccer match near the Gaza Strip in which Palestinian and Israeli children played together, and how viewers of “The Voice Israel” overwhelmingly selected the Arab-Israeli Lina Makhoul as the winner. 

The Shalhevet students were given post-event surveys to rate the event and the speaker’s effectiveness. Senior Jake Benyowitz called the experience “incredible.”

“I hope that people take away that this is not bashing Islamic people or showing anyone that Islam is a bad religion, because it’s not,” said Benyowitz, president of Shalhevet’s student group Firehawks for Israel. “We are interested in peace, and I hope that’s what comes out of this type of education.”

UCLA Jews: Stop fighting and start winning


When someone punches you in the face, there are three ways you can fight back: One, you can punch him back. Two, you can complain to authorities. Three, you can drive him crazy.

Unfortunately, pro-Israel groups on U.S. campuses are very good at complaining, but very bad at punching back or driving our enemies crazy.

And let's not mince words– the BDS movement is an enemy movement. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have zero interest in promoting peace between Israel and Palestinians. What they want to do is punch Israel in the face. Forget anti-Semitism- it's bad enough that these groups are single-mindedly focused on crushing Israel any way they can.

So, how are pro-Israel groups fighting back against this onslaught? Well, mostly by complaining and engaging. Our expectations have gotten so low that now we're getting all excited about obvious resolutions that “condemn anti-Semitism.” Uh, no kidding.

When one Jew– David Horowitz of the Freedom Center– tried punching back recently at UCLA, he got attacked by…other Jews. “We don't fight like that!” was their message. “We don't stoop to their level!”

Horowitz launched a nasty poster campaign that ridiculed the word “Justice” in the name Students for Justice in Palestine. By showing the horror of what a Palestinian group like Hamas can do to other Palestinians, he was basically saying: Now THIS is an injustice against Palestinians worth fighting. He was exposing SJP's hypocrisy.

Whether you agreed with the posters or not, they were a punch in the face.

Now, I acknowledge that the great majority of pro-Israel groups are not comfortable with this approach. They're more comfortable with things like “education” and “debates” and submitting complaints to authorities and editorial columns and peaceful demonstrations.

I have sympathy for that view. I also love a great debate or a great editorial or a great letter. The problem, of course, is that we're dealing with an enemy that has no interest in those things. The BDS movement attacks Israel with bare knuckles, while Jews often fight back with complaint letters.

So far, nothing we do seems to work. Our enemy just keeps punching away. Frankly, if their goal is to crush us, I don't blame them.

But if we insist on not punching back, then we should at least fight back with option 3: Drive them crazy.

How do we do that? By turning the image of Israel upside down: Not only is Israel not deserving of a boycott, it's actually the #1 solution to the problems the Middle East.

This is not just a clever strategy, it's also true: If every country in the Middle East offered the same human rights and civil rights as Israel does, the whole region would be a lot better off. No one can argue with that.

Pro-Israel groups should stop dignifying anti-Israel groups by dancing to their tune. Defending ourselves is a sign of weakness. If we want to make some real headway in this war of messages, we must create a new, fresh, positive attack line: Israel is the solution to the Middle East.

This is the shock and awe approach, designed to disarm and confuse the enemy.

Sure, they will continue to bash Israel any way they can. Nothing will stop that. But that's even more reason to strengthen the image of Israel with a powerful message of transformation.

Right now, anti-Israel groups are exploiting the Achilles heel of Israel's image– the conflict with the Palestinians. Let's face it, that problem isn’t going away any time soon. But Israel is a lot more than that conflict. It is the only society in the region that allows the freedom to make things better. That simple freedom alone can transform the region.

The key to communication is to start with accepted truths. These are the two big truths in the Middle East that work to Israel's advantage: One, the region is a chaotic, violent mess that tramples on human rights, and two, no country in the region offers more rights and freedoms and economic opportunities than Israel.

I don't have to draw a blueprint. Pro-Israel groups are smart enough to do that. What they need, though, is to change their messaging.

Position Israel as a key resource to help transform the Middle East and you will drive the BDS people crazy and bring the masses on your side.

That's not fighting – that's winning.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

ASA conference revisits the boycott of Israeli institutions


Nancy Koppelman, an American Studies professor at The Evergreen State College in Washington, is well aware of how passionate things can get on college campuses over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003, had been a student at Evergreen. 

Last week, at the American Studies Association’s (ASA) annual meeting in Los Angeles, Koppelman addressed another aspect of this heightened tension that more directly involved her peers. She chaired “The Party’s Over: A Panel and Open Discussion on the Aftermath of the ASA’s Boycott Resolution,” examining the ASA’s 2013 controversial vote to forbid academic partnerships with Israeli universities. 

The criticism lobbed against the organization dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history in the aftermath of the vote came from both scholars and organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League. (The ASA is the second U.S. academic organization, after the Association for Asian American Studies, to endorse such a boycott, according to insidehighered.com.)

“The symbolic boycott harnessed the ASA to a highly partisan goal, and then its advocates tried to drive it where they wanted it to go,” Koppelman, who voted against the boycott, said during the Nov. 6 panel. “But symbols are not like streetcars  — you can’t control them by turning the wheel or slamming on the brakes; once unleashed, symbols have lives of their own.”

The panel at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was attended by 30 people and also featured Michael Aaron Rockland, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University; Mohammed Wattad, a legal scholar and assistant professor at the Zefat Academic College School of Law in Israel; and Lisa Armony, director of the Rose Project and community outreach at the Jewish Federation and Family Services in Orange County. 

Rockland, who helped Koppelman organize the panel, described himself as a lifelong member of the ASA. Wattad joined the organization less than one year ago, so he could present at last week’s conference. So did Armony.

Only one-fourth of the ASA’s 5,000 members — many of whom are university professors — took part in the December 2013 vote to ratify the boycott. Two-thirds of the 1,250 votes cast supported the boycott, insidehighered.com reported. 

Over the course of the conference, which took place Nov. 6-9, several panels spotlighted the boycott issue. They included “Scholars Under Attack,” “Students Under Attack,” “I Want My ASA” and “Black Radicalism, Insurgency in Israel/Palestine and the Idea of Solidarity.”

The panels were created to “help bring into sharper relief the vibrant intersection of fun and fury in relation to local and global contexts,” the conference program materials explain. “Of particular interest in the program will be the wide-ranging responses to the ASA membership’s vote to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” 

Conference presenters who were critical of the boycott were few and far between, Koppelman said.

Matthew Jacobson, former president of the ASA and a professor of African-American Studies, history and American Studies at Yale, explained to the Journal that American aid to Israel makes what happens in the Jewish state an American Studies issue. He voted last year in support of the boycott.

“I thought it was a meaningful, symbolic way to raise protest against Israeli policy and also against U.S. policies that enable it,” he said. “I wish this year had been easier both for me and the organization, but I feel it is the right thing to do.”

More than 2,250 individuals registered for the conference, according to ASA Executive Director John Stephens. The conference was titled “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century.”

Stephens also acknowledged that tensions over the event were high. “My job is to hold this thing together, to make sure voices get heard and that we have a community,” he said, heading to the open bar at the close of late-afternoon sessions. “I’m a healer.”  

The majority of the panels had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — exploring gender studies and depictions of slavery in popular culture, for example — but there were plenty of conference attendees who had strong opinions on the matter. 

Eric Sandeen, University of Wyoming director of American Studies, seemed to have a hard time holding his tongue during the Q-and-A portion of “The Party’s Over.” 

“Oh boy, I got something to say,” Sandeen said while leaning against a conference room wall. “I don’t deny there are people out there who want to make a statement about the situation in the Middle East, but I don’t think an academic organization is the place to do it. I think something like a political action committee, which [the ASA] has kind of turned into, is the place to do it.”

University of Michigan professor June Howard, whose area of expertise is 19th- and 20th-century American literature and culture, disagreed. 

“It feels as if the pushback is as coercive as anything you are [speaking out against],” she told the panelists. 

Howard pointed to the mistreatment and marginalization of Arab-Americans in her area of southeast Michigan — a region heavily populated by Arab-Americans — as one example of how the conflict, despite being overseas, has an impact inside the U.S. 

Koppelman, for her part, also offered ideas for how critics of the boycott may proceed, including forming a caucus within the ASA that would focus on nurturing relationships with Israeli and Palestinian academics. Or, she said, she and her supporters could form an entirely new organization. 

“But, I’m kind of busy next week,” she said, “[and] that’s a very large order, and I am sure there are other possibilities and you may have some ideas. So we are here to get that conversation started.” 

The Fulfillment Fund: Giving kids a shot at college


This fall, Crenshaw High School valedictorian Christerbell Ahaiwe will start her freshman year at UCLA. What her new classmates might not realize is how hard she worked to get there. 

Growing up with six siblings in South Los Angeles, Christerbell had to squeeze in her homework around daily chores and tutoring her sister, who struggles with a learning disability. If it wasn’t for the one-on-one college and financial aid counseling she received through the Fulfillment Fund, her prospects might not have been so bright. 

College is a given for many local Jewish teens, but for thousands of low-income students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), it is not assured. Neither is an encouraging learning environment — or even a safe one. Gang violence, poverty and severe budget cuts that affect classroom resources are just a few of the factors that make higher education a far-off prospect for some 100,000 students in the district’s Title One high schools (defined as having high numbers of students from low-income families).

Kenny Rogers, CEO of the Fulfillment Fund, is working to change that. “We want to make college a reality for students in Los Angeles who are growing up in under-resourced communities,” he said. 

For nearly 40 years, the Fulfillment Fund has offered mentoring, academic instruction and guidance programs that plug gaps in L.A.’s public education system. A college education, the nonprofit’s leaders believe, is key to giving students a shot at careers that pay more than minimum wage — and hope for a more fulfilling life. 

Improving college access for underprivileged kids might seem like an unlikely cause for Gary and Cherna Gitnick, the Encino couple who founded the organization in 1977 and have remained heavily involved in its operation. The pair moved to Los Angeles from Nebraska so Gary could teach medicine at UCLA (he’s now chief of the division of digestive diseases at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine). But they noticed the impact of mounting inner-city turmoil on the city’s children — namely, how poverty led to hopelessness and despair. If there is a way to give kids opportunity, they felt, children will feel empowered to make something of their lives and become productive citizens. 

The Gitnicks’ vision started small, with an annual holiday party the couple hosted for children with disabilities. Then, seeing how Gary’s patients benefited from having positive role models, he and Cherna created a mentoring program that paired trained adult volunteers with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

“It was very motivating,” Gary recalled, noting that students’ high school attendance and graduation rates improved when they had someone who could show them that “it’s possible to pull yourself up.”

But what about after graduation? Knowing that the best jobs increasingly require college degrees, the Gitnicks developed a classroom-based curriculum that teaches high school students how to prepare for college. In gang-ridden schools, where students often receive little parental or financial support, course instructors coach teens on how higher education can be a path to higher income and the practical aspects of getting there: studying for the SATs, writing a college essay, filling out a college application. Crucially, the program also connects students with college counselors, whose numbers have dwindled at LAUSD schools because of budget cuts. 

The resource gap has dire implications for student success: Nationally, eight in 10 students from the upper income quartile get college degrees, while only one in 10 from the bottom income quartile do, Rogers said. 

“Essentially, we try to provide young people with all of the necessary resources that our kids would get,” Gary said recently at the Encino home where he and Cherna raised four children of their own and followed the triumphs of thousands more. 

Their formula works. Ninety percent of the Fulfillment Fund’s high school graduates go to college, compared to about half of low-income kids nationally. And 70 percent of those students finish with a degree, compared to 30 percent of their peers. 

“We more than double their chances of going to college and getting their degrees,” Rogers said. “Helping students go to college and graduate has immense value for the community.”

It’s also consistent with Jewish values. Rogers, whose oldest son recently had his bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, often contemplates the adage, tzedek, tzedek tirdof — justice, justice shall you pursue. And as the High Holy Days approach, it’s easy to see the theme of personal transformation in Fulfillment Fund students’ stories. 

When one young man, Marcelo, entered the program, he was stealing hubcaps for cash. He was matched with a pair of mentors who encouraged him to turn his life around; eventually, he went to business school at USC and found a career in real estate investment. Efren, a Hamilton High School student who exasperated instructors in the Fulfillment Fund’s college access curriculum, once skateboarded through the halls. This past summer, after working hard to raise his grades, he scored an internship with a skateboard clothing company. 

The organization now works with more than 2,500 students in Los Angeles, with its college access program in five LAUSD schools, its mentoring program throughout the district and college scholarships provided to 250 students per year. With its yearly budget of $4.5 million funded entirely by private donations, the nonprofit’s reach is impressive. 

“A lot of people look at our educational system and say, ‘It’s too big, it’s too broken — why invest?’ ” Rogers said. “But we can make a difference, one student at a time.”

Keeping Jewish young adults engaged in Judaism


Heading off to college is usually seen as an exciting, colorful rite of passage. But, as rabbis at several local synagogues have observed, those steps toward adult independence often come with uncertainty and a need for an additional support system beyond Mom and Dad.

That, they believe, is where they can help by keeping Jewish young adults connected with their pre-college communities. Aside from the tried-and-true methods of doing this — holiday-themed care packages, regularly distributed dvar Torah messages and programs between semesters for college-age students — the ways clergy and staffers reach out to them has evolved with the advances of technology. Some rabbis also contend that the reasons young adults should stay connected are evolving.

“I would frame [this] less about how we are as a congregation reaching out to kids who have gone away to college, and instead ask ourselves how we are preparing them to develop their own Jewish way of life,” said Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei of the Conservative Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. 

“While there is merit to keeping in touch with students, what we’re really doing reflects that when kids go away to college, they are forging their own lives. We [need to] think about how we can help young adults gain the tools to forge meaningful Jewish lives during and after college.”  

Schuldenfrei fondly recalls how he received care packages for the High Holy Days from his home synagogue and thinking how wonderful it was to receive a piece of home and a reminder of childhood. (At Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay, they don’t even wait for students to leave home; they hold a special send-off program for graduating seniors, presenting each with a mezuzah to take with them.)

However, it is most important to him that a shul considers how it can guide young congregants into a fulfilling Jewish life no matter where they land after college, Schuldenfrei said.

“We as an individual institution and a part of the greater Jewish community have to look at how we are helping young adults create mature and vibrant Jewish lives,” he explained. “We held a seminar this past spring for high school students and their parents led by one of the more prominent Hillel directors in the country. He spoke about Jewish life on campus and what to expect. One of the most meaningful moments, however, was not the program itself but after the program. There was a line of students who had questions and wanted to talk to this rabbi. The line showed that they cared about the future of Israel and about leading a Jewish life.” 

At Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Senior Rabbi Laura Geller stresses that before college-age congregants go off to school, she and her fellow clergy collect their addresses so that they can send them holiday care packages. However, the most important element of their outreach is keeping in touch with individual students, even via email.

“[Rather than] send out a mass email to all of them, I am in personal correspondence with many of our students, as are my colleagues Rabbi Jonathan Aaron and Cantor Yonah Kliger,” she said. “The relationships that started prior to the students leaving for college continue to be developed through their connections with us. Out of these relationships come deepened relationships. This is something that matters to us, especially if students end up moving back to L.A. after graduation.”

Geller added that the Reform temple recently hired Assistant Rabbi Sarah Bassin, who is reaching out to young professionals in their 20s and 30s. The synagogue also has several Facebook pages, as well as personalized efforts to reach out to students returning home for major Jewish holidays and inviting them to participate in the services. Although the choir is only open to local students, Geller said many members are students from USC and UCLA.

“We hope people will recognize that a synagogue community is a community, whether it is a face-to-face community or a virtual community, and what makes it special is that it is intergenerational,” she said. “As supportive as Mom and Dad may be, it is sometimes important to talk to somebody outside of family. You would be surprised at the number of young people who stay in touch because of that.”

The new outreach program at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino has been in the hands of Ami Monson, director of youth engagement, for a few months. However, he’s applying a wealth of experience, including stints with Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel and as an adviser with United Synagogue Youth (USY). He projects the new program at the Conservative shul will be in full swing in time for Chanukah.

“My plan is to take a list of [young adults] who recently entered college or university, or went back to school, and send them notes keeping them up to date on what’s happening at VBS and [our local chapter of] USY,” Monson said. “Thanks to social media, including Facebook, we have instant gratification with our students, whether we’re wishing them a happy birthday or happy holy days. However, there’s something pure and old school about sending a note in the mail, or sending alumni of our shul or school a gift to let them know they are remembered.

“Once I build relationships, I plan to work with some of the college students and college graduates in the area who are now in the workplace, and have them come back to talk about their college experience to our USY board in a mentoring manner or in our Teen Tuesday program.”

Monson said person-to-person contact for students attending traditional sleep-away schools not only offers them a welcome taste of home and a knowledge that somebody cares about them, but shows they are part of a greater community and helps them maintain a connection to their home Jewish communities in particular. 

Sinai Temple in Westwood has a program called College Connection that, like many other programs, starts when students or their parents submit their email and information on what university or college they are attending. From there, Rabbi Nicole Guzik explained, Rabbi Jason Fruithandler (“our young professional outreach rabbi”) prepares dvar Torahs as well as special token gifts on holidays and special occasions to get the moral lessons of those messages across. For example, on Purim, he’ll send a mask with a dvar Torah that refers to the courage needed for one to unmask a new side of one’s character or personality.

Guzik also said Rabbi David Wolpe puts a message out on his Facebook page every day, whether it relates to Shabbat, a major Jewish holiday or a current event, so young adults who grew up in the Conservative congregation will still feel connected to him. Guzik, too, sends out a weekly dvar Torah via email and Facebook and finds she gets 50 to 100 replies on Facebook — 10 to 20 times more than she gets via standard email.

“If it weren’t for social media, we would have almost no connection with our younger members,” Guzik said. “I have learned all about this through Matt Baram, our Millennial director, who has taught me at 33 that if I am not connected to the students and teenagers through Facebook, there is almost no way to connect. As we speak, I am preparing High Holy Days participation forms right now and getting through to the kids on Facebook Messenger, and they respond immediately. “

At Temple Beth Am (TBA) in Pico-Robertson, Youth Director Alana Levitt said the Conservative synagogue tries to make itself financially accessible to college students. Student membership to TBA is $200 and includes High Holy Days tickets. The temple offers a reduced introductory rate for young adults post-college, as well as opportunities to lead services and work in Shabbat Yeladim children’s programming for work study or compensation. 

This shul also stages monthly Shabbat gatherings and dinners for college- and post-college-age adults led by Josh Warshawsky, artist-in-residence. Young Adults @ Beth Am, meanwhile, has yearlong programming that includes the popular series “House of Jews & Israeli Brews” with beer tastings, food, music performances and more. 

Rabbi Eli Herscher, senior rabbi at Stephen S. Wise Temple, said the Reform synagogue’s programming is designed to help teen congregants and students mature into observant adults. It has several goals: creating strong bonds before teens go off to college, so there’s a desire on their part to stay involved; creating engaging opportunities to continue their involvement as they return during school breaks; and removing financial barriers that prevent 20-somethings from staying connected.

“To transition this committed group of Los Angeles-area teens to the next level of involvement as college students and beyond, Wise Temple extends to this group ‘Young Membership,’ all the way up to age 29, that invites them to continue temple membership for just $140 for a single person — or less if they need a break,” he said. 

“This attention to easy transitions from one age-appropriate group to the next creates a lifelong commitment to the temple and Judaism, intertwining the learning, social interaction and meaning that so many youth are searching for today. The message the temple sends out is overwhelmingly that they welcome them to stay involved at every age through adulthood.”

Florida State U. prof Dan Markel slain in home shooting


Dan Markel, a law professor at Florida State University, died after being shot in his home.

Markel died Saturday morning, a day after being discovered shot in the back in his home and taken to the hospital, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. He was 41.

No suspects have been identified, the Democrat reported.

“I am deeply saddened to report that our colleague Dan Markel passed away early this morning,” FSU law school dean Donald Weidner said in a statement issued Saturday, adding that the case was still under active investigation by local authorities.

A memorial service was held Sunday at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Tallahassee. A memorial service will be held at the university in the fall when students return to campus.

Markel was a graduate of Harvard Law School and primarily taught criminal law at Florida State.

Markel’s writings have been featured in The New York Times, Slate and The Atlantic. He is the author of the 2009 book “Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties.” He also wrote a law blog called “Prawfsblawg.”

Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Jews without Harvard


This is the time of year when the Golden Children of our tribe are being anointed by the nation’s finest colleges and universities. These kids have traveled a long road to glory — GPA, SAT, AP, interviews, essays, common apps.

For a full year, the only question they’ve heard from us adults was, “So, where are you going to college?” Within weeks, our kids will finally be able to answer with a single, solitary name: USC. UCLA. Wisconsin. Harvard. Dartmouth.

End of story, right?

Not quite.

The Jewish community is slowly waking up to the fact that not every 18-year-old will end up in a top-tier, four-year university. In fact, for a good percentage of our children, there really is no obvious place to go.

About 20 percent of the United States population has some disability. According to a report by the nonprofit organization RespectAbilityUSA, for many of these adults, those disabilities are a roadblock to higher education and job training. Some schools and communities have made great strides toward ameliorating this. Unfortunately, the Jewish community is not one of them.

“There is this unrealistic attitude that all our kids are going to Harvard,” Jay Ruderman, the head of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told me in a phone interview. “There’s a huge blind spot in the Jewish community when it comes to inclusion. If [Jewish leaders] themselves are not connected to a child through disability, they’re just missing it.”

Jo Ann Simons’ personal story is a good example. When her son, who has Down Syndrome, was in high school, he asked his mom when he was going to take the SAT. 

“I asked him, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘You need them to get into college. You’ve included me in a regular high school, now I want to go to college.’ ”

Simons had found great support for her son in Jewish Community Center programs and Jewish camps. But when it came time for post-secondary options, the Jewish community offered nothing.

After a great deal of effort, her son was able to enroll in a special program at Cape Cod Community College.

Simons’ son is now 34. Simons herself is CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, Mass., a Catholic charity that is developing an inclusive community  where people of all abilities will live, work, play and learn together. In addition to providing housing for people with disabilities, the center is developing 37 workforce housing units.

“In the Jewish world, the options are limited,” Simons said. “We’re judging ourselves on how many of our kids got into Harvard and Stanford, and we forgot that that’s not everybody’s pathway to achievement. America has moved beyond the Jewish community.”

Ruderman thinks he knows why the Jewish world has lagged behind, and he wants to change it. Ruderman’s family foundation deeply focused on disability issues in the Jewish world. It is a key backer of February as Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Post-secondary education is among the issues next in his sights.

“It’s crucially important, because if people are going to compete in the marketplace, they need that education,” he told me. 

It’s the relentless emphasis on “Jewish continuity,” Ruderman said, that relegates disability issues to a lesser priority.

“Our Jewish community is obsessed with the future of our community. It’s all about continuity. Unfortunately, they look at people with disabilities, and they say, ‘You know, they’re not our future. We’ll ship them over to public schools. This is something we’re not going to invest in, because they’re not our future.’ That’s really sad on the face of it.”

“I blame my fellow philanthropists,” Ruderman continued. “They’re not stating it out loud, but I know what’s behind it: The future is young, upwardly mobile Jews.”

But, Ruderman said, focusing on inclusivity actually attracts the cream of the next generation as well.  

“If you want to attract people, you have to be inclusive, or people will be turned off,” he said. “The older generation doesn’t get that.   This is a civil rights issue. We’re trying to change the mindset.”

One bright spot — perhaps the only one — is at American Jewish University in Bel Air. An independent organization called Live Advance LA, part of The Help Group, has set up shop there, and through AJU’s College of Arts and Sciences offers adults ages 18-25 with a spectrum of disabilities college-level classes, academic support, guidance and tutoring. 

Can this program or similar ones expand and spread to other communities? 

It has to happen.

“What I would like to see is a willing partner,” said Ruderman.  

“If there is a Jewish institution interested in post-secondary education, we’re willing to put significant resources behind it. Money is not an obstacle. The money exists in the Jewish community. Inclusion is less expensive than segregation, and segregation leads to poverty.”

Celebrate all those Ivy League acceptances, by all means. But don’t forget the potential in all our children, all of them, in their way, golden.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Letters to the Editor: NewGround, Liberal colleges and Prager


Breaking New Ground in Interfaith Dialogue
 
The NewGround project is as controversial as it is ambitious (“It’s Not Just Talk,” Aug. 2). Although I am skeptical as to its potential success, I believe the focus of the Jewish-Muslim dialogue is myopic. Since 9/11, it has become increasingly obvious that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a symptomatic and symbolic flashpoint of a problem of much greater universal dimensions. The thoughts of non-Palestinian Muslims about Israel in the NewGround dialogue clearly demonstrate that the war with Israel is not as territorial as it is religious. Perhaps the dialogue should be expanded to include Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i and Zoroastrians, who in the present day find themselves in conflict with expansionist Islam.
 
This young generation of American Muslims must be challenged as to whether they subscribe to the expansionist Jihadist Islam that wants to Islamize and subjugate the entire world. If they truly do not, then perhaps they could potentially be a catalyst for reform in the Islamic world that is long overdue.
 
Richard Friedman
Los Angeles
 
Hats off to writer Jonah Lowenfeld and the Jewish Journal for their recent article. Interfaith dialogue, like intercultural, interracial and inter-political dialogues, are always a difficult minefield for groups to make their way through. 
 
My big fear is that the resistant older guard Jewish and Muslim leadership — and its concomitant stubborn resistance in the general older Jewish and Muslim public — is going to make the vital and necessary work of groups like NewGround extremely hard. 
 
Older critics of NewGround and similar groups need to not sit on the fence, nursing old wounds. Instead, they should give full-throated support. To do otherwise is to only prolong the problem, and that won’t help anyone. 
 
Brian Estwick
Los Angeles
 
U.S. Universities Open Learning Environments?
 
As a student at an openly liberal-leaning college, I have spoken frankly with professors as to whether our courses provide an open space for dissenting opinions or serve merely to reinforce opinions students already hold. What those conversations had was nuance, and an understanding that an idea can be presented — and even argued for by the professor — without being indoctrination. Isn’t that how we learn to think critically about an idea? Dennis Prager, on the other hand, presents woefully oversimplified versions of ideas that are admittedly often present in college courses and offers what amounts to an attempt to scare parents who are understandably concerned about the rising cost of college. It is irresponsible to say that a college education’s value is invalidated by the presence of liberal professors or controversial ideas. Give students a little credit — we’re impressionable, not stupid. 
 
Noah Scheindlin
Los Angeles
 
Dennis Prager responds:
 
Mr. Scheindlin’s first sentence proves my point. He acknowledges that he is “a student at an openly liberal-leaning college.” 
 
He also admits that all the left-wing propositions I ascribed to American universities “are admittedly often present in college courses.”
 
So where do we differ? Clearly not on my overall thesis that the American university has become a left-wing seminary.
 
We differ on whether the left-wing curriculum of the American university matters. He thinks it doesn’t. I think it does. 
 
Mr. Scheindlin then equates “controversial ideas,” with liberal ones. I would like him to name one liberal idea — just one among the dozens I listed in my column, for example — that would be controversial at his or any other university. The only controversial ideas at American universities today are conservative: God is necessary for objective morality; capitalism is the finest system for conquering poverty; some murderers should be executed; Islamism is the greatest threat to world peace today. It would be surprising if Mr. Scheindlin had one professor who espoused even one of those ideas.
 
And for those still needing proof that our universities are left-wing seminaries, how’s this: The ratio of identifiably left-wing to identifiably right-wing commencement speakers at America’s colleges in 2013 was about a hundred to one. Among the commencement speakers at the various University of California campuses this year were Attorney General Eric Holder; Gov. Jerry Brown; green activist Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins; ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero; Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.); and Hilda Solis, secretary of labor in the Obama administration; among many other lesser-known liberal activists. There was not one identifiable conservative. 
 
Correction
 
A column about the writer Joshuah Bearman (“Hard Road to Hollywood,” Aug. 2) incorrectly stated his relationship to his brother Ethan. Both Bearmans share the same parents.

College and your child


The following are some of the basic postulates about America, religion, society, morality, the arts and Israel that are taught at almost every American university.

America:

• The United States is no better than any other country, and in some important ways it is worse than many. 

• On the world stage, America is an imperialist country, and domestically it mistreats its minorities and largely neglects its poor.

•  “American exceptionalism” and overt displays of patriotism are examples of American chauvinism. 

• America is a racist country. You white students are racist — and you either acknowledge this or you are in denial.

• Non-whites, however, cannot be racist — because whites have power and the powerless cannot be racist.

• The South votes Republican because it remains racist, and the Republican Party caters to that racism.

• Women are victims — of men. Blacks are victims — of whites. Latinos are victims — of Anglos. Muslims are victims — of Christians. Gays are victims — of straights. 

• The American Founders were sexist, racist slaveholders whose primary concern was preserving their power and wealth.

• The original meaning and intent of the Constitution are either unknowable or irrelevant to today. 

• The Electoral College should be abolished in order to transform America from a republic to a democracy.

• America’s dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was racist and a war crime.

Religion:

• God is at best a nonissue, and at worst a foolish and dangerous belief. 

• Only people who reject science believe that the universe was designed.

• Religion has killed more people than any other idea, group or movement in human history.

• Christianity, in particular, has been a malevolent force, its history consisting largely of inquisitions, crusades, oppression and anti-intellectualism. Islam, on the other hand, is a religion of peace. 

• Criticism of Christianity is therefore enlightened. Criticism of Islam, however, is a form of bigotry known on campus as Islamophobia.

• The good done by Christians in forming the Western world is not attributable to Christianity. 

• Evil committed by Christians is due to Christianity. Evil committed by Muslims is not due to Islam. 

Society and Morality:

• The reason for Third World poverty is that Western nations exploited Third World nations through colonialism and imperialism.

• The great moral conflicts are between the rich and the poor and between the powerful and the powerless, not between the good and the evil (that is dismissed as Manichaeism).

• The state is the most effective vehicle to creating a humane society. Therefore the larger the state, the more good it will do.

• Big corporations are bad. Big unions are good.

• Capitalism is rooted in selfishness and is structured to benefit the wealthy.

• Health care for profit is morally wrong.

• War is ignoble. Pacifism is noble.

• Human beings are animals, differing from “other animals” only in having more developed brains. 

• Sexual orientation is biologically determined. Gender is not. 

• Therefore, men and women, including mothers and fathers, are essentially interchangeable. The notions that married mothers and fathers are the parental ideal and that mothers and fathers bring unique things to a child are heterosexist and homophobic.

• The greatest vehicle for women’s happiness is career satisfaction, not marrying and making a family.

• The primary causes of criminal violence are poverty and racism.

• Man-made carbon emissions are dramatically heating up the planet, and this will lead to global catastrophe.

Arts and Literature:

• There is no actual meaning to a text. Texts mean what the reader perceives them to mean.

• There is no better and worse in literature and the arts. The reason universities traditionally taught Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Bach — rather than, let us say, Guatemalan poets, Sri Lankan musicians and Native American storytellers — was not that they were the best but because of Western “Eurocentrism.”

Israel:

• Israel’s settlements on the West Bank are the primary cause of the Middle East conflict. 

• Israel is an apartheid state, morally little different from apartheid South Africa.

Many readers agree and many will disagree with all or virtually all of these propositions. But these are the propositions that almost every university teaches students (outside the departments of business, math and the natural sciences). 

Reporting on one study of college faculty, the Washington Post’s media reporter Howard Kurtz (himself a liberal), wrote: “At the most elite schools. … 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.” Kurtz went on to note that 84 percent of instructors were pro-choice, 88 percent of professors want more environmental protection “even if it raises prices or costs jobs” and “65 percent want the government to ensure full employment, a stance to the left of the Democratic Party.”

“The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and religious studies, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative.” 

As Chris Mooney, a left-wing writer, wrote in the HuffingtonPost: “Higher education is a liberal and secular force in our society.”

If you are a parent who agrees with these postulates, you are likely to deem college worth $100,000 or more. You feel good knowing that the university is reinforcing your values and convictions in your child during the course of the four most impressionable years of his or her life. 

On the other hand, if you are a parent who does not hold these positions, you are not merely wasting an enormous sum of money; you are paying an enormous sum of money to have a college inculcate views and values that are counter to your most precious values and ideals. What you can do about it will be the subject of a future column.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Empty nest, full fridge


My son Paul and his wife, Amber, were the original baby boomers, graduating from college in the ’80s, getting married and raising four children. 
 
They both love to cook, and when their kids were growing up, they always ate family dinners together, every night.  The only rule was for the kids to try everything on their plates, and fast food was limited to once a week,
 
Amber said that she never made separate dishes for the adults or the kids, and everyone ate whatever was served at the dinner table.  The meals were crowded with playmates, teammates, boyfriends, girlfriends and the foreign students the family hosted every summer.
 
But now the house is empty. One of their daughters is working at dad’s CPA office and has her own apartment; the other daughter is married, teaching high school in Northern California. The two sons also are away — one in Irvine at law school, the youngest at UC Santa Cruz. 
 

Amber and Paul Zeidler. Photos by Dan Kacvinski

It seemed to happen slowly, but all of a sudden Paul and Amber realized how quiet things are at home. Things started to change: Amber, in addition to managing the household, is a very creative artist, and now that the kids are out of the house, she has more time for her art.  And Paul, always an athlete, now has more time to spend on his long-distance running. But for real fun, they both continue to expand their passion for swing dancing.  
 
The couple is still cooking, of course, and, believe it or not, they are still preparing large quantities that become part of the next meal. They find many recipes difficult to reduce, and no one has any scorn for leftovers in their house.  In fact, Paul takes lunch to work every day, preferring home-cooked food to anything he could order at the local restaurants.
 
Paul and Amber’s weekend shopping trip to the supermarket is a little different though. The cart is no longer filled as they are more selective, unless they are entertaining family or friends.  
 
Amber explains that the main difference in her cooking now is that she no longer has to worry about making things that their youngest son, a picky eater, liked. Now they are preparing more dishes that they prefer, foods the kids never really enjoyed. One of their favorite dishes is Lamb With Almonds, a Turkish-inspired dish served with couscous. 
 
But there’s always one thing they can count on — the kids will still return home from time to time. On those occasions, Chiles Rellenos remains the most-requested dish for family dinners.
 
Here are some of their favorite recipes, perfect for a pair of boomers enjoying an empty nest or a mom and dad happy to host the whole family again.
 
AMBER’S CUCUMBER-LEMON SLAW
 
I love this dish so much, I have to double the recipe if I want leftovers.
 
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup sour cream
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
 
About 10 minutes before serving, spread shredded cucumber onto several layers of paper towels; top with more paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally to absorb moisture from cucumbers.
 
Stir together the sour cream, scallions, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper and cucumber in a medium bowl.  
 
Makes 4 servings.


AMBER’S PECAN RISOTTO
 
We try to eat meat only once a week. This is a vegetarian entrée we love. When I’m alone in the house, I stand in the kitchen stirring risotto and singing out loud.  You can prepare this about 1 hour before serving.
 
1 1/4 cups pecan halves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
5 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
 
In a large saucepan, stir the pecans over medium heat until toasted. Remove from pan. Cool slightly, then chop coarsely; set aside. In the same large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add mushrooms; cook until the mushrooms are tender.
 
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Remove mushrooms from large saucepan; set aside. Wipe pan clean.
 
In the large saucepan, heat remaining oil over medium heat; add rice, shallot and garlic. Cook just until rice is lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly add 1 cup broth to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup of broth to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until broth has been absorbed and rice is slightly creamy and tender.
 
Stir in spinach, cheese, pepper, mushrooms and pecans until combined. Serve immediately. 
 
Makes 4 servings.


CHILES RELLENOS
 
This meatless dish can be an entrée or, as dictated by the amounts called for in this recipe, a side. It reheats well in the microwave.
 
6 medium poblano chiles (about 4 ounces each)
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup corn kernels (cut from 2 medium ears of corn)
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
 
Preheat oven to 350 F.
 
About 1 hour before serving, place whole poblano chiles in broiler pan and cook under broiler, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes. 
 
Transfer chiles to large sheet of foil. Wrap foil around chiles and allow to steam at room temperature 10 minutes or until cool enough to handle. While chiles are steaming, combine cheese, corn and cilantro in medium bowl.
 
Remove chiles from foil. Cut a 2-inch lengthwise slit in side of each chile, being careful not to cut through top or bottom.  Under running cold water, gently peel off skin. Remove seeds and veins from opening; for less-intense flavor, rinse inside and drain. Pat chiles dry with paper towels.
 
With spoon, fill each chile with about 1/2 cup of cheese mixture. Gently reshape chiles to close opening. Place 3 filled chiles in a single layer on a sheet of heavy-duty foil; bring the sides of the foil up and fold to seal well. Fold over ends to seal in juices. Bake foil packets in the oven for 10 minutes to heat chiles and melt cheese.  
 
Makes 6 servings.


CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD
 
Paul and Amber’s son loves to put chocolate chips in banana bread (which they make using over-ripe bananas). Amber baked a loaf recently and brought it up to him at college. He didn’t have a knife in his dorm room, but he and his friends got through it somehow.
 
1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, softened
1 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 eggs, slightly beaten
 
Preheat oven to 350 F. 
 
In large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in bananas, chocolate chips, pecans, lemon zest and eggs, just until dry ingredients are moistened. Then spoon the batter evenly into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
 
Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan and finish cooling on wire rack.
 
Makes 8 to 12 servings.

LAMB WITH ALMONDS

If you’re planning for a meal featuring meat instead, try this Turkish-inspired dish. It’s nice enough for company, but then you won’t have those yummy leftovers. Serve it with couscous, and you’re done.
 
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 beef-flavored bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon dried mint (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint)
Spinach leaves to cover a platter
1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
 
About 30 minutes before serving, heat canola in a large skillet over medium heat, add almonds, and cook, stirring, until golden brown.  With slotted spoon, remove almonds to plate.
 
Over medium-high heat, in oil remaining in skillet, cook ground lamb, onions, bouillon cube, salt, garlic salt and pepper, stirring, until meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Add almonds, lime juice and mint. Stir mixture to blend well.
 
Line platter with spinach leaves; spoon meat mixture onto spinach leaves and garnish with tomato wedges.  
 
Makes 4 (generous) servings.  

Outstanding Graduate: Rose Bern — A passionate voice


Rose Bern isn’t afraid to fight for her values.

The 17-year-old, who recently graduated from Shalhevet High School and lives in Westwood, has strong convictions when it comes to feminism, justice and fairness. 

In the ninth grade, she gave a passionate speech at her school about women serving as rabbis. She sits on the Fairness Committee, where she and her peers hear cases between two students or a teacher and a student and decide upon a verdict. One day, she might even decide to be a prosecuting attorney and “serve justice to people who deserve it,” she said. “There are certain issues that really get me pumped up.”

Her former music appreciation teacher and journalism advisor Joelle Keene has noticed Bern’s enthusiasm about different causes.

“She's a firecracker,” she said. “She has a tremendous amount of passion, personality, drive and a sense of outrage too.”

Keene said that at Shalhevet, Bern’s candid nature made her stand out amongst the other students.

“She gets fired up about the way things ought to be,” she said. “At the town hall meetings at school, where they present a moral dilemma about school policy, news or the dress code, she'll feel more strongly about it than most of the kids.”

No doubt this tremendous energy has served Bern well in other areas of her life as well, whether through the award-winning writing she did for Shalhevet’s newspaper, The Boiling Point; her acting in numerous drama productions; or her passionate work on the debate team. She even wrote three one-act plays that were produced.

Somehow, she still finds time to be a babysitter every other Shabbat at her shul, the Westwood Village Synagogue, and work as a counselor at Camp Ramah in California.

In 2014, she’ll attend New York University (NYU). But before she goes to the East Coast, she’s taking a yearlong trip to Israel, where she plans to live on multiple kibbutzim and travel the country.

“I really wanted a year to decompress, and I think this is the prime opportunity to do this,” she said. “Once you go to college you don't have much time to explore the world.”

Though Bern said she doesn’t know what she’ll major in at NYU or what kind of career she will end up choosing, she’s interested in the fields of law and psychology.

“I took Advanced Placement psychology this year, and it was the most fascinating thing in the world,” she said. “[Learning about] the way people behave and why they behave that way, [as well as about] their inner consciousness really struck me.”

What’s most important to Bern is making sure that she is content with whatever she chooses to do. 

“I want to make sure that at the end of my life, I did everything I could,” she said. “I want to be able to look back and say I did it all because I wanted to, and I didn’t let outside circumstances, like money, [dictate my life]. I just want to be happy.”

Helping grads on their Jewish journey


As a Hillel director for the last seven years, I have come to love this time of year. Graduation is the moment to celebrate not just academic learning, but the personal growth and discovery students experience during their university years. Sitting among the friends and family watching the ceremonies, I can sense the feeling of optimism for what the future holds.  

As much as I share that excitement, I have a simultaneous feeling of anxiety and nervous energy — like a parent sending my children off into the world. For the last four years, when these students have needed a welcoming Shabbat dinner, a comfortable place to decompress or a supportive and compassionate ear, Hillel has been there to fill the need. All along the way, Hillel has worked with them, pushed, them, challenged them and supported them on their Jewish journeys. 

From now on, they’ll be on their own. It will be their job to create their own Jewish expression. If they want Shabbat dinner, they’ll have to make it. If they want to meet Jewish peers, they’ll need to make the effort. If they want to find Jewish learning, it’s up to them. If they want Jewish community, they’ll need to find it — or build it.  

But should it be that way? Shouldn’t the Jewish community make an active effort to welcome these young people, to embrace them, to connect them? So many Jewish opportunities exist for these graduates. But how to connect them? As a Hillel director, how can I hand off these graduates for the next stop of their Jewish journey? The organized Jewish world lacks such a mechanism. We need one. 

Every fall, I struggle with the same problem at the beginning of the college experience. I am always surprised to meet great numbers of new students who have been involved in youth groups or Jewish camps during high school, but who seem unaware of what Hillel does. And it’s rare for a rabbi, school administrator or camp director to make contact in advance to alert me of students bound for our campus. (Many private universities do share names of incoming Jewish students with Hillels and campus Chabads, but most public institutions are less forthcoming.)  

Throughout our lifetimes we move along a Jewish journey. We might begin with a preschool at our local synagogue and then participate in a youth group or attend a Jewish summer camp or attend a Jewish high school and then head off to college. The Jewish community invests countless resources in all these experiences, working to deepen Jewish identity. Where we fall short is in connecting them. How often do preschool directors actively communicate with day school principals, Jewish after-school programs, youth group directors and camp directors?  

It is a rare occurrence when I get an e-mail from a Jewish high school, youth group or summer camp director notifying me of the students bound for my campus. For those that have been active in our Jewish communities, don’t we owe it to them to make the transition to living a Jewish life on college campuses easier? And after they graduate, Hillels and Chabads should have routine methods for connecting graduates with local boards of rabbis, JCCs, Moishe houses and Jewish federations. In order to best serve our youth, we need to move from working in silos and understand this simple idea: The more we communicate and share information, the more vibrant our community will become.  

When we don’t, we create several problems. We invest so much money in Jewish teens and youth and then just hope for the best. It is a misuse of funds unless we do everything possible to ensure that Jewish youth make the transition to the next stop of their Jewish journey. Jewish campus life would be that much stronger if, every fall, campus Jewish professionals knew of Jewish student leaders who were starting college. On a merely practical level, knowing the different experiences of the variety of students attending campus in the fall would help Hillels plan accordingly and better serve students’ needs.  

I know that I am far from alone in this feeling. Every year at Hillel national conferences, directors and program professionals speak about the greater impact we could have if we knew the Jewish students coming to our campuses. We could be proactive and reach out to them to welcome them to campus, to let them know we are here to ease the transition, and to continue their Jewish journeys.  

Of course, these kinds of contacts happen in small and episodic ways, but what we lack is a central, strategic solution. At a minimum, Jewish summer camps, Jewish day schools, youth groups, Hebrew High schools, synagogues or any Jewish organization supporting Jewish youth should actively work to connect students with their local Hillel or Chabad. They rarely do.

Just recently, an educator at a local Jewish high school phoned to ask if I would come speak to his graduating seniors about Jewish life on campus. If only this weren’t an anomaly but rather part of my regular spring schedule. The work in May and June for all Hillel professionals should be meeting with Jewish students graduating high schools across the country.  

Just imagine if every Jewish student in the country received a welcome letter from the Jewish community on his or her college campus. How much more meaningful and easy might the transition be? And imagine if communities reached out to every new university graduate headed their way. Then, attending future graduations, I could watch the graduates cross the stage, excited about their futures, and filled with confidence and assurance that the students whose lives I touched would continue their Jewish journeys and continue to enrich the Jewish world.

Outstanding Graduates 2013


Every year, we shine a spotlight on a group of outstanding high school seniors, culled from many nominations submitted by local educators, clergy, community leaders and, of course, you, our readers. And each year we find that the real difficulty is not in identifying those with spectacular accomplishments, but in choosing among the enormously talented graduating teens around us.

But, choose we did. And, once again, this year’s group has shown an impeccable ability to change the world — on a scale both small and large. They have not only shown the value of excellence in academics, but they have proven the importance of making a difference in the lives of others. They have reached out to those with special needs; counseled teens struggling with life’s challenges; brought joy to others through the arts; taken the reins of an international Jewish youth organization; blazed a trail on the gridiron; planned dinners at a shelter for mentally disabled homeless women; found a voice on Huffington Post; and gone running to do good. They discovered their life’s passions — drama, music, athletics, Judaism, politics — and harnessed them to inspire others. 

Just imagine what they’ll do as adults.

 

Ruth Maouda
Putting the pieces together

 

Gabe Freeman
A leading player

 

Michael Sacks
Leading the way

 

Sepora Makabeh
Using gift of gab for good

 

Rose Bern
A passionate voice

 

Rachel Arditi
Family inspiration

 

Sam Lyons
Finding his voice

 

Raphi Heldman
Lessons on the run

 

Joelle Milman
Transforming herself

 

Daniel Schwartz
Grad’s goal: A better world

 
 

Israeli economics 101


Ofek Lavian has two passions: business and Israel, his native land.

What he felt that he was missing when he went to college at the University of Southern California was an opportunity to learn about his home country while interacting with people who shared his same interests in it.

“I found myself really struggling to find an organization on campus that was tailored to my passions,” said the 20-year-old, who moved to Silicon Valley when he was 4. “I found a lot that were related to Judaism were political, religious, and/or cultural. As a business major and an entrepreneur, I wanted to look at Israel through another lens.”

Then he heard about the TAMID Israel Investment Group, a multi-phased program on college campuses connecting American students with the Israeli economic landscape. It seemed like the perfect way to merge his interests and learn about them in a new way.

When Lavian, now a junior, helped start a chapter at USC in 2011, there were 25 members. By the end of this semester, the group expects to have 40. To set it up, Lavian received $3,500 in funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; now, all the funds are solicited from private donors.

The origins of TAMID date back to 2008, when a group dedicated to providing American students with access to Israeli businesses launched at the University of Michigan. Since then, it has expanded to eight other campuses across the country, including USC and the University of California, Berkeley. In the fall, a handful of others is expected to be added, one of which may be University of California, Los Angeles, according to Max Heller, TAMID’s executive director of business development.

The goal is to “further advance and strengthen the connection between the United States and Israel,” he said. “We pioneer the next generation of American commitment to Israel by reaching out by future leaders on campuses.”

Students studying business, entrepreneurship, economics and similar subjects are eligible to join TAMID when they are undergraduates. Those selected take one semester of education in the fall on general business principles and the relationship between the United States and Israel from an economic perspective. The education component is divided among member-driven presentations and lectures from venture capitalists, professors and individuals well-versed in Israel’s economic scene. 

Students showcase their research on certain aspects of business, and in the past they’ve hosted speeches on how the nuclear threat from Iran might affect Israeli businesses, as well as what changes might occur after the discovery of oil reserves in Israel. 

TAMID also gives students the opportunity either to invest in Israeli securities using money they raise from donors or do pro-bono consulting work for Israeli startups. 

During the summer, TAMID, which is based at the University of Michigan, hosts a fellowship trip to Israel. When it was first offered in 2010, five students went. There were eight in 2011, and last summer the number grew to 17. Students partook in internships in finance, energy sustainability and technology, and worked at various startups. Next summer, 40 fellows will have the chance to go and gain real world experience.

Although most of the students are Jewish, it is becoming diversified. Heller said that the larger a certain program grows, the more non-Jewish students get involved. The largest mix of students is currently at Michigan. 

“We pride ourselves on working with talented and motivated students,” Heller said.

Lavian started his own T-shirt business with a fellow fraternity brother called Campus Ink in fall 2010. But he wanted to meet other self-starters. Through TAMID, he’s accomplished this while learning about Israel’s contributions to alternative energy, medicine and technology.

Last summer, Lavian secured a venture capital internship in Tel Aviv and lived alongside the program’s other students from around the country. He also met with the entrepreneurs behind Doweet, which coordinates meet-ups with friends and event planning, and Peer5, a startup that focuses on helping video content providers deliver the best viewing experience. 

Now, USC consultants from TAMID are working with these companies. The students assist the startups with learning about the American economy and demographics, while they, in turn, have the chance to see what it takes to build a business. 

“[Since there are] 7 million people in Israel and [more than] 300 million in the United States, for any Israeli company to be successful, they need to have their target market be global or in the U.S.,” Lavian said. “A lot of them have the technology in Israel but they need to target the U.S. market. That’s where TAMID comes in.”

Avior Ovadya, 25, who came to America from Israel to attend college four years ago, has been in TAMID for one semester at USC. Unlike his classes, which focus on the U.S. market, TAMID meetings give him the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the Israeli business world. 

“Other than being a platform for students to learn about Israel, it’s also about understanding a little bit about what Israel is like, and why it’s such a pioneer in the technology field,” he said. “The group of people we have now is swell. They make our weekly meetings fun. We share everything from how our weeks were to our opinions on Israel.” 

Jared Fleitman, co-founder of USC’s TAMID program and current president, said his time spent with the group has been the most enriching he’s had at USC.

“I’ve met more contacts through developing the curriculum than through any of my coursework,” said Fleitman, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, economics and mathematics. “It’s very useful for me. It’s very positive and I feel like I am part of a special community here.”

Like Fleitman, Lavian said that he has learned more from the practical experience gained through TAMID than he ever did in a classroom. 

“Some things are really hard to learn in a classroom setting,” he said. “You need to get your hands dirty and your feet wet and do some hands-on learning. That’s exactly what TAMID does.” 

Americans for Peace Now opens campus unit


Americans for Peace Now is establishing a presence on college campuses aimed at reaching students and faculty.

The left-leaning group is working “in full coordination” with J Street U to provide information and speakers that can be used on campuses across the country, said APN spokesman Ori  Nir. Campuses in the Washington area have been sent information kits, and other universities will be receiving them as well, he said.

The aim of the program is “to counter opposition from the growing voices calling for a one-state scenario,” said Nir, whose group supports a two-state solution.

APN on Campus also will work with the American Task Force on Palestine, “a pro-Palestinian group which in very broad terms shares our two-state solution,” he said.

Nir said it's not just right-wing groups that favor a one-state solution. “That is now the mantra of the left,” he said.

Aaron Mann, the outreach and research associate for APN, will be coordinating the campus program as its co-manager. In a statement, Mann said he is “a Jew and a Zionist. I’m pro-Israel and pro-peace. I want security for Israel. I want rights for Palestinians.”

He added, “The pursuit of a balanced and fact-based education for college students is the foundation of APN on Campus. We want to create more space at colleges and universities for moderate voices on Israel.”

APN on Campus includes an academic resource program designed to aid faculty members to “enrich and diversify the conversation about Israel in classrooms and beyond,” the program said in a statement.

The program will offer expert speakers and add an interactive online resource page by the spring semester. A student advocacy initiative will aim “to bolster and broaden” events held by students.

Calif. Assembly approves anti-Semitism resolution for colleges


The California State Assembly approved a resolution calling on colleges and universities in the state to combat anti-Semitism.

The symbolic resolution was approved Tuesday with no debate, according to The Associated Press. It also calls on the schools to quash campus demonstrations against Israel.

Pro-Palestinian and free speech activists were angered by the resolution, saying it characterizes pro-Palestinian speech as anti-Jewish.

A University of California spokesman told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that it would not support the resolution, saying that it violates the First Amendment.

The resolution was authored by state Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, a Republican from Fresno. Some 66 of the Assembly’s 80 members signed the resolution as co-authors.

Jewish students reportedly have felt under siege at several University of California campuses, where pro-Palestinian demonstrations are a regular occurrence.

In one incident, in February 2010, 11 Muslim students stood one by one and interrupted a speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, at the University of California, Irvine. They also shouted “Mass murderer!” and “War criminal!” before being removed from the room by campus police.

An Orange County jury last September found 10 of the students guilty of two misdemeanor charges for conspiring to disrupt a meeting and then disrupting the speech. They were sentenced to community service and probation. Charges against the 11th student were dropped.

The resolution also noted the annual Apartheid Week events held on UC campuses.

Hillel’s new plan: Programming for and by students not so involved in Hillel


Meet 22-year-old Jeremy Moskowitz, the poster child for what Hillel hopes will be a revolution in campus Jewish life. The catch: He didn’t spend much time at Hillel during his four years at Duke University.

Moskowitz attended Jewish day school before college, but chose Duke in part because it was “less Jewish.” Once on campus, he stayed away from Hillel except for a few Shabbat dinners, instead throwing himself into Greek life as a leader of the AEPi chapter there.

But a Hillel staffer challenged him to reach out to students uninvolved or little involved in Jewish life. By his senior year he had agreed to serve as a Hillel Peer Network engagement intern, a key role in the international campus organization’s thrust to use students not very involved in Hillel to reach other students not very involved with Hillel—with programs having little if any overt connection to Hillel.

In Moskowitz’s case, this meant building his own 12-by-12 sukkah and inviting 28 people over for a meal, and hosting a Passover seder for 73 fellow students—Jews and non-Jews—in his backyard, not to mention cooking 80 or so matzah balls and creating his own hagaddah that included photos, jokes, traditional prayers and Mad Libs (Hillel provided kosher chicken and seder plates).

“A friend called her mom after and said, ‘You’ll never guess where I just was. I was at a Passover seder,” Moskowitz says with a grin while taking a break from last week’s Hillel Institute, a gathering at Washington University here of about 1,000 Hillel professionals, student leaders and guests.

For Moskowitz, the conference was the start of a post-graduation yearlong stint as the Bronfman fellow at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center, the operation’s headquarters in Washington, where he will serve as an assistant to Hillel President Wayne Firestone, learning the ins and outs of running a high-profile international organization based in the nation’s capital.

For the wider Hillel movement, the gathering in St. Louis served as a rollout venue for a new five-year strategic plan that the organization’s board approved in May. The plan, pushed by Firestone, looks to build on the work of Moskowitz and the other 1,200 peer outreach interns on 118 campuses—and moves further away from the traditional model of focusing primarily on improving programming inside the walls of campus Hillels for the most Jewishly engaged students.

It comes with an ambitious mandate: The 800-plus Hillel professionals active to varying degrees on more than 500 campuses are now supposed to “engage” 70 percent of identified campus Jewish students, having “meaningful” interactions with 40 percent of them and turn 20 percent of them into Jewish leaders.

“Jews are leaders all over campus, but we had to come back to teach them about what it means to be Jewish,” says the low-key Firestone, who can rattle off statistics one moment while retelling stories of a student’s profound shift in Jewish identity the next.

Speaking of students like Moskowitz, Firestone adds, “When we get them to talk about and understand what it means to be Jewish, we have a force multiplier. We think about them as ‘prosumers,’ not just people we are servicing but people who are building communities.”

The goal is being implemented by retraining staff, putting senior Jewish educators on some key campuses, putting Israeli shlichim, or envoys, on others and injecting a mantra of engagement into all things Hillel. Costs for the effort remain elusive, and privately some staffers worry about the new thrust sapping resources from existing programs as well as how their results will be measured. Nonetheless, it is taking root and Hillel has reams of statistics, studies and plans that it says shows the push is worthwhile.

Some in the Jewish world are taking note. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, spent two days at the conference in St. Louis to study how the engagement effort could help his movement.

“What everyone sees at Hillel is an incredibly smart, transformative process to literally re-create a whole different kind of campus Jewish life,” Jacobs told JTA. “It’s really remarkable to watch, certainly for someone in the midst of our own refocusing and realignment.”

Also taking notice is the University of Toronto. Hillel’s Ask Big Questions initiative has been adapted campus-wide by the university’s president, David Naylor. The push fosters conversations around “practical and existential topics” such as politics, social change, biology and God.

Launched last year on 13 campuses, the initiative has involved 72 fellows building relationships with 3,574 students, according to Hillel.

The engagement agenda began in earnest in 2008 when the Jim Joseph Foundation gave Hillel $10.7 million that was used in part to create 10 senior Jewish educator positions on various campuses. They set to work with 12 campus entrepreneur interns—students whose goal was to speak one on one with their peers about where they might fit into Jewish life offerings on campus.

By Hillel’s calculations, those educators and interns took part in a combined 746 personal encounters with students in one year. About a third of the students said they never or rarely went to the Hillel building.

“The No. 1 reason students told us they didn’t participate in Hillel was that they didn’t know anyone who was going to be there or didn’t think they’d like the people there,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s associate vice president of strategy. “By cultivating relationships with these people we can overcome that.”

To figure out how to push forward with its new vision, Hillel hired the Monitor Institute, the consulting firm that helped Teach for America plot a blueprint for achieving its goals. Even with a well-researched plan, implementation will not be easy—it requires recruiting, training and retaining staff, says Scott Brown, a Hillel executive vice president.

“We need more investors and resources to do this,” Brown said. “If it’s about relationships and strategies, you need more hands on deck to do all this at a higher level.”

Hillel directors who buy into the concept say the bottom line remains making students comfortable enough to talk about their emerging identities as young adults. That’s what Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says is her focus as the supervisor of the Northwestern University Hillel’s Campus Rabbi & Questions That Matter program and the previous three years as the senior Jewish educator at the Hillel at Tufts University.

“The heart and soul is the relationships,” she said. “People who previously had no reason to care about Judaism or thinking it didn’t have anything for them, once they began to trust me or my interns, their willingness to be open to a new experience was extraordinary.”

Diversity is good for Jewish college students


In case you haven’t heard, Orthodox Judaism has pretty much taken over Jewish life on U.S. college campuses. I say this not because I’m smug and happy about it, but as a wake-up call to the Conservative and Reform branches to get their acts together.

If diversity is good for the Jews, then it’s even more important for college students.

College life is the ideal time for students to experiment and search for their own truths. If they’re exposed to a diverse religious menu, they’ll be more likely to find their personal Jewish path.

Unfortunately, they’re not finding much religious diversity these days.

According to a report last week in The Jewish Week by Sam Cohen, a senior at New York University, the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism have virtually abandoned their outreach efforts on campus. As he writes, “Last month the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism drove the penultimate nail into the coffin of KOACH, its college-programming branch, by announcing it would end the program unless supporters raised $130,000 by the end of the year.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, Cohen adds that “KOACH lasted three years longer than its Reform companion Kesher, which the URJ [Union for Reform Judaism] closed down after a similar stretch of inadequate funding and underwhelming impact.”

Meanwhile, Cohen notes how Orthodox outreach efforts are thriving: “The Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program (JLIC), which places young Orthodox rabbis and their wives to live full-time on college campuses, has grown to include 15 locations. Chabad on Campus continues to expand rapidly with a $28.8 million budget (equal to the URJ’s entire annual budget), and other Orthodox outreach programs (such as 21-campus Meor, with a budget of $5.7 million) have grown as well.”

He laments that “what’s at stake here is not merely denominational pride. It’s the future of non-Orthodox Judaism in this country.”

I think it’s worse than that: What’s at stake is the future of Judaism itself — or at least its vitality.

As Cohen reminds us, “Going to college is the single most common factor for American Jews — 85 percent of all college-age Jews in the U.S. are in college. Every year, 100,000 Jews begin their freshman year, and 100,000 graduate and begin making decisions about the Jewish life they want to live and the family they want to raise.”

So, if we don’t engage this hugely influential group in a rich and diverse way, what kind of future will Judaism have in this country? Sure, if it were up to me, every Jew on the planet would observe the Sabbath and eat kosher. But an “Orthodox-only” model is a fantasy. That’s not the world we live in. The new generation must make its own decisions on what Jewish connection they will have, if any.

The Orthodox, God bless them, are making their pitch. But what about the non-Orthodox?

In my view, they’re too consumed with labels and self-definition. And even when they’re not, they use labels like “egalitarian” or “non-denominational.”

For my money, there’s only one label worth its salt in Jewish outreach: Passionate Judaism.

I don’t care if it’s a Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Chasidic, Orthodox, post-denominational or Sephardic experience. Just make it passionate.

Passionate could mean Chabad’s “unconditional love” approach, or a Carlebach minyan’s “ecstatic joy” experience or creating your own lively “medley minyan.” It could also mean offering passionate engagement with Jewish texts, Jewish history and Jewish culture. In other words, passionate means that whatever style of Judaism you practice, make it pulsate with passion and excitement.

Labels like “Reform” or “Conservative” don’t convey passion. You don’t think of passion when you think of “reforming” or “conserving.” The Orthodox label is not as much of a problem, because people assume that the more observant you are, the more passionate you are.

That’s why the non-Orthodox “spiritual communities” and independent minyanim that have sprung up in recent years don’t label themselves as Reform or Conservative. It’s no longer about the label. It’s about the experience.

Religious diversity on campuses is a must, but it’s not enough. If Jewish organizations want to make a lasting impact with today’s Jewish college students — whose hearts and minds are more loyal to their careers and their iPhone screens than to their religious tradition — they will need to offer a lot more than Judaism Lite or Judaism Friendly.

They’ll need to offer Judaism Deep, Judaism Spiritual and Judaism Never Boring.

I’ve sat on the board of UCLA Hillel for years, and the challenge of attracting students to Jewish life is consistently at the top of our agenda. The programs that work best always seem to have a passionate and pluralistic flavor — such as our Friday Night Unity Shabbats and our Challah for Hunger baking sessions.

We need many more such efforts. I’d love to see the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism team up to launch a campus movement with the simplest of labels — as simple as “The Jewish Center” — and offer a vibrant Judaism that Jewish students will want to keep for life.

Passion doesn’t belong to the Orthodox. For Judaism to thrive in America, we need every branch to show intensity and enthusiasm for the Jewish practice of its choice.

That will make it a lot easier for young Jews to choose that label called Judaism.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

College students unite to save conservative youth program


A Conservative movement college outreach program has survived potential demise — for now. Responding to an organized outcry by students and alumni, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) voted on June 10 to fund KOACH, its campus program, with $100,000 for the coming year on the condition that KOACH raises an additional $130,000.

Leaders of KOACH say the group provides a unique campus outlet for progressive Jewish students. In addition to internships, programming grants and Web resources, the group’s flagship program is an annual national conference known as the Kallah.

UC Riverside graduate Rebecca Marcus calls Kallah “a truly magical weekend” of “learning and nurturing, growth, development.” This year’s Kallah was sponsored by the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

For many students, KOACH is the natural continuation of a lifelong involvement in Conservative youth programming. “I grew up in the Conservative Movement — I did USY, I went on Nativ — and KOACH is the next step in continuing my Conservative way of life,” said Angeleno Robyn Klitsky, a student at Boston University.

But over the past seven years, KOACH has experienced a series of progressive budget cuts as a result of the financial crisis racking USCJ. This spring, the movement said it would impose a hiatus on funding the program.

At its height just seven years ago, KOACH had a budget of $750,000, reached 88 campuses and impacted a number of Southern California universities, including USC, UCLA, CSUN, Pierce and Valley community colleges, San Diego State University and University of Redlands. Cuts forced KOACH to shrink Kallah and completely eliminate programs like KOACH Shabbat, which sent rabbinical interns with educational material to campuses throughout North America.

When USCJ threatened to stop funding KOACH, concerned students took action. On March 31, Douglas Kandl, an entering junior at NYC’s Pace University and president of Pace Hillel, created savekoach.org.

Richard Skolnik, international president of USCJ, acknowledges that it was the students’ energetic response that spared
KOACH: “I felt that there was so much passion — how could we let them down?”

Kandl remains optimistic.

“Now we have a specific goal to work toward,” Kandl said. “With all the support that we’ve gotten … I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to reach that goal.”

“We are going to try to help them,” Skolnik said. “One of the plans is to put together a consortium of other arms in the movement and see what we can do to help save our Jewish college students.”

Day school catcher Max Ungar, drafted by Nationals, to play college ball


Max Ungar, the Maryland day school catcher drafted by the Washington Nationals, will forego the pros to play at Denison University in Ohio.

The Washington Jewish Week reported that Ungar, 17, who recently graduated from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, will fulfill his commitment to enroll at Denison. He was picked in the 36th round of the Major League Baseball draft.

“The Nationals will offer me a contract, and I will decline the offer,” Unger told the paper. “I was recruited by Denison and plan to go there to study and play baseball. I really like the academic challenges of the school and know that if I play well the Nationals or another team can draft me again after my junior year of college.”

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.

Police investigate hazing at Boston Jewish frat


Boston police launched a criminal investigation after finding five men bound together nearly naked in the basement of a Jewish fraternity house.

Police responding to a noise complaint early Monday morning discovered the Boston University students in the basement of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house.

The men were found bound together by duct tape around their wrists, clothed only in their underwear and covered in flour, honey, hot sauce and other food products, according to a police report. They also had welts on their body.

“All five were shivering and had horrified and fearful looks on their faces,” the police report said.

Police are seeking criminal complaints against 14 people in connection with the hazing incident.

Alpha Epsilon Pi is an international Jewish fraternity. The Allston fraternity house was its Boston University branch, though the chapter is not officially sanctioned by the school or its Interfraternity Council.

The fraternity house was known for hosting wild parties.

B.U. officials said that those responsible for the hazing could face suspension or expulsion.

AEPi’s national headquarters condemned the hazing at the 30-member house.

“Alpha Epsilon Pi does not—in any way—condone hazing of any type,” the fraternity said. “We have been a leader for many years on this subject and expend considerable effort each year to educate our chapter leaders and members as to the proper new member education programs.”

The fraternity said that it has now closed its B.U. chapter.

“Any members found responsible for participating in any actions contrary to our risk management guidelines will be expelled,” the statement said. “We also intend to fully cooperate with all authorities and investigations.”

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.