CSU students give Israel high marks

Students from California State University (CSU) on a reinstituted year-long program at the University of Haifa say they’re reveling in their academic and social life in Israel. 

CSU’s return to the Holy Land in 2012 came at the end of a decade-long ban imposed due to safety concerns over bouts of Israeli-Palestinian violence. But that has not caused any misgivings for students like Benjamin Meis, a psychology major from San Diego.

“There hasn’t been one time in the past five months that I’ve felt threatened or that my life was in danger,” the 20-year-old recently told the Journal. Meis is one of eight CSU students enrolled at the University of Haifa.

In 2002, the bombings and shootings associated with the Second Intifada prompted the U.S. State Department to add Israel to an international travel advisory list. That led CSU — with more than 425,000 students on 23 campuses — to suspend its study-abroad program there. 

But after lobbying by program supporters, senior University of California and CSU officials in 2011 held a three-day visit in which University of Haifa counterparts stressed that the visiting students were not endangered. The American group reinstated the program the following year. 

“The perception [was] that the lack of safety went away,” explained student dean Hanan Alexander, who heads the International School and the Center for Jewish Education at the University of Haifa.

Hanan Alexander heads the University of Haifa’s International School.

However, CSU’s suspended programs at Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem have yet to be reinstated.

“When we resumed programs in Israel, we felt it would be best to start with one program,” Michael Uhlenkamp, spokesman for the CSU chancellor’s office, wrote the Journal in an e-mail. “The program in Haifa is doing well, and we’re receiving positive feedback from the students involved.”

Meis heard about the reinstatement of CSU’s program in Haifa two years ago, when he was a sophomore at San Francisco State University and fresh off a Birthright trip.

“I wanted to be more connected to the country and learn more about the people,” he said. “[But]…what really sold me was the honors psychology program.”

Meis said that his daily routine — which includes living in a dorm with Jewish, Arab and Christian Israelis, along with more than 800 students from some 40 nations — has changed his perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and life in Israel overall.

“I had a preconceived idea of what I’d be getting into, and I … was proven completely wrong,” Meis said. “It’s not as dangerous as you think; it’s not as war-torn as you’d think; people aren’t going to act like you think.”

While the threat of potential violence was one of the main concerns numerous family members and friends had when he decided to come to Israel, Meis now believes that “there’s a lot of misconception about Israel, a lot of misunderstandings — really, a lack of information.” 

Israelis “don’t let [threats] affect how they live … life keeps going,” he said. “They can either sit scared, waiting for the next thing to happen, or they can keep living. It’s taught me a lot.” 

Both Alexander’s and Meis’ remarks come amid a charged debate over a recently approved boycott of Israeli universities by the American Studies Association (ASA) to protest the treatment of Palestinians. (CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White denounced the boycott on behalf of the university system in a statement that read, in part, “Academic boycotts violate the basic tenets of higher education including academic freedom and scholarly dialogue.”)

Meis, for his part, said that actually being in Israel has broadened his and other students’ perspectives of the issues at stake.

“My entire perspective of those sorts of political issues and political turmoil that we perceive in the U.S. — of Palestinian sovereignty, the ‘two-state solution,’ the existence of Israel — those come up a lot, especially among the international students,” he said. “And you can constantly see people’s ideas changing, because they’re exposed to more details, more background, more stories — from different sides — that you don’t get outside Israel.” 

The International School is housed in a modern, long and narrow, steel and glass structure that juts out dramatically from the hillside of Mount Carmel, overlooking Haifa Bay. In a discussion in his office, Alexander was adamant about the significance of the academic boycott and its potential ramifications for Israel and Jews.

“When the ASA comes forward and claims to deny the Jewish people their fundamental right to self-determination, they’re not defending human rights, they are a major offender of human rights, and we should stand up in righteous anger — as now hundreds of universities across the United States, and members of Congress and other leaders across the world have done: Stand up in righteous anger and condemn the haters.”

Matt McCartney, 25, is enrolled at CSU’s Channel Islands campus in Camarillo and studies international economics and Arabic on the study abroad program. As a Methodist growing up in Marietta, Ga., among few Jews, McCartney said he has found the experience of living among Jews, Muslims, Druze and a plethora of other ethnicities to be a revelation.

CSU Channel Islands student Matt McCartney. 

“I didn’t know very much about Judaism in general — just the basics,” McCartney said.  Still, he added, “I haven’t felt uncomfortable even once.”

His experience has given him an appreciation for the lack of understanding about the world that his peers back home sometimes exhibit.

“In the States, people don’t differentiate; they don’t know where things are in the Middle East,” McCartney said. “I told people I was coming to Israel, and a week later someone comes up to me and asks, ‘Dude — why are you going to Pakistan?’ ” 

Exposing students to a different environment — and learning from that experience — is a driving force behind the program, Uhlenkamp said.

“As with any international studies program, the program in Haifa allows students to learn in an international setting and gain knowledge of other communities and cultures that is needed in the global economy of the 21st century,” he said.

Overall, Meis said he was “very happy” with the CSU-Haifa collaboration.

“I want to see more kids come here,” he said. “I want to see more kids experience Israel like I have — or, hopefully, in their own way. I want to see more people interested in these programs, and that’s going to be a large part of what I do
when I go home — to advocate for study abroad here.” 

Two academicians challenge anti-Israel professor from CSUN

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin stood before the board of trustees, the highest governing authority of the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system, and in her allotted two minutes stated her case against a professor who levels consistently hostile charges against Israel on his university Web site. 

Standing behind the 25 trustees on Sept. 25 in Long Beach were the legal, academic and administrative resources of the largest four-year college system in the United States. Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was backed only by Leila Beckwith, a professor emerita and child psychologist at UCLA.

The two women pretty much represent the total leadership and staff of the Amcha Initiative (AI), whose purpose, according to its Web site, lies in “investigating, documenting, educating about and combatting anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America.” They founded the organization in 2011 and qualified it as a nonprofit the following year.

If the odds — and resources — hardly favor the two academicians, they make up for it in passion, persistence and hard work. As a result they have forced CSU to fight a lengthy defensive battle against AI’s charges.

The trigger for these confrontations is David Klein, a mathematics professor at the CSU Northridge campus (CSUN), as well as publisher of the “Boycott Israel Resource Page” on the university Web server. Besides linking boycott enthusiasts of all stripes, Klein’s Web site labels Israel “the most racist state in the world at this time,” and accuses the “apartheid state” of ethnic cleansing and mass murder.

Underlying much of the emotions, arguments and lengthy briefs is a question that has challenged legal scholars, pundits and Jewish defense organizations for years: When are attacks on Israeli policies and actions legitimate expressions of constitutional and academic free speech, and when do they serve as cover for outright anti-Semitism?

“I have been wrestling with such questions for 35 years in Jewish life,” said Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “Not every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but that doesn’t mean that none is.”

When Klein calls Israel the world’s most racist state, that is so obviously untrue as to smack of anti-Semitism, Stern said.

The seeds of AI — not related to the Israeli organization that aids Holocaust survivors, Amcha (Hebrew for “Your People”) — sprouted when Beckwith spent a sabbatical year on the Santa Cruz campus and met Benjamin. Both felt that university administrators, the federal government and the Jewish community at-large were ignoring the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel agitation on California university campuses, and they decided to do something about it.

“I lived through [the era of] World War II and the birth of Israel, and I am not going to let the Jewish state be demonized and delegitimized,” Beckwith said. “I knew it was only a step from condemning Israel to condemning Jews.” 

Rossman-Benjamin, the mother of two college-age children, noted, “As a teacher of Hebrew, I’ve had students come to me crying about being harassed or that one of their professors was an Israel-basher. This is scary stuff, and nobody bats an eye about it.”

Initially, AI took on UC’s then-President Mark Yudof, who is Jewish, charging that his and various campus administrations failed to act against harassment of Jewish student and anti-Semitic incidents.

For the past two years, AI’s main focus has been on Klein, who through his Web site and capacity as adviser to two student groups has become the chief campus advocate of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Amid a steady exchange of letters, memos and legal opinions, AI has accused CSU of allowing Klein to violate various sections of the California Education Code by misusing the university’s server to promote boycotts, while also endorsing the candidacy of a pro-boycott congressional candidate running against the “extreme Zionists” Brad Sherman and Howard Berman last year.

Over the course of the last two years, AI’s appeals have been consistently denied by authorities, starting with California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, whose staff determined that Klein had not misused CSUN’s name and resources. Last month, on Sept. 23, CSU’s interim general counsel, G. Andrew Jones, wrote Rossman-Benjamin that, while both he and CSUN President Dianne Harrison disagreed with Klein’s views, the contents of his Web site do not violate California law and count as “constitutionally protected speech.”

Jones told the Journal that Klein’s Web site did not imply that CSU endorsed his pronouncements and that substantial private misuse of state resources, which is illegal, is hard to pin down.

“If you are a state worker and use the phone to call your mother, is that misuse of state resources?” Jones asked rhetorically.

In his e-mail to AI, Jones also mentioned, “We have consulted with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which agreed that [Klein’s] Web site’s contents were not anti-Semitic.” Later, he clarified that “although the university based its conclusion on the ADL briefing, the ADL did not issue an official opinion regarding Professor Klein’s statements.”

Those quotes connect indirectly to Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint that while she has received some backing from the Zionist Organization of America and the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, most mainstream Jewish organizations had not given any support to her efforts.

Amanda Susskind, director of ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said the meeting between local ADL lay and professional leaders and their counterparts at CSUN did not focus on the Klein case but was rather a general courtesy briefing for incoming president Harrison on ADL’s concerns and services on college campuses. 

“Certainly, if there are any incidents on campus, whether labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, ADL will jump in,” she said in a phone interview.

For his part, Jones said he understood that part of the meeting was set aside to focus on the Klein case. Neither Susskind nor Jones was present at the meeting.

The Journal attempted to speak to Klein, but as on a previous occasion, he hung up the phone when the reporter identified himself. 

Klein’s own religious leanings are uncertain. According to a 2011 interview in the Los Angeles Daily News, “The 23-year CSUN professor declined to discuss his own religious background.”

Jody Myers, coordinator of CSUN’s Jewish studies interdisciplinary program, counseled against making too much of Klein’s influence. 

“He has a certain following among the faculty, not much among students, but I’m sure he loves all the attention,” she said.

“Jewish life on campus is very good,” Myers added, noting that much more worrisome than any “Boycott Israel” activity was the cutback in community funding for the local Hillel, which has deeply cut into its outreach to Jewish students.

Like all public and private institutions, CSU would rather do without persistent critics, and some established Jewish defense organizations might feel that dealing with campus anti-Semitism is a job for professionals. On balance, however, what Beckwith and Rossman-Benjamin have accomplished is pretty impressive.

Working without any staff, they conduct their campaigns almost entirely via e-mail. They put the number of supporters — people who have contacted them, signed the AI petitions and sent money — at 5,000, and they have received donations of between $150,000 and $200,000 during the last year. 

Despite any legal setback, they even hope to expand their operations from California to the rest of the country.

As the AJC’s Stern noted, “These two ladies are not a bad thing — certainly better than total apathy.”

Cal State system to resume Israel study program

California State University, with 420,000 students on 23 campuses, has resumed its Study in Israel program at the University of Haifa, after a 10-year hiatus.

During the initial application period, which has now ended, only three students applied for the program that will begin this fall.

However, because many students may have missed the initial announcement, CSU has extended the application deadline up to April 10, provided all required forms are in order, university spokesman Erik Fallis said.

Interested students are urged to contact their campus international programs advisers as soon as possible.

CSU suspended its Israel Study programs in 2002, at the height of the second intifada, citing security concerns. For the same reason, the administration decided not to resume at this time the previous programs at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Even so, the CSU chancellor’s decision to restart the Haifa study program triggered some protests on a few CSU campuses. Some 81 faculty members and 46 students and alumni signed a petition opposing any relations with Israeli universities.

The University of Haifa campus is located atop the Carmel Mountain range, southeast of the city of Haifa, and is populated by some 18,000 students, studying in 55 departments and 60 research centers.

The university’s International School hosts more than 800 foreign students during its fall, spring and summer semesters, of whom some 60 percent are from the United States.

In addition, the university has recently launched several international MA programs, taught in English, including peace and conflict management, business administration and patent law, Holocaust and genocide studies, creative art therapies, and maritime civilizations.

CSU system debates restarting Israel study abroad programs

During the past few months, top California State University administrators, who oversee 23 campuses with 420,000 students, were spending a good deal of time wrestling with upcoming draconian state budget cuts and protesting students, yet they set aside some time to consider whether the largest four-year college system in the United States should restart its study abroad program in Israel.

CSU shut down the program in 2002, during the height of the Second Intifada, citing U.S. State Department warnings against travel to Israel.

But now, with relative quiet in Israel, and under considerable pressure from Jewish organizations, student groups, legislators and even Israeli diplomats, CSU seemed on the verge of announcing a resumption of the Israel program.

Not everyone applauded the new attitude. In early December, a petition in the form of an Open Letter landed on the desk of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, under the boldface header, “We strongly urge you not to reinstate the CSU Israel Study Program Abroad.”

The petition had been signed by some 81 faculty members, nearly half from the university’s Northridge campus (CSUN), as well as 46 students and alumni. Among the signatories were a number of deans and department chairs, as well as Harry Hellenbrand, who at the time was CSUN’s provost, vice president for academic affairs and the campus’ second-highest administrator.

On Jan. 1, Hellenbrand was named the interim president of the campus, following the recent retirement of its president, Jolene Koester. (Under the CSU nomenclature, the head of the entire system is the chancellor, while each campus is led by a president — the reverse of the University of California designations.)

The chief organizer of the petition, as of most anti-Israel activity on campus, was David Klein, a veteran mathematics professor at the school. Klein’s Web site on the CSUN server is a compendium of just about every charge ever leveled against Israel, starting with the quote “Israel is the most racist state in the world at this time.”

Not surprisingly, Klein has been the bête noire of pro-Israel groups for some years, and the petition — which also warned that American students might be killed by Israeli soldiers or face discrimination if of Arab descent — stoked the anger.

CSU’s announcement in mid-December that the study program in Israel would be resumed with the 2012 fall semester at the University of Haifa, did little to lower the level of acrimony. (Asked why the Hebrew University or Tel Aviv University is not included in the program, CSU spokesman Erik Fallis cited security considerations.)

One of the first formal outside complaints against Klein’s Web site came to CSUN President Koester in late November from Leila Beckwith, a professor emerita and child psychologist at UCLA, who wrote in conjunction with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies at UC Santa Cruz. The two recently co-founded the Amcha Initiative, described as a grassroots Jewish organization focusing on problems of public higher education.

Amcha’s charges were quickly reinforced by two other organizations, StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

A series of phone interviews, e-mail exchanges and correspondence made available by the university to The Jewish Journal yielded a general outline of the evolving dispute.

In the first round of e-mail exchanges, Amcha, StandWithUs and ZOA focused on Klein’s “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Web pages,” citing the “most racist state” quote, alongside “gruesome photos of dead children to imply that Israel intentionally murders Palestinian babies.”

As a follow-up, the pro-Israel groups argued that, while Klein was free to express his ideas, “however abhorrent,” as an individual, he was violating university regulations and the law by posting his material on the CSU server.

He was thus not only implying the university’s imprimatur for his opinions, but also using taxpayers’ funds in the process, the critics charged.

In response, Koester wrote that a full administrative review found that while Klein’s views might be offensive, he had the academic freedom and free-speech rights to express his opinions.

She also affirmed that Klein’s rights “extend to the use of an individual’s Web pages as part of the university’s Web site.”

Amcha and ZOA shot back challenging the use of the CSUN Web site for “political propaganda,” and Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said in an interview that she would explore the possibility of taking legal action.

For her part, Rossman-Benjamin received in response to a lengthy memo to Koester listing a series of objections, a curt e-mail consisting of just two words — “Too bad” — followed by Koester’s initials.

This seemingly contemptuous reply from the school’s then-president quickly made the rounds of CSUN’s critics, until Koester hastily drafted a somewhat awkward apology. She explained that she had sent the message from her cell phone while traveling, intending to forward the information to her staff, but had accidentally pressed “reply” instead of the “forward” button.

“The comment ‘too bad’ was meant to express to internal staff regret about the controversy and the distress it had caused,” Koester wrote. “It was not a comment directed at you … and was not intended to disrespect or dismiss either you or your point of view.”

CSU Might End Israel Trips

Two Cal State University (CSU) students spending their junior year on a foreign campus are enthusiastic about their experience. Ayelet Arbel loves the beautiful campus setting, the nearby beaches, the unique cultural exposure and the vibrant city life. Adam Ascherin is most impressed by the philosophy and outlook of the local people and their ready acceptance of strangers into their extended national family.

The good news, says their resident advisor Norma Tarrow, education professor at Cal State Long Beach, is that her two charges have quickly integrated into life at Haifa University and enjoy mingling with students from Europe, Canada and the East Coast states, as well as with local Arab and Druse classmates. Tarrow was among CSU faculty, who, together with the Jewish Public Affairs Committee, persuaded the administration to reinstate its overseas program in Israel after it was canceled following the outbreak of the intifada in September of 2000.

The bad news, she says, is that there are only two students from Cal State, and unless at least eight to 10 students enroll in the Israel program for the fall semester, the Cal State administration — which pays for her salary and heavily subsidizes the program — will probably have to cancel it for budgetary reasons.

Tarrow acknowledges that some applicants may have dropped out because they wanted to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv University. The two locations were vetoed by Cal State, which deemed Haifa — though it had two attacks with loss of lives in November — the safest major city in Israel.

Nevertheless, Tarrow is disappointed that there was not a single Cal State enrollment from the populous Jewish community in Southern California, and little time is left to turn the situation around. "By April, we will have to notify our students whether or not we will have a program in Israel for the coming fall semester," she says.

Tarrow lauds the support of Haifa University’s overseas program, which is headed by Dr. Hanan Alexander, formerly dean of students at the University of Judaism.

The two CSU students chose to enroll at the University of Haifa at a time when many other American students — and tourists — have been scared off by the continuing unrest and violence in Israel.

Not that Arbel and Ascherin are blind to the situation.

"We have been told to avoid public transportation, not to go to Jerusalem without telling our adviser and we have agreed to stay away from the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods," says Ascherin, 26, who arrived from his home campus in Chico.

Arbel, 20, from the San Jose campus, agreed to the same restrictions, but couldn’t resist visiting relatives in Jerusalem.

Ascherin and Arbel both come from Northern California and from different backgrounds.

Ascherin was raised as a Mormon, though "not diligently," he says. After viewing an exhibit on the 1936 "Nazi Olympics," he started reading about the Holocaust and became intensely involved.

After working as a personnel manager for Wal-Mart for five years after high school graduation, he enrolled at Chico State, majoring in business administration and in Jewish-Israel studies under Professor Sam Edelman.

He decided to spend his junior year in Israel to learn more about Judaism and to use the Holocaust archives at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He shares a dormitory with Israeli students, is close to mastering conversational Hebrew and downplays security concerns.

He is now weighing whether to convert to Judaism. "I am still searching, trying to find an amalgamation," Ascherin says. "But I am discovering that there is much in Judaism that I have always believed."

Arbel has had an easier time fitting in than most American students. She was born in Israel and came to California with her parents when she was 8 years old.

She speaks Hebrew fluently, which allows her to take the regular classes with Israeli students in art and art history. She also shares a dorm with five Israeli girls.

"It’s a very warm feeling here," Arbel says. "The whole culture is very open and accepting, and I already feel half an insider."

Arbel plans to return to San Jose State for her senior year, but the rest of her future is up in the air.

"I may return to Israel for a graduate degree," she says, "or just decide to live there."

CSU Nixes Israel Study

The 23-campus California State University (CSU) system has canceled its current overseas study program with Hebrew University in Jerusalem, leaving 11 enrolled students to face the loss of academic credits and tuition subsidies.

Despite these difficulties, nine of the students apparently have decided to stay in Israel, and some have appealed via the Internet for financial help to allow them to complete the semester.

CSU’s decision was announced Oct. 18, after the students had already finished their ulpan (intensive Hebrew language instruction) and had signed housing contracts for the semester.

The basis for the decision was a U.S. State Department advisory against travel to Israel, and the action was taken for the students’ safety, said Leo van Cleve, director of international programs at CSU headquarters in Long Beach.

The California State University system is on the second rung of the state’s three-tier master plan for public higher education, and is not to be confused with the University of California (UC) system, which has campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and seven other locations. UC is continuing its overseas studies program in Israel.

Responding to the plight of CSU students in Jerusalem, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California has petitioned CSU Chancellor Charles Reed to reconsider his decision, and a conference call between administration officials and Jewish spokesmen has been scheduled for Thursday. However, there are no indications that CSU will change its mind.

“We are trying to mediate the matter, but CSU appears to be standing firm on its original decision,” said Barbara Yaroslavsky, chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC).

Earlier, George Washington University in the nation’s capital announced a break with its study programs in Israel but rescinded the decision after Jewish groups, alerted by an article in the Jerusalem Post, filed strong protests.

Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania also dropped plans to deny credits for studies at Hebrew University.

In all these cases, however, the cancellations would have affected students planning to enroll in next year’s spring semester, while the CSU decision affects the 11 students who were already in Israel and had enrolled at the Hebrew University.

The primary negotiations with CSU are spearheaded by the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco, headed by Rabbi Doug Kahn, through its education director, Jackie Berman, and its legislative director, Gia Daniller.

According to the two directors, and confirmed by CSU’s van Cleve on the essential points, the 11 students find themselves in the following situation:

Under the original agreement between CSU and the Hebrew University, CSU covered the difference between than $1,800 annual tuition fee paid by its students and the $6,000 fee charged by the Rothberg School for Overseas Studies at Hebrew University. With the cancellation of the program, students opting to remain must somehow raise $4,200 for unexpected tuition payments.

Secondly, the students face the loss of academic credits for their Israeli studies, which under the old agreement were automatically transferred to their home campuses.

Van Cleve said the students can apply on an individual basis for credit, but it would be up to the respective departments at home whether to comply. Credit will be given for the ulpan studies, he said.

Van Cleve added that CSU had considered but rejected some options weighed by other universities, such as transferring students to “safer” Tel Aviv University or accepting waivers from students absolving CSU of responsibility for their safety.

He noted that CSU has study abroad programs with some 50 foreign universities. In the past, he believed, similar cancellations were ordered only twice, both in Israel, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1991 Gulf War.

Van Cleve suggested that the CSU cancellation would stand for the upcoming spring semester but that the situation would be reconsidered in early 2001.

Prof. Samuel Edelman of CSU Chico, who heads a consortium of Jewish studies programs on three CSU campuses, said that the faculty, having heard only belatedly of the administration decision, was “very upset” and felt that the decision was precipitous.

Sunday in the Park With Richard

It was the kind of afternoon outing you can’t find often enough in Los Angeles: not too hot, not too crowded, plenty of parking, good entertainment and two very different communities peacefully enjoying each other’s company.

Fiesta Shalom, the Latino Jewish Cultural Committee’s Sept. 24 festival at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), attracted some 5,000 people over the course of the day, according to estimates by campus police. The event was sponsored by a variety of community groups, including B’nai B’rith and the Valley Economic Development Center, and corporations such as Galpin Motors, Kaiser Permanente and Pacific Bell.

State Sen. Richard Alarcón, co-chair for the event’s honorary committee, acted as primary host, aided by B’nai B’rith’s Scott Svonkin and emcee Archie Barkin. (Alarcón’s honorary committee co-chair, Councilman Hal Bernson, did not appear as scheduled because of minor surgery over the weekend. ) Alarcón said he was pleased with the success of the committee’s first attempt at bringing the two communities together.

“As impressive as the number of people who attended was, [so was] the composition of the audience; it wasn’t biased either way,” Alarcón said. “The Latinos appreciated the klezmer as much as the Jews appreciated the mariachi.”

The host committee took cues from previous events at the site and placed the stage for the entertainment and the audience seating among a grove of trees within the Sierra Quad, providing some shade while onlookers enjoyed performances by groups like Ballet Argentina, the Los Angeles Incas and members of the Kadima String Quartet. There were booths representing a wide range of organizations, from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to the Northeast San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce and, of course, there was food, although the selection was decidedly limited on the Jewish side (kosher pizza).”I thought we could do better on the food,” Alarcón said, adding that next year the committee would try for more diversity.

Meanwhile, about 60 people gathered under a nearby tent featuring art exhibits and a panel discussion with Dr. Steven Windmueller of Hebrew Union College; Dr. Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña, founder of CSUN’s Chicano Studies program; Dina Siegel-Vann, director of Latin American Affairs for B’nai B’rith; and publisher and talk-showhost Phil Blazer.

Acuña clearly believes the Los Angeles community has a long way to go in terms of fair treatment for Latinos, citing statistics showing that only 10 percent of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are Latino and that physicians are even more grossly underrepresented in the Latino population.”We talk about quotas, but after a while we need to look at the creation of injustices in the greater system,” Acuña noted.

Some audience members brought up the issues of affirmative action and school vouchers, the latter a hot topic because of Proposition 38. Acuña disagreed that vouchers would provide help to his community. “There’s an insanity to [Proposition 38],” he said. “Every family would be getting a voucher no matter how much money they have. Right now there are more non-Latinos in parochial schools than Latinos, so I do not see how this would help. You have to look at [the issue] on the basis of economics.”

Strangely enough, few candidates took the opportunity to put in an appearance in an election year. In addition to Alarcón, the festival drew mostly local officials like City Councilman Michael Feuer, who is running for city attorney in 2001; mayoral candidates Steve Soboroff and Kathleen Connell; City of San Fernando Council members Jose Hernandez and Cindy Montanez; and Cong. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). Of the political groups, a few Green Party volunteers could be found passing out flyers asking people to support candidate Ralph Nader’s right to participate in the presidential debates.

Overall, the event attracted mostly families. The B’nai B’rith Youth Organization held its regional meeting on the campus early in the day, and BBYO members could be found savoring freshly made corn tortillas and cool lemonade. Members of the D’vash chapter of B’nai B’rith Girls, who won a prize at the regional meeting for being the chapter with the most spirit, strolled through the festival dressed in matching purple tank tops and leis.

“We’re really enjoying the festival. We can explore the two cultures and get to know other people,” said 14-year-old Lara Miller.

“It’s neat seeing how many people are both Latino and Jewish,” said Ashley Mintz, also 14. Alarcón said the organizing committee hopes to attract even more people next year, with perhaps an essay contest or art project to involve local schoolchildren.

“Hopefully, the success of this event will carry over, and we will be able to do an even better job next year,” the state senator said.