Royce Hall at UCLA

UCLA named America’s third best campus for Jews

The Forward named UCLA the third best college in the United States for Jewish life, behind only Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania.

The ranking was part of the Jewish newspaper’s first ever college guide, which weighed universities using a formula that factored in the categories of academics, Jewish life and Israel, listing the top 18. Factored into UCLA’s score were its many Jewish organizations, the availability of kosher food and its Jewish studies program .

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said the school’s thriving Jewish life is a result of the bottom-up model employed by some of the 20 or 25 Jewish clubs and organizations that exist on campus, most prominently by Hillel.

“We’re probably going towards a decade of student leaders who have been fully empowered to run a great Jewish community, and as a result that’s exactly what they do,” he said.

UCLA scored high on the Forward ranking for academics and Jewish life, but its score flagged when it came to Israel, with nine points out of a possible 20. In recent years, the school has been the site of several high-profile incidents where Israel’s reputation came under fire, such as a student government resolution in 2014 calling for divestment from Israel.

But Lerner said those events are exceptions to a campus environment that otherwise embraces its Jewish students.

“It doesn’t define the student experience,” he told the Journal. “It’s incidental, not endemic.”

L.A. Jews in ‘Forward 50’

Four Angelenos are among the 50 American Jews selected by the Forward newspaper for its annual list of newsmakers, which was published on the New York-based newspaper’s Web site on Nov. 12. 

Scooter Braun, manager of teen sensation Justin Bieber; Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of IKAR; Roz Rothstein, founder and CEO of StandWithUs; and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) were included on the diverse list. 

Although two of the L.A.-based names on the Forward’s list have been included on similar Jewish lists in the past — Brous has been on Newsweek’s “most influential rabbis” list and Rothstein was named as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post in 2011 — Braun and Sherman hadn’t been seen before on lists of big-name Jews. 

Sherman and Braun each had big years, though. Braun was profiled in the New Yorker and added to his stable of entertainer clients Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen and PSY, the Korean performer behind the surprise hit “Gangnam Style.” Sherman, meanwhile, retained his seat in Congress by winning a bitter and expensive race against fellow Democrat Howard Berman.

Rothstein and Brous, by contrast, were lauded by the Forward for their work as founders of two very different startup organizations, each of which has grown rapidly under their leadership. 

StandWithUs, a right-leaning, pro-Israel group that celebrated its 10th anniversary in January, is now a $4 million-a-year operation with 15 branches across the country. IKAR, Brous’ 8-year-old non-denominational and social justice-minded spiritual community, “is thriving so profoundly,” the Forward states, “that its leaders are planning to build what they call ‘a living laboratory for 21st-century Jewish life’ — a center that will include sacred space, an art studio, a music lab, a library and a café with kosher, organic food.”

The 2012 edition of the Forward’s annual end-of-year list — which was produced by the paper’s staff despite having lost access to its offices, which are still without electricity after Hurricane Sandy — ranges broadly. Topping the list are casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, TV writer Lena Dunham, composer Philip Glass, gymnast Aly Raisman and Rabbi David Zwiebel, who leads Agudath Israel of America, which represents devoutly Orthodox Jews. 

A few other West Coast Jews made the list as well, including University of California President Mark Yudof, Evan Bloom, the young founder of a San Francisco deli, and University of California, Berkeley astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011.

Forward’s salary rankings: Men got more money, better raises

The Forward’s second annual survey of 74 major Jewish national organizations found that in the past year, women lost ground in leadership, continued to lag behind men in pay and did not experience the same increases in salary that a majority of the men enjoyed despite these recessionary times. (VIEW THE SURVEY HERE)

While there were 11 women serving as presidents and CEOs of federations, advocacy and public service groups, and religious institutions last year, there are now only nine. Even though the work force in these organizations is overwhelmingly female, the percentage of women in leadership roles has dropped in the past year to 12% from 14%.

In this, the Jewish communal experience is dramatically at odds with trends in the broader not-for-profit world. GuideStar, which collects the informational tax forms that not-for-profit groups are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service, reported in September that women were chief executives of nearly 47% of the nation’s charities in 2008. Although women were concentrated in smaller organizations, even in the larger charities — those with annual budgets of more than $1 million — they still held 38% of the top roles.

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Not your average ‘schlub’ — a memoir

“From Schlub to Stud: How To Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City” by Max Gross (Skyhorse Publishing, $12.95).

Max Gross, by his own admission, used to be your average schlub: He sported an unkempt Jewfro, the bottoms of his jeans were tattered and he’d gamely put a good burger before a diet. In Gross’s first book, “From Schlub to Stud: How To Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City”, he tells the tale of how some of this has changed: Now the burger and the diet are in a dead heat.

“The title is slightly misleading in that it’s about reveling in your schlubbiness, not purging it from you,” Gross said in a recent interview.

Indeed, the book is rife with advice on how to become a more functional schlub, rather than a former one. For instance, Gross advises his protégés, become a writer: “Dress code is flexible. As are working hours. And all the time you spend goofing off reading anything from Dostoevsky to Maxim magazine can legitimately be called research.”

Before Gross joined the staff of the New York Post, where he is currently a reporter, he authored a column called “The Hapless Jewish Writer” for The Forward in Manhattan, while fielding phone calls from subscribers. Max discusses here the nuances of schlubbism.

Marissa Brostoff: Is there a paradox inherent in being a schlub with a book contract?

Max Gross: Maybe. There was something in ‘The Hapless Jewish Writer’ where I was supposed to fail horribly, and I succeeded — it was either a horse race or a poker game — and [an editor] said to me, ‘We’re going to have to change the name of the column.’ But I don’t think that schlubs are necessarily failures in life. They’re a little disorganized, but that doesn’t necessarily mean living at home with their parents.

MB: Who are some schlubs who have made it big?

MG: I think you can find them all throughout history. My father thinks that Kaiser Wilhelm II was a big schlub. When you think about it, here was a guy who had this incredible empire — I mean, maybe it wasn’t as great as the British or French empires, but he had a country that was going good, and he screwed it up forever.

My father also thinks Marion Barry is a schlub, because he got caught on film smoking crack. I’m convinced that makes him more of a schlemiel.

Golda Meir [was] a schlub. She’s a successful schlub. And very unique in the sense that she’s a badass schlub. She might be the only schlub that has ever had codes to nuclear weapons.

MB: Is there a schlub-Jewish connection beyond the fact that ‘schlub’ is a Yiddish word?

MG: I think most schlubs are Jews, but there are plenty of non-Jewish schlubs, just like I think most schlubs are male but there are certainly female schlubs. In a way, Judaism really values certain schlub characteristics. We were people that for centuries just sat around the prayer house and read. We weren’t out, like, building…. And we all looked like the Satmars in [Brooklyn’s] Williamsburg.

MB: Maybe being a schlub has something to do with not being assimilated.

MG: Actually, I think that I’m probably more of a schlub than my ancestors. My parents are extremely unschlubby. My mother is a fashion editor and my father is just a cool guy. They have no idea where I came from.

MB: You write that in ‘a world of schlubby newspapers, the Forward is amongst the schlubbiest.’ What makes you say that?

MG: Well, [the Forward] cover[s] a lot of schlubs. I think that, to a large extent, everybody that the Forward covers is a little bit schlubby. They’re these organizations that are obsessed with one little thing that almost nobody else in the world is obsessed with.

MB: The cover of your book features an attractive, blond, un-schlubby-looking woman with her arms around you. Do you feel like you’re more oriented toward women who are themselves schlubby, or women like the girl on the cover?

MG: A lot of shiksa-type women I’m not as into. I like talking about Jews and Jewish topics, and it just doesn’t go over as well with non-Jewish people. Like if you want to talk about Israel all the time, and Saul Bellow, it’s hard to find a shiksa who looks like that to be your soul mate.

Article courtesy the Forward, where this originally appeared.

Comic book strip draws on old New York

Ben Katchor speaks slowly, hal-ting-ly, pausing frequently, as if he’s thinking of images to go with his words as he speaks.

He probably is, as the comic book artist (not graphic novelist) has been pairing images with words for most of his life. While the characters of his fanciful weekly strips — now collected into books — have often been strange, introspective, nostalgic and maudlin figures, his central character has often been the city of New York.

That’s why on June 29 at this year’s Nextbook Festival taking place at UCLA, Katchor will be featured on the panel, “Larger Than Life: Romancing the Lower East Side,” along with filmmaker Joan Micklin Silver in conversation with pop culture scholar Eddy Portnoy. Nextbook’s Festival of Ideas focuses this year on “Jewish Geography: Place, Design Memory, Imagination” and includes readings and panel discussions put on by the Jewish cultural organization that produces an online magazine and literary events and publishes a book series.

“As Jews abandoned New York’s Lower East Side for sunnier climes or better school districts, the old neighborhood only loomed larger, if not in their daily lives then in their imaginations. Where does the history of the Lower East Side end and the mythology begin? How have filmmakers and writers shaped the legacy of the neighborhood, and how have these works of art influenced Jewish identity?” the program reads.

The Lower East Side first captured Katchor’s imagination at a young age. Although he grew up in Brooklyn, he often went to the Jewish immigrant neighborhood with his parents. “My mother had her bank account that she opened as a young woman at Bowery Savings Bank, and for some reason kept it there — and we’d go shopping on the Lower East Side, and that would be the first stop. I remember going to this great temple of banking at the Bowery and then being dragged off shopping,” said Katchor, 57, on the phone from Paris, where he is visiting for the summer. (He lives in New York.)

He also went there with his father to visit hardware supply stores. “I think it was intact as a Jewish business area longer than it was a residential area.” The city and its characters fascinated him — and so did his research. “People wrote about it. This place was established by a succession of immigrant groups — now it’s mainly Asian, but before that it was Jewish and Italian, and before that it was German,” he said. “There are a lot of remnants of these groups. It’s a rich place, but I think most of my feeling about it is as a historian, not first hand.”

But it’s not really history, either; the New York in his strips never really existed. “

Power, Politics And People

Along with news of its editor’s death, the YiddishForward of May 15 carried front-page reports about India’s nucleartests, the U.S.-Israeli diplomatic crisis, the naming of a specialprosecutor to probe the secretary of labor, and Israel’s new militarychief of staff.

It was vintage Forward. As it has for 101 years,the legendary Yiddish journal still covers world affairs andWashington politics as readily as it reports on Israel oranti-Semitism. Unlike any other Jewish newspaper outside Israel, theForward tries to be a window for its readers, not just on the Jewishworld, but on the world.

That’s because the Forward always had twoidentities: Jewish newspaper and newspaper for Jews. It assumed itsreaders’ interests included Jewish affairs, but weren’t restricted tothem. Expansive, eclectic, grounded in core beliefs but never limitedby them, the Forward’s Jewishness was a perspective broad enough toinclude all of human endeavor.

It was the same way with Mordechai Strigler, theForward’s editor from 1987 until he died May 10. Born in Poland in1921, he seemed to embody nearly every contradictory trend in20th-century Jewish life: raised in a chassidic family, ordained in amisnagedyeshiva, he fought with the Polish partisans, organized classes forchildren at Buchenwald, then became a leading figure in the postwarworlds of Yiddish belles lettres and Labor Zionist politics.

During a half-century in journalism he producedtens of thousands of articles, essays and dozens of books oneverything from economics to rabbinic theology. Besides the Forward,he was for 42 years editor of a rival publication, the Labor Zionistweekly Der Yiddisher Kemfer (The Jewish Militant).

His legacy is unmatched. As an editor, especiallyat the Kemfer, he published some of the most important postwarYiddish writing by the likes of Chaim Grade and Jacob Glatstein. As awriter he was peerless in drawing on the lost Jewish world of Europeto illuminate the new. He wrote about everything under the sun,sometimes using three pseudonyms in one issue. David Ben-Gurion, it’ssaid, would not begin world Labor Zionist meetings until he knewStrigler was seated.

“He will not have been the last editor of theYiddish Forward, as he had feared,” vowed Samuel Norich, theForward’s general manager, speaking at Strigler’s funeral. “But nonethat follow him will know the world that he knew, none will invoke itas he could and did, helping us to understand our days as hedid.”

Alas, if only he had helped us understand.Strigler’s tragedy is that he did not. He never reached the mass ofAmerican Jews, because he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — write theirlanguage. He was, to the end, a Yiddish writer. He wrote about thenew Jewish world, but not to it.

“Language is the heart of writing,” one colleagueexplained. “Yiddish was his language.” But that’s not the wholestory. Strigler never had his works translated. He had littleinterest in younger Yiddishists. Young journalists who worked nearhim at the English-language spinoffs of the Kemfer and Forward (thiswriter worked at both) all say they never really knew him. It was asif he could not let himself speak to the new world, because he couldnot bear to let go of the old one.

One journalist wrote that Strigler’s dual Forward-Kemfer editorship was like editing both the New York Times and theNew York Review of Books. That understates the feat. The Forward, theAmerican socialist voice founded in 1897, and the Kemfer, the LaborZionist organ founded in 1916, represented bitterly opposing wings ofthe Jewish labor movement. For a Zionist theoretician to head theForward, tribune of Yiddish diasporism, would have been inconceivablea few years earlier. By 1987, when Strigler took over, there were fewchoices left.

Once there were a dozen Yiddish dailies in NewYork alone. The Forward, the biggest, had a daily circulation ofnearly a quarter-million in the 1920s. Circulation is now around7,000. It went weekly in 1983.

Over 200,000 Americans still claim Yiddish astheir first language, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. But no morethan a fraction knew of Strigler. The vast majority, demographerssay, belong to the separatist world of Yiddish-speaking chassidim.They support a lively crop of Yiddish weeklies in Brooklyn andelsewhere, combined circulation nearly 100,000. Most have no use forthe secularist Forward. As for the Forward’s readers, they producedchildren and grandchildren who speak no Yiddish.

That the Forward lasted this long is due largelyto good fortune. The Forward Association, the paper’s publisher, alsoowns a radio station, WEVD (named for socialist icon Eugene V. Debs).Once billed as the all- Yiddish “station that speaks your language,”it now broadcasts mainstream but lucrative talk shows. InEnglish.

Boosting WEVD’s income are proceeds from the late-’80s sale of its FM band for an estimated $30 million. Besidesfinancing the Forward’s admired but money- losing English and Russianeditions, the radio dollars guarantee the Yiddish Forward can keeppublishing even after the last reader has departed, so long asthere’s someone to edit it.

And indeed, Strigler’s successor has already beennamed: Ukrainian-born Boris Sandler, 48. Once a Jewish activist inKishinev, Sandler entered Yiddish journalism at the Moscow-based DiYiddishe Gass, successor to the party mouthpiece Sovetish Heimland.He moved to Israel in 1992, pursuing research and authoring severalYiddish novels. He came to New York in January as the Forward’scultural editor.

Sandler plans to encourage other Baby BoomerYiddishists to see the Forward as their literary home. He’s been intouch with young writers in America, Europe and Israel who haveagreed to write for him.

But his Forward will have to move away from itsold newspapering ways. New readers will hear about India’s bombs fromthe New York Times or CNN. The Forward will become, like other Jewishjournals — like most Jewish communal life — a refuge where Jewsturn to explore their Jewish side. The organic, all-embracing cultureof modern European Jewry is gone. Gone.

Strigler fought mightily to preserve a murderedculture. His tragedy is that he could not win. Our tragedy is that hehad no strength left to teach the rest of us.

“Strigler was the last of his world,” saysSandler. “He was a child of European Jewry who knew how to sing andweep with European Jewry, and he was the last of them.”

J.J. Goldberg is the author of “Jewish Power:Inside the Amercan Jewish Establishment.” He writes regularly for TheJewish Journal.