Photo by Paul Takizawa

Rivka Schusterman: A dream of generations realized in a call from Harvard


AGE: 18
HIGH SCHOOL: Valley Torah High School
GAP YEAR: Midreshet HaRova in Jerusalem
GOING TO: Harvard University

Under Soviet rule in Odessa, Rivka Schusterman’s grandfather was barred from attending college. Instead, he educated himself, staying up nights, reading. One morning, after a long night of studying, he arrived at his job late — and was thrown in prison for four years.

So when the call came from Harvard that Schusterman had been accepted, it wasn’t just her dream but a dream of three generations coming true.

“My family didn’t even dream of Harvard,” she said. “I don’t know — they thought I would go to still a great university. But they couldn’t even have imagined Harvard.”

From her freshman year at Valley Torah High School, Schusterman applied herself to cultivating the grades and extracurricular accomplishments she knew she needed to get into a superb four-year college.

“ ‘Education is the most important thing,’ ” her parents told her, she said. “ ‘Once you get your degree, then you can worry about anything else.’ I’ve always been intrinsically motivated because of them.”

Among her outside activities, she played on the soccer team, participated in debate and mock trial, founded a recycling club and volunteered at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Somewhere along the line, her college ambitions took a back seat to a passion for community service. During a five-week volunteer trip to Israel in 2015 with the youth group NCSY, once known as National Conference of Synagogue Youth, she realized that she wanted to spend a career helping others in the most impactful way she could.

Becoming a doctor, she thought, “would be the most incredible community service — every single day.”

At Harvard, she plans to major in human, developmental and regenerative biology with a goal of becoming a neonatologist and healing babies before they’re born. “Honestly, I just love babies,” she said.

But first, she’ll take a year to study at Midreshet HaRova, a two-minute walk from the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“I want to set the path for the Jew I want to be, through medical school, through residency,” she said. “I know that after Israel, I’m going to stay committed to my religion, and I think that’s really going to help me when things get tough.”

And when things get tough, Schusterman will have her active high school experience to draw on.

Asked what advice she would give a freshman entering high school, she said, “Just know where you’re headed. Follow through with your passions and what you’re interested in and what you’re studying. Study hard, and know that your hard work will pay off at the end of the day.”

As it did for Schusterman. On March 10, three weeks before she expected to hear from Harvard, she got a phone call from the admissions office there. An administrator called her home. Schusterman was at school working on a volunteer project. Her father forwarded the call. The voice on the other end said they were notifying her early that she would be accepted as a member of the Class of 2021.

“I went crazy and I started crying,” she said. “It was just a euphoric feeling — that everything I worked four years for came true.”

For Harvard’s Zach Yoshor, March Madness mixes with Shabbat-playing unease


Should Harvard upset North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Zach Yoshor will stay with the Crimson for their next game two days later – but the freshman guard acknowledges it won’t be easy.

The Ivy League champs would be playing the Arkansas-Wofford winner on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Raised in an observant home in Houston, Yoshor attended a Jewish school, the Robert Beren Academy, that doesn’t schedule games on Shabbat. Three years ago, during Yoshor’s junior year, Beren attracted national headlines when it nearly had to forfeit a state tournament semifinal originally set for a Saturday.

As a member of a non-Jewish travel team in those years, Yoshor walked to Saturday games. At Harvard, though, he had to choose; basketball won out.

“It was a really rough decision. I just decided it was something I wanted to do,” Yoshor explained by telephone on Monday. “I knew if I wanted to play, I’d have to travel on Shabbat.”

It’s a decision with which he remains uncomfortable, Yoshor admitted. For Harvard basketball games occurring on Shabbat, he keeps religious violations to the bare minimum by refraining from using his cellphone or writing. On team bus rides he reads books to pass the time.

“It does bother me,” he said.

Harvard punched its ticket to the NCAAs in dramatic fashion on Saturday: Steve Moundou-Missi drained a jump shot in the closing seconds to defeat rival Yale for the Ivy League title and the automatic bid.

Yoshor, sitting on the bench, leapt with joy.

“When Steve hit that shot, we all went crazy,” he said. “It was a very emotional experience.”

Harvard extended its streak to four consecutive years of reaching the NCAA tournament known as March Madness.

The Crimson, seeded 13th in the West Region, will play fourth-seeded North Carolina, a perennial power out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, on Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It’s remarkable, like a dream come true growing up and watching March Madness,” Yoshor said. “I always had this dream of playing in the Ivy League. I understood, as I grew up, that I’d have this opportunity.”

Yoshor is unlikely to see court time against the Tar Heels. He played in only nine games this season and scored 11 points, all in an easy victory over St. Rose.

Studying last year at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Yoshor stayed in game shape by working out and practicing with the Israeli professional team Ironi Ramat Gan, an arrangement first cleared with Harvard to assure that his eligibility for college basketball would remain intact.

As a standout at the Beren Academy, Yoshor first attracted the attention of Adam Cohen, an assistant coach at Rice University, also in Houston. The summer after graduation, the now 6-foot-6 Yoshor attended a basketball camp at Harvard, where Cohen had moved on to work.

“I saw Zach at his high school at practice and was impressed: He had good size and could shoot the ball,” said Cohen, who’s also heading to postseason play, in the National Invitation Tournament this week, with his new employer, Vanderbilt University.

Cohen said Yoshor “had the ability, as well as the grades” to play at Harvard, adding that Yoshor could crack the Crimson’s rotation as a sophomore if he continues to develop.

“He’s got a big summer ahead of him,” Cohen said.

Yoshor said his coaches and teammates were understanding about his missing practices for the High Holidays. A kosher observer, he makes do on road trips with tuna sandwiches and salads.

“It’s a point of curiosity,” he said. “They’ve been very respectful, very accommodating. If I ever ask for anything, they’re very quick to oblige.”

Harvard’s other demands took some adjustment for him.

“It was rough for me at first,” Yosher said. “Getting in Division I basketball shape and handling the rigors of academics has been a real challenge, but I felt good when I was able to balance my time at both ends.”

For his NCAA Tournament debut, one of Yoshor’s parents will be in Jacksonville. The other will head to New York to see Zach’s brother Ben, a Beren junior, play in Yeshiva University’s Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament.

The family’s hardcourt prowess is hardly limited to the males. Their sister, Rebecca, graduated from Yeshiva University last year after leading the NCAA – all divisions – in rebounds per game as a senior.

Yoshor’s Beren classmates will be following the Harvard game in Jacksonville, too. No sooner did the Crimson qualify for the NCAAs than his cellphone lit up.

“There were lots of texts from friends about how cool it is,” he said.

Stop reckless sponsorship of anti-Israelism


I never imagined that a day would come when some of the world’s leading corporations would fund calls for Israel’s destruction, let alone at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. But that is exactly what happened last week at Harvard.

My invitation to “Harvard Arab Weekend” promised to provide a “mosaic of perspectives and insights on the most pressing issues in the Arab world.” Many of the panels appeared worthy of the conference’s corporate support from McKinsey & Co, The Boston Consulting Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bank Audi, Strategy& and the energy giant Shell. Yet featured prominently on the conference agenda was a panel devoted to the destruction of Israel: “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement: Accomplishments, Tactics and Lessons.”

The panel’s moderator, Ahmed Alkhateeb, began by noting that a primary goal of the BDS movement is “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties” in what today is Israel. As President Obama pointed out in 2008, this goal stands in opposition to a “two-state solution” and “would extinguish Israel as a Jewish state.” And in an Op-Ed published in Al Akhbar newspaper, Cal State professor As’ad AbuKhalil, an outspoken advocate of the BDS movement, affirmed that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.” This is the “unambiguous goal … [and] there should not be an equivocation on the subject.”

He’s right. While Jews are the majority in the democratic state of Israel today, the BDS movement imagines and seeks a state in which Jews would ultimately become the minority, implying the end of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Of course, students have a right to speak their minds freely, and corporate sponsors have a right to donate their money and institutional backing to any political view. But is it appropriate for Harvard University to lend its facilities to a group of activists who are working to eradicate the one Jewish state?

Not everyone at Harvard thinks so. Former Harvard president and current professor Lawrence Summers spoke out in 2002 against calls for Harvard to divest from Israel. When I asked him about last week’s panel, he told me that “promoting BDS is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I warned years ago about actions that were anti-Semitic in effect, if not intent.”

“Avoiding censorship, which is right, should not equal sponsorship, which is wrong,” Summers explained. “I am sorry that Harvard, not for the first time, has allowed its good name to be associated with calls to delegitimize Israel.”

The panel at Harvard was not a debate about the goals and merits of BDS — it was an endorsement. Panelists included a vocal supporter of BDS who frequently accuses Israel of “apartheid,” a professor who initiated the American Studies Association academic and cultural boycott and a Presbyterian minister who led the church’s boycott of Israel, as well as MIT professor Noam Chomsky.

Student organizers of the panel told me that Chomsky would provide the “anti-BDS” perspective, and he was introduced as the only voice on the panel to be critical of BDS “tactics.” But Chomsky would have none of it, saying: “It’s interesting that I’m introduced as someone that has criticized BDS tactics; actually I have strongly advocated for BDS.”

Chomsky also encouraged anti-Israel activists to take a phased approach toward the annihilation of Israel as a Jewish state.

“The one-state option is a good idea in the long run,” he said,” but there’s only one way that I can imagine we can reach it, and that’s in stages.”

The panel discussion left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. I was sad to see firsthand how BDS encourages Palestinians to reject compromise in pursuit of the destruction of Israel; sad that the student organizers of the conference were unwilling to create a panel of diverse, honest views that would have led to true dialogue; sad that Harvard administrators allowed an event promoting an end to the national existence of the Jewish people to take place under Harvard’s auspices; and said that the names and institutional prestige of major corporations were used to give legitimacy to the BDS campaign.

I sent inquiries to senior executives at every sponsor company before the conference, but the panel went on. After the conference, a senior McKinsey spokesman wrote to me to apologize for the firm’s involvement with the conference: “The firm does not knowingly associate its name with political issues and debates.”

I believe it is likely that the other corporate sponsors also did not intend to have their funds used to promote the BDS movement.

Corporations and universities should not lend mainstream legitimacy to such a radical and odious movement, nor should they provide funding or resources to events that demonize Israel as this one did.

I hope Harvard and the corporations that sponsored Harvard Arab Weekend — and in doing so sponsored the BDS panel — will publicly pledge to be more vigilant in the future and never again associate their names or provide funding to any movement that seeks to destroy Israel.

Sara K. Greenberg is a joint master’s degree student at the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. This piece first appeared in the Harvard Crimson. 

 

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.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple target of bomb threats


UPDATE (DEC. 20): Man arrested in connection with L.A. synagogue bomb threats

DEC. 18: Police responded to multiple bomb threats targeting the Koreatown home of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) and a police squad car parked adjacent to the campus on Dec. 18, disrupting life for much of the workday at one of Los Angeles’ largest synagogues and its surrounding neighborhood.

No evidence was found of any explosives following an investigation that included a visit from the bomb squad, robotic devices and the BatCat, a large forklift-like device formally called the Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool. At press time on Tuesday, a suspect was in police custody, according to a statement sent by WBT to congregants. However police said the man in custody was not the primary suspect in the squad car threats.

The car “was rendered safe. No device was found in or around the vehicle,” said police spokesman Sgt. Rudy Lopez. “The investigation is ongoing.”

The first threatening call, which according to police was from a male voice and made from a public phone, was received by police at about 2 a.m. It indicated that there was an explosive device on the synagogue’s grounds, but an initial search failed to turn up anything suspicious, Lopez said.

[TIMELINE: LAPD investigating bomb threat near Wilshire Blvd. Temple]

About six hours later, two more calls self-reported that a device had been planted in a police vehicle nearby, which authorities identified on Harvard Boulevard north of Wilshire Boulevard. The car had been sitting there for several days as part of an effort in which vehicles are planted in areas to deter crime, Lopez said.

WBT, which is undergoing renovations, and its adjacent school and parking lot take up an entire block between Wilshire Boulevard and Sixth Street and Harvard and Hobart boulevards.

WBT

Wilshire Boulevard Temple was being investigated following several bomb threats on Dec. 18. Photo by Lynn Pelkey

No one was in the building during the police investigation, according to a statement WBT released in the late morning, while police efforts were still under way.

Cory Wenter, the congregation’s director of safety and security, explained that following the 2 a.m. call, the temple used its mass notification system to cancel all activities. WBT has a nursery school, elementary school and a charter school, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, operating at the campus, totaling about 600 students in all, he said.

As for the temple’s West L.A. campus at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue, Wenter said life continued as normal.

[MORE: Statement from Wilshire Blvd. Temple on bomb threat]

“We have escalated threat levels, so we have more people on-site, but we’re still running,” he said.

In the Koreatown neighborhood surrounding WBT, however, things were far from normal for much of the day. Police cordoned off the streets around the building with yellow tape, and helicopters circled overhead. Some residents were evacuated from nearby apartments, and others were asked to stay put, Lopez said.

Enforcement agents spent hours assessing the squad car situation as traffic snarled through surrounding streets. While canine units searched the area for secondary threats, a robotic unit offered a better view of the car itself.

After the robot found nothing — a loud crack of breaking glass could be heard when it gained access to the interior of the vehicle for better visual access — the squad car was lifted into the air by the BatCat, providing a look at its undercarriage.

Next, bomb technicians inspected areas that couldn’t be seen by the robot, including the engine and trunk. No explosives were found, and streets were reopened about 2 p.m.

As for the motive behind the threats, Lopez said it seems unlikely to be related to the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn.

“At this point, we have no reason to believe it’s connected to the events in Connecticut,” he said. The arrest “was based largely on video footage supplied by our security team from the temple’s surveillance cameras,” the WBT e-mail said.

Jewish Journal staff writer Ryan Torok contributed to this article.

Jewish economist Alvin Roth ‘surprised,’ ‘delighted’ by Nobel Prize


U.S. economist Alvin Roth, winner of the 2012 Nobel prize for economics on Monday with colleague Lloyd Shapley, was “surprised” and “delighted” when he got the midnight call at his California home telling him he had won.

“I am having my first sip of coffee right now,” said Roth, who is Jewish, speaking to Reuters from his home before dawn. “I have mostly been celebrating by speaking on the telephone for the last hour. I am hoping that life will get back to normal pretty soon.”

Roth, a professor at Stanford University, and Shapley, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, won the award for research on how to match different economic agents, such as students for schools or organ donors with patients.

“We were called in the middle of the night. We're in California, it's still pitch-dark here and we got a telephone call,” said Roth. “I'm delighted to have been selected.”

“It was very unexpected, not unimaginable,” he added. “So yes, I am very surprised.”

Shapley, a retired professor emiritus, could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for the university said he had not taught a course there for some time.

Roth said he expects to travel to Sweden with his wife to pick up the prize. He says it is still too early to say what he will do with the prize money.

He will be taking his morning classes as usual at Stanford after holding a press conference.

“Scientific work is a team effort,” he said. “Lots and lots of people are represented by this prize and I imagine I'll be talking to some of them and it's a good thing for many young people who work in the area of market design, which is the area my colleagues and I are trying to develop.”

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which made the award, said the 8 million crown ($1.2 million) prize recognized “the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design.”

The award citation said Shapley had used game theory to study and compare various matching methods and how to make sure the matches were acceptable to all counterparts, including the creation of a special algorithm.

Roth followed up on Shapley's results in a series of empirical studies and helped redesign existing institutions so that new doctors could be matched with hospitals, students with schools or patients with organ donors.

“This year's prize is awarded for an outstanding example of economic engineering,” the committee added.

The economics prize, officially called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was established in 1968. It was not part of the original group of awards set out in dynamite tycoon Nobel's 1895 will.

Reporting By Edward Krudy; Editing by Vicki Allen; Jewish Journal contributed to this story.

At Harvard, Dennis Ross takes another bite of the apple


Appearing considerably greyer than when he began negotiating the Oslo peace process for the Clinton Administration 18 years ago, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross addressed Harvard University’s first Israel Conference April 20 on the topic of “Innovating the Peace Process.”

A month earlier, the same auditorium hosted Harvard’s “One State Conference,” produced by Students for Justice in Palestine and other assorted anti-Israel student groups. Roiled by the controversy of being hosted by Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government, the “One State Conference” welcomed veteran Israel-bashers Ilan (“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”) Pappe, Stephen (“Israel Lobby”) Walt and Ali (“Electronic Intifadah”) Abunimah, among others.

In spite of being planned before the anti-Israel conference, the latest program’s focus on cooperation with Palestinian business ventures and Israel’s remarkable technological innovations stood in stark contrast to the One State Conference, whose self-proclaimed goal was the supposed peaceful elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.

Ross currently serves as counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy after resigning last November as special adviser to Hillary Clinton on Iran and Southeast Asia, reportedly after clashing with George Mitchell during his failed attempt to secure a permanent settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict for the Obama Administration. Overall, he has served as a Middle East adviser for five U.S. presidents.

At Harvard April 20, Ross’s appetite for a second bite of the apple—or, perhaps his 10th bite—amounted to proposing a “hybrid model” for Arab-Israeli negotiations, this time around an amalgam of two previous models. First, the “incremental” model, in which each side fulfills step-by-step conditions. Second, the “comprehensive” model, that goes straight to final settlement negotiations ultimately producing a new Palestinian state including East Jerusalem, and a durable peace including Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. There have been so many proposed models that it’s hard to keep them straight. But don’t worry, said Ross, this time it’s sure to work.

Of course, there is one critical component of the “hybrid,” echoing the sine qua non of Ross’s former boss, President Obama: Freezing (and dismantling) of “settlements” must accompany final status negotiations. He reminded his audience of this provision, contained in 2002’s so-called Road Map. But, he chose not to mention the crucial provision from the Israeli point of view that calls for all armed Arab factions to be disarmed and disbanded. It would seem that some provisions are created more equal than others.   

In addition to Ross’s latest model, there’s another one described by its brilliant author, Ambassador Henny Youngman—the “eternal look-the-other-way model”:

“My doctor gave me six months to live. I didn’t pay the bill—so he gave me another six months.”

When it came to confronting Palestinian terror and the refusal to educate their people for a culture of peace and coexistence, Ross and his employers were always ready to give another six months.

Or, perhaps the Albert Einstein model applies: “Insanity amounts to doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” At any rate, Dennis Ross would love to get back in the game.

Sadly, the nearly 20-year-old peace process has become a self-sustaining industry, producing lucrative incomes and prestigious accolades for people who have accomplished exactly nothing in terms of solving the conflict. Still packing halls around the world, Ross represents certainly not the triumph of diplomacy, but rather its abject failure. One questioner seemed to nail it when he suggested that all these years of failed “models” may have produced more conflict than would have occurred in the absence of any peace process.

Inexplicably, for Ross and his employers, the Palestinians never conformed to the logical models set up for them.  It would seem that Arafat and Abu Mazen were reading from a different script. And when all else fails, put more pressure on Israel—it’s a proven tactic that works for Labor and Likud and everything in between.

This season’s latest model from Ross is the “hybrid.” But, alas, the Middle East will suffer buyer’s remorse when it finds out that its new car gets zero miles per gallon.


Hillel Stavis is a writer based in Cambridge, Mass. He focuses on investigative reporting on Harvard University and the Boston higher education community.

Israeli police send Harvard students out of Palestinian village


Isaeli Border Police redirected a group of students from Harvard University from a Palestinian village for traveling on a security road.

The 55 students and the Palestinian activist guiding them were stopped Wednesday in Walaja and escorted to a nearby Israeli checkpoint. The bus was traveling along the route of the West Bank security fence in the village; the road is restricted to Israeli security vehicles.

Tour leader and Walaja resident Shereen al-Araj, a known activist against the security fence, was arrested and held for several hours before being released on bail.

The students from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government were part of a yearly tour to Israel and the West Bank sponsored by the Palestine Caucus at the Kennedy School, according to the Harvard Crimson.

“Harvard has been in touch with the U.S. State Department in regards to this matter to express its concern for the students’ safety,” the Kennedy School’s dean of students, Chris Fortunato, said in a statement, according to the student newspaper.

Opinion: Harvard, Santorum and the one-state solution


This coming weekend, Harvard’s Kennedy School will host a ” target=”_hplink”>Israel Apartheid Week?  Its website says that it’s a student conference, “run solely by the student organizers, and students alone are responsible for all aspects of the program,” and that it “does not represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or any Harvard school or center.”  The sponsoring student groups are Justice for Palestine, the Palestine Caucus, the Arab Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and the Association for Justice in the Middle East.

The disclaimer on the website came at the ” target=”_hplink”>said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL, won’t fix this.  It’s not enough for Harvard to say – as Ellwood did, in response to a ” target=”_hplink”>He does believe in a one-state solution, though not the kind the conference organizers have in mind.  That one state is Israel.  “All the people who live in the West Bank,” ” target=”_hplink”>believes that universities are secular “indoctrination mills” where “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”  He says that’s why President Obama wants more kids to go to college – to convert them to moral relativism. 

It’s not just Santorum.  From Newt Gingrich to Bill O’Reilly, the right says that elite universities are harming America because they substitute doubt for faith.  Pluralism is Satan’s game.  Considering a “balance of divergent views” – Harvard’s mission, and the creed of liberalism – is an assault on moral certainty.  (The reason that the “balanced” in Fox News’s slogan doesn’t also harm America must be that it’s just a slogan, not an epistemology.)

Elite, like liberal, was once a quality to aspire to.  You’d think that conservatives would welcome the enforcement of standards like intellectual excellence.  But it’s clear why they don’t.  What elites call excellence entails an open-mindedness that questions everything; free inquiry doesn’t put yellow tape around any kind of orthodoxy or assumption.

If that were categorically true, then a balance of divergent views on the comparative intellectual capacity of various racial groups would be welcome on campus, because both sides could freely make their cases.  Instead, it’s not, because there aren’t “both sides.”  Sez who?  Well, sez science, a method of understanding the world that elite universities aren’t embarrassed to privilege.  An exploration of the pros and cons of creationism is similarly beyond the academic pale, as is debating the existence of the holocaust, whose reality has been established by the fact-checking protocols that reasonable people use, which constitute a kind of science.

Whether Israelis and Palestinians could share a liberal democratic state that would still be a national homeland for the Jewish people: that’s a political question, not a scientific one.  I have a view about it (it can’t), which at least on that point puts me on the same side as the ADL.  I’m also dubious that the Harvard conference will present a balanced point of view.  After all, its stated goal is “to expand the range of academic debate” to include the one-state solution and “the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.”

But that agenda, with all due respect to the ADL, doesn’t make the topic taboo.  If Harvard were to cave on this, the Santorums win.  Universities can’t adjudicate political conflicts, any more than they can exempt their students from defending their beliefs.  The danger here isn’t delegitimizing the Jewish state.  The danger is undermining the democratic freedoms that Israel, the U.S. and American universities all rely on.


Marty Kaplan is the ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Yeshiva University ranks as 4th most popular U.S. college


Yeshiva University is the fourth most popular school in the country, according to a recent U.S. News and World Report ranking.

The annual rankings are based on the percentage of students who attend a university out of the total number who are accepted to the school. According to the report, which was released Tuesday, 70 percent of the accepted students enroll at YU.

Harvard, Brigham Young and Stanford universities respectively took the top three spots, with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks placing fifth.

“Most of our students have grown up with certain values and a certain belief system, and we believe that those should not be compromised when they hit college,” said YU President Richard Joel. “Our students are looking to continue growing in their Jewish and secular studies, and they know that we provide the pre-eminent university platform for them to grow Jewishly and intellectually.”

Lawmakers urge Harvard divestment from Iran


Seventeen U.S. Congress members sent a letter to Harvard University urging divestment from Iran’s energy sector.

“As Harvard University alumni and members of the United States Congress, we support the student-initiated, student-led movement calling on Harvard to divest from holdings in companies conducting business in Iran’s energy sector,” states the letter, which is dated April 23.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation, was among the signatories. Others include Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.).

The letter points out that the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act calls on states, local governments, educational institutions and private institutions to divest from companies in Iran that are associated with Iran’s nuclear industry, and that Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“As one of the preeminent educational institutions in the United States, Harvard University should be at the vanguard of such divestment, as it was in 2007 for divestment from companies affiliated with genocide in Darfur,” the letter said.

What to do when the high price of higher education keeps getting higher


As high school seniors scramble to finish college applications and anxiously await admission decisions, their parents may be more worried about how they’re going to pay the bill.

The average annual cost for tuition, room and board, books and personal expenses at a UC campus is about $24,000. Many private colleges are twice as expensive. Tuition has been increasing faster than the rate of inflation and there is concern in the higher education community that only students from the most affluent families will be able to attend private colleges.

A number of prominent schools have taken steps to help make college more accessible to low- and middle-income families.

A number of prestigious colleges, including Amherst, Davidson, Princeton, Williams and Harvard, have decided to replace loans with grants for all students who qualify for financial aid. Harvard will no longer require families with an income under $60,000 to contribute to the cost of college, and families with incomes as high as $180,000 will pay no more than 10 percent of their income toward a Harvard education. In addition, the school will stop using home equity in determining financial need.

With the largest endowment of any college in the country, Harvard can afford to be more generous. But other schools are also making changes in financial aid policies. Administrators at Duke have also decided that parents of families with incomes below $60,000 will no longer have to contribute toward their child’s education, and if the income is under $40,000, the student will qualify to receive grants. Loans at Duke will also be reduced or capped for all students who qualify for financial aid, even those from families with incomes over $100,000.

Closer to home, Cal Tech has just announced that it is replacing loans with grants for all new students from families with incomes up to $60,000. More schools are likely to announce new financial aid initiatives in the near future.

How do parents apply for financial aid? Most colleges use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility not only for federal and state aid, but also for their own institutional aid. The FAFSA can be filed beginning Jan. 1, and within a few weeks you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The most important piece of information on the SAR is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the figure the colleges use to determine financial aid packages. The difference between your EFC and the cost of attending is your financial need.

For example, if the annual total cost of attending a school is $42,000 and your EFC is $23,000, your financial need is $19,000. The financial aid office will then assemble a package of grants, loans and a work-study job. While the most selective colleges often guarantee to meet full demonstrated need, at most schools there is a gap between the aid package and a student’s need, leaving the family to find a way to make up the difference.

Financial aid packages can vary even among similar colleges. A student’s third-choice school may offer a lot of grant money while his first-choice school’s package is primarily loans. Being able to graduate without facing years of monthly loan payments can be a great reason to move the third-choice school to the top of the list.

Many parents wonder if applying for financial aid makes a student less attractive to a college. The truth is that it depends on the school. Colleges that have a need-blind admission policy make their admissions decisions without even looking at whether a student has applied for financial aid. The UC system and most highly selective schools fall in this category. Some schools that try to be need-blind during the admissions process do consider financial need when they are taking students off a waiting list, since by that time financial aid resources have often been depleted.

Earlier is better when it comes to applying for financial aid. Most colleges have limited resources, and once the money is gone, that’s it. It’s perfectly acceptable to use your best estimates on the FAFSA and make corrections after your income tax returns have been filed.

To complete the FAFSA, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.collegeboard.com. A good Web site for financial aid information is

Harvard Campaign Against Hate


Feeling frustrated about Arab anti-Semitism? Upset by people’s insensitivity toward Jewish concerns? Think you’re powerless to influence your school or community? Think again.

A group of Harvard students spoke out against hate speech in the Middle East, and, thanks to the support of the community, achieved results. I helped organize the group, and our efforts resulted in shutting down an Arab League think tank that distributes hate speech against Americans and Jews.

It all started last year when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School. In December, I helped organize a panel on the rise of global anti-Semitism. One panelist, Dr. Charles Jacobs, president of the David Project, stunned me with the pervasive, Nazi-like imagery and calumnies directed against Jews that are spread throughout the entire Islamic world, funded by oil money from the Gulf. I was surprised not only by the extent of the hate education, but also by how little the usually well-informed people at the Harvard Divinity School knew about the issue of hate speech in the Middle East.

Most shocking, however, was what Jacobs explained next: Harvard Divinity School itself was complicit in the problem by accepting money from a purveyor of hatred in the Middle East.

Harvard Divinity School — my school — had accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Sheikh Zayed, ruler of the United Arab Emirates. Zayed funds a United Arab Emirates think tank of the Arab League called the Zayed Center that disseminates anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism throughout the Islamic world. The center published a book claiming that the American government masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks, hosted notorious Holocaust deniers and featured a lecture by a Saudi professor who claimed that Jews use non-Jewish blood for holiday pastries. The Los Angeles Times quoted the center director as saying the "Jews are the enemies of all nations."

I knew I had to take action. Just as Harvard would refuse funds from a Ku Klux Klan financier, the university should also reject the hate money of the sheikh.

Soon after the talk, a group of students and I founded Students for an Ethical Divinity School and petitioned William Graham, dean of the Divinity School, to live up to the university’s ethical standards and return Zayed’s gift. Graham told us he would "study the issue." I tried to imagine him making this comment if we were African Americans, gays, or women defamed by a donor. I couldn’t.

Three months later, after an aggressive media campaign brought the issue to CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and CNN, and exposed Harvard’s connection to the center, and after thousands signed a Web-based petition, the president of the United Arab Emirates shut down the Zayed Center. Harvard responded cautiously, announcing that the university was pleased that Zayed had taken action and that Harvard will delay for a year making a final decision regarding whether to accept the money. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz expressed satisfaction that Zayed had shut down a center that "espouse[d] intolerant views, including questionable programs and publications containing anti-American and anti-Semitic content."

There are several important lessons here: The first is that hate funded by Arab leaders or anyone else can and must be countered. This is a victory for people of conscience of all faiths and backgrounds. We should never ignore, rationalize or underestimate hate speech.

The second lesson is that many people shrink from these battles. It’s sad and a little frightening to experience the indifference toward Jewish concerns and Jewish students that so many Harvard professors and the dean of the Divinity School exhibited. Equally frustrating and disappointing is to see the reluctance of some Jewish professors and students to speak out against the institutional insensitivity of Harvard Divinity School.

Ultimately, a willingness to stand up and speak up can make a difference. We won the battle through persistent campaigning, good research, and community support. We thoroughly researched the Zayed Center’s Web site and downloaded the hate speech before the center got wind of our efforts and began deleting it from their site; we learned more about Zayed Center publications with help from MEMRI (www.memri.org), an organization that translates Arabic press into English. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center helped us gather important documents. We received the most instrumental support from the David Project, the on-the-ground campus activists in Boston.

It is unfortunate that the responsibility to wage a campaign against the Zayed Center’s hate speech should have fallen on a small group of Divinity School students. American moral leaders and human-rights groups should live up to their own standards. There can be no free pass for incitement of hatred and genocide. Hatred is a weapon of mass destruction.

A few weeks ago, Sheikh Zayed explained that once it came to his attention that the center had "engaged in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance, directives were issued for the immediate closure of the center."

Zayed’s statement is encouraging, and I hope that other Arab leaders will follow his example and understand that demonizing Americans and Jews is unacceptable and intolerable.

As a result of our success, I have seen greater willingness among Jews on campuses and in communities to participate in campaigns against anti-Semitism. I am heartened by the courage of others to stand up for what’s right.


After graduating from Harvard,
Rachel Fish joined the David Project in New York City (

Berkeley Donors Linked to Terrorists


Funders of UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies have links to Al-Qaeda, according to a campus Jewish newspaper.

Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who funds the center’s Sultan Endowment for Arab studies, is a primary defendant in the $100 trillion lawsuit filed in U.S. District court by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the Berkeley Jewish Journal wrote Tuesday in a special investigative report.

The lawsuit charges Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi defense minister, with financing Al-Qaeda terrorists, according to Matt Levitt, a senior fellow on terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The paper also implicates Xenel Industries, a chief donor to the center’s Al-Falah Program, which "supports better understanding of Islam, Muslim culture in the U.S. and economic development in the Islamic world," according to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies’ Web site.

Xenel’s CEO, Abdullah Alireza, has links to the Swiss bank Dar al-Maal al-Islami, which has financed Al-Qaeda through the bank’s subsidiaries, the campus paper writes. The ties are corroborated in a report by the Orlando Sentinel in its coverage of a business deal between Osceola County, Fla., and Xenel.

One of the bank’s subsidiaries is among the co-founders of a third bank called Al Shamal Islamic Bank, the Sentinel reported. That bank includes Osama bin Laden as another co-founder and was used to finance Al-Qaeda operations, the Sentinel reported, citing U.S. State Department records.

The revelation ultimately prompted Osceola County commissioners to withdraw a $100 million contract awarded to Xenel to build a new convention center, the Sentinel reported last December.

For its part, Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies rejected the Jewish Journal’s charges.

"The article in question is fundamentally erroneous and misleading on a number of levels. It is clearly polemical, giving voice only to the most extreme form of right-wing Zionism," Emily Gottlieb, the center’s vice chair, wrote JTA in response to the article. "The primary funding for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies comes from the United States Department of Education."

Endowments from Sultan bin Abdulaziz and the Al-Falah Foundation are "run by faculty committees with absolutely no obligation to, or oversight from, the donors in question," Gottlieb continued.

If the Jewish Journal had asked, she said, "they would have learned that our newest endowment, which is funded at a significantly higher level than the Sultan Program, is the Diller Family Jewish Studies and Israeli Visiting Scholars Program."

For some Jewish experts on campus affairs, however, the article underscores the potential influence of Saudi money on universities’ Middle Eastern studies departments.

Berkeley is a prime example of that influence, according to Martin Kramer, author of "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America" (Washington Institute For Near East Policy, 2001), which posits that a pervasive pro-Arab, anti-American and anti-Israel bias has tainted research in recent decades.

"You could not do honest research [on Saudi Arabia] and expect at the same time to be a candidate for millions of dollars in Saudi largesse," Kramer told JTA

He said Berkeley and Harvard are flooded with Saudi money, which impacts their professors’ research on the country and simultaneously corrupts the integrity of other universities’ Middle East studies departments, which also want such funding.

"The Saudi issue is a subset of the bigger issue," Kramer said, referring to what he calls the pro-Arab leanings of Middle Eastern studies departments at many U.S. universities. In the field, "certain ideas are out of favor, and being pro-Israel is one of them."

Meanwhile, news of the article was just beginning to spread on the Berkeley campus Tuesday afternoon.

"They’ll find out about what we know today. It should be interesting," said managing editor David Abraham, 19, who said the Jewish Journal had not discussed the topic with university officials or with Jewish groups on campus before the issue hit newsstands.

An introduction to the article posed some tough questions for the paper’s readers.

"Should the No. 1 public university in the U.S. have a higher standard of ethics than the Business Bureau of Orlando…?" wrote Robert Enayati, the paper’s editor. "Should it accept money from those who, as you will learn, are trying to uproot Jews and Zionists from the campuses of America?"

Palestinian Supporters Gift-Wrap Message


In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States is considered Israel’s last remaining key ally. Aiming to change that, the anti-Israel movement on college campuses has adopted a message rooted in bedrock American ideals.

The second National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, held at the University of Michigan last weekend, framed its anti-Israel arguments in the language of civil liberties and human rights. The new, slicker message showed the challenge Jewish groups will face after a conference that both sides considered a pivotal moment for anti-Israel activism on U.S. campuses.

It’s still unclear whether the Oct. 12-14 pro-Palestinian conference, sponsored by a Michigan group called, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, will give the anti-Israel movement a lasting boost or, instead, show that the tide has turned against it.

The movement has come under increasing scrutiny in the past month, after Harvard’s president said the anti-Israel activism bordered on anti-Semitism. Approximately 300 university presidents then signed an American Jewish Committee (AJC) ad criticizing the anti-Israel movement for allegedly intimidating its opponents. The developments drew publicity to a movement that, until then, primarily had attracted campus radicals, but they also put the anti-Israel forces on the defensive.

The weekend conference showed that the pro-Palestinian groups are reacting to the spotlight by crafting an increasingly sophisticated message. Jewish activists are split on the proper strategy to confront it.

Mainstream groups, such as Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, sought to avoid direct confrontation so as not to give the conference more publicity. Hillel planned pro-Israel programming to highlight Israel’s democratic values, placing ads in campus newspapers, bringing pro-Israel lecturers to campus and sponsoring a pro-Israel rally on Oct. 10 with speakers from mainstream organizations.

A new group, Michigan Student Zionists, worked with Aish HaTorah, the Zionist Organization of America and Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA, in crafting a more confrontational approach. The student activists flanked the doors of the conference building, chanting that the pro-Palestinian movement was "justifying suicide bombing" and was anti-Semitic.

The Student Zionists group also staged a prayer service, counterconference, rally and a "street theater" demonstration in which students scattered on the ground to simulate the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Leaders of the student group also filed a lawsuit trying to force the university to cancel the conference.

The basis of the suit was that guest speakers — including Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor under federal investigation for alleged links to terrorist groups — would incite violence. A judge denied a hearing on the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing.

Many of the 400 people at the pro-Palestinian conference represented extreme elements from 70 universities across the country. Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a coordinating body for Israel advocacy, said he wasn’t impressed by the Palestinian supporters’ new message.

"I believe they’re very much on the defensive, and they’re essentially failing," he said. "They had almost no buy-in from the local Michigan population. And most of the participants were fly-ins. To the extent that the advance publicity succeeded in bringing this to the public’s attention, it galvanized the administration’s opposition."

The university’s president, Mary Sue Coleman, on Sept. 26 denounced one of the conference’s key planks, that universities should divest their holdings in companies that deal with Israel.

However, the anti-Israel message could find fertile ground among impressionable and often-uninformed college students. Participants at the pro-Palestinian conference argued that university divestment would pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which they say is the first step toward making peace. Those who oppose divestment really want to squelch pro-Arab organizations’ free speech, the pro-Palestinian group claims.

In response to charges that the anti-Israel movement is anti-Semitic, conference organizers made sure to feature Jewish participants prominently.

"We categorically reject" the accusations of "anti-Semitism being tossed around," said Ora Wise, an Israeli-born junior at Ohio State University, who is on leave to work for the New York-based Jews Against the Occupation. "We need to go to the origins of the conflict" — in Wise’s view, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — to remove the barrier to peace. She said ending the occupation will also bring "Jewish emancipation."

At a news conference, pro-Palestinian conference leaders responded to the charge that they endorse terrorism by condemning suicide bombings — along with "state-sponsored terrorism" against civilians. Palestinian supporters use such formulas to equate Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli counterterror operations, both of which may result in civilian deaths.

In trying to undermine a key Israeli argument — that Israel is a democracy like America — Palestinian supporters say America’s historic subjugation of blacks and allegedly of women shows that democracies can be oppressive, too.

The Israel on Campus Coalition released a resource guide last week that offers tools to counter pro-Palestinian arguments, and describes different approaches favored by various organizations. Other groups also have produced materials countering pro-Palestinian arguments, including divestment.

But if attitudes at Michigan are representative, the pro-Israel forces are having a difficult time courting some of the 6,000 Jews on campus on such a highly polarized issue. Israel and American Jewish groups have "failed to contextualize how remarkable the Zionist enterprise is for this generation of Jews," said Michael Brooks, executive director of the University of Michigan’s Hillel.

While many Jewish students are instinctively pro-Israel, even some of the most ardent defenders of Israel are at a loss as to how to refute the pro-Palestinian arguments. Others doubt their pro-Israel education, assuming it was biased.

The competing approaches among pro-Israel activists — confrontation or low visibility — complicates things for many Jews on campus, who feel misrepresented by both. "Most Jewish students are very confused," Brooks said. "They don’t really understand the stuff they hear well enough" to respond to it, and — unlike the Palestinian supporters — they’re "very suspicious of absolutist positions."

Stacie Ain, for example, was turned off by T-shirts at the Oct. 10 Hillel rally that read, "Wherever We Stand, We Stand With Israel." Many of the 1,000 people in attendance wore the shirts.

It’s "almost passively-aggressively attacking another side," said Ain, a junior studying psychology. Ain said a lack of impartial information has made it hard for her to assess the conflict.

Ain said the information she received in her youth, when she attended a Jewish day school in Rockville, Md, was biased toward Israel. "If I had to choose, I would support Israel," she said, adding, "I still have to be somewhat skeptical about what I hear."

The fear of wholeheartedly embracing either side has given rise to a new Jewish group on campus, the Progressive Israel Alliance.

"You can’t just pick one side," said sophomore Becky Eisen, an activist with the group. "You need to look at the whole picture" and recognize that "both sides have valid points."

But most Jewish students remain reflexively pro-Israel, even if they don’t understand the conflict. Freshman Shelby Kaufman from West Bloomfield, Mich., said she supports Israel because Jews are a minority, and "we gotta stick together in the world."

Jonathan Dick, a 23-year-old law student, said he attended the Palestinian conference to hear the other side’s position. Yet he complained to one speaker about how one-sided the conference was. Discussion was "too much about what the atrocities have been" and "not enough about the context they’ve existed in," Dick explained.

Conference speakers focused exclusively on the Palestinians’ suffering, without mentioning their aggression. A key tactic to rouse the audience was to discredit their opponents.

In a lecture at the conference, Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee, jeered at pro-Israel efforts: the "beshawled jokers" protesting outside, the "crackpot" lawyer who tried to sue the university, the AJC ad against intimidation on campus and the controversial new Campus Watch Web site that lists professors deemed anti-Israel.

Jewish opponents of the conference are a "desperate, desperate group of people," Ibish said. "It’s like being showered in tissue paper," he said of the opposition from pro-Israel forces. "If you treat it as rubbish, it will blow in the breeze and disintegrate."

Evolution of a Darwinian Musical


As a kid in Queens, N.Y., Richard Milner’s nickname was "Dino," while fellow Jurassic-geek Stephen Jay Gould was "Fossil Face." For Milner’s 1954 Reform bar mitzvah, Gould gave him — what else? — Roy Chapman Andrews’ classic, "All About Dinosaurs."

Four decades later, Gould, by then a leading evolutionist and paleontologist, gave his friend an even more significant gift. At the time, ex-anthropology grad student Milner had performed his original songs in coffeehouses but was stuck writing for sex magazines. During his career crisis, he remembered his childhood love of prehistory and wrote his long-lost pal Gould. The Harvard professor had a suggestion: "He said, ‘Go to England, visit Darwin’s house, buy old books,’ Milner recalls. The result is Milner’s clever one-man musical, "Charles Darwin: Live and In Concert," featuring Milner lyrics such as, "There was an ancient monkey with a long and curly tail/That ape evolved into a man/He’s teaching now at Yale."

The evolution of Milner and his Tom Lehrer-esque musical is almost as complex as the origin of species. Because his parents’ religion was education,he dutifully trudging off to UC Berkeley to study anthropology. But after doing his field work on black pimps, he says he was typecast as a sex writer. By 1982, he figured "I’m writing crap and making no money, so I may as well do good stuff and make no money."

After taking Gould’s advice, Milner began his acclaimed 1990 "Encyclopedia of Evolution" and was hired as a senior editor of Natural History magazine.

His ensuing Darwin lecture evolved into a musical staged from Scotland to the hotbed of creationism hotbed of Lawrence, Kan.: "It’s electric to perform in places where Darwin’s issues are still very much alive," he says. For Darwin tickets, at the Natural History Museum, May 19, 2 p.m. call (213) 763-3534.