K-8 charter school studies Holocaust through an artistic lens

Three months ago, eighth-graders at Canoga Park’s Multicultural Learning Center (MLC), a dual-language charter school with a mostly Latino student body, had little more than a basic understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust. 

Or, as teacher Maria Jose Estivarez put it: “They didn’t know anything. We studied World War II and I showed them the movie ‘Life is Beautiful.’ ” 

On May 24, students had a chance to show their families and invited community members just how much things have changed since then, thanks to a partnership with The David Labkovski Project (DLP). The multidisciplinary education program facilitates project-based learning, combining history, art, writing and critical-thinking skills in the service of Holocaust education.

David Labkovski was a Lithuanian-born Jewish artist who survived the Holocaust after being sent to a Siberian labor camp under Stalin’s regime. The project engages pupils with his paintings and sketches of life before, during and after the Holocaust, in an effort to prepare students to curate their own exhibition of his work.  

On the night of MLC’s exhibition, Labkovski’s work was accompanied by student-created art; poetry adorned a chain-link fence just outside the classroom. Text panels, in Spanish and English, offered historical context, while students like Carl MacEwan, 13, delivered their own impressions of original Labkovski works. 

“This shows all the destruction — trees cut down, buildings destroyed, everything that the Germans were able to do once the Jews were away,” Carl said, referencing a painting of a mutilated version of Vilna, Labkovski’s birthplace that was ravaged by war. “But there’s a Jewish star still easy to see on this building here, and it shows there’s always hope.” 

The David Labkovski Project began to take shape in 2013, one year after the artist’s family came into possession of much of his collection. (Labkovski died in 1989 in Israel but his work wasn’t distributed to family in Israel, South Africa and the United States until after a lengthy legal battle that reached Israel’s Supreme Court.) 

Labkovski’s great-niece, Leora Raikin, a South African native living in Los Angeles and an artist who lectures on the history of South African Jews, said, “This is important, historic artwork. … You can’t just let it sit.” 

And so Raikin approached the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and deToledo High School (formerly New Community Jewish High School) about a joint exhibition in which high school students were heavily involved in curating a Labkovski display at the museum in April 2015. Raikin had the original artworks flown in from South Africa and Israel. 

For the three-month interaction at MLC, the project’s second initiative, Raikin canvassed digitized versions of artwork so students could interact freely with the art without fear of damaging originals.

Raikin, who serves as DLP’s executive director, hopes it offers a model that will catch on. 

“The idea is it will go national,” Raikin said, surrounded by her great uncle’s artwork filling the classroom walls. “It’s such a creative, unique way to educate that requires the students to be the teachers.” 

Eight project board members spent a combined total of 16 weekly one-hour sessions in the classroom with Estivarez’s students familiarizing them with Labkovski’s story and his life’s work. A portion of study was devoted to genealogy, in which students traced back their own family roots. Students created their own artwork, wrote poetry in English and Spanish and were presented with personal Holocaust narratives from visiting survivors. They also heard secondhand accounts from their DLP educators, several of whom are the children of survivors.

Raikin told the Journal that she and the project’s director of education, Stephanie Wolfson, wanted the pilot program to be in a diverse environment. 

“We wanted a real mix of the population, a complete representation,” Raikin said.  “From our perspective, these students are going to be the future leaders of California, and unless you understand the background of the Jewish people and the context of that background, you can’t expect people to understand anti-Semitism. The lessons apply to tolerance today and accepting people for who they are.”

MLC, founded in 2001 by Jewish mother-daughter duo Gayle Nadler and Toby Bornstein, is the first public school in the nation to partner with DLP. 

Nadler said the program was inspirational for the students. 

“I’m blown away. Eighth grade isn’t easy to teach. They can get bored easily. This moved them. The students were just so engaged,” she said. 

At the recent exhibition, Chelsea Taura and Malena Mourino, both 13, stood by the door greeting guests and discussing early Labkovski works. They said they were skeptical at the program’s outset, but quickly changed their minds. 

“To be honest, we thought it was just going to be another long part of the school year,” Chelsea said. 

“We didn’t anticipate how important it all was,” Malena added. “I’m in disbelief that we get to do a program like this in eighth grade at a public school.” 

Consul General of Lithuania in Los Angeles Darius Gaidys was among the evening’s special guests, as were a mix of local school representatives eyeing the potential for future partnerships. They included Viewpoint School in Calabasas, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, Los Angeles Unified School District’s Daniel Pearl Magnet High School and Chapman University.

Deborah Smith, principal of the Daniel Pearl school, said she resembled a young learner that evening — knowing little coming in and leaving eager to know more. 

“I came here tonight with an open mind, open to receive whatever was being offered,” Smith said. “All I want to hear now is how to make this a part of our world history curriculum.” 

Natalie Portman should be commended, not criticized

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman clearly hit a nerve when, in a recent interview with the British newspaper, The Independent, she questioned the validity of the type of Holocaust education she had received growing up.

“I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education,” she said.

“Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things … We need to be reminded that hatred exists at all times and reminds us to be empathetic to other people that have experienced hatred also. Not used as a paranoid way of thinking that we are victims.”

[RELATED: In defense of Portman]

Specifically, she expressed dismay at only having been taught about the Holocaust in a vacuum, as it were, without also learning about other more contemporary atrocities such as the Rwandan Genocide.

Ms. Portman did not say that Holocaust education should be eliminated. On the contrary, she emphasized that “it must be taught.” Her concern is that it “can be subverted to fear-mongering.”

Ms, Portman probably could have expressed herself more artfully. While insisting that “I don’t mean to make false equivalences,” she appears to be equating the Shoah with – rather than relating it to – other genocides. Nonetheless, the essence of her comments is valid.

There are two distinct ways of ingraining the Holocaust into our collective consciousness. The first posits the event as a solely Jewish martyrology in the spirit of Tishah be'Av and a succession of countless subsequent deadly brutalities to which Jews and only Jews were subjected over the centuries. In this memorialization, the Warsaw Ghetto fades into Auschwitz fades into Treblinka fades into Babi Yar fades into Bergen-Belsen in a dirge-like recitation of suffering, without respite but equally devoid of purpose other than, perhaps, to instill in young Jews the sense of paranoia to which Ms. Portman refers: You, too, they are warned repeatedly, could also become a victim of obsessive anti-Semitism, and if that happens you will be all alone, abandoned by all but your fellow Jews.

The other approach to Holocaust remembrance sets the implementation of Hitler's Final Solution of the Jewish Question squarely into its historical – as opposed to a quasi-mythological – context. While it acknowledges the Holocaust as the epitomic manifestation of genocide, as the ultimate consequence of bigotry and hatred as official public policy, this pedagogical model also recognizes that other genocides such as the slaughter of the Cathars during the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century and the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century occurred before the Shoah, and that subsequent genocides – Rwanda, Srebrenica, Darfur – have taken place since.

Some of the criticisms of Ms. Portman’s comments have been over the top. “I am shocked,” one Holocaust survivor told the Jerusalem Post. “The Nazis tried to erase the Jewish people from the face of this earth – 6 million. Before she talks about the Holocaust, she should go to Auschwitz with a survivor, she would never compare the Holocaust to anything else.” Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, groused that Ms. Portman’s “success in the movie world does not turn her into an expert in history or on genocide. If she wants to express her sympathy with all victims of such tragedies, this is definitely not a smart way to do so.”

I, for one, am far more sympathetic to Natalie Portman’s sentiments, especially since I know them to reflect prevalent attitudes toward the Shoah among large segments of the post-Holocaust generations, both Jews and non-Jews. The students who take my courses on the law of genocide and war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell Universities want to learn about the Holocaust, but not in isolation.

My own views in this regard are clear. As my teacher and mentor Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has eloquently said, “the Holocaust was a unique Jewish tragedy with universal implications.” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder wrote in The New York Times last year that it is precisely because “the Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent” that Jews in particular must not remain silent when Yazidis and Christians are persecuted and murdered by ISIS in the present-day Middle East. Ms. Portman correctly concludes that such universal implications of the Shoah are all too frequently ignored in contemporary Holocaust education.

The Holocaust is indeed unique – not worse and certainly not more tragic – among genocides because of its enormous, continent-wide scope, because of the complexity and systematic methodology of the annihilation, and because of the willing participation of much of not just German but other societies. At the same time, none of us should ever engage in comparative suffering.

I tell my students that from the perspective of the victims of genocides or their families, all of whom share a common humanity, it really makes no difference if they were murdered in a gas chamber or with machetes. Acknowledging such a fundamental moral truth in no way detracts from the preservation and perpetuation of Holocaust memory.

The integration of Holocaust education into Jewish education requires a balancing of competing imperatives: conveying the enormity and uniqueness of the Shoah without alienating the very audiences we most need to reach. Natalie Portman should be commended, not criticized, for making the need for such a proportionate approach a topic of discussion.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress and editor of God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015)

With fewer survivors around, Holocaust education is in transition

On a recent morning, a group of seventh-graders in Natick, Massachusetts, was absorbed in a video of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s acceptance speech of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.

“Why did he win?” asked their teacher, Tracy Sockalosky.

She guided the discussion to the importance of remembrance, a theme reflected in Wiesel’s book “Night,” which the class had read earlier in the year as part of an eight-week unit on the Holocaust that Sockalosky co-teaches with a colleague.

Sockalosky, a 39-year-old history and world geography teacher at Natick’s Wilson Middle School, was one of 25 educators from around the world who traveled to Poland in January for the commemoration ceremonies of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The five-day trip, organized by the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation-the Institute for Visual History and Education, in partnership with Discovery Education, included workshops at Warsaw’s new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, visits to Jewish historical sites and meetings with survivors.

A webcast produced during the trip, “Auschwitz: The Past is Present Virtual Experience,” will be made available to teachers and students in grades 9-12 on May 13 through the foundation’s recent partnership with Discovery Education, a company that streams educational content to teachers and classrooms across the country.

With the last cohort of survivors in their final years, Holocaust education, which once relied heavily on classroom visits from survivors, is in a period of transition.

“We’re on the cusp of a shift,” when it will no longer be easy to find survivors to speak directly with students, says Roger Brooks, president of Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based nonprofit that offers multidisciplinary professional development, curricula and resources for teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides.

Founded in 1976, Facing History, which now has programs in 150 locations around the world including Northern Ireland, Israel, South Africa and China, combines teaching the history of the Holocaust with readings that explore ethics and questions of civic responsibilities. Its Center for Jewish Education, started in 1990, works with educators in more than 750 Jewish educational settings, including about 100 day schools.

While no one knows how many schools in the United States teach about the Holocaust — it’s a topic the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is hoping to study at some point, officials there say — people in the field sense it has become more of a mainstream phenomenon in public, private and parochial schools all over the country, even in communities that lack significant Jewish populations.

Five states — New Jersey, New York, California, Illinois and Florida — have some type of mandate to teach about the Holocaust in public K-12 schools, according to Peter Fredlake, director of teacher education at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Others encourage Holocaust education or make curricular recommendations.

But approach, quality and goals vary dramatically, Fredlake and others in the field say, with some schools teaching the Holocaust strictly for its historical significance and others with hopes of imparting lessons about civic responsibility and the dangers of intolerance.

Meanwhile, more than 80 groups throughout the United States offer resources and training for Holocaust educators, according to the U.S. Holocaust museum. A new museum in Brooklyn, the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center, is the first to focus on the experience of Orthodox Jews in the Holocaust.

Many are grappling with how to teach about the Holocaust in a post-survivor age.

For the past 20 years, in anticipation of the shift, USC’s Shoah Foundation has collected more than 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors for its Visual History Archive. More than 1,500 of the testimonies are included in the foundation’s IWitness, a program designed for classroom use that enables students to stream video and audio testimonies and create their own multimedia presentations. The program reaches some 39,000 educators, and the January trip, in addition to seeking to deepen teachers’ understanding of the historical landscape of Poland before and after the Holocaust, sought to promote the use of the IWitness program.

“This is really bringing the power of storytelling in the digital environment,” according to Kori Street, director of education at the Shoah Foundation. “It’s putting a human face to history.”

Testimonies can’t be presented on their own, however, Street and others caution. Instead, they say, testimonies must be supplemented with lessons about the context of anti-Semitism and the history that led to the Holocaust.

By “looking at the small and insidious steps as they unfold, it helps students learn about warning signs, and to recognize and respond to them in their own lifetimes,” says Jan Darsa, director of Facing History’s Jewish education program.

At its best, says Simone Schweber, the Goodman professor of education and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research has focused on Holocaust education, teaching the Holocaust challenges students to examine their own deeply held ideas.

“It’s really hard to do,” she acknowledges, noting that students don’t always construct the moral lessons that their teachers assume, particularly if they bring in stereotypes and preconceptions that go unaddressed.

Sarah Cushman, academic program liaison officer at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, says, “People assume that if you teach [about the Holocaust], students will understand that they shouldn’t bully. There’s a disconnect between what’s being asked of this history and what students are getting from it.”

“The lessons must be made more explicit,” she suggests.

Sockalosky, the suburban Boston teacher, acknowledges that the material she has presented to her students requires high-level critical thinking skills and can be challenging for seventh-graders. But the experience of standing with survivors at the gates of Auschwitz in January has deepened her commitment to reaching students at the level they are at, she says.

“I have to find a way to make learning about the Holocaust not just another historical event we study,” Sockalosky says. “It’s not just about the history; it’s about the human experience.”

‘Lore’ sees Holocaust through German teen’s eyes

To help us grasp the enormity of the Holocaust, we have the testimonies of survivors, of liberators, even of bystanders, but what about the perpetrators and, even more, their children, who grew up worshipping Adolf Hitler?

“Lore,” the movie, grapples with that complex question from the perspective of the title character, a 14-year-old girl (impressively played by Saskia Rosendahl), daughter of a high-ranking SS officer and his equally fanatical wife.

As Germany collapses in the spring of 1945, the Allies arrest Lore’s father as a war criminal, as well as her mother. Before her mother departs, she charges Lore to take her four younger siblings, the youngest one little more than a baby, across the rubble-strewn fatherland to her grandmother’s farm in Bavaria.

Along the way, Lore and her charges get a lift from American soldiers; she is almost raped by a German farmer; she sees a brother shot dead by a Red Army guard and trades the family jewels for a loaf of bread.

She also encounters a cross section of her countrymen and women, barely able to comprehend what has happened to their fatherland and fuehrer, and confronted for the first time with the crimes of the Nazi regime.

As one who has lived through and participated in a good part of this history, I can attest that the reactions of many of these solid burghers ring absolutely true.

Shown the first photos of a death camp, an elderly woman averts her eyes and moans, “If the fuehrer had known what was going on, he would have put a stop to it.”

A man looking admiringly at a framed photo of Hitler blames the German people for letting the fuehrer down and admonishes the volk for “breaking his heart.” Still another patriot informs bystanders that the emaciated prisoners in an Auschwitz photo are actually actors hired by the Americans.

Lore angrily tears down the American “propaganda” poster but soon faces a more personal problem.

Thomas, a strange young man, attaches himself to the young refugees and becomes their self-appointed protector and food scavenger. Lore is drawn to Thomas (Kai Malina) emotionally and physically, until he produces his ID papers at a checkpoint.

The documents, and the tattooed numbers on his arm, identify him as a Jewish concentration camp survivor, a member of that race Lore has been taught to despise from infancy.

She threatens Thomas that her father, the imprisoned SS officer, “will deal” with him and lashes out that “all you filthy Jews are liars.” But is the young man actually a Jew or only impersonating one?

Toward the end of the film, Lore is still confused and torn, but gradually begins to question the deeds of a father and fuehrer she once adored and trusted unquestioningly.

In some respects, the film is a curious one. Young Saskia Rosendahl in the title role gives an impressive performance, and the portrayal of the average German confronting the collapse of his world is spot on.

At the same time, director Cate Shortland depicts the wandering of the five kids in a nightmare world at an oddly slow, at times static, pace.

Oddest, however, is that “Lore” was submitted into this year’s Oscar competition for best foreign-language film by Australia.

The Aussies can hardly be considered “foreign” (meaning non-English) under the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Actually, the movie is entirely in German, with a cast of German actors. What makes it “Australian” is that director Shortland was born and bred Down Under.

During Shortland’s visit to Los Angeles to boost her film’s Oscar chances (it didn’t make the cut), the Journal asked her how she came to make a movie in a language she hardly speaks, and her answers were quite intriguing.

 “I have always been interested in the effects of living in a totalitarian society, and especially what that does to children,” she said.

Shortland also has given considerable thought to the issue of national guilt, noting that “Australians are still in denial [over] what their ancestors did to the Aborigines in settling my country.”

Her interests became even more personal when she married a Jewish man whose family had left Berlin in 1936 and settled in Sydney. Four years ago, she converted to Judaism, observing, “I am no longer Cate the shiksa.” The couple has added more diversity to their family by adopting two black children.

All these factors fused when she read “The Dark Room,” a novella written by Rachel Seiffert, whose protagonist’s experiences closely resemble those of the film’s Lore.

“I was terrified when I started out to make this film,” Shortland confessed, partly because of the language problem in interacting with the cast and crew, but also her fear that the film could be taken as an apology for the Nazi regime. 

The fear is unfounded. The Nazi indoctrination of German youth was intense beyond belief, and an acknowledgment that the German people — guilty or not — suffered greatly during the war in no way diminishes the unspeakable crimes committed by them and in their name.

“Lore” opens Feb. 8 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center 5 in Encino, as well as at Edwards Westpark 8 in Irvine.

ADL successfully expands Holocaust education workshop

For nearly 30 years, Los Angeles secondary-school educators have attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual Holocaust Education Workshop as part of their professional development. During the month-long series, L.A.-area teachers learned the history of anti-Semitism, listened to survivors’ firsthand stories and visited local Holocaust institutions, leaving them better equipped to teach the Holocaust to their students.

This year, the ADL has revamped its workshop to appeal to educators pressed for time as well as those who might feel that they might already know enough about the Holocaust. Renamed the Holocaust Education Institute, the workshop’s emphasis this year is on multimedia approaches to teaching the Shoah, increasing the convenience factor by stretching attendance over five months and allowing educators to attend as few or as many sessions as they like.

The overhaul of the program is exciting — and necessary, said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director.

“There’s a certain point in any innovative program’s life where it’s like the same people who are interested in it have already gone to it one or maybe even two times, and you’re starting to really struggle for membership and attendance,” Susskind said.

“The four-night thing was starting to get hard to sell … [and] if no one is coming, I’d rather change it to get more people in the room,” she said.

Until 2009, the program included four weekly sessions, each lasting about four hours, and attendance for all sessions was mandatory. Last year, the ADL squeezed the four workshops into one week.

Starting this year, the ADL is stretching the program over five months.

Serving as the kickoff event for this year’s program, the ADL will hold a seven-hour seminar, “A Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust,” on Nov. 4 at USC, followed by four four-hour sessions at various sites.

Co-sponsors for the Holocaust Education Institute include the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance; the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust; and the Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

Experimenting with the content and structure seems to be paying off for the new Holocaust Education Institute. Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said registration numbers are up. The Nov. 4 session is almost filled — nearly 60 people had signed up as of Oct. 28 — and Mayersohn said the attendance for the following sessions looks to be strong.

Katharine Guerrero, a teacher at Alverno High School in Sierra Madre, an all-girls Catholic college-preparatory school, has participated in several ADL Holocaust education programs for teachers in the past several years, including the organization’s Bearing Witness Institute, an overnight seminar that teaches the Holocaust to parochial schools. Guerrero said she plans to attend the Nov. 4 kickoff event.

“I like hearing this stuff over and over again for some reason,” said Guerrero, who has woven what’s she learned at these workshops into her classes — world religions and U.S history — at Alverno. She said the chair of her school’s theology department recommended that she get involved with the ADL workshops.

“I really took the [workshop] curriculum and I found a way to adapt it across the curriculum with my theology and world history course and my United States history,” she said.

During the Nov. 4 “Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust” at USC, an ADL staffer will introduce and give a sample lesson from “Echoes and Reflections,” an award-winning multimedia curriculum that features a DVD of survivor video testimony with accompanying maps, photographs and poetry. The curriculum is designed to be used by high-school teachers in various subject areas.

After the “Echoes” lesson, teachers will learn how to use iWitness, a new Web-based application for teachers and their students – developed by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute — that has 1,000 unedited survivor testimonies. Each video on iWitness has been indexed, making navigating the testimonies easier.

Dan Leshem, associate director for academic outreach and research at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, also will lecture on “Holocaust Denial, Multimedia and the Internet.” 

The four remaining sessions — offered from Nov. 17 to March 15, each beginning at 4:15 p.m. — closely resemble what the ADL has offered in previous years. These workshops are: “The History of the Holocaust,” during which attendees will tour the Museum of Tolerance and examine artifacts, including a four-page 1919 letter by Adolf Hitler that documents his anti-Semitic views; “The History of Anti-Semitism,” featuring a discussion on Catholic-Jewish relations; “Teaching the Holocaust Through Art,” highlighted by a tour of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where teachers will view a picture diary of the Theresienstadt concentration camp; and “Making the Connection From Past to Present,” which will include discussions on genocides in Rwanda and Darfur.

This is also the first year that teachers can attend as many, or as few, workshops as they like. However, LAUSD educators and librarians must attend the four sessions after Nov. 4 in order to qualify for one unit of Article Six multicultural credit. A book review, a lesson plan and an overall reflection on the course are also required for the credit.

The kickoff session at USC is $20 per person, which includes meals, materials and parking. Individual sessions after Nov. 4 are $15 each, or $50 to attend all four.

For more information about the Holocaust Education Institute, visit this story at adl.org/lah olocaustinstitute.

Adult Education


Upcoming Teachers Seminar Features Top Holocaust Experts

The city’s top names in Holocaust education have teamed up to sponsor a four-part seminar on “The Relevance of Teaching the Holocaust in the 21st Century,” aimed at moving Holocaust education into an era when relying on survivor testimony will no longer be feasible.

Sponsored by The Anti-Defamation League (ADL); The Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance; the Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the seminar sis designed for middle and high school teachers but is open to anyone interested in the topic.

The four sessions, held on consecutive Sundays, 4-8 p.m., starting Jan. 27, will trace the path of the Holocaust beginning with forced emigration through to the camps. Session three will focus on resistance and rescue, while session four will deal with “Translation into the Classroom and Contemporary Challenges.”

Professors from local universities, education experts and Holocaust experts will lead the sessions, which will take place at the Museum of Tolerance and ADL headquarters.

The $60 fee ($70 after Jan. 13) covers all sessions, kosher dinner and $20 worth of classroom materials. The seminars qualify for LAUSD salary points and Bureau of Jewish Education credit. For more information, contact Jackie Louk at ADL, (310) 446-8000, ext. 232 or e-mail jlouk@adl.org. Advance registration is required and space is limited.

Learning Group Holds Next Retreat in Maui

Kol Echad calls itself a learning community without borders, and it means it in every sense. The first event for the group based in Charlotte, N.C., was on the topic of comparative Judaism, led via conference call by a post-denominational rabbi in Austin, Texas.

That spirit continues with the second annual Maui retreat, taking place Feb. 21-26.

Topics include Jewish mysticism, women in the Jewish tradition, and an experiential class where Torah and Maui will be fused. Educator Gavriel Meir-Levi will teach the book of Jonah on a private whale-watching excursion, study the Mount Sinai experience atop Mount Haleakala and contemplate a return to Eden in the Iao Valley.

Kosher provisions are available.

For pricing information and for more details, go to www.kolechad.org.

West Valley Synagogues Ready for Winter Kallah

Saturday may come but once a week, but this is the Year of Shabbat for the West Valley. Starting in September, local synagogues of all denominations began to receive a monthly newsletter and take part both in shulwide and communitywide activities centering on a specific theme relating to Shabbat. Coordinated by the Rabbinic Task Force of the Jewish Federation West Valley Alliance, the program has gotten off to a strong start.

January’s theme is holiness, and that will be the focus of the Winter Kallah, or study retreat, held on three consecutive Monday evenings.

Participants will come together to explore the elusive concept of holiness through studying sacred texts, interacting with rabbis and engaging in activities to better understand and live a life of holiness.

The Annual Winter Kallah will take place at Congregation Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road, Suite B in Calabasas, Mondays, Jan. 10, 17 and 24, 7:30-9:30 p.m. For more information call (818) 880-4880 or visit www.yearofshabbat.org.

Lunch (or Dinner) and Learn

The Jewish Studies Institute offers a range of classes at varying levels for those interested in learning about Judaism.

Tuesdays and Thursdays bring Lunch and Learn, with biblical Hebrew for beginners (11 a.m.) and advanced (12 p.m.) on Tuesdays, and an introduction to kabbalah class taught by Rabbi Ari Hier on Thursdays at noon. Classes are $8 and include a light kosher lunch.

If doing lunch doesn’t work for you, Talmud for Dummies is the fare for Monday evenings at 7 p.m., also taught by Hier. All programs are for men and women.

For more information and class locations, call (310) 772-2467.


Watch Necessary on Campus

American Jews have spent a lot of time worrying about the difficulties facing college students in recent years. As a result, American Jews have put their money and ingenuity to work on behalf of programs that would combat assimilation on campus.

We have poured more funds into Hillel-supported organizations, supported the Birthright Israel project, which has brought students to Israel for their first trip to the Jewish state, and philanthropists have endowed Jewish studies and Holocaust-education programs that have proliferated across academia. All of these initiatives have had positive effects on Jewish college life.

But despite this, we have witnessed an upsurge in anti-Israel activity across North American campuses that has mixed traditional anti-Semitism with the vicious protest tactics of the far left.

While academia has long been a stronghold of the left, the main focus of collegiate extremists has rarely been on Israel in the past. But Jewish students, parents and concerned citizens are only just now coming to realize that there is no greater stronghold for hatred of Israel than American colleges and universities.

The core of this anti-Israel cadre is the growing body of academics in the field of Middle Eastern studies. In his authoritative study of this genre published last year, "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America" (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, $19.95), scholar Martin Kramer detailed the abyss of partisanship into which this discipline has fallen. Far from a bastion of impartial study, Middle East studies is a preserve of those devoted to whitewashing radical Islam, bashing Israeli policies, critiquing and undermining support for Zionism, and supporting the Palestinian Arab war to destroy the Jewish state.

Though you might think this field boasts of scholars with differing sentiments, in Middle East studies, only one point of view is welcome. Scholars sympathetic to Israel and critical of radical Islam are treated as pariahs in Middle East studies and an endangered species elsewhere in the academy. Even worse, much of this so-called scholarship is being funded by the federal government or by donors from Islamic countries.

Muslim and Arab student organizations, aided by their leftist allies, are making campuses hotbeds of anti-Israel protest. In response, the Jewish community can and should devote energy and money to educating Jewish kids to be informed pro-Israel activists.

But no student can expect to hold his or her own against a professor determined to indoctrinate a class with anti-Zionism and hatred for Israel. The issue of what students are being taught in class about Israel may turn out to be far more important than whether or not Jewish students can be effective advocates. The good news is that a Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum, which is led by scholar and author Daniel Pipes, is seeking to begin the work of monitoring anti-Israel activity on the campus with a new Web site (www.CampusWatch.org) that has provided a vital store of information on the topic.

Predictably, the response from academia has been swift and vitriolic. Academics and institutions that have been listed on the site, as well as others who share their feelings, have come out swinging, falsely accusing Campus Watch of "McCarthyism" and suppressing academic freedom.

The truth is just the opposite.

It is, in fact, the campus Israel-bashers who have sought to banish any scholar who disagreed with them from the discipline. Having effectively blacklisted a brilliant scholar like Pipes from a major academic post, the academic mafia that controls Middle East studies is now seeking to ensure that any criticism of their work is branded as extremist.

But it is not Pipes, but the pro-Arab and anti-Israel academy that is creating a hostile environment for Jewish students. Bringing their biased work and course offerings to a wide audience, as Campus Watch has done, isn’t intimidation. It is merely exposing nefarious activity to the light of day, where donors to universities and taxpayers can properly evaluate it.

The Middle East Forum and the invaluable Pipes are to be commended for taking this initiative, and for braving the vituperation of both the academics and their mindless cheering section in the national press. But, unfortunately, no major Jewish organizations, including Hillel or the Anti Defamation League, has chosen to support Pipes’ stand or to criticize those seeking to stigmatize him.

Pipes is taking the heat on this issue, but he and his colleagues at Middle East Forum and Campus Watch should not stand alone. Anyone who values academic integrity, as well as the struggle against the growing scourge of anti-Semitism, needs to stand with him.

i>Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish
Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be reached at jtobin@jewishexponent.com