A letter to my daughters in college


To My Daughters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Dad


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

Prepping students for friction on college campuses


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Helping grads on their Jewish journey


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outstanding Graduates 2013


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

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

Just imagine what they’ll do as adults.

 

Ruth Maouda
Putting the pieces together

 

Gabe Freeman
A leading player

 

Michael Sacks
Leading the way

 

Sepora Makabeh
Using gift of gab for good

 

Rose Bern
A passionate voice

 

Rachel Arditi
Family inspiration

 

Sam Lyons
Finding his voice

 

Raphi Heldman
Lessons on the run

 

Joelle Milman
Transforming herself

 

Daniel Schwartz
Grad’s goal: A better world

 
 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity is good for Jewish college students


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Police investigate hazing at Boston Jewish frat


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

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

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

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

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

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

The fraternity house was known for hosting wild parties.

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

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

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

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

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

To my child on the way to college


This is the beginning of your life’s great adventure. At your bar/bat mitzvah, we spoke about you becoming an adult. But that wasn’t exactly true. The next Monday morning, you were back in middle school. This time, it’s for real. You’re leaving home, going away to school, beginning your life as an independent adult. It’s exhilarating and terrifying (for both of us)! So, just in case I forget to say this when we drop you off at the dorm, here are a few words of wisdom. Torah is our source of truth … even now.

1. In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. The earth was unformed and void … And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. … And God separated the light from the darkness. … It was evening and morning, a first day.

You won’t know that you are really independent until the day arrives when you run out of socks and underwear. In college, clean socks don’t magically materialize in your drawers like they did at home. On that fateful day, you will carry your bulging laundry bag down to the laundry room, together with a box of detergent and a pocketful of quarters. And there you will face a great decision: Do I follow the instructions and separate the lights from the darks, or throw it all into the washer at one time? This is not an insignificant dilemma: Do you abide by the wisdom of tradition, or blaze your own trail? No doubt, you will choose your own way … the road less traveled, and all that. You’ll throw it all into the washer. And for the rest of the semester, you’ll have pink underwear, murky brown T-shirts and pants shrunken a size too small. Listen to the word of Torah: Separate the light from the dark. Sometimes those older than you actually do know something.

2. God said: “Let there be a firmament in midst of the waters. And let the waters be gathered … that dry land may appear. …” It was evening and morning, a second day.

In college, people drink. A lot. It’s hard to find any social moment in college life without drinking. So be careful. I would tell you not to drink, ever. But I realize that’s not reasonable. At college, as in the rest of life, you need to develop judgment, discretion and the ability to say, “Enough.” So notice the way people drink. If they can’t seem to have a good time without alcohol, these aren’t people you want to be with. If friendship, conversation or intimacy depends upon alcohol, or other drugs, go find other friends. You’re better than that. Your soul is more valuable than that.

3. God said: “Let the earth sprout vegetation. … ” It was evening and morning, a third day.

God created fruits and vegetables. They’re food. Good food. So eat them. Every day. People in college think that Top Ramen, doughnuts and pizza are essential food groups. They think that beer provides a day’s vitamins. That’s no way to live. Eat reasonably, and you’ll find it easier to pay attention in class, to stay healthy and to feel well. Contrary to the conviction of every adolescent, you’re not invulnerable. So take care of your body. 

4. God said, “Let there be lights in the sky … to shine upon the earth. …” It was evening and morning, a fourth day.

Go outside. At least once each day. Take a walk; go for a run; breathe some fresh, non-air-conditioned air; look up at the stars; feel the peace of the woods. You’ll spend days on end in class, in the library, in a dorm room. Your eyes will only see cold florescent light. Go into the sunshine and connect with nature every day. Watch the sunset. Feel the wonder of the stars. The Chasidim of the Baal Shem Tov’s circle went out to the forests to listen for the voice of God. Try that. Your soul needs that renewal. 

5. God said, “Let the earth bring forth swarms of living creatures. …” It was evening and morning, a fifth day.

College is the most intense social experience you’ll ever have. At college, you will meet more people from more places and more cultures, backgrounds and faiths than at any other time in your life. Far more important than what you’ll be taught in classes is what you’ll learn from meeting people of all kinds — learning their ways, understanding their perspectives, listening to their stories. Open yourself to new friends. Don’t sit with the same people at dinner every night. Don’t sit next to the same people in class. Show a little chutzpah, walk up and begin a conversation with someone new each day. Remember, they’re just as strange to this college life as you are, and just as eager to meet new people.

That goes for professors, too. Whatever class you’re taking, go meet the professor in his or her office. Here’s a secret: Professors are tired of students who only ask about a grade or a test or an assignment. Go see your professors, introduce yourself and ask: How did you get into anthropology? Or chemistry? Or psychology? What is it that grabbed you about this discipline? Then sit and listen and enjoy. Every professor has a story. Every professor is just waiting for a student to ask. And every professor was driven to his or her discipline by deep passion. More than anything, each wants to share that passion. Go ask.

6. God said, “Let us make man in our image.” And it was evening and morning, a sixth day.

College life is intensely self-absorbed. It’s about your education, your experience, your growth. But the deeper truth is that you won’t learn or experience or grow so long as you’re focused only on yourself. College is about taking — taking classes, gaining knowledge, grasping wisdom. But the truth is that knowledge and wisdom are gained in giving, not taking. So give. Give of yourself. Go down to the local elementary school and volunteer to serve as a classroom assistant. Go down to the community garden and pick up a shovel. Go to the local hospital and find out what you can do to help and heal. Give of yourself, act selflessly, and you will find the best parts of yourself … your worth, your capacity to shape the world, your sense of purpose. There is no greater joy than that. And no more important form of education.

7.
And on the seventh day, God rested.

Make Shabbat. Make one day a week special. All week, you’ll be working hard to develop your mind. Devote one day a week to your soul. Whatever makes you feel most authentic, most connected, most alive … devote one day a week to that. In college, you’re always being evaluated and measured. One day a week, remember that you’re more than your classes, more than your next exam, more than your GPA or your GRE. Celebrate the gifts of life. And if you find yourself at a synagogue, wrap yourself in the tallit we gave you on your bar/bat mitzvah, sing the prayers, feel the presence of God, and feel our presence and our love. We are proud that you’ve taken this step into the adventure of life. We’re with you, even far away.

Touro College offers West Coast alternative


By the time Touro College opened in Los Angeles in 2005, five of Esther Lowy’s eight children had already left for college on the East Coast — and stayed there.

Today, her two youngest attend Touro College Los Angeles.

As the first dean of the school, which is a branch of the accredited Touro College New York, Lowy knows how important offering a college option for local Orthodox kids is to the future of the community.

“Unless we keep our children on the West Coast, we’ll lose them,” Lowy said. Already 220 students have attended classes, with close to 120 students enrolled last academic year. Classes meet at Temple Beth El on Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood.

“I’m glad that I did not have to fly to the East Coast to get a quality education in a Jewish environment,” said student Ilana Adatto, a psychology major concentrating in speech therapy.

For her, Cal State Northridge, Santa Monica College or UCLA wouldn’t have provided what she was looking for in a college education.

“I chose Touro College over other secular colleges in Los Angeles, because I wanted to stay in a Jewish environment and be able to receive my degree from a respectable accredited university,” said Adatto, who is from North Hollywood.

At Touro, students are not exposed to literature or films they would consider immodest or indecent, or to a campus life that challenges Orthodox values. Men and women have separate classes at Touro, and the school follows a Jewish calendar. The college has its own rabbi and students are required to take three credits of Judaic studies each semester.

“You don’t have to be Orthodox or Jewish to come to Touro College. But most non-Jews don’t want to do the three credits of Judaic Studies,” Lowy said.

The college offers something else not found in large universities — an intimate environment and a personalized educational setting.

“I have very good relationships with many of my teachers and feel comfortable seeking their help after class and outside school, when necessary,” Adatto said.

Dr. Michael Hamlin, a psychology professor at Touro, takes a case-based approach to learning that engages students in discussion and involves interaction among the students.

“People need to be active and involved in their learning,” Hamlin said.

Lowy has a personal relationship with the students as well. Five weeks into the semester she meets with them to discuss their progress and goals.

The school tailors course offerings to the needs of the students, Lowy said. “We will give a course for as few as three students,” Lowy said. “If, however, there are not three students interested in a class, we will give it independently.”

Currently students have a choice of two majors, business and psychology. There are four concentrations within the business major — accounting, finance, management and marketing — and three within the psychology major — speech pathology, counseling and education. Lowy said the school is exploring adding more majors and graduate degrees, including master’s degrees in business and education.

Touro College New York opened in 1971 with 35 students and has expanded to more than 23,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students on more than 29 campuses throughout the world, including Florida, Nevada, Moscow, Berlin, Rome and France. In September 2010, the second Jewish-sponsored Medical School in the country will open in New Jersey.

“Touro students have preferential admissions to the many Touro graduate and professional schools,” Lowy said.

Affiliation with the New York school helped Touro College Los Angeles become accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges before it even had students. However, Touro College Los Angeles is not the only college specifically targeted for the Orthodox population here; Maalot Los Angeles, a women’s college and branch of the Maalot Zaidner Institute in Jerusalem, opened in Los Angeles in 2000 to cater to the Orthodox population. Maalot is currently Middle States Accredited and is hoping to get WASC accreditation in the near future.

Tuition at Touro Los Angeles is $14,000, but Lowy said the school offers financial aid, including the need-based Dean’s Scholarship and an $8,000 merit-based scholarship for students who get above a 1,200 on the SATs.

While Touro College New York helped Touro Los Angeles get its start, Lowy said Touro Los Angeles also looks to the local community for support.

Collegians do the ‘Write Thing’ at GA


College students are not only attending the General Assembly, they are
covering it as well.

This will be the 17th year that a select group of Jewish collegians, as
members of the Do the Write Thing team, will have its own prestigious place
in the General Assembly.

For this 40-member cadre, most of whom staff their campus Jewish and/or
secular newspapers, the GA will be more than a place to learn about and
participate in organized Jewish life. They will also have the opportunity to
sharpen their journalistic skills while deepening their understanding of
what the community does — and how it does it.

Do the Write Thing is sponsored by The Jewish Agency and the Hagshama
department of the World Zionist Organization, with some sessions coordinated
by the American Jewish Press Association.

Hagshama translates to “fulfillment,” explains New York-based fulfillment’
and find a personal connection and engagement with the Jewish state is
through programs such as this,” he says. “It also helps these students to
be better equipped to make Israel’s case on campuses.”

The GA, he adds, “is a great place for these students to meet Jewish
leaders, and to establish friendships with each other.”

In addition to being at major GA plenaries and sessions, DTWT participants
will attend press conferences with visiting dignitaries and hear, in
sessions exclusively for them, from such eminent people as Gary Rosenblatt,
publisher and editor of The Jewish Week (New York), and Rob Eshman, editor
of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, about “Covering Israel in
the American Jewish Press.” Meetings with Israeli journalists and workshops
with members of the American Jewish Press Association also are on the
agenda.

For many DTWT alumni, participation proved to be a step toward a
professional career. Gil Hoffman and Miriam Saviv are on the staff of the
Jerusalem Post. Dan Schifrin is director of literacy programs at the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture, and Marita Gringaus was press
officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Rustin Silverstein,
who served as press secretary for Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, was also a
producer at “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”

“Do the Write Thing,” Silverstein says, “helped me understand the craft of
writing from a Jewish perspective.”

As a result of a visit during last year’s DTWT program at the Toronto GA by
Laura Kam, director of the Washington-based Media Fellows Program of The
Israel Project, participants learned about the project’s fellowship program.

“Several students applied, and two were chosen, ” Kam reports. “They proved
to be excellent media fellows,” she says. “They were sincere students who
were intent upon pursuing Israel advocacy.”

“I hope to make more connections this year through Do the Write Thing,” Kam
says.

Keren Douek, assistant editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light, says DTWT
confirmed for her that writing for and about the smaller, more specific and
personally relevant Jewish world, was an intriguing concept. “There is
nothing like it,” she says.

Keeping the SAT Drama to a Minimum


As if getting myself into college hadn’t been difficult enough, now I’m embarking on the adventure of navigating my son through the process. I call it an “adventure,” because it truly is nothing less — a roller-coaster ride fraught with sudden turns, unexpected pitfalls, one-mistake-and-you’re-doomed scenarios. I’m sure there’s a spine-tingling reality show possibility here, something between “Survivor,” “The Apprentice” and “Extreme Makeover: How to Survive Getting Your Kid Into College Without Getting Fired and Still Looking Fabulous.” You start with 20 Jewish mothers and see who’s not in therapy by the time acceptance letters arrive.

Luckily, I know plenty of moms who have treaded these waters before — many of my friends have kids who are already in college or at least thoroughly enmeshed in college entrance preparation.

“Are you signing Mickey up for the PSAT next month?” my friend Ginny asked. (Mickey is a high school sophomore).

“He just took a PSAT a few weeks ago,” I said.

“That was the practice PSAT,” Ginny explained.

“There’s a practice, practice PSAT?”

“No, a practice, practice SAT.”

“OK,” I got a pen and paper to draft a quick flowchart. “So, first they take a preliminary test to practice for the Practice-SAT.”

“That’s right! And then they’ll do better on the PSAT, which is important because that one counts.”

“But it’s just practice. What does it count for?”

“I don’t know, but it does. Or maybe it doesn’t. Well, it doesn’t now, but it will later.”

“Does he have to take it now?”

“No.”

“Then when would he take it?”

“In his junior year, right before the SAT. In fact, he probably should wait because he’ll do better on it next year after a year of practice.”

“Practicing what? He already took the practice PSAT. If he doesn’t take the PSAT, what’s he going to practice?” I ripped my flowchart into pieces.

“He’ll take a practice course at school.”

“He will?”

“Or you’ll get him a private SAT tutor.”

“I will?”

“If you want him to get into a good college….”

“Hold on,” I said. I stuffed three Oreos into my mouth and washed them down with cold coffee. My tentative grip on teenager management was about to come loose, sending me plunging into a deep chasm where all my accomplishments as a mother would wither, and my son’s life would unravel, because I couldn’t understand the structure of college entrance exam signups.

Ginny could hear the panic in my voice.

“Julie,” she said, “you’re eating cookies again, aren’t you?”

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, trying to keep the chocolate crumbs in my mouth.

“Listen,” she said reassuringly, “it’s not that complicated. The kids can pick up the information in the college center at school. And I’ll tell you what, I’ll let you know what I’m doing as I do it, and you can just copy me….”

That was exactly what I needed — a virtual guidance counselor who could tell me what to do and when to do it. Then I would just cooperate and follow along.

Applying to college was not this complicated 25(ish) years ago. I think I took a PSAT. I know I took the SAT. I took it one time. I did relatively well. I got into UCLA. But times have changed. If I packaged up my high school transcripts and SAT score today, UCLA probably would laugh my application right out of the admissions building.

While everyone agrees that getting into college is more difficult and complex than it was a generation ago, most acknowledge that parents and kids need to step back, set realistic goals and try to relieve some of that SAT trauma and drama.

No one sees more distress over scores than Wendy Gilbertson, a partner with Coast 2 Coast College Admissions, a certified college consulting company.

“Scores are important,” Gilbertson said, “but students have much more to offer than just a test score. Most colleges seek well-rounded kids, and they look at many other factors when considering applicants.”

If a student is concerned about improving his or her score, then a prep course is very helpful.

“But it’s usually best if parents are not overly involved in that process,” Gilbertson said. “Kids will be more motivated if they are accountable to a third party and not to mom or dad.”

Students should be open-minded when considering where they want to submit their applications. Marc Mayerson, an assistant dean at UCLA, explained that a narrow band of elite colleges, including the Ivy Leagues and several UC campuses, are overwhelmed by the number of applications they receive.

“When a college receives 35,000 to 50,000 applications for only 5,000 freshman spots or even much fewer, the admissions staff must weed out applications with gross measures, and those measures often include SAT scores,” he said.

The good news is that there are hundreds of excellent colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad that do not weigh entrance exam scores as heavily as the larger, more well-known schools that many California kids have their hearts set on.

“One of the biggest mistakes high school seniors make is that they convince themselves that only an Ivy League or a particular university is the right school for them,” Mayerson said. “By considering a few more schools, they can alleviate much of the stress and anxiety for themselves and for their parents.”

Feel better? I know I do. But I suggest you keep a few packs of your favorite cookies in the cupboard, just in case.

For information on test schedules and other things to keep you up at night, go to

Hillel Readies Plan of Attraction


The Jewish college student of today is likely to be more interested in discussing religion than in practicing it. Therein lies a challenge and an opportunity, and Hillel, the college Jewish organization, says it’s ready to respond.

It was in the summer of 2004 that Hillel began work on a five-year plan to attract the two-thirds of Jewish college students who say they don’t go to Hillel activities. That troubling statistic has been one of the most talked-about findings from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS).

To find out more about the mindset of today’s Jewish college students, researchers culled current literature on “the millenials,” people born since 1982. They looked at studies, including the NJPS, Linda Saxe’s 2002 “Jewish Freshmen” study and the recently released “I-Pod Generation.” They also consulted executives from Jewish federations, Hillel staff and lay leaders; ran focus groups on six campuses, and analyzed responses from 603 Jewish undergraduates who answered a random survey.

Hillel President Avraham Infeld discussed the group’s findings at the General Assembly of Jewish organizations this week in Toronto, and Hille’s strategic pla will be released in 2006.

Millenials, both Jewish and non-Jewish, “tend to be very focused on accomplishments,” said Julian Sandler, chair of Hillel’s strategic planning committee. “They’re very capable, they have high regard for the values of their parents, they’re hypercommunicative and they tend to shun denominational labels.”

On religious attitudes, they have a more individualized worldview, a lack of interest in traditional institutions and an interest in diversity. Which translates to that preference for discussing religion than practicing it.

Above all, they are constantly multitasking. As one expert put it to Sandler, “They may have multiple windows open simultaneously to their identity, and being Jewish is just one of those windows.”

The Hillel team also concluded that Jewish students in the survey “were more likely to self-identify as Jewish by ethnicity, rather than by religion,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s director of strategic resource management.

At the same time, students say they feel proud of their Jewish identification and are willing to publicly identify as Jews by displaying Jewish objects in their rooms, such as menorahs, mezuzahs and Israeli posters, and by wearing Jewish items, such as chai necklaces, Stars of David and T-shirts with Jewish slogans. (Wearing a kippah was not included in the survey’s list of Jewish items.)

Perhaps the most interesting data to emerge from the study, Sandler and Hoffman said, is what students described as the top barriers to their involvement with Jewish life on campus. Hoffman noted that an overwhelming number of Jewish students said they want Hillel to be “more welcoming,” a finding that validates increased efforts to be inviting, while also hinting at a need for further tweaking.

“Hillel has always been home to a certain group on campus, those who come with strong Jewish identification and strong Jewish values,” Sandler said. “We need to find those who are proud of their Jewishness, curious about their Jewishness, but not sure how to translate that into making their Jewishness an integral part of their lifestyle.”

One strategy has been to offer non-Jewish-specific activities or Jewish activities that also are open to non-Jews. Hillel at the University of Washington co-sponsored an outdoor showing of the film, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” during this fall’s welcome week.

And then there’s “hookah in the sukkah,” a program where Hillel builds a sukkah in the middle of a campus and invites all students, not just Jews, to join them for a meal.

 

Between the Pages for Young, Young-at-Heart


Let’s face it. Many people go to synagogue on the High Holidays because they have to. A feeling of poorly understood and unappreciated obligation can pervade this time of year. But it doesn’t have to. You can put yourself or your children in the spirit and in the know with help from this by-no-means-comprehensive list of titles that elucidate the prayers and customs of the holiday.

For Young Children:

“My First Book of Jewish Holidays”
by Shmuel Blitz, illustrated by Tova Katz, (Artscroll Mesorah, 2004)

“My First Book,” which is beautifully illustrated, explains the historical significance of the holidays (i.e., the world was created on Rosh Hashanah, as well as the laws). In addition to their regular text, the pages have “Did you know?” boxes. It is not a storybook, but it is written clearly and its pictures are mesmerizing.

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah”
by Yaffa Ganz
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1990)

“Rosh Hashanah With Bina, Benny, and Chaggai Hayonah” is one in a series of books about Jewish holidays, in which two young children and their talking dove go on a learning mission. In this pleasantly illustrated book, children can learn about holiday customs, such as dipping an apple into honey, and different names of Rosh Hashanah. For example, Yom Hakeseh is called the Day of Concealment, because the moon is concealed on that day — just a sliver in the sky. And metaphorically, the outcome of the new year, too, is concealed from us.

For Teenagers:

“Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” by Shimon Apisdorf
(Leviathan Press, 1997)

The “Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit” is aimed at those who

would really rather be elsewhere during the services — sound like any teenager you know? The book gives tips about how to make the service meaningful, without being bogged down with effort. (Sample tip: “Five minutes of prayer said with understanding [and] feeling … means far more than five hours of lip service.”)

It also offers cute factoids about Rosh Hashana, presenting an easy and fun-to-read overview of the prayer service and Torah readings.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity — “Survival Kit” does not shy away from the weightier matters; it offers compelling expositions on teshuva (repentance) and personal development.

For College Students:

“60 Days, a Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays”
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson
(Kiyum Press, 2003)

In “60 Days,” Jacobson looks at the months of Elul (the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays) and Tishrei (the Hebrew month in which the High Holidays occur) as a period for self-improvement. Basing many of his teaching on Kabbalah, Jacobson goes through each day of the two months, explaining the historical significance of the day well beyond the obvious holidays. For example, the 18th of Elul is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism.

But he also describes exercises to enable the reader to use the 60 days for introspection. Jacobson wants us to be our better selves, and to use that improvement for an enhanced relationship with God.

For the Prayerfully Challenged:

“Pathway to Prayer: A Translation and Explanation of All the Amidah Prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur”
by Rabbi Meir Birnbaum
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1997)

Even for those familiar with the daily prayers, the Rosh Hashanah service can seem formidable. It is long, different and should ideally be infused with enough kavannah (concentration and devotion) to change the destiny of the upcoming year for the better.

In “Pathway to Prayer,” Birnbaum explains the prayers line by line — often word by word. He is not merely content with translating. Rather, he explains what the thought process should be when each word is said. For example, in the musaf prayer, the repeatedly used word. “Hagadol [the Great One], referring to God, really means God who is great “in exercising the attribute of kindness.”

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer”
by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
(Schocken Books, 2000)

“A Guide to Jewish Prayer” provides great background reading for those interested in the history and development of prayer in Judaism. The chapter on Days of Awe, as the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known, provides a brief overview of the holiday and the origins of the prayers that developed in conjunction with it.

This book will not necessarily help you navigate a machzor (special prayer book for the holidays), but it does outline what we will be saying on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., which prayer comes after which, when the shofar is blown, etc.) as well as explanations and customs of shofar blowing. Steinsaltz also explains differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic nusachs (the order of the prayers).

For Meaning Searchers:

“Days of Awe: Sfas Emes, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes on the High Holy Days”
by Rabbi Yosef Stern
(Artscroll Mesorah, 1996)

The Sfas Emes, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Alter of Ger, became leader of the great Gerer Chasidic dynasty in Poland in 1870, when he was only 23. Under his guidance, Ger became one of the biggest Chasidic groups in Poland.

In this volume, Stern distills the Sfas Emes’ Chasidic teachings into illuminating essays on topics such as “The Omission of Hallel on Rosh Hashanah” to the “Symbolism and Significance” of Shofar blowing.

“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared — The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation”
by Alan Lew
(Little Brown and Company, 2003)

“This Is Real” follows no ordinary Rosh Hashanah book path, because it encompasses so many different elements. Part memoir, part Zen mediation, part rumination on life in general, interspersed with Torah readings, Jewish teachings and Zen parables (Lew considers himself a Buddhist rabbi), this is a book that describes a soul’s journey from Tisha B’Av through Yom Kippur, as it “heads home.”

Lew sees the High Holidays as a metaphor for life itself, and he wants us to experience “oneness with everything.” Rosh Hashanah is a time that we can “experience the truth of our lives.”

Though the title is ominous, the book is ultimately uplifting, about a person’s power to transform sadness to joy.

For General Background:
“Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days”
by Shmuel Yosef Agnon
(Schocken, 1995)

This is a collection of writings on the Days of Awe culled from traditional sources, such as the Torah, Talmud and Zohar. Agnon lets the writings speak for themselves, but he compiles them in a way that tells the history of the holidays.

In the section on Rosh Hashanah, he starts with the commandment from Leviticus to observe Rosh Hashanah (“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns”).

He then moves on to descriptions from Ezra in Chronicles of the Jewish people bringing sacrifices on Rosh Hashanah, and then quotes from the Mishna and Talmud about what Rosh Hashanah means.

The book is a fascinating compilation, perfect for those who want to understand the meaning of the holiday from original sources.

For Contemporary Approaches:

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Poems, Stories, Essays.”
edited by Steven J. Rubin
(Brandeis University Press, 2003)

“Celebrating the Jewish Holidays” is not a book for those who simply want laws or traditions laid out for them. Rather it’s for those seeking creative or artistic musings on the holidays.

Gathering verse from poets as diverse as Solomon Ibn Gabirol (an 11th-century Jewish Spanish scholar) and Emma Lazarus, the poems convey a range of experience, from the spiritually awesome to the skeptically modern. The stories and memoirs are evocative. Eli Weisel tells of Rosh Hashanah in the concentration camp, others of Rosh Hashanah in the shtetl.

“The Jewish Way, Living the Holidays”
By Rabbi Irving Greenberg
(Simon and Schuster, 1988)

In “The Jewish Way,” Greenberg explains the holidays as “the quintessential Jewish religious expression, because the main teachings of Judaism are incorporated in their messages.”

In his essay on Rosh Hashanah, he explains that it is a somber time when we must confront our own mortality, since one’s life “is placed on balance scales.” In addition, Greenberg gives a summary of the prayers and customs of Rosh Hashanah.

 

20-Somethings


Do you remember what it’s like to be in your 20s?

You’ve just finished college, or maybe you’ve had an entry-level job or two, or maybe you’ve put off entering "the real world" for another couple of years by going into grad school and into unbearable debt. You’re wondering what it all means and how exactly you fit in the picture. You’re unsure about almost every single thing and yet you are interested in all of it just the same.

As I sat on a small stage at the Universal Studios Hilton Hotel on Tuesday looking at the anxious, inquisitive faces of a few dozen 20-somethings who were here at this particular hour to find out about career options in the Jewish community, all the heady uncertainty of that decade came back to me in a rush. The panel was part of a three-day conference called Professional Leadership Project: 20-Something Think Tank and CareerBreak, which brought together 145 21-29 year olds from around the country to figure out the needs of the future Jewish community. Although the participants were brought here to be studied, their concerns for their own career paths were so palpable I could recall that time quite clearly.

OK, maybe it wasn’t so long ago that I left my 20s, but it certainly seems like a quite some time has passed since I was fresh out of college, facing a world spread out frighteningly in front of me, with a million opportunities and only one possible direction that I alone could decide to take.

"I’m listening to all of you talk about the paths you’ve taken to become Jewish professionals, and I’m wondering right now if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m in the right job," a participant from the audience said to the panel: Matthew Grossman (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization executive director), Michelle Kleinert (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy director of community affairs), Craig Taubman (musician, composer, producer) and me. We, along with four others on a concurrent panel in another room, were meant to serve as young(ish) examples of Jewish professionals — people who have chosen to make their careers serving the Jewish community in one way or another. Sponsored by William M. Davidson, the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Family Foundation, Michael Steinhardt/Jewish Life Network, Eugene and Marcia Applebaum and Robert Aronson, the Aug. 22-24 conference may sound like many other well-funded, well-intended and well-attended ho-hum Jewish "renewal" programs, but in reality there was something different in the air, something that I would call the "winds of change" if I weren’t afraid of sounding like… an eager 20-something or an aging hippie.

Here’s the thing: As I sat on stage answering questions and giving advice about what it’s like to work in the Jewish community, based on having been in it for more than 10 years, I thought, when I was their age, I never had something like this.

When I was coming of age who was interested in what I thought? Who, besides my parents and friends, cared about my ideas? And I — like most whippersnappers — had puh-lenty of ideas. But who wanted to listen? Who was interested in how I could contribute meaningfully to the world, to the Jewish community, to anything at all? More importantly, who cared about what I wanted to change about the world, society and the Jewish community?

No one.

When I graduated college and tried to find myself, all I got — after hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on Jewish education, summer camp, seminars, leadership programs etc. — was to be told what was expected of me. To be told how I should fit in to the world around me, to be told what there was, take it or leave it. I went to lectures, programs, seminars, you name it, and there were plenty of people who were willing to tell me the way to lead my life, but it seemed like no one was really interested in anything I had to say. And why should they be? The world wasn’t created for me, it wasn’t stopping or changing just because I was about to participate in it and, sadly, it felt like the only way that there would be room for me is if I’d play by whatever and whosever rules were there. That’s life, right?

Ah, but maybe — and I don’t know, it’s just a thought sparked by this conference — maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

PLP gathered 146 people — only about a third are already working in the Jewish community — in order to ask them what they think, to find out what they need in order to be involved in Jewish life, what they want to get from being Jewishly involved and how existing Jewish life could change (change!) in order to accommodate them. To attract them. To keep them. To retain them. To get these bright, talented, creative, young people who are just beginning their lives, to begin them in the Jewish community. Not at a computer start-up or law firm or theater company or secular nonprofit, but here in the Jewish community.

Here, in the Jewish community — you know, the one that always complains about "Brain Drain," about losing its best and its brightest, about the "graying" of Jewish community organizations, the Jewish community in which all institutions try and try and try to make themselves "relevant" and "meaningful" so that they can attract the next generation.

This generation, the one sitting right in front of me.

This "think tank" has gathered a few of that next generation here in order to survey them, and analyze them so that PLP can come up with the answers from the grass-roots. It’s the Howard Dean of Jewish programming: instead of established institutions providing top-down stop-gap solutions to the core issues facing the Jewish community, the think tank plans to glean information from the very focus group it is trying to attract. Results will be compiled, studied and published. The question is, of course, what will they find? And will anybody listen?

"Maybe it’s not fair of me to abandon [Jewish community work] because I was having a hard time," Rachel Hochheiser told me privately after our group discussion. Hochheiser, 26, had left her job at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life after three years because she felt "frustrated and burnt out," in her words, although they’re words I hear all the time from Jewish professionals. Hochheiser is currently getting her MBA in St. Louis, and now, after the emotional highs of the conference — of discussing Jewish issues pertaining to spirituality, history, current events, leadership and contribution — she was troubled: Should she work in the business world that she was being trained for, or go back to the Jewish world she loved but ultimately left?

"There is no career path in the Jewish community; there is no next step," she explained. When Jewish organizations worry about attracting the next generation, they lament the fact that their even within their own ranks, the primary color is gray. Hochheiser talks about it from the other end of the spectrum, from working inside Jewish organizations. "There is something for 25-year-olds, maybe 27-year-olds, and also for 45-year-olds," she said about jobs within Jewish organizations. She worried "what was going to happen when I turn 30? There’s just no middle ground."

The interesting thing about Hochheiser — and many other participants — was that money plays little part in deciding whether to become a Jewish professional.

"Money doesn’t matter, it’s just a certain threshold," Seattle resident Josh Miller said.

Many participants said they were willing to start at low salaries as long as there was promise for growth, because they believed the trade-off would be doing something they loved and believed in.

"I realize how much I care, how much I hope to continue working in the Jewish community," Hochheiser said.

Still, she and others have other concerns: Is there a level of professionalism in Jewish life that you can find in the outside world? Are there people who are open to new ideas?

At 30, Miller is at the end of the decade under examination, and he is confident in his career: post-MBA, he is now the director of Jconnect in Seattle (www.jconnectseattle.org), what he described as a nonprofit for social, religious and cultural activities for — guess who? — 20-somethings.

Why 20? What is it that is so important about this newly defined target group? (Most marketing groups are 18-24 and 25-34, and here, some of the 27- and 28-year-olds felt like they were in a different category than 21- and 22-year-olds.)

"I think we need some sort of 20-something successor to teen youth groups and Hillel," said Jason Brzoska, a 24-year-old from Albany who works at MyJewishLearning.com.

"There is no obvious path for someone who wants to remain involved Jewishly," he said, pointing out that men’s clubs, sisterhoods, all those things were for people who are older and/or in a more settled phase of life.

Times are a changin’. It used to be that after high school and college people got married — especially in the family-oriented Jewish community. Then they joined synagogues, had babies, sent them to Jewish schools, Jewish camps and even conferences. Today, as anyone who’s ever seen one episode of "Seinfeld" or "Friends" can attest, most people get married later. And while people in the Jewish community tend to get married at a somewhat younger age than the general population, it’s unusual to get married at 22. Or 23. Or 24 or even 25.

One way that the organized community has dealt with the changing times is to try push Jewish singles events: Get young Jews married to other Jews, the thinking goes, and then they’ll start having babies and families and be ready for the organized life of the Jewish community — in other words, for the men’s clubs, the sisterhoods, the federations and everything that already exists. That philosophy works, to an extent. New innovations like JDate and SpeedDating have been successful.

But successful at what? Preventing intermarriage, creating new Jewish families, finding someone’s soul mate, for sure. But is it a solution for creating Jewish leaders? For involving passionate post-college students who aren’t ready for marriage, but seem to be yearning for something else?

"Some sort of youth group for 20-somethings is what we need to remain connected to the Jewish world," Brzoska said. "Too many people get lost."

Most of the participants were far from lost, though. They were more like lit matches looking for the right hearth to light their fires. I met Yotam Hod, a 26-year-old public school teacher who had already worked for two years in the Peace Corps, and was just searching for any way to gain entry into working for his own community — maybe with Palestinian and Israeli kids, maybe first going back to graduate school in Jewish studies (alumni from various grad schools with Jewish programming also led a session).

There was Tamar Auber, who runs a nonprofit soup kitchen/food pantry/intervention center in Brooklyn that services 5,000 people. She’s only 26 and already feeling overwhelmed, but here, at the conference, found so many participants who want to volunteer. The conference also pushed volunteerism and philanthropy as ways to get involved Jewishly if you weren’t going to make it your career.

There was Rachel Cohen, who works for an ambassador at the United Nations and wants to improve the image of the Jewish people and Israel there.

And then there were a few people unsatisfied with their experience.

"I felt I missed out on the entire purpose I was coming for — I was trying to figure out how to get [other] 20-somethings involved that aren’t involved," said a 23-year-old Chicagoan, who preferred not to give his name.

"This think tank is not for blank slates," Rhoda Weisman, the executive director of PLP, said at the closing session of the conference, an open-mike evaluation session. "This is specifically for people who have strong Jewish passions, to be involved in something like this."

Questionnaires were filled out, the microphone was passed around, people said what they loved, what they didn’t love, what they’re going to do, what they hope to do.

Weisman previously worked for 10 years as chief creative officer for Hillel and much of this project is borne out of her experience in working closely with college students and within the Jewish organizational world. At 46, She is one of those "middle ground" professionals, and perhaps it is in this place that she can bring the fire of the youth to the hearth that is the staid Jewish organizational life.

"Initially our thoughts are that this could be the forerunner of an institution that will attract first-class people to the Jewish communal world and will incentivize them through fellowships, will mentor them, will keep them together throughout their careers, through various approaches," Michael Steinhardt told me from a lounge chair in the hotel lobby, where we were interrupted by dozens of conference participants who wanted to hang out with him. Steinhardt is one of the other impetuses behind this unprecedented project. As the founder of Birthright, the program that has sent thousands of 20-somethings on free trips to Israel, Steinhardt is used to defying the norm. Back then, he said, "they" said Birthright couldn’t be done, and now "it’s a transformative milestone of Jewish identity."

Will PLP be the next Birthright? Both Weisman and Steinhardt insist that the think tank part of the project is a one-time deal intended to produce an actionable study. But PLP as an organization is now incorporating into non-profit status to continue working with 20-somethings, providing fellowships and career guidance. PLP leaders are hoping what will turn into a continuing national program is CareerBreak — a mentoring program. After the three day conference, 25 participants will "shadow" Los Angeles Jewish professionals to get a taste of working life. Mentors include Jewish Federation President John Fishel, Progressive Jewish Alliance Executive Director Daniel Sokatch, Zimmer Museum Director Esther Netter and Pressman Academy Education Director Rabbi Mitchel Malkus.

"We don’t realize how difficult it is to get in [to Jewish life,] said Rabbi Ron Wolfson, University of Judaism’s vice president and dean of its Fingerhut School of Education, who is also serving as a CareerBreak mentor.

All mentors are being paid for their time, "because people need to know that Jewish professionals’ time and expertise is valuable too," Weisman said.

Full disclosure: the payment part came as news to me, as I had volunteered long ago to become a mentor. My mentee’s name is Lauren Leonardi, a writer who has spent the last five years in Savannah, Ga., and has recently moved back to N.Y. She feels deeply connected to Judaism, but is not sure how to incorporate it into her work.

"Why should I work at a Jewish newspaper?" she asked me. "Why should I work in Jewish life at all?" she said — and this was at the end of PLP on Tuesday night, before CareerBreak began. I’ll have been with her on Wednesday and Thursday, taking her with me to put together this newspaper. I don’t know how I’ll answer the questions — if I can even answer the questions — or if I’ll be a good mentor. Twenty-somethings aren’t the only ones with questions.

Stanford’s Grunfeld Flies High


It’s March Madness and all eyes are on the Stanford Cardinals. Ranked No. 1 in the nation, the near-perfect team enters this weekend’s Pac 10 Tournament as the Pac 10 regular season champions and will enter next week’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. Key to the Cardinal’s success is reserve guard/forward Dan Grunfeld. Grunfeld, who averages 11.7 minutes a game, heads into the tournament with a levelheaded perspective on his team’s near-perfect season.

“We’ve had success this year, but it’s because of our hard work. We don’t lose sight of what’s gotten us to this point. We’re still focused and we still have a lot more to achieve,” Grunfeld said. Finishing the season with an outstanding 26-1 record, the Cardinals hope to continue their winning streak in the weeks of tournament play ahead.

Grunfeld, who scored a career-high 21 points against Southern Utah in December, has come into his own in his second year of play.

“This year I’m more comfortable with the offense and I’ve got a better feel for all of the guys,” said the 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore. “I feel like I’m more a part of it.”

Grunfeld comes from a basketball family. His paternal grandfather spent the Holocaust in a Romanian work camp; his paternal grandmother hid in a basement with false papers. They immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, where their son, Ernie, learned to play basketball. Ernie earned a basketball scholarship to Tennessee and, after college, played for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Kansas City Kings and the New York Knicks. He later became the general manager of the Knicks, then the Bucks, and today is the president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards.

“People talk about my dad and his career a lot,” said Grunfeld, 20. “But it’s just who I am and where I come from. It’s no added pressure.”

Grunfeld is also unfazed by the added pressure of being a Stanford student-athlete. With a great deal of time dedicated to practice, weight training and traveling, Grunfeld’s learned to juggle athletics and academics.

“Going to college at any school in the country you’ve got to do your work. As an athlete, you’ve got to do your work and you’ve got to go to practice. It’s not an impossible thing to do, you just have to find the balance that works best for you.”

Grunfeld learned to balance his basketball and his Judaism early on. He gets a smile on his face as he recalls his after-school regiment.

“My attendance at Hebrew school probably wasn’t as perfect as some other kids’,” said Grunfeld, who was bar mitzvahed. “I remember going to Hebrew school in my uniform and going straight to basketball games. I only get asked about my Judaism occasionally, but I don’t forget those times in Hebrew school, or who I am.”

Stanford plays No. 8 Washington State University in the first round of the 2004 Pac-10 Men’s Tournament on March 11 at 12:20 p.m.

Sports a Family Affair for Israeli
Bruin

Ortal Oren hopes to be the first Israeli to play in the WNBA, but for now she’s happy being the only Israeli on the UCLA women’s basketball team.

“I love being a Bruin,” said the sophomore guard.

Oren lead Kiriat-Sharet High School to back-to-back Israeli championship titles her junior and senior years and was named MVP of both title games. The heavily recruited Oren chose UCLA for its strong basketball program, challenging academics, sunny weather and proximity to her uncle in Orange County.

“I also enjoy being around such diverse people. I thought coming from a different country would make me different, but everyone at UCLA has a different background and ethnicity,” said Oren, who picked jersey number 00 because it’s also spells out her initials.

Oren was a key force off the Bruin bench this season, averaging 9.2 minutes per game.

“I have more confidence this year and have a bigger role on the team,” said Oren, who played for the Israeli Junior National Team this summer. “I’m having a better year overall. Last year I had to adjust to the language, classes and different basketball play, but this year it’s much easier. I’m doing well in school, and I’m more comfortable with the team,” said Oren who rooms in the dorms with teammates Nikki Blue and Emma Tautolo.

Oren’s parents are both well-known Israeli athletes. Her father, Ronen, was the director of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Academy and her mother, Ronit Gazit, was a competitive high jumper.

“I miss my family and friends, but I don’t miss being in Israel because I’m having so much fun here,” said Oren who left four younger brothers and a sister back in Rishon-Lezion. “The girls on the team are like sisters to me.”

Oren and the UCLA Bruins finished the regular season 16-11 overall and 11-7 in conference. They lost to Stanford in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament on March 7 in San Jose.

YULA Takes Pride in Its Panthers

YULA Panthers head coach Edward Gelb has led his team to roaring success over the past 13 years. Under his guidance, the team has won seven Liberty League Championships in 10 years, advanced to the quarterfinals several times and recently clocked in its 200th victory.

“I first started coaching at YULA because I wanted kids who were committed to getting a Jewish education to have the option to play basketball at the same competitive level as kids who were attending other schools,” said Gelb. “I didn’t want them to feel they’re missing out just because they’re Jewish.”

With the JV and varsity teams having 12-13 players each, just getting on the YULA team has become competitive. Every year 40-50 freshmen try out in hopes of filling the few spots left open by exiting seniors.

“Boys basketball is our most popular sport, it’s the one the students follow most closely,” said YULA Athletic Director Joel Fisher.

While other high school teams practice daily, YULA practices three times a week. The students attend school from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. — many take advanced Talmud classes from 7:30-9:30 p.m. twice a week — and attend Sunday school.

“The key to our success is concentration,” Gelb said. “We don’t practice as much as other teams, so the kids really have to focus and concentrate when we do. Then they bring that concentration to the game. But still, practice time is our biggest challenge.”

Fisher would say Gelb and his team face an even greater challenge.

“The most impressive thing about Ed’s coaching at YULA is that he’s had all this success without a gym,” Fisher said. With no on-site gymnasium, the YULA Panthers practice at the Westside JCC or outside on playground courts.

This year, the Panthers beat Calvary Chapel Murietta 58-43 in the first round of playoffs. They went on to lose a tough game (58-53) to Santa Clara in the round of 16.

“Our basketball team has been extremely successful over the years, and that’s greatly due to Ed’s tremendous time, effort and dedication to the program,” Fisher said.

Etan G — A Nice Jewish Homeboy


"Yo, welcome to my crib."

It’s a greeting one might expect, say, in a hip-hop movie, but is slightly jarring from this friendly, compact boychick wearing a knitted yarmulke in the doorway of his Pico-Robertson apartment.

The boychick is Etan G, who calls himself The Jewish Rapper and whose CD, "South Side of the Synagogue," features songs such as "Yo Yo Yarmulke" and "Hava Na Wha?" Even so, it’s startling when he ushers a visitor into a living room that appears to be decorated by the set dressers from both "Yentl" and "Shaft."

Across from the Shabbos candlesticks is a chocolate-colored velvet couch draped with fluffy white furs. There’s a "davening station" heaped with tallitot, tefillin and yarmulkes knitted by Etan’s "honeybabies … my girls," the 30ish G says. There’s the "pimpass" outfit he wore to the Grammys (rust bell bottoms, Navy polyester shirt) where he refrained from eating the non-kosher food.

"While I’m an observant Jew, I’m definitely the coolest pimp out there, ah-ite," he says, using a hipster term for all right. "I’m the man who brings the house down."

G plans to do just that in a Chabad of Irvine Purim concert March 6, when he’ll rap, breakdance and sing backup vocals with Shlock Rock, a band he’s been performing with since he was a teenager. The show will include tunes from Shlock’s 23 albums, such as the original rap song, "Be Good, Be Cool, Be Jewish."

G and Shlock’s Lenny Solomon — a kind of Jewish Weird Al Yankovic — are a study in contrasts. The earnest, 43-year-old Solomon looks like exactly what he is: a nice Jewish ex-accountant from Queens, "white-bread Orthodox," as he puts it. Yet the singer and keyboardist has achieved acclaim in Jewish circles for clever parodies of pop hits such as The Beach Boys’ "Help Me Rhonda" ("Help Me Rambam") and the Village People’s "Macho Man" ("Matza Man"). He’s also released CDs of original and children’s music and says his "whole being is devoted to spreading Jewish identity."

G, meanwhile, is flashy, garrulous, extroverted, a natural schmoozer and storyteller. He colorfully describes appearing on the Howard Stern show, prompting the shock jock to joke, "I can see why Jews aren’t in the rap business."

In 2002, Hits magazine lauded G for helping to expand "the rise of Hebe-Hop" and "the notion of ethnic flava originally essayed by the likes of the Beastie Boys and M.O.T."

But in person, G seems more focused on presenting the kind of cocky, macho image proffered by mainstream rappers such as Dr. Dre. Like that artist, he plays down his married status, citing his "girls," until a reporter opens a photo album and sees a beaming G in his wedding kittel. The busted G blushes, laughs and politely requests that this detail, and his impending fatherhood, is omitted from the article. (Sorry, Etan.)

Unlike Solomon, he’s hoping to cross over into the mainstream music business.

Despite their differences, the rapper and the shlocker have co-written songs and toured the Jewish circuit together, at times in beat-up cars crowded with musicians and equipment. They’ve eaten whatever kosher food they could find on the road: "Sometimes a meal would be chocolate and potato chips from 7-11," Solomon recalls. "But we never compromised. It was always the letter of the law."

Their music also shares a message: "It’s Be Good, Be Cool, Be Jewish," Solomon says.

While G’s "crib" is in the Jewish hood of Pico-Robertson, Solomon’s is in Beit Shemesh, Israel, where the Zionist musician relocated in 1996. After a band rehearsal late one Tuesday night, he spoke to The Journal by phone to describe the roots of his shlock ‘n’ roll.

The Jewish part is genetic, he says. He’s descended from generations of cantors and grew up listening to his father, who was also an IRS agent, sing the signature pieces of famed chantors such as Moshe Koussevitzky. Solomon discovered the Beatles and Billy Joel courtesy of his friends; at 21, he formed his own Jewish rock group.

Although he majored in accounting as a practical measure at Queens College, Solomon had given that up by the time his band, Shlock Rock, and released a 1986 album of parodies composed for youth conventions.

It was behind the bandstand of a National Conference of Synagogue Youth concert in Baltimore that he met the then-13-year-old Etan G (né Goldman) in the early 1980s. The energetic teen seemed to have his boom box, a bar mitzvah gift, permanently glued to his shoulder.

"We’d be onstage performing and Etan would be down on the ground, breakdancing," Solomon recalls. "Gradually, he became part of the band."

Shlock’s 1987 "Purim Torah" album features two parodies penned by the 15-year-old Etan, including a Purim spoof of Falco’s "Rock Me Amadeus" called "Achashverosh."

As incense wafts in his bright yellow living room, G reflects that Shlock gave him "a forum, a place to fit in. He had felt himself to be a genetic "fluke" in his family of doctors, accountants, and Ivy League graduates. And he hadn’t felt particularly welcome at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, where he was frequently marched to the principal’s office for stunts such as wearing fake tzizit and davening with a "Grease" movie book hidden in his siddur.

"The teachers were always, ‘You need to do this my way,’ but their way was not my way," says G, who now has a master’s in education from Loyola Marymount.

After the first of several suspensions from yeshiva, the sixth-grade G landed in a predominantly African American public school where he discovered rhythm and blues. He began drawing graffiti art, listening to musicians such as Grandmaster Flash and practicing his own rap skills with Shlock Rock. He says he connected with black music because of the rhythm, the storytelling and the "underdog mentality."

But not everyone connected with G. At a party several years ago, a guest scoffed, "Who is this idiot and where does he think he’s from, the south side of the synagogue?" G recalls.

The Jewish rapper defiantly turned the insult into his 2002 album, in which the titular shul represents a fictitious place where iconoclasts like himself fit in.

At times he’s still dissed, he says — not by blacks, but by Jews who insist a Jewish rapper "isn’t legit."

Solomon, who’s faced criticism that Shlock’s parodies are sacrilegious, disagrees. "Jews have always borrowed from their musical environment," he says. "If a song has a Jewish message, it’s Jewish."

As an interview winds down in Pico-Robertson late one afternoon, G describes his next album, "Bringing Down the House," which is "about the party" but also about the legendary Third Temple.

"They say [it’s] gonna come down from the heavens, and a brother like me has the ability to assist in that bringing down," he says.

He sounds even more incongruous while extending his arms for a good-bye hug in his mezzuzahed doorway.

"Gimme some love," he says. "Everybody’s gotta give a brothah love."

Shlock Rock, with Etan G, will appear Sat., March 6, 7:30 p.m. at the Lake View Senior Center, 20 Lake Road, Irvine. For information and tickets, $18, call (949) 786-5000.

Book Preps Jewish Students for College


Jeff Gabriel knows that when he arrives at the University of Colorado in Boulder this September, connecting to his Jewish roots won’t be a priority. As the Calabasas High School senior prepares for college, his primary concern is adjusting to his new lifestyle, while living more than 1,000 miles from home.

“I love Judaism, but it won’t be the No. 1 thing on my list,” admitted the 17-year-old Reform Jew from Calabasas. “If I have time and I can go [to synagogue] with my family friend, who is a senior there, maybe I will.”

Like many incoming freshman and older students, Gabriel is already anticipating the challenges of staying in touch with Judaism while in college. For the first time, young Jews find that observing the Jewish holidays and traditions, as well as engaging in the local Jewish community, is not a requirement but a choice.

Rabbi Scott Aaron, education director at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, believes part of the problem is that American Jewish education neglects to focus on students after high school.

“Once children leave the nest, we assume they are on their own,” said the educator, noting that many Jews reconnect when they marry and have children. “We as a community say, ‘It’s college,’ and we let them go. We skip a crucial life step in there.”

To help students over the hump, Aaron, who worked as a Hillel director at several East Coast colleges, including New York University and Ohio State, wrote “Jewish U: A Contemporary Guide for the Jewish College Student” (UAHC Press, 2002).

Aimed at both affiliated and nonaffiliated students, the book offers suggestions for “Jewishly” preparing for college, dealing with anxious parents, communicating with roommates, handling holidays, finding Jewish resources and practicing without parental guidance. Early on, Aaron advises students to think about what being a Jewish college student means and to consider finding the Jewish community on campus.

“Even if you have no interest right now in being Jewishly involved or identified, just find out some basic details in case you ever need to know,” Aaron writes.

For some out-of-state students, like Alison Peck from Houston, establishing an on-campus Jewish connection can be crucial. “Where I grew up, it was not a strong Jewish community, so it was important for me to find it in college,” the 20-year-old admitted.

Peck, who just completed her sophomore year at USC, chose the school, in part, because of its growing Jewish population, which is now up to 10 percent. She considers the campus Hillel center her “home away from home.”

The filmic writing major attends services and has Shabbat dinners at Hillel every Friday night. She is also a member of Alpha Gamma Gamma, a local Jewish sorority.

For students like Linda Alpert, a senior a Milken Community High School, choosing a school close to home may be enough of a Jewish connection for now. Alpert, 17, plans to continue her Conservative observance with her family when she attends USC in the fall.

“That’s the attraction for going to USC — to come home for the holidays,” the Encino resident explained. In addition, Alpert takes comfort in knowing that many of her Milken classmates also plan to attend USC. “If I were going away to college, I’d probably try to get involved with Hillel or the Jewish Student Union,” she explained.

While Peck and Alpert are more concerned with simply staying connected, other students feel that college is an opportunity to grow religiously. Chad Rosen, a UCLA freshman, arrived from Scottsdale, Ariz., with hopes of reaching beyond his Reform roots.

“I came to UCLA with the knowledge that I wanted to be more traditional,” said the 19-year-old, who is a double major in psychology and Hebrew. “Living at home, I had more limitations, and at college, I’m able to explore Judaism more.”

Involved in both the campus Hillel and JAM (Jewish Awareness Movement), Rosen believes that college has allowed him to learn more about Jewish politics, community and text.

While some students may opt to disengage from Judaism in college, Aaron said that many students — particularly those with strong religious backgrounds — will eventually turn back to religion.

“Going to college into your first adult freedom and choice experience is overwhelming and [students] have to adjust to making their decisions,” the rabbi explained. “They know that they are supported and that their Jewish identity is there for them. They come back.”

E-tickets and a Tanach


This year, back-to-school shopping for my son, Zack, includes the requisite binders, notebooks and

new pair of sneakers. It also includes two sets of extra-long sheets, a Tanach and a plane ticket to the East Coast.

For this year, on Aug. 26, Zack is traveling from Southern California to the northwest corner of Massachusetts to spend the next four years at Williams College. My husband, Larry, and son, Jeremy, 13, are accompanying him to school, helping him move into the dorm. "You mean we’re leaving him there?" Jeremy asks, incredulous.

Yes, we’ve all been so enmeshed in the process — choosing potential colleges; taking SAT I, SAT II and AP tests; waiting for the acceptance letters; making a final decision — that none of us has processed its significance.

The fact that Zack will never return home as a permanent resident; that our family will be altered in ways we cannot fathom; and that, despite his insistence that he’s not going to Williams to get away from us, Zack may elect to remain on the East Coast.

After 18 years of child-rearing — from changing diapers to enforcing curfews, from making thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to carpooling thousands of miles — I expected to be rejoicing at this partial glimpse of an empty nest. The fact that I sobbed through Zack’s entire high school graduation is a good indication I was mistaken.

The hard reality is that Zack, who seemingly just entered kindergarten, is an adult. He can legally vote, be drafted, serve on a jury and buy a lottery ticket. He can even marry. The hard reality is that, for the most part, his personality, values and habits are set. There is little more that Larry and I can do.

But I don’t worry about what kind of kid I’m sending out into the world. I’m confident that Zack, even though he doesn’t know the purpose of a clothes hamper or the concept of gracious capitulation, is affable and adaptable, motivated and moral. But, and maybe this is a post-Sept. 11 phenomenon, I do worry about what kind of world I’m sending him into.

And while I hope that Zack takes advantage of the many diverse cultural, political and social opportunities that Williams College and life on the East Coast offer, I also hope that he will continue to actively participate in Jewish life, to anchor him in these disturbing times and provide him with a caring and familiar community. Williams, for a rural liberal-arts college, has "a thriving Jewish life," according to the college’s president, Morton Schapiro.

With the Jewish population remaining steady at slightly more than 10 percent, Williams supports a large Jewish Religious Center, built in 1990, and an active Jewish Association, which sponsors Shabbat dinners and services, lectures, and cultural and social events. It also sponsors the popular hamentaschen/latke debate, held every Purim and attended by non-Jewish as well as Jewish students and staff. "The Jews now are much more committed than the Jews who used to come to Williams," Schapiro says.

But what happens to those committed Jews during their four years at college? Will Zack take a vacation from Judaism, I wonder. Will he explore Buddhism? Or Wicca?

"I don’t think so," he says emphatically.

"America’s Jewish Freshman," a recently released UCLA study sponsored by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, is the largest research project ever to examine the religious, political and personal beliefs of college-aged Jews.

Among other findings, the study found that Jewish college freshmen attend fewer religious services and feel less spiritual than their non-Jewish peers.

But it profiles those 18-year-olds who are entering their first year of college, and, according to Jay Rubin, executive vice president of Hillel, there are no broad-based, longitudinal studies that address what happens during those four years at college. But, as Rubin reassuringly says, "The most important indicator of Jewish identity is whether or not the parents take Judaism seriously. If they do, eventually the children do as well."

And 13 years of Jewish day school, other studies show, certainly can’t hurt. Nevertheless, I’m taking no chances. I’m sending Zack back to school with his tallit and a new Tanach. "And a compass," Zack reminds me. The compass is his idea, evolving from a "Leaving Home" ceremony he created for his Jewish studies class this past year at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles. A ritual that, sadly, Judaism does not yet provide at his critical juncture.

In Zack’s ceremony, the young adult renews the brit, or covenant between the Jewish people and God.

The parents then present the young adult with a special compass that always points East, toward Jerusalem, and recite the following blessing, which he composed: "As you go out into the world, remember that you are a Jew. You have special obligations, mitzvot, that others cannot always understand. There is a lot of evil out there; there are things that will make you ask very challenging questions. At times you may find yourself lost. When that happens, reach for you compass. It is always pointing towards the East, symbolic of the path to Jerusalem."

Unfortunately, such a compass has not yet been invented. But Larry and I have improvised, presenting Zack with a normal compass that will always indicate which direction is East. It will also show him which direction is West, where his family and close friends live. And where, at the end of four years, we hope he will return.

Balanced Action for Israel


Nearly 100 college students from San Diego to San Francisco gathered at Sinai Temple on Sunday, Feb. 24, to dispute the anti-Israel action that has become increasingly prevalent on campuses. Action Israel offered intensive strategy and communications training in order to equip students with the tools necessary to counteract anti-Israeli sentiment.

The day began with an impressive panel of speakers, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Yuval Rotem.

"Without a physical homeland, your existence would be significantly different," Yaroslavsky said. "We would be vulnerable and at other people’s mercies." The county supervisor offered advocacy strategies such as public protests and writing letters to newspapers. "Don’t forget the impact that you can have on the course of history."

Rotem strongly held to his opinion that "anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic."

The next panel, moderated by Elan Carr, supreme governor of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), included speakers David Suissa, founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising and founder of Olam magazine; and David N. Myers, professor of history at UCLA. Suissa expressed his belief that Palestinian civilians are not the enemy. Rather, they are at the mercy of corrupt leaders. Thus, he encouraged students "not to do advocacy for Israel, but to do advocacy for American ideologies."

The remainder of the day included dividing students into two discussion groups led by Dan Schurr, media and Republican political strategist, and Michael Parks, former Jerusalem bureau chief and editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times. Schurr’s presentation, "Stand and Deliver: The right words at the right times," dealt with the importance of knowing one’s audience and what interests them, as well as knowing one’s message and delivering it effectively. Parks’ presentation, "The Pen and the Sword: Critical reading and strategic writing,’ dealt with the media and how to engage an audience. In addition, Schurr gave tips on writing a good Letter to the Editor.

Plans have been made to follow up the program with the individual campuses in attendance in order to focus upon their unique needs.

The one-day seminar was sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, the Anti-Defamation League, the Consulate General of Israel, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Los Angeles Hillel Council, AEPi, Israel Aliyah Center, Jewish National Fund, Betar and Hamagshimim.

Golan Under Development


What is the safest place in Israel?

The answer, according to Ronnie Lotan, is the Golan, which hasn’t had a single terrorist incident since the Heights, captured in 1967, were formally annexed to Israel 20 years ago.

Lotan, an avuncular looking man of 55, was in town to help organize Monday’s tribute dinner to Jerry Weintraub, the first major fundraiser for the year-old Golan Fund. Lotan, the fund’s president, says that his relatively modest goal for the next three years is to raise $3 million, with three projects topping the list.

Natura Village, a residential and social home for some100 adults with mental and behavioral problems, due to open in July.

Ohalo College in Qatzrin, capital of the Golan Heights,and the only college in Israel’s far North. Scholarships will help trainteachers in physical education and fitness.

Fellowships and scholarships for the Golan ResearchInstitute, which promotes knowledge and economic development of the region.

Cost of these and all other development projects are split — with the Israeli government paying two-thirds, and the Golan Fund providing the remainder.

A native of Tel Aviv, Lotan moved to the Golan in 1968 and now lives in Kibbutz Mevo Hama, one of 32 communities on the Golan. The region now has a population of 18,000, of whom some 7,000 live in Qatzrin. About 45 percent of Qatzrin’s residents are Russian emigrants. The Golan, which has no Arab residents, is an integral part of Israel, in contrast to the Jewish towns and settlements in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Fortunately, the region has been able to avoid the sharp ideological and religious confrontations plaguing much of the rest of Israel.

About one-third of the residents are observant Jews (though there are no enclaves of fervently Orthodox) and two-thirds are secular. There is one unified school system and kibbutzim and moshavim operate under a joint governing council. Lotan cites as the Golan’s biggest concern a slow drain of young people to the cities, where job opportunities are more varied and plentiful. One of his main goals is to create more good jobs in the region to staunch the drain and attract newcomers.

The father of seven children, Lotan declares proudly that five have remained on the Golan — the other two couldn’t find the right jobs.

For more information on the Golan Fund, check its Website at www.golanfund.org

Cool Jews on Campus


College can be a time for Jewish students to further explore their Judaism — religiously, socially and politically. The following is a compilation of resources available to Jewish students and a summary of what these groups are doing on campus.

UCLA

UCLA is the largest college campus in Los Angeles, with a Jewish population of about 3,000 students, constituting 7 percent of the student body. The largest Jewish group at UCLA is Hillel, which offers a range of student activity from Shabbat services to political advocacy and social action.

UCLA’S Hillel has been in existence for more than 65 years. This year, Hillel is expanding greatly and has hired many new leaders in order to cater to the very diverse Jewish population on campus and in anticipation of Hillel’s move to a new building, the Hillel Center for Jewish Student Life.

Uri and Julie Goldstein, new to Hillel, will become religious leaders, organizing programs and leading services for Orthodox students on campus, in addition to the programs led by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Hillel director.

This year, Hillel at UCLA has become one of only eight Tzedek campuses, meaning it has been given a $10,000 grant to get involved in the entire community of Los Angeles through social action and community service. Tzedek had its kickoff fair this month, when organizations from around the city came to educate students and help them become politically aware.

“Our goal is to transform Hillel into a social service and political advocacy center on campus,” said Rabbi Mychal Rosenbaum, Hillel’s associate director for Jewish student life.

Hillel at UCLA is also the umbrella organization for many student-led groups on campus, including Bruins for Israel, which will be educating other students about Israel and combating anti-Zionist sentiment on campus. Bruins for Israel is currently planning a weeklong campaign called Pro-Israel week, to provide information about Israel’s history.

University of Southern California

There are about 1,500 Jewish undergrads at USC, representing between 8 and 10 percent of the undergraduate student body. Hillel at USC serves as the only Jewish group on campus, having incorporated all other groups into it a few years ago. Services there are led by Rabbi Jonathan Klein. Hillel sponsors 13 student groups in a roundtable, each chaired by someone on the Hillel student board. These groups include ones for students interested in theater, a capella singing, social action and Jewish films. There is a group for freshmen; for Persian students; a Greek group for Jews within the Greek system; a pro-Israel advocacy group, the progressive Jewish Student Alliance, and groups for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox students.

A week after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., USC Hillel was part of an interfaith service held in the middle of campus. Jewish students at the service raised over $1,600 for relief funds.

The Israel advocacy group, which is associated with AIPAC, is working to educate students about Israel and help them become more politically aware. “Students are not educated enough to combat anti-Israel sentiment,” said Matt Davidson, associate director. “We need to educate students and become more proactive, as opposed to reactive.”

CSUN

At CSUN, 8 percent of the student body, or 3,500 students, are Jewish. CSUN’s main Jewish group is Hillel. This year CSUN’s Hillel has become a Hamagshimim (fulfillment) organization, meaning it has received funding from Hadassah for the purpose of Israel programming. With this money, Hillel sponsors a monthly Israel culture night and has begun a student political advocacy group called SIPAC, or Student Israeli Public Affairs Committee, which is attempting to raise the political awareness on CSUN’s traditionally apolitical campus. SIPAC recently held a forum on the Sept. 11 attacks and how they affect Israel.

CSUN Hillel also offers Shabbat dinner and services, led by Rabbi Jordan Goldson, at least three times a month, and maintains a Rosh Chodesh group and a group for freshmen.

Road Trip


In celebration of HUC-JIR’s impending 125th anniversary, faculty members from the Los Angeles campus will be fanning out across Southern California during the next few weeks to bring the college to the congregants.

“We’ll be celebrating directly with the congregations and the people,” said Dr. Lewis M. Barth, dean of HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles school, “utilizing this opportunity to speak about the college in the context of a larger message about our role in the shaping of Reform Judaism and Jewish life in America.”

Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the campus’s School of Rabbinic Studies, will speak at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks on March 23; Barth will speak at Leo Baeck Temple April 13; Dr. Willis Johnson, assistant professor of Talmud, will speak at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood March 30; Dr. Bruce Phillips, professor of Jewish communal service, will be at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge on March 30; and Barth will speak at Leo Baeck Temple on April 13.

For more information, call the college at (213) 749-3424.

Funding the Future


In the past, the Jewish Community Foundation has used its grant-making powers to help senior citizens, Conejo Valley preschoolers, and teens traveling to Israel. Now it has announced a major initiative on behalf of Jewish college students on local campuses.

Marvin I. Schotland, the foundation’s president and CEO, notes that “roughly 25,000 Jewish students are currently attending colleges and universities in greater Los Angeles, and many of them are not Jewishly active.” The foundation’s hope is to change that picture, by way of an eight-year, $1.9 million Comprehensive Development Grant and an innovative partnership that will include Los Angeles Hillel Council (LAHC), the Shalom Nature Center, and Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Created byFederation in 1964, the foundation is a philanthropic agency with the power to allocate millions of dollars each year.

Its new College Campus Initiative, spearheaded by program director Susan Grinel, was launched because it is in college that young people generally form the attitudes that shape their adult lives. As the foundation’s Lewis Groner puts it, “The college audience is really a group that we can approach and access for the last time before they venture out beyond our borders and disperse into the world.”

The goal of the initiative is to connect these young Jews to the Jewish community through a range of attractive offerings that capitalize on their interest in hot topics like social action and the environment.

To implement its initiative, the foundation is looking to Hillel and its existing network of Jewish Campus Service Corps fellows. These are young men and women who work on campuses throughout the nation, encouraging Jewish students to get involved in Jewish activities. Eventually, fellows will operate at seven local universities.

The scope of the initiative does not stop here. Research shows that unaffiliated Jewish students tend to gravitate toward social activism and environmental causes. This is why the Shalom Nature Center and the JCRC have been brought aboard, to contribute quality programming in their areas of specialization.

The Shalom Nature Center, established with the Foundation’s help in 1999, is a brand-new adjunct of the Jewish Centers Association’s Shalom Institute Camp and Conference Center in Malibu. Beginning this September, the Nature Center will be able to hire two full-time Jewish educators to provide college students with hikes and other challenging outdoor activities. The $552,000 coming from the Jewish Community Foundation will also fund campus lectures on such topics as “Environmental Issues in Israel,” “Jewish Perspectives on Genetic Engineering,” and even “The Influence of Hollywood on Our Fear of Nature.”

Bill Kaplan, Shalom Institute executive director, points out that “most of the world’s environmental leaders are Jewish. But a lot of people don’t know that love of nature is a strong ethic in the Jewish tradition.”

JCRC executive director Michael Hirschfeld looks forward to introducing college students to social action projects from a Jewish perspective.

The JCRC will receive $255,000 to help hook college students on meaningful social service and public policy activities. Hirschfeld acknowledges that today’s students possibly may not be as public-spirited as his own generation was. He says, “I want to think that politics and social action are still interesting to young people. We’ll soon find out if I’m right or wrong.”

Eitan Ginsburg, acting executive director of Los Angeles Hillel Council, is delighted by the magnitude and scope of the Foundation’s investment in college students. He makes clear that “we want to sustain this over the long term, not only the eight-year duration of the grant.”

As time passes, he predicts that other subject areas will be explored, with special programming for Jewish students interested in sports, the arts, and the Greek scene. Ginsburg notes that Hillel has learned over the past decade that “one size doesn’t fit all. We don’t try to program one single activity that’s going to attract every student.” He suspects “there’re probably things we haven’t thought of, that the students will think of. If we do less talking and more listening, the students will tell us what they want.”

Cover Story


The recent revelations about the South OrangeCounty Community College District’s desire to offer a course that, inpart, blames the Mossad and the Anti-Defamation League for theassassination of President John F. Kennedy read something like a badclipping from the area’s far-right past.

Even as the county continues to emerge as anincreasingly cosmopolitan, high-tech region, it appears that theregressive gene, with its racist and anti-Semitic characteristics,remains all too embedded in the county’s public policy. Despite thecancellation of the course (due to various outside pressures), theelected head of the board of trustees, Steven T. Frogue, continues tospew out the right-wing conspiratorial line, which, in other parts ofSouthern California, has thankfully receded into history.

Indeed, despite rapid demographic and economicchange, the county still is bedeviled with a significant, highlyvisible group of people whose views seem more in line with the MiddleAges than the Information Age. Of course, such views do not representanything like a majority in Orange County, notes UC Irvine’s MarcBaldassare, the region’s leading pollster. By his estimation, no morethan 20 percent of Orange County residents share the kind of”hard-right” politics that produces leaders such as Frogue. Evenwithin the Republican Party, Baldassare believes, the vast majoritytend more toward a libertarian, fiscally conservative but sociallymoderate philosophy.

“The whole right-wing social agenda, ‘familyvalues’ thing does not play well here,” Baldassare says, noting thatin the 1996 elections, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole wononly 50 percent of the Orange County vote and moderate DemocratLoretta Sanchez upset far-right (but not anti-Semitic) incumbentCongressman Bob Dornan. “I don’t think there’s a vast undercurrent ofracism or anti-Semitism here at all. That conflicts with theprevailing sense of personal rights and responsibility.”

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of University Synagogue inIrvine essentially shares these views, suggesting that the region’sJewish community, estimated to be between 70,000 and 100,000 strong,has little to fear from anti-Semitism from its non-Jewishneighbors.

Life in Orange County may be plagued by a kind of”Stepford Wives” suburbanite conformity, but not by rabidanti-Semitism. “People like Frogue are exceptional,” Rachlis says.”When you go out to soccer practice, it’s white, Gentile andconservative, but not a bunch of Birchers and skinheads.”

Perhaps so, but having Frogue entrenched as anelected official still should give pause to Jews in Orange County andthroughout Southern California. For one thing, Frogue’s anti-Semiticpolitics are not a new development on the other side of the OrangeCurtain.

Since the 1920s, racist, anti-Semitic and nativistsentiments have surfaced repeatedly in Orange County politics.Indeed, back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan gainedpolitical power in cities such as Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea and LaHabra; the rabidly anti-Semitic group was hardly on the fringe. Asone scholar noted later, most Klansmen were considered “civicallyactive, substantial citizens.”

Nor did the extremist element die with the demiseof the Klan in the 1930s. Although Jews, African-Americans andAsian-Americans were only a tiny proportion of the county’spopulation — itself nearly 75 percent white Protestant — the racistculture continued to exist in Orange County’s fertile soil. Into the1960s, extreme right-wing politicians, such as James B. Utt,represented the southern end of the county, even proposing aconstitutional amendment that called for official recognition of “theauthority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of Nations.” TheJohn Birch Society also found its strongest California base in OrangeCounty.

As the county grew in population and economicpower, far-right anti-Semitic and racist elements still found succorwithin prominent institutions, such as Knott’s Berry Farm. In thiscase, recalls marketing consultant Bob Kelley, it may have been morea matter of indifference and ignorance than outright activeanti-Semitism. Walter Knott, Kelley says, was himself not ananti-Semite and even had Jewish secretaries, but he tolerated afundamentalist-run bookstore that openly sold anti-Jewish tracts.Eventually, Kelley and other advisers persuaded Knott to shut downthe bookstore.

But Kelley, my own longtime personal friend and aprominent adviser to many Orange County high-tech companies, believesthat the region is now at a crossroads between its far-right,intolerant past and a more cosmopolitan future. The bulk of OrangeCounty’s increasingly high-tech and trade-oriented businessleadership remains politically conservative but far from racist orexclusive. Indeed, Kelley points out, some of the county’s leadingbusiness figures — such as Quicksilver Software’s Bill Fisher,Westec’s Michael Kaye and Toshiba Information Systems’ Paul Wexler –are themselves Jews.

“In the high-tech and medical world that I dealwith, it’s pretty Jewish these days,” Kelley says. “In that world, Inever encounter anti-Semitism. But, sometimes, when I was dealingwith car dealers and with insurance brokers, well, some of themclearly came from wherever rednecks are minted.”

In other words, Kelley and other business leaderssuggest, Orange County’s new, and buoyant, economy, increasinglydominated by Asians and Latinos, has no room for bigots — even ifonly in its own self-interest. To compete for educated workers,capital and media attention against Silicon Valley or other high-techregions, Orange County must purge itself as much as possible of itsugly regressive genes. It may be blind optimism to believe this willhappen, but I’m betting that it will.

Joel Kotkin is the John M. Olin Fellow at thePepperdine Institute for Public Policy.


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