Florida State U. prof Dan Markel slain in home shooting

Dan Markel, a law professor at Florida State University, died after being shot in his home.

Markel died Saturday morning, a day after being discovered shot in the back in his home and taken to the hospital, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. He was 41.

No suspects have been identified, the Democrat reported.

“I am deeply saddened to report that our colleague Dan Markel passed away early this morning,” FSU law school dean Donald Weidner said in a statement issued Saturday, adding that the case was still under active investigation by local authorities.

A memorial service was held Sunday at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Tallahassee. A memorial service will be held at the university in the fall when students return to campus.

Markel was a graduate of Harvard Law School and primarily taught criminal law at Florida State.

Markel’s writings have been featured in The New York Times, Slate and The Atlantic. He is the author of the 2009 book “Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties.” He also wrote a law blog called “Prawfsblawg.”

Orthodox woman, a first

In a groundbreaking appointment, the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJR,CA), has selected Tamar Frankiel as its new president, making her the first Orthodox woman to lead an American rabbinical school.

Frankiel, 66, is a professor of comparative religion and an expert on Jewish mysticism. 

The author of a widely used textbook on Christianity and several books on Judaism and Jewish women’s practice, Frankiel has taught since 2002 at AJR,CA, a transdenominational seminary at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center at UCLA. She has served there as dean of students, dean of academic affairs and, most recently, as  provost.

Founded in 2000 by a small group of L.A. rabbis seeking to approach Jewish study from multiple perspectives, AJR,CA trains rabbis, cantors and chaplains. It originally was affiliated with the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, but one year after its founding, the West Coast school became an independent institution. 

According to Frankiel, AJR,CA now counts 65 students across three programs, some 40 of whom are rabbinical students. 

“We’re growing into a mature institution,” Frankiel said in a phone interview. “My job is to build on the foundation and bring more people into the orbit of AJR,CA.” 

Frankiel succeeds outgoing president Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, who also is Orthodox and who led AJR,CA beginning in 2008. Frankiel was appointed to the position Jan. 9 by the institution’s board of directors following a national search.

For an institution widely considered to be liberal, Frankiel said that “it’s perhaps unusual that two presidents in a row are Orthodox or observant.” She attributed that fact to the “pluralism of the school and the respect AJR,CA has for tradition.”

Graduates of AJR,CA’s five-year rabbinic training program should be fluent in both traditional and more liberal streams of Judaism, including Reform and Renewal, Frankiel said. 

“The depth of pluralism at the academy is quite amazing. Faculty from all different denominations teach there, and it’s the way I think Jewish life should grow and develop.”

As dean of academic affairs, Frankiel was instrumental in creating Claremont Lincoln University, a collaborative initiative between AJR,CA, the Claremont School of Theology and the Islamic Center of Southern California. AJR,CA received a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles to bring faculty from the three different faith institutions together for religious and textual study. The next step, Frankiel said, will be the production of an interfaith conference.

Raised in Ohio in a non-Jewish home, Frankiel converted to Judaism in 1979. She married Hershel Frankiel, a Polish Holocaust survivor, who was becoming more religiously observant at the time they met. Together they created a traditional Jewish home and raised five children in the Fairfax district.

Frankiel earned her doctorate in the history of religions from the University of Chicago and has taught at Claremont School of Theology, Stanford University and Princeton University. 

She wrote several books on religion in America, including “Gospel Hymns and Social Religion” and “California’s Spiritual Frontiers.” Her later works include “The Gift of Kabbalah” and “Entering the Temple of Dreams,” a Jewish guide to nighttime prayer and meditation for people of all faiths, which she co-authored with Judy Greenfeld. She also is the author of “The Voice of Sarah: Feminine Spirituality and Traditional Judaism.”

Druze professor appointed Israeli envoy to New Zealand

A Druze professor was appointed Israel’s chief diplomat in New Zealand.

Naim Araidi, who teaches Hebrew literature at Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University, was named to the post by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Yediot Achronot reported.

“After years of representing the State of Israel unofficially, it would be a great privilege for me to do so in an official capacity and show Israel’s beautiful side, as well as the coexistence that despite all the hardships can only be maintained in a true democracy,” the newspaper reported Araidi, 62, as saying.

Araidi is expected to replace Shemi Tzur later this year. Tzur was appointed in 2009, the first Israeli diplomat in New Zealand since 2002, when Israel’s embassy in Wellington was closed as part of global cost-cutting measures by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Lieberman said Araidi’s appointment “represents the beautiful face of Israel, in which a talented person, irrespective of religion or sector, can reach the highest places on merit, and be an inspiration for all Israelis.”

A native of Kfar Marrar in the Galilee, Araidi won the Prime Minister’s Award for Hebrew Literature in 2008. He received his doctorate in Hebrew literature from Bar-Ilan. His poems have been published in more than a dozen languages.

Some 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand, mainly in Auckland and Wellington.

Araidi is not Israel’s first Druze ambassador; Walid Mansour was posted to Vietnam and Reda Mansour served in Ecuador.

Alpert JCC hosts community forum on CSLUB prof, ADL-hosted trip to D.C. unites diverse teens

Alpert JCC Hosts Community Forum on Controversial Cal State Professor

Cal State Long Beach is quieter these days, with most students gone for the summer, but discussion of the writings of professor Kevin MacDonald has not died down.

In response, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Long Beach/West Orange County Jewish Federation and the Jewish studies program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) will host a community forum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 19, at the Alpert Jewish Community Center. The goal, said Jeffrey Blutinger, co-director of the Jewish studies program, is to increase pressure on the university to condemn MacDonald’s writings without infringing on his academic freedom.

MacDonald, who has taught psychology at CSULB since 1985 and received tenure in 1994, is best known for his three-volume commentary on Judaism, which he considers not a religion but a “group evolutionary strategy.” The series, known as “The Culture of Critique,” has been likened to “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

His academic career had proceeded without much notice, even when he testified on behalf of Holocaust-denier David Irving, until this year, when criticism from colleagues began mounting. The CSULB history and anthropology departments and the Jewish studies program each issued statements denouncing MacDonald’s writings as “professionally irresponsible and morally untenable”; faculty in the psychology department opted to disassociate from his work because of its popularity with extremists like David Duke.

MacDonald’s opinions and the effort to distance the university from its infamous academic were detailed in The Journal last month; two weeks later, the ADL’s national office published an extensive report, which will be distributed at the forum.

“He is probably the foremost anti-Semitic intellectual of his time,” said Kevin O’Grady, ADL’s Long Beach director, “and his writing is both anti-Semitic and racist and championed by the white supremacist, neo-Nazi movement, and we think it is important people know he is spreading these ideas.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

ADL-Hosted Trip to Washington, D.C., Unites Diverse Teens

For 10 years, the Anti Defamation League’s (ADL) National Youth Leadership program has offered high school students free educational trips to the nation’s capitol. This year, 100 teens from across the United States, including 10 from Los Angeles — courtesy of the Grosfeld family — will visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other landmarks from Nov. 16-19.

In preparation for the trip, where students will learn about the Holocaust and ways to fight prejudice, participants will engage in six meetings facilitated by ADL’s Dream Dialogue program on topics such as racism and stereotyping.

“This year will be particularly special,” said Marisa Romo, assistant project director for A World of Difference Institute. “It’s not only Israel’s anniversary, but will fall right after the presidential election. Washington, D.C., will be a very interesting place to be.”

The trip culminates with a ceremony highlighting the importance of youths’ roles in bringing lessons they learned from their experiences back home to their own communities and schools.

“The students will also explore the consequences of unchecked hate, probe their own attitudes and discuss prejudice and hate in their own lives,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director.

The deadline to apply is July 8. For more information, contact Marisa Romo at (310) 446-8000, or e-mail mromo@adl.org.

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

Hike-a-Thon Raises $50,000 for Aleinu’s Child Safety Institute

Aleinu Family Services had their first annual Hike-a-Thon on June 1 at Kenneth Hahn state park to raise funds for their Child Safety Institute, which recently launched a “Safety Kid” program. The concept for “Safety Kid” was first inspired by cases of abuse locally.

“There were some child abuse problems, and it was decided that we need to be more proactive, rather than being reactive,” said Nettie Lerner, the director of the Child Safety Institute. “The program was developed so that we could educate the children with the model of the schools, parents and children working together.”

The institute consists of three instrumental parts: A parent-education program run by Lerner, teaching parents their role in ensuring that their children remain safe; training the school staff to become safe-school certified through a seminar run by psychologist Debbie Fox, a Child Safety Institute member ; and the “Safety Kid” presentations — annual developmentally appropriate sessions for children from preschool through eighth grade. Originally funded by the Gindi Family, the recipient organizations now pay for the services offered to them by Aleinu’s Child Safety Institute.

The Hike-a-Thon provided a day of fun for kids and adults, with a range of activities and safety presentations including those by Hatzolah and the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments. Hikes for all different levels of enthusiasts were available, with all the money “going to help continue [to] allow the program to flourish,” said Wendy Finn, one of the founders of the “Safety Kid” project.

The event raised more than $50,000 for the organization.

— Jina Davidovich, Contributing Writer

Liberal Academics Blind to Terror Threat

The professor narrowed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and yawned.

“You don’t really believe that do you?”

I stared back perplexed.


“That there is really some terrorist conspiracy poised against the United States.”

There was a short silence. I took a deep breath, not sure if he was serious. But when I looked in his eyes, I detected no trace of humor.

“Well, the events of Sept. 11 would certainly seem to point to it.”

He suddenly sat forward, his face growing flushed.

“Come on, Mr. Davis,” he said with an edge now in his voice. “You should know better. You’re a journalist. That neocon crap is just as easily disproved as Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It’s clear fabrication — used by Bush and his cronies to justify an unjustifiable war. Better to check the terrorism coming out of Washington before looking elsewhere.”

I had to do a double take to remember where I was sitting and to whom I was speaking. Was this Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein or some other fringe American intellectual of the far left? Was I in Northern California or Vermont, where such pabulum passes as standard rhetoric?

No. I was in America’s intellectual heartland, Harvard University. And I was addressing one of the most noted political scientists in the country.

After a year at Harvard University, I have come to understand that the professor’s world view represents far more mainstream opinion in the intellectual community than I had ever imagined. For many of the professors, students and general community leaders in this high-brow enclave, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are a distant memory — the stuff of nightmare perhaps but something more akin to a natural disaster than a deliberate and unprovoked attack on the United States.

Gone is any outrage against the Muslim extremists who perpetrated the atrocities of that day. Absent is any sense in which America is at war with a pitiless force pledged to the elimination of democracy and its replacement with a totalitarian system based on religious law.

Instead, the wrath of the Cambridge liberal community is taken out against the American president himself. George W. Bush, whose election is universally regarded in these circles as tainted and illegitimate, has emerged as the personification of deceit and the cause of world turmoil.

It is not unusual in such elite society to hear Bush described as Adolf Hitler reincarnate; the United States under the Bush administration as an imperialist, racist, capitalist pariah, or that Bush is needlessly spilling American blood for the sake of Middle East oil. In addition to his bungling of American foreign policy, he is saddled with the responsibility for the melting of the polar ice caps, for the human rights violations of prisoners of war in Cuba and Iraq, the despoliation of the world’s rain forests and the exploitation of child labor in Southeast Asia.

In short, it is Bush and the policies of his imperialistic thugs who revolve the spindle on the axis of evil, not Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or any of the more nefarious leaders of the Third World.

There was once hope that Harvard would change its orientation under a more open and even-handed administration. But even the installation of the former secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers, as Harvard president, has had little impact on the status quo. While Summers pledged to shake up the university, there has been no significant shift in hiring practices or in the selection of professors for tenure.

In most departments, liberal orthodoxy reigns virtually unchallenged, and in the department of government, only three professors out of 60 could be identified as conservative. When I suggested to one conservative Harvard professor that she must, because of her political views, endure great conflict with her colleagues, she looked at me glumly and could only answer, ” I wish I did have conflict. Unfortunately, nobody talks to me.”

How is it possible that during a military conflict, catalyzed by the most violent attack against America since Pearl Harbor, there could be such unparalleled denigration of a sitting U.S. president among academics?

While all previous wartime presidents had their detractors, none of them — including Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt — endured such a level of disparagement amounting to a characterization as fascist. The vilification of Bush among academics surely transcends normal election year politics and adds new understanding to the term “ivory tower detachment.”

Part of the answer is that for many, America’s adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are not perceived as a response to a real military threat. In this regard, both Iraq and Afghanistan are not real wars but punitive missions, representing failure, much like Gen. John F. Pershing’s fruitless invasion of Mexico in 1916 or America’s involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s.

Then, as now, the invasion of another country, albeit on much smaller scales, was derided as folly that threatened the peaceable reputations of sitting presidents — one who campaigned in an election year on the platform that his diplomacy had kept his country out of the World War I, and the other who had built a name as a humanitarian by pioneering legislation in civil rights and social welfare.

More than likely, the academic antipathy to Bush stems from an inability to appreciate that the rules of war have changed. Invisible enemies who operate in small, isolated units; who can plot and execute a major military assault against a superpower from a cave; who rely on highly sophisticated technologies to communicate commands to underlings; who are capable of marshaling vast financial resources to procure nuclear weaponry, and who are driven not as much by ideology as “martyrology” is a form of military conduct still largely unrecognized by academia in this century.

Seen in this light, liberal academics mistake as anomalies the events of Sept. 11 and the dozens of other major terrorist attacks around the world since then. They are unable to connect the dots between these events, because the pattern of attack does not conform to a standard military campaign, nor does it represent a serious injury to a seemingly impregnable political system.

Liberal academics, because of their grounding in the dialectics of the Cold War, are not yet capable of viewing the power of terrorist organizations in the 21st century to threaten democracy, because there is no precedent for either its success in toppling elected governments or of achieving significant military objectives.

But the result of the Spanish general election in April provides an important warning. It should make clear that the terrorist menace is no longer restricted to performances of mere political theater but is also now geared toward acts of direct political intervention. Under these circumstances, the threat to Western Civilization is as real as fascism’s was to the democracies of the 1930s.

We can now ruefully reflect on the tragic ill preparedness of the Free World to Hitler’s designs in the 1930s. Academics and intellectuals in Europe and elsewhere largely stood on the sidelines as the Nazi threat swelled.

No one should pretend that the terrorist menace, if excused and ignored by this country’s intellectuals, could not have the same devastating consequences for the United States and its allies in the future. Portraying the American president or any other American leader as a terrorist may provide cartoonists and columnists with spiteful ammunition to hurl at conservatives. But in the end, it only serves to deflect attention from the real battle and lends support to a source of evil that threatens us all.

In Search of Moderate Muslims

Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at UCLA,
estimates that two years ago he received between 30 and 40 requests from around
the country to participate in interfaith dialogues between Jews and Muslims.

Last year he received just one.

“They just vanished,” he said during an interview. “Such
invitations are a barometer of the level of dialogue, though my experience may
not be representative because of my own idiosyncrasies.”

The “idiosyncrasies” to which he was referring, if a bit
obliquely, center on the strong reactions to his urging fellow Muslims to speak
out against the radical elements of Islam that he maintains have gained
controlling influence through the “puritanical” form of the religion promoted
by Saudi Arabia.

El Fadl, 39, who was raised in Kuwait and Egypt, has been
writing critically of fundamentalist Islam for years in scholarly articles and
books, most recently “The Place of Tolerance in Islam” (Beacon Press, 2002).
But he gained international attention — and a flurry of death threats — after
publishing an Op-Ed article in the Los Angeles Times three days after the Sept.
11 attacks in which he asserted that the suicide missions were not a deviation
from mainstream Islam, but rather the result of an “ethically oblivious form”
of the religion that “has predominated since the 1970s.”

Such opinions have garnered admiration for El Fadl in some
quarters of the Jewish community, where he is praised for intellectual honesty
and bravery. Others, though, are far more skeptical.

Daniel Pipes, for example, an expert on Islam and editor of
the Middle East Forum, said El Fadl “has succeeded in fooling influential
individuals that he is a moderate American Muslim intellectual” when he is,
according to Pipes, “just another Muslim extremist.”

Closer to home, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam (religious
leader) of a local mosque only 12 blocks from the site of the World Trade
Center, has been involved in interfaith dialogue for years here and an advocate
of integrating Islam with modern society.

Rabbi Michael Paley, executive director of synagogue and
community affairs of UJA-Federation of New York, believes Abdul Rauf is a
positive force for moderation and a partner for dialogue. But officials of the
American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) are skeptical, asserting that several
post-Sept.11 comments the imam made were problematic.

Understanding Them and Us

What started out as a simple question in my mind — are there
any moderate Muslim leaders in this country with whom we can dialogue? — has
turned into a more complex exploration. That’s because it speaks not only to
the ideology, politics and inner workings of the Muslim community, but to our
own understanding and expectations of that community — and of ourselves.

My limited research has found that there are only a few
leading Muslim clerics or intellectuals who have spoken out forcefully and
unequivocally against terrorism, like suicide bombings — a baseline commitment
for the Jewish community — and who are willing to engage in serious dialogue
with Jews.

Most acceptable to the Jewish community is Sheik Muhammad
Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, based in Detroit and
Washington, D.C., an exemplar of tolerance who has spoken out forcefully
against all forms of terrorism and in favor of a negotiated settlement in the
Middle East. But he is marginalized by many Arab Muslims and has credibility
problems in that community, not unlike the way Noam Chomsky, the Jewish MIT
professor and advocate for the Palestinian cause, is perceived by mainstream

Large Muslim groups like the Council on American Islamic
Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) are viewed as seeking to
undermine American support for Israel, accusing the Jewish State of human
rights abuses and atrocities.

Somewhere in between are people like El Fadl, criticized by
some in the Jewish community for not speaking out more forcefully, but praised
by others, particularly those who know him.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of Hillel at UCLA, met
El Fadl when he started coming regularly to the rabbi’s Torah study group held
for faculty, and they have appeared numerous times together in public
discussing Jewish-Muslim issues. The rabbi said El Fadl is “heroic” because he
is willing to criticize Islam from within.

“My belief is that our community needs to hear from
Muslims,” Seidler-Feller said. “I’m not a Pollyanna, but there are not too many
of these people [Muslims willing to appear with Jews and speak out] and they
should be treated as gems. We have to be very careful, think strategically and
realize the precariousness of their positions among their people.

“What’s important is not so much what they are saying to us
but what they are saying in their own community. We don’t need them to be

Seidler-Feller disagrees with critics like Pipes, and says
that by insisting Muslim leaders “meet all our criteria before we can speak to
them, the net result is that we can’t talk to anyone.”

The rabbi said he is worried about the direction he sees
Muslims students taking on college campuses and stresses the importance of
dialogue, because “we need simply to establish human contact. We need to start

El Fadl said much the same as to why he believes in
dialogue. “Without it, we end up inventing each other,” he said, “and each
other’s image. Engaging in the human interaction slows down the tendency to see
each other in convenient packages. If we stop the dialogue, we just pat
ourselves on the back and go on happily.”

Dialogue, he said, makes each party accountable to the

El Fadl was criticized strongly in his community, he said,
“for speaking sympathetically of a rabbi” in another Los Angeles Times opinion
piece. El Fadl wrote that a rabbi friend had offered him and his family
sanctuary after the death threats came.

Prior to the latest round of Mideast violence, he said he
was optimistic that Muslims and Jews might “reach some equilibrium in the
West.” But, after Sept. 11, “the hope has vanished. We are bad examples for
reconciliation,” he said.

His primary focus, though, has been to criticize the kind of
Islamic fundamentalism that has gained acceptance in the Muslim world.

“It is sad to note that [Osama] bin Laden has in fact won in
shaping and shifting the discourse,” El Fadl said.

Alliance or Deception?

Soon after Sept. 11, El Fadl wrote that “[American] Muslim
leadership has failed, and it has blamed everyone but itself for this failure.”
He called on major Muslim organizations and intellectuals to draft and sign a
statement “unequivocally condemning terrorism” in “the harshest language

Such outspoken views have caused El Fadl to be persona non
grata among many Muslims, and others, here and abroad. His car was trashed, his
house staked and the FBI and UCLA have taken precautions to protect him. Does
he feel in danger?

“I have to do what I have to do,” he said, noting that “this
is a defining moment in the history of Islam. Either it will be a player in the
legacy of humanity or it will be a strange marginality, an oddity.”

What will make the difference, El Fadl said, is “if there
are more of those willing to martyr themselves for beauty and morality than
there are those willing to blow themselves up in horrible, ugly, unbelievably
disgusting ways, like at bar mitzvahs. Unless there are [more people to make
sacrifices for truth], I fear for the fate of Islam.”

Some in the Jewish community are not swayed by such
seemingly heartfelt declarations. One critic, Pipes, bases his belief on the
fact that for many years El Fadl published articles in The Minaret, a journal
published by the MPAC, a leading organization that opposed the Oslo peace

Pipes said El Fadl also contributed to the Holy Land
Foundation, which the United States closed down last year because it raised
money for Hamas, an anti-Israel terrorist group in the Mideast.

Similarly, Yehudit Barsky, director of the division of
Middle East and international terrorism for the AJCommittee, said she is
troubled that El Fadl wrote for a publication funded by a Muslim organization
hostile to Israel. She said it is difficult to assess relations with Muslims
who may say one thing to a Jewish audience and something else to a Muslim

“You can’t be all things to all people,” Barsky said.

Further, she noted that the AJCommittee was “burned badly” a
few years ago by MPAC. The group participated in public dialogue conferences
with the committee, “but after Oslo it was opposed to the negotiations and
referred to Israel as ‘the Zionist entity,'” Barsky recalled.

El Fadl said he published in The Minaret for many years
because he “wanted to reach a Muslim audience and it was the only Muslim
publication willing to publish my writings [including criticism of Islamic
fundamentalism],” he said. “But as my writing became more influential, they
banished me.”

The board of the magazine banned El Fadl in July. They claim
the issue was quality, but El Fadl said that is “absurd,” and noted that the
decision came just after his high-profile writings against Muslim leaders and
policy, particularly in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Was it ideal that I published in The Minaret?” El Fadl
asked. “No. But do I regret it? No. I had no other means of reaching that

He said that while he does not recall contributing funds to
the Holy Land Foundation, he has no apologies about giving to organizations
that aid Palestinians or other refugees — “just as Jews do for Israel, which I
respect.” He said he would never support groups that “use funds to kill
innocent civilians,” adding that critics of dialogue in the Jewish community
“assume Muslims are committed to the destruction of Israel,” thus giving the
critics the rationale to take hard-line positions.

One defender of El Fadl in the Jewish community is Leon
Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, who said it is unfair for some
in the Jewish community to indulge in the equivalent of “tzitzit checking,” or
“interpreting every expression of solidarity with Islam as an expression of
Islamic extremism, so as to elide the difference between moderate and militant

“We insist that Jews never break rank with Israel,”
Wieseltier observed, “but we are quick to applaud members of certain other
minorities when they break rank with their own groups.”

He called El Fadl “a brave man” and said it was “chutzpah
for Jews to criticize him.”

“The point is to talk to him, not ‘out’ him,” Wieseltier

So the debate continues, speaking to the heart of the goals
of dialogue. Must it lead to trust and a common direction, or is it sufficient
to better understand the other?

Each side here is wary of being used, of losing credibility
in one’s own community by taking steps toward one’s adversary. But in a world
where there are 2 billion Muslims, it may be wise for the Jewish community to
cultivate those few influential Muslims who advocate tolerance and to engage
them in a conversation that could help lead us back from the ruinous path of
eternal demonization.  

Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, where this article originally appeared.

Lecture Stirs Anger

A public lecture by a visiting scholar on the UCLA campususually doesn’t make much of a ripple, but nearly all of the 1,800 seats inRoyce Hall were taken and the atmosphere was electric when professor Edward W.Said stepped up to the lectern.

The sponsoring Burkle Center for International Studies hadbeen forced to move the Feb. 20 event from a smaller venue, and inside RoyceHall, groups of students worked their cell phones in Hebrew and Arabic. At theentrance, Bruins for Israel, StandWithUs, the Spartacus Youth Club and the BlueTriangle Network passed out competing pamphlets.

Said has impeccable academic credentials as a graduate of Princetonand Harvard universities, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and the author of 20 scholarly books translated into 35 languages.

Although his reputation as an ardent advocate of Palestinianand Arab causes had preceded the Jerusalem-born scholar, some members of theuniversity community and the public had come hoping for a sober and rationalpresentation on the complexities of the Middle East.

Most were quickly disabused of that hope, none more so thana number of the most dedicated Jewish advocates of reconciliation andco-existence with the Palestinians. After a heated shouting match with Said, soardent a peacenik as Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA Hillel subsequentlylabeled the Columbia professor as “a fraud.”

Said, who served as a member of the Palestinian NationalCouncil from 1977-1991, set the tone by declaring that Israel’s treatment ofPalestinians is currently the world’s most visible case of human rights abuses.

“The denial of human rights by Israel cannot be accepted onany grounds,” whether based on divine guidance or past Jewish suffering, hedeclared.

While agreeing that Palestinian suicide bombings were”terrible,” Said quickly put the onus on the Israeli bulldozing of homes,helicopter missile attacks and strip searches of civilians.

Warming to his subject and accompanied by enthusiasticapplause by a good part of the audience, Said said that any human rightsviolations charged to Saddam Hussein were also applicable to Israel.

Describing some of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’spronouncements as “thuggish balderdash,” Said said that Israel, which hadenjoyed a reputation as a progressive society in its early years, “now had theimage of an aggressor.”

Said, acknowledging his own partisanship as a Palestinian,said he saw little chance of a modus vivendi between the Palestinian “David”and the Israeli “Goliath,” at least until Israeli leaders expressed theircontrition for the alleged crimes against the Palestinian people.

“Neither side is blessed with a [Nelson] Mandela or a[former South African president F.W.] de Klerk,” Said said.

Toward the end of his 75-minute talk, Said softened hisrhetoric by citing his friendship with Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim,which has led to the creation of an Arab-Israeli youth orchestra.

The mellower mood vanished with the first question, whichwas posed by Seidler-Feller.

Charging that Said had painted a black- and-white picture ofthe world, Seidler-Feller pointed to a number of misstatements by the speaker,and, amidst raucous catcalls from the audience, challenged Said to sign a jointstatement advocating Israel’s return to the pre-1967 boundaries, a jointcapital in Jerusalem and settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem.

Said would have none of it. He denounced Seidler-Feller’s”tirade of falsehoods,” and as a victim of the propaganda, which, Said claimed,is the only thing sustaining Israel, besides the support of the United States.

Seidler-Feller was still in an angry mood the following day.”Said appears as a sophisticated, urbane, reasonable academic, but he is reallya belligerent naysayer,” Seidler-Feller observed. “That is why he is a fraud.”

“He is so encumbered by memory, that he is stuck,” theHillel rabbi added. “He is totally dependent on his sense of victimhood. WeJews have used this approach at times, too, but in order to reach any kind ofagreement, we must both go beyond that.”

Seidler-Feller also expressed his disappointment that, inhis talk, Said had “created an atmosphere which empowered the audience to behostile.”

Dr. David N. Myers, a UCLA history professor and formerdirector of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, who has frequently spoken outagainst the Israeli occupation policies, also expressed his disappointment.

Myers described Said as “a tragic figure, a man ofremarkable intelligence, charisma and oratorical skill, who chose to ignore thecomplex dynamics of the conflict and instead recited the stale platitudes ofPalestinian rejectionism.”

Dr. Sam Aroni, another UCLA professor and a longtimeadvocate of a two-state solution, said he left Royce Hall deeply depressed atthe apparent impossibility of dialogue between the Israeli and Palestiniansides.

“Unfortunately, Said used emotional, rather than rationalarguments,” Aroni said.

One exception to the negative reaction among Jewish doveswas that of philanthropist and political activist Stanley Sheinbaum, one of themost veteran and prominent members of the peace movement.

“Said’s points were generally valid, but Israelis andAmerican Jews don’t have the patience or tolerance to deal with them,” he said.

While there may be some disagreements about certain facts,Sheinbaum said, the main point is that “the Palestinians consider themselves underoccupation, and the question is whether Israelis understand that.”

At the request of the Burkle Center, Sheinbaum hosted areception for Said at his home after the talk. Approximately 60-70 guestscontinued to debate the issues, generating ” a little heat,” Sheinbaum said. Hehas since received four to five pieces of hate mail, Sheinbaum added.

Professor Geoffrey Garrett, director of the Burkle Center,announced that the next forum speaker will be Martin Indyk, former U.S.ambassador to Israel, and that he was finalizing plans for the appearance ofKing Abdullah II of Jordan.

The associate director of the Burkle Center, politicalscientist Steven Spiegel, who was unable to attend the Said lecture, said thatSaid’s appearance was in keeping with the UCLA mission of presenting a varietyof views.

“However, by the end of the forum series, the other sidewill be more than amply represented,” Spiegel said.  

2040 Vision

This, too, shall pass.

And when the current government crisis in Israel, the showdown with Iraq and the conflict with the Palestinians are history, professor Avishay Braverman wonders, whither Israel?

His answer: the Negev.

"All our focus is on what I call the theater of the immediate," Braverman said. "I’m concerned we ignore internal issues in Israel, as if all we have to do is solve our external problems and the Messiah will come."

Braverman, the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), was in Los Angeles last week raising money and awareness for his college and his cause. At a time when Israel’s "Theater of the Immediate" was running three shows daily on CNN, he was pushing his audiences to think long term.

The Negev Desert in southern Israel makes up 60 percent of Israel, but accounts for only 8 percent of its population. Braverman envisions turning the region’s main city, Beersheba, into a metropolis of 3 millions souls. Surrounding it would be development towns, now blisters of unemployment and neglect, reinvented as research and support centers. These communities and greenbelts would carpet the desert, airing out the tightly packed coastal area of Israel and linked via efficient trains to similar new developments in the Galilee.

"By the year 2040, there will be 12 million Israelis," Braverman told me over breakfast in Century City. "Now is the time for the Negev project."

Braverman, 54, is a tall man with a keen intellect and the forceful presence of a platoon commander, which he was. The Stanford-trained economist counts himself as a friend to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and observers of the Israeli political scene say that if Braverman only wanted to get his hands a little dirty in national politics, Labor Party leadership would be his for the taking.

But Braverman says he is content — for now — to leverage his considerable access and influence to push his dream. "I want the key players of the Jewish world to focus now on the Negev."

If there is a bit of Los Angeles water pioneer William Mulholland in Braverman — it’s easy to picture him standing astride the empty stretches of desert proclaiming as Mulholland did, "There it is, take it" — there is more than a touch of David Ben-Gurion. Israel’s first prime minister made his home on Kibbutz Sde Boker, about 25 miles from Beersheba. He who would seek wisdom, Ben-Gurion used to say, should head south to the Negev.

Ben-Gurion long believed that settling the Negev was critical to Israel’s future, and today his vision seems more urgent than ever. It is the catalyst for what Braverman calls Zionism 2.0, the next phase in the Jewish people’s nation-building in its ancestral homeland. Like Zionism’s first iteration, this one, too, involves a man, a vision and a desert landscape.

It is true that every third Israeli declares his corner of the country the next "Silicon Wadi," ripe for foreign investment and boom times. But Braverman — to judge by his track record — might just be the one to fulfill his own prophecy.

He arrived at BGU 12 years ago as Israel’s youngest university president, at a time when the government threatened to turn the school, riddled with debt and declining enrollment, into a community college. He has since tripled enrollment to 16,000, raised $250 million, run budget surpluses each year and established the campus as a leader in science and literature.

Its Hebrew literature faculty includes Amos Oz and Aharon Appelfeld; its National Institute for Biotechnology boasts as consultants Phillip Needleman, developer of Celebrex, and Nobel Prize laureate Sir Aaron Klug, and it runs a world-renowned program in arid lands and water research.

Now, BGU is the fastest-growing university in Israel and the hardest one to get into. Think Princeton or Dartmouth at 33 Celsius.

But Braverman’s vision of Israel extends beyond the university and the desert. Israel’s lurching from crisis to crisis has blinded its leaders to the need for long-term planning and investment. During the last decade, when the tech boom and the glow of Oslo set fire to the nation’s economy, the division between the country’s haves and have-nots only grew, and monies for public services were nowhere to be found.

"The trickle-down theory never took place anywhere," said Braverman, who served as a senior economist at the World Bank. "There is no trickle-down theory. We never invested — that’s my j’accuse — not in education, desalination, transportation. We didn’t do what we’re supposed to do."

But, he says, it is not too late. Development in the Negev and the Galilee — another underutilized region to the north — could be the catalyst for improving Israel’s governance — more regional control, less waste and corruption — and democracy.

For starters, Braverman urges Angelenos who visit Israel to start putting Beersheba and environs on their itinerary. "If you don’t go to the Negev" he told me, "you don’t understand what Israel is." Or, he might have added, what it can become.

For more information, contact the American Associates ofBen Gurion University at (310) 552-3300 or www.aabgu.org.

CSU Might End Israel Trips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that Arbel and Ascherin are blind to the situation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroes’ Stories Discovered Again

“The Jews of Ethiopia: A Personal Journey Back to Their Past” consists of a collection of some 60 black-and-white photos taken by Dr. Wolf Leslau during a number of explorations of the Ethiopian hinterlands, starting in the mid-1940s.

Leslau, an internationally renowned professor of Semitic languages at UCLA for four decades, was one of the first scholars to visit the remotest Jewish villages and record the people’s faces, holidays and lifestyle reminiscent of biblical times.

The photos were rescued from oblivion by co-author Colette Berman. She took them to Israel and showed them to young immigrant Ethiopians, who joyfully recognized their parents and grandparents.

Leslau is now a lively and hard-working nonagenarian, and some of the flavor of his journeys can be gleaned from his introduction to the book, which is reminiscent of journals by 19th-century British explorers.

“I left Gondar on April 8, 1947, accompanied by my cook, two Ethiopian Jewish guides, and some servants of my guides,” he writes. “The news of my departure for Uzaba, a region entirely inhabited by Ethiopian Jews, preceded me, and after a mule ride of over an hour, two young men with rifles appeared at the top of the hill…. An hour later, I was confronted by some 50 Ethiopian Jews, young and old, emerging from a thicket, armed with rifles and sticks.”

The text of “The Jews of Ethiopia” is in English, Amharic and Hebrew, and the book can be ordered from Millhouse Publishers, P.O. Box 84259, Los Angeles, CA 90073 for $20 a copy and $2 for shipping. For information, e-mail bercol@juno.com.

Life and Death with Morrie

Mitch Albom,highly decorated sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press, has probedevery subject from Dennis Rodman to Latrell Sprewell. Yet hisbest-selling book, “Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man,and Life’s Great Lessons,” finds him tackling an even more demandingsubject: death.

Watching “Nightline” one evening, Albom wasstunned to discover that his former Brandeis University professor,Morrie Schwartz — with whom Albom shared a close relationship as astudent in the 1970s — is the topic of conversation. Schwartz wasdying of Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

Keeping a vow he had made 18 years prior to thethen-60-year-old sociology professor, Albom decided to visit the oldman in his suburban Boston home one Tuesday afternoon. Every Tuesdaythereafter — a total of 14 — became set aside for Morrie and Albomto meet together — talking, laughing, living.

Those meetings became their “last class together,”with the book being Albom’s final thesis — and tribute — to hisfallen professor.

“I didn’t want it to be a death book. I wanted itto be a life book,” said Albom, who was in Los Angeles last month fora speaking engagement at Sinai Temple. “So, every time I felt myselfgetting sad, I would steer away from that.”

With Morrie dispensing his wisdom on life — anddeath — and Albom providing the warm comfort of an open ear, the twodeveloped a kindred spirit of sorts.

Albom, who, at the impressionable age of 20, hadto watch his uncle die, said that he was “stupid about death” at thetime, refusing to ask his dying uncle the types of questions thatweighed on his mind lest he become too close to a man who would soonbe leaving him.

With Morrie, things would be different.

“It was hard to go every week and watch somebodydie, but I looked forward to it,” said Albom, who admits that he feltjaded and confused about his career — and his life — beforereuniting with Morrie. “It was hard, but it was great that we wereable to talk up until the end, and I could ask all the questions Iever had about death.”

What did he feel about dying? Was he scared? Wouldhe do anything differently, given the chance? (“No, nothing. I lovedmy life — and my death,” answered Morrie, who was, by then,bedridden.) What’s it like waking up, knowing in a week or two, youwon’t?

In time, all his questions would be answered.Albom decided to make the last 14 weeks of Morrie’s life (“Coach,” hecalled him) their last class together. The book, an account of theirmeetings together, was initially written (a joint decision by Morrieand Albom) to defray some of the mounting medical costs that Morriefeared would leave his family encumbered after his death.

After Morrie’s death, however, the book, whichAlbom finished in nine months, bore new meaning for its author. Thementor’s final wish was that the young sports journalist visit him atthe cemetery “to talk.” Incredulous, Albom asked how he could hold aconversation with somebody who was, well, dead.

“You talk, I’ll listen,” said Morrie.

“And that is the essence of the book,” said Albom,who, since rediscovering Morrie, has rebuilt relationships withbrothers and sisters with whom he had lost touch. (His youngerbrother, stricken with brain cancer seven years ago, lives in Spain,and Albom recently visited him after not seeing each other for overfive years.) “If you lead your life as he did — with people, makingmemories with people — then when you’re gone, you’re not completelygone, because you spent your time while you were here putting yourvoice into their lives.”

Never particularly religious, Albom finds himselfgoing to synagogue nowadays, helping with charity benefits and doingthe sorts of things that, before meeting Morrie, he would have deemeda waste of time: “Work. Work. Work. It’s all I did.” Now, Judaism hasa renewed influence on Albom, who, along with wife Janine, lives inMichigan. He said that he now savors his newfound connection to hiscultural background.

“I don’t worry about things so much anymore,” hesaid. “Work isn’t nearly as important as it used to be, because I’mspending more time with my family. Morrie taught me, taught us all,the beauty of life and the dignity of death. I’ll always rememberthat. In fact, for the very first time, me and my wife are trying tohave children.”

Avi Lidgi is a free-lance writer in LosAngeles