The light my students shine

I view my job as a treasure that brings light to my life.  I don’t want it to be a secret treasure, but when I boast about its riches, I often find myself on the defensive. My social world and my work world are on the two separate isles of the Jewish divide. (Has our community ever been more divided at a time when it more needed to be united?) I was raised a secular Jew, studied feminist theory at UCLA, and wrote my dissertation on Virginia Woolf.  I’m a professor at Touro College Los Angeles, where most men wear kipas, married women wigs, and classes for men and women are scheduled on separate days.

When asked to describe what it’s like to teach young people who shiddah date in their late teens, get married in their early twenties, dress “frum,” walk to synagogue and  keep strictly kosher, I’d like to throw open the doors to my Communications 101 class and let my students speak for themselves. (This is my bonus class, and also my favorite class — no papers to grade!)

I wish all could hear my students’ expository — “how to” speeches.  As training, my class views samples on a DVD that Dr. Hamilton Gregory, author of our textbook,  Public Speaking for College and Career, models with his classroom. One sample speech is on “How to Hide Your Valuables”; another is on “How to Avoid Food Poisoning”; a third is on “How to Handle Heat Waves.”  On a rainy day in December, one of my students taught us how to make donuts.  Here is how she began:    

I’m sure you are all still rattled by the horrific murders of innocent Israelis recently reported in the media. What is the correct response when tragedy strikes?  Let’s go back 2000 years to another turbulent time in our history — the time of Chanukah.  Rav Shimshon Pincus says that that the power of this holiday is that we stayed loyal, when faced with tragedy and war, or with an enticing Greek culture. The miracle of Chanukah, of the oil staying lit for eight days happened because we lit the menorah knowing that there wasn’t enough oil, but trusting that Hashem will provide. To preserve our ancestors’ trust and to strengthen my loyalty and yours, today, we will all make oily food on Chanukah. Many of you already make latkes, but did you know that sufganyot are actually an older tradition?  In Israel they are definitely the leading Chanukah treat, but in America, latkes outrun them. I say, ‘Let’s bring a little bit of Israel into our lives and enjoy the sufganyot experience!’”

After capturing our attention and persuading us that this subject is important, the speaker   proceeded to do a cooking demonstration for the class. It culminated with our sampling the donuts she had baked the night before. They were delicious.  She got an “A.”   Her speech fulfilled the requirements set over two thousand years ago by Aristotle’s Rhetoric: it had ethos, pathos and logos.  And a little something more. It targeted not just our intellect and our emotions, but also our souls.    

You might think that this speech was a tough act to follow. Not necessarily. The young woman who spoke next that day taught us “How to Have Fun with Numbers.” She proved the truth of her equation: “Mathematics = Poetry.” To demonstrate the importance of her subject, she spoke about the significance of numerical precision in the Torah.

Because of their backgrounds, their Torah studies, their families, their histories, my students have rich resources at their disposal upon which they can draw, and they expect themselves and each other to access those resources. And they do. Easily. Naturally. They are capable of injecting the spiritual into the material; they know how to elevate the mundane. They are able to do so whether they teach each other how to bake brownies, or challah, or how to entertain guests, or how to pack a suitcase, or how to play the guitar. “We know that in the Beis Hamekdash music was a very serious thing; the Leviim had to know how to sing and play,” the guitar teacher argued. “Every morning during prayers we recite “the song at the sea,” and every Passover we read the “Song of Songs” – the ultimate love song between G- and the Jewish people.”

Sometimes the spiritual side is obvious, and other times it is subtle, but the “A” speeches in my class always have it. And though I am known as a tough grader, I give more “A’s” in my speech class than in the others – which is another reason, why Communication 101 is my favorite class.

The most challenging class I teach at TCLA is Comp 101. What to teach in this class and how to teach it has been confounding English Departments for almost half a century, since the Writing Crisis began following the sixties’ protest movements against grammar rules and grammar textbooks. My first teaching job was for “Writing Programs,” a newly established department at UCLA created in the 1980’s by my mentor, Dr. Richard Lanham.  Still there today, it employs an army of Writing Specialists to address the ever growing writing and literacy crisis. English professors everywhere would prefer to avoid Freshman Comp like the plague, but it’s a requirement that supports us all!  At TCLA, I’ve enjoyed teaching comp more than anywhere else. My writers have the two motivators without which, as Dr. Lanham argued in his Style: An Anti-Textbook, good writing is impossible: something to say and people to listen. Students write about subjects they care about for peers who relate.

Here is an example from a young woman writing about her hero — “a ninety year old man whose deep wrinkles only portray his wisdom”:

…My grandfather grew up in Kashan, Iran, and was the youngest in a family of five. When the Jews of Iran started being persecuted, he, my grandmother, and their six children fled to Los Angeles.  …  At Shabbat dinner, my grandfather makes it a priority to bring the family together, so we can relish each other’s stories. He loves watching his children and grandchildren fill up his quiet home with noise and laughter.  He inspires us to love our culture and cherish our heritage. Many years ago, he brought back traditional gold bangles from Iran; he gave one to each of his granddaughters to remind them of where our family comes from.  He told us that like us, the bracelets are not perfect, but each bump and curve is what makes them beautiful, just like this family.

The personal essay assignment offers glimpses into the writer’s life which often become an inspiration and an illumination to us all. Here is another passage written by a young man who travels many miles to get to our college:

In Laguna, come Saturday, everyone heads down PCH to the beach.  Teens driving there in their convertibles with their surfboards might be surprised to see two religious Jews walking in full black and white garb and heading to shul.  The sparkling blue ocean, with the crashing waves and palm tree studded beaches combine with the sounds of beautiful exotic sport cars racing down the hills. We stop intermittently to chat with the different locals in the neighborhood – Laguna people are very friendly. The congregation we belong to is a small eclectic gathering of adults, each with his or her unique story about how he or she ended up in Laguna.  Because there were not many kids in shul, I was forced to be with adults, who in turn taught me their wise ways. I learned how to entertain and mingle with the many travelers that came through the city. I have been very lucky to meet many wise people who have taught me so many important life lessons.

I have many similarly beautiful examples of essays written by my students, essays that reveal their love of family, their appreciation for their parents and grandparents, and their deep love of Judaism.  In both my speech and my comp classes, we listen to each other; sometimes we laugh and sometimes we even cry; all of us grow not just as writers and speakers but also as human beings.  

The most stimulating class I teach at TCLA is World Lit.  Here is where I get to teach the great books that drove me to get an English PhD in the first place. When we read, we bring our entire selves to the literature. At Touro, I allow myself the luxury of discussing literature not only in formal, academic terms, but also in life terms – in the context of the backgrounds and experiences that make our texts relevant to our lives. The first work we study is Sophocles’ Antigone, a Greek tragedy about a young woman who resisted tyranny and injustice. I invite my students to write their first essays comparing and contrasting Antigone to a similar figure from history, contemporary life, or their own families. Semester after semester, a few students write about brave relatives. Here’s one example that moved us deeply:

Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Antigone, Sophocles’ fictional heroine, risked her life to bury her brother, despite King Creon’s public announcement that “death is the penalty” for anyone who defies his decree to allow the body of “the traitor Polynices” to be “devoured by dogs and vultures.”   Antigone bravely confronts her uncle, the King. “The law of a mere man cannot defy that of the immortal Gods. The law lives not only for today and yesterday, but forever.” Like Antigone, my grandmother, of blessed memory, stared death in the face and risked her life to save thousands of Jews, all of whom were entitled to the right of life. Born in Hungary, Grandmother was sent to Auschwitz, and from there to an ammunition factory where her job was to separate defective and functioning bullets into two separate barrels. Like Antigone, my grandmother was faced with a moral dilemma. Should she comply with an unjust edict or should she follow her conscience and risk torture and death?

Like some of my students’ parents and grandparents, I grew up in a repressive society during dark times. I was raised in communist Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. My father, Ion Eremia, now known as the “Romanian Solzhenitsyn,” was condemned to twenty-five years in prison for writing a political satire called Gulliver in the Land of Lies. My mother and her family lived through the Holocaust. Perhaps due to this traumatic background, I sometimes get anxious when I read the morning paper or listen to the news. But then I drive to Touro College and the clouds disperse. Seeing my students’ faces, listening to their voices assures me that these young people, like the generations before them, will continue to fulfill their mission and bring light to the world.  

Irina Eremia Bragin is the chair of the English department at Touro College, Los Angeles.  She is the author of the memoir, Subterranean Towers: A Father-Daughter Story. You can read her op-ed on Esther Lowy here.

New home for Yeshivat Ohr Chanoch

In response to a growing student body and insufficient facilities, Yeshivat Ohr Chanoch has purchased a $3 million building in Pico-Robertson. 

The Orthodox Sephardic high school, which currently shares a space with B’nai David-Judea Congregation on West Pico Boulevard, enrolls 27 students in grades eight through 12. In the spring of 2016, it will be moving to the new site at 1540 S. Robertson Blvd.

Henry Manoucheri, founder and CEO of the real estate investment firm Universe Holdings, has a son at the school and led the school’s fundraising drive, along with the school’s administration and building committee. He said he raised more than half the necessary funds.

“The facility the students are in now is subpar and old and isn’t really a setting for a school,” he said. “A brand-new, modern facility with a nice space for classrooms and a beit midrash will give the kids a good identity.”

Yeshivat Ohr Chanoch’s new location, just a short walk from the current one, will be outfitted with up-to-date technology and resources, according to Joshua Shapiro, vice principal of secular studies. There will be projectors built into the walls and ceilings, interactive white  boards and modern computer labs. 

Because there also will be a beit midrash (house of study), Shapiro said the school “will be a center for the Sephardic community.”

“It’ll be a place where there will be Shabbatons and community events. It should be a hub for the community and not just a high school. In our current building, we are not able to do that, but it’s the goal in our new one,” he said.  

Shapiro expects there will be a 20 percent increase in enrollment and that students will thrive in the space.

“We felt we could better meet the needs of the students and have a really beautiful building, which should help enrich the learning atmosphere,” he said. “It’s very important anywhere but especially in a school. The kids will feel good about the building and about coming to school.” 

Yeshivat Ohr Chanoch, which was the first Chofetz Chaim yeshiva high school on the West Coast and one of 20 in the nation, started in 2011. The schools focus on Torah subjects — such as the biblical commentator Rashi, Tosafot (medieval commentaries on the Talmud), halachah (Jewish law) and hashkafa (outlook) — and teach the students mussar (a Jewish system for personal growth), middot (values) and self-improvement. They also offer secular studies in the form of a college preparatory program. 

In terms of extracurricular activities, they take students on Shabbatonim; bring in guest rabbis and learned Torah scholars; and hold hikes, flag football games and barbecues. In the summer, they host a camp called Camp Ruach Chanoch for boys in sixth through ninth grade that features go-kart racing, trips to Six Flags, night fishing and horseback riding in Griffith Park. 

“Every boy who is there smiles and is very happy,” Manoucheri said. “The students get a lot of love and attention, and there is no negative reinforcement. The rabbis are loving and caring, and the students get a tremendous amount of attention because the student-to-staff ratio is very low.” 

Yeshivat Ohr Chanoch has seven secular studies teachers for subjects such as algebra, biology, chemistry, medieval Jewish history and physical education, as well as three rabbis who teach religious studies. There are two deans and a vice principal on the administrative side. The school was accredited this past spring by the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges. 

Shuli Taban, the parent of a student at Yeshivat Ohr Chanoch, has high hopes for the new building. 

“I think it’s great that they will have a place to call home,” she said. “The new location will be more conducive to learning for the boys in the school. 

“It’s nice to have a place of their own. They take a lot of pride in their school as it is. Now there will be a feeling of, this is our school, these are our rabbonim [rabbis], these are our friends, and this is our building. We are not just tenants. It’ll only make the school better.” 

Should a major university system have a particular definition of anti-Semitism?

That’s what is being asked of the University of California’s Board of Regents. Two dozen groups, lead by the “AMCHA Initiative,” want the regents to adopt the definition used by the U.S Department of State. UC’s president, Janet Napolitano, has endorsed the idea.

Clearly there have been incidents of antisemitism on some California campuses. Some of these have been jarring, such as a Jewish candidate for student government being questioned about whether, as a Jew, she could be unbiased (imagine this question being asked about a candidate who is gay, or a woman, or of color).

But official adoption of the State Department’s definition would do more harm than good. I say this sadly, as the lead author of the somewhat more detailed European Monitoring Centre’s (EUMC) “working definition on antisemitism,” upon which the State Department definition is based, and as a strong advocate of State’s use of the definition in its global work.

The EUMC definition was crafted as a tool for data collectors in European countries to identify what to include and exclude from their reports about antisemitism, and to have a common frame of reference so that data might be compared across borders. It was used by Special Envoy Gregg Richman in the Department’s 2008 Global Antisemitism Report, and then Special Envoy Hannah Rosenthal instituted a training program on the definition, so that U.S diplomats could better raise the issue with their counterparts. While the EUMC’s successor organization has not been using the definition for a variety of political and other reasons, members of parliaments around the world concerned with antisemitism have urged its adoption, beginning with a 2009 declaration in London. 

No definition of something as complex as antisemitism can be perfect, but this one, ten years after its creation, remains a very good one. It is certainly a useful tool for college campuses, if used appropriately. It can, for example, be a starting point for needed discussions about antisemitism and how we define it (and how we might define other forms of hatred and bigotry too). Reference to it would certainly help students understand events, both across the world and locally.

But to enshrine such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole.

Those who want the university system to adopt the definition say it isn’t a speech code (presumably because they recognize that speech codes are likely unconstitutional and anathema to the ideals of academic freedom). But that is precisely what they are seeking. You don’t need a university endorsement of a particular definition in order to increase careful thought about difficult issues, such as when antisemitism is present in debates about Israel and Palestine. AMCHA’s leader, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin rather wants a rule of what is hateful to say and what is not. She has said that advocacy in favor of Boycotts/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) against Israel would be classified as antisemitic, as would the erection of fake walls imitating Israel’s separation barrier. So if the definition is adopted, presumably administrators would be expected to label such political speech as antisemitic, or face challenges (political and perhaps legal) from AMCHA and its colleagues that they were not doing their jobs.

Some legislative history is important here. BDS was already appearing when the EUMC definition was written. In 2002 there had been proposals on some U.S. campuses (all of which failed) to get universities to divest from Israel. In 2004 Palestinian groups issued a call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. I asked my fellow experts whether the definition we were drafting should mention such activities (and more broadly, the unfair attempt to paint Israel as the successor to Apartheid-era South Africa), and to the best of my recollection, no one thought that appropriate, in part because of the complexities and nuances involved with such political speech. (Holding all Jews responsible for the actions of Israel is clearly antisemitism – advocating a boycott of Golan wines is clearly of a different character.)

There is no doubt that many of the proponents of BDS have an antisemitic agenda: they want to deny Jews the right of self-determination in a land of their own, the same right they champion for Palestinians. In essence, they want to undo events of 1948, not just those of 1967.

But that does not translate into a blanket assertion that all support for BDS is antisemitic. Many committed Zionists, deeply troubled by the implications of nearly 50 years of occupation on Palestinians and Israelis alike and sickened by the racist rhetoric of some leading Israeli politicians, support aspects of BDS, such as labeling West Bank-linked goods or divesting from companies whose products are used in the occupation. Whether one agrees with their view or not, why cheapen the word “antisemitism,” let alone distort it, by applying it to such advocates, particularly on a college campus?

If a diplomat says that Israel – a member state of the United Nations – should not exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, it is appropriate for the Department to State to label that antisemitism. But on a college campus, do we really want a student (imagine yourself as a Palestinian student) to fear that anti-Zionism on their part (even if they are quoting Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt to make their case) will violate an administratively-imposed definition of what is ok to be said?

Of course it is important that members of the campus community, including its leadership, speak up when there are hate crimes (such as the rare but occasional swastika daubing). They should speak out if they sense a threat to academic freedom, such as if intimidation and harassment occur. And more schools should conduct surveys of their students to see if intergroup tensions and bigotry are experienced, and if they are, then institute educational, training, and other programs as appropriate. But administrators should not act as quality control officers on campus debate. Further, if a university adopts an official definition of antisemitism, how long would it be until other groups demand an official definition of Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian animus, homophobia and so forth, with the built-in expectation that speech transgressing such definitions requires an administrative response too? Consider what speech might run afoul of an official definition of “anti-Palestinian.” Perhaps when a student says that he does not believe Palestinians have a right to a country of their own, and that the West Bank instead should be part of a Greater Israel?

The rhetoric that troubles Ms. Rossman-Benjamin is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the problem. The problem is that debate has become binary, black and white – what Ms. Rossman-Benjamin would define as antisemtism some pro-Palestinian advocates say is simply seeking justice and opposing racism.

Would the labeling of one side of this debate as hateful do anything other than increase this paradigm? And then what happens? Jews are increasingly portrayed as not able to defend Israel, thus they have to try and suppress speech they don’t like – here speech supposedly advocating for stateless Palestinians. Historically, antisemitism thrives in environments in which Jews are painted as dangers to sacred values. One can argue that antisemites will describe Jews this way regardless, and twist history like a pretzel in the process, but that does not change the fact that the adoption of such a definition would be a self-inflicted wound. On a campus, proposals that are seen as diminishing academic freedom become rallying points, even for people who are not invested in the issue at hand. Solutions that incorporate and extol academic freedom are more likely to succeed.

Part of the challenge is also that some Jewish parents don’t want their children to see BDS proponents or mock walls, because this will make their children uncomfortable. I get it. I am made uncomfortable by such political speech too. But why are these parents paying hundreds of thousands of dollars of tuition in if not to shake their children’s thinking? Don’t they want their kids to work past their discomfort, to understand better why some of their classmates see Israel as inherently wrong? Don’t they want their children to be able to say and hear controversial things? Isn’t facing this challenge head on, using critical thinking skills, a precondition to engaging and countering such difficult and unsettling assertions on campus and in their adult lives?

This next academic year will likely see additional student-driven BDS resolutions (the catalysts are last summer’s war in Gaza, the troubling statements made during the Israeli election, and the success of a small number of student votes in favor of divestment [although not a single university has divested]). Will it really help Jewish students if what comes out of a classmates’ mouth is labeled antisemitic by administrators, or isn’t so labeled, and AMCHA and its colleagues from outside the campus make demands and threaten lawsuits? In either case other students and faculty will come to that student’s or administrator’s aid, make him or her a celebrity, and have a battle royal which not only cements previously held perceptions on both sides, but also labels Jews as bullies. For what? Circulating a petition to boycott a West Bank product?

Wouldn’t it be better for Jewish students worried about BDS and the campus as a whole if universities instead focused on what they might do to increase serious thinking and debate, rather than chill speech through adoption of official definitions? Shouldn’t they be creating more courses and programs helping students understand what this debate is about? Why are there so few (really only a handful) full-semester interdisciplinary courses on antisemitism? And why are there so few courses helping students understand what happens (on a neurobiological, social psychological level, etc.) when senses of identity get wrapped around an issue of justice (whether Israel/Palestine, Ferguson, abortion, immigration, etc.), and why too often empathy, nuance, and the ability to acknowledge one’s opinions might be wrong seem in short supply?

The Regents would be better advised to think of ways to increase the teaching and scholarship about antisemitism and hatred in general rather than adopt a definition that was never intended to regulate speech on a college campus. It takes only a small number of students on a campus to start a BDS petition. It should only take a small number of students who have a deeper understanding of the difficult issues in play to help guide more intelligent and meaningful campus discussion and debate.

Kenneth S. Stern is the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation –

Five killed, at least eight injured in Berkeley balcony collapse

Five young Irish citizens were killed and at least eight other people were injured when an apartment balcony collapsed early on Tuesday in the Californian city of Berkeley, Ireland's foreign minister said.

Earlier, Berkeley Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said the survivors' injuries were “very serious and potentially life-threatening”. She confirmed the death toll but did not give the nationality of those involved.

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said police had indicated they did not believe any other nationalities were among the dead.

“My understanding is that four people were declared dead at the scene, one later died in hospital. Up to eight or nine others have been taken to hospitals. Those involved are believed to be Irish students for the most part,” Flanagan told national broadcaster RTE.

“My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured.”

Thousands of Irish students travel to the United States on temporary working visas every summer.

Coats said callers had first reported the collapse at the multi-story block in the downtown area of the college city near San Francisco at around 12:45 a.m. local time.

Californian police are working with the fire department and city officials to work out what caused the collapse, Coats said.

Flanagan said the balcony collapse seemed to be an accident.

In shadow of Ferguson, group builds ties across racial, cultural lines

On the evening of Aug. 12, after two consecutive nights of clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., Mikal Smith rose to address a community meeting in the neighboring city of Florissant. In front of Governor Jay Nixon, Obama administration officials and community leaders, Smith spoke off the cuff about his own experiences as a young black man — the constant need to be aware of his surroundings, for example, and the indignity of being questioned by the police for no apparent reason. At the end of his speech, Smith, an incoming freshman at Saint Louis University, received a standing ovation.

Smith, 18, is a recent alumnus of Cultural Leadership, a St. Louis-area organization that educates high school students about discrimination and social injustice through an intensive, year-long study of Jewish and African-American history and culture.

The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, teaches high school students how to work across racial and cultural boundaries to address social inequalities. With Ferguson now a flashpoint in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Cultural Leadership’s curriculum is being played out in the national headlines. Meanwhile its alumni are on the front lines in organizing a response.

“Our students are trained to be what we call ‘troublemakers of the very best kind,’” said Holly Ingraham, the executive director of Cultural Leadership. “They have been taking action, standing up and speaking out before, during and after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.”

Aaron Johnson, a Cultural Leadership alumnus from its class of 2010, is organizing a training on voter registration in St. Louis Aug. 23 and will then lead a registration drive in Ferguson. Mary Blair, a member of the incoming class of 32 students, organized a walk-out and silent protest at Metro High School in St. Louis that made the local news. Other alumni, who now number in the hundreds, have acted as runners for the community dialogue portion of the meeting in Florissant.

“I don’t think I would be the person I am today had I not experienced Cultural Leadership,” said Johnson, who is an organizer for Grassroots Organizing in Columbia, Mo., and who is working toward a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Missouri. “It was fundamental for becoming a social activist in this way.”

Cultural Leadership recruits many of its students through local houses of worship, as well as through schools and youth groups. The organization has close ties with St. Louis-area rabbis, ministers and school administrators, and those leaders often identify talented students and connect them with Cultural Leadership.

The program was founded by Karen Kalish, and was modeled after a similar initiative, Operation Understanding, in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

Cultural Leadership was originally designed to bring together black and Jewish students to revive the historic black-Jewish alliance, which was particularly strong during the civil rights movement. It has since been expanded to include students of all faiths and backgrounds, though a significant number continue to be black and Jewish.

The curriculum, however, has remained consistent. Over the course of a year, students study black and Jewish culture, history and contemporary issues. They also learn the history of social justice movements and community organizing basics. Students attend one another’s schools and houses of worship, and gather for a three-week trip to New York, Washington and civil rights landmarks throughout the south. On past trips, students have met Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas, and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader.

Even students who are neither black nor Jewish say that the focus on those two groups gives the curriculum a powerful perspective on injustice.

“You find those stories in a lot of other identities’ history, and of course one huge part of it is in the partnership between Jews and African-Americans,” said Wynn Hawker-Boehnke, a Cultural Leadership alumna who is white and Christian.

Cultural Leadership recently launched a two-week summer camp for 7th and 8th graders. Rev. Shaun Ellison Jones, the chair of the Cultural Leadership board and himself a native of Ferguson, said the organization is also hoping to begin training counselors and students to lead St. Louis-area councils and peer groups focused on fighting social injustice.

But expansion requires funding, and Cultural Leadership has had to struggle to raise its current annual budget of $300,000. The organization received significant funding from the Steven Spielberg-founded Righteous Persons Foundation in its first few years, and more recently received a grant from the Natan fund. However it now raises most of its money from local corporations, foundations and individual donors. Jones says that he hopes, with the national attention on St. Louis, that the organization will be able to raise more money.

In the meantime, Cultural Leadership is gearing up for the coming school year. On Sunday, it will hold its welcome party to kick off its newest class.

Incoming student Mary Blair said that she was inspired to join Cultural Leadership, after watching her brother go through the program and become wiser and more open-minded as a result.

“It was amazing, and I can’t wait to do it myself,” said Blair. “I want to make a change in the world, and I hope Cultural Leadership will help give me the tools to do so.”

For southern Israel, start of school is start of ‘rocket season’

As the school year got underway for more than two million Israeli students across the country on Monday, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in open territory in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council in southern Israel—midway between Beersheba and Ashkelon—causing no damage.

President Shimon Peres visited a fortified high school in Sha’ar Hanegev on Monday.

“Facing the threat of rockets, you have shown steadfastness in learning, achievements, and creativity,” Peres told students. “The state of Israel is proud of you.”

Monday’s rocket attack came just a day after three Qassam rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza on Sunday. The first rocket exploded on the grounds of a factory in the industrial area of Sha’ar Hanegev, while the second rocket exploded in an agricultural factory. The third rocket was located by a police bomb squad in an open field.

“The school year is opening today,” said Shani Cohen, a mother of three from Sha’ar Hanegev. “I have three small children in preschool and elementary school. I can’t say I’m calm and relaxed when I know Hamas could, at any moment, remind us of its existence by firing rockets. It’s true that the schools themselves are fortified, but having [the children] actually reach the schools is enough to worry me. Yesterday’s shooting was only the beginning of ‘rocket season,’” she said.

“We will not give them the satisfaction of disrupting the new school year,” said Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council Head Alon Schuster. “Most of the education and public buildings in the council are fortified, including the new high school that will be inaugurated today.”

Over summer vacation, workers in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regional councils inspected all of the schools under their jurisdiction. “We’ve left nothing to chance,” a security officer said. “We put out a clear order to fix anything in need of repair, in relation to the safety of the students.”

The sirens set off by Sunday’s rockets caused residents and those working in the factories to seek shelter in designated secure spaces. Despite the direct hit, only one shock victim was reported. According to Roni Elkabetz, all the employees at the factory where he works were present when the rocket hit. “It’s been quiet here for several weeks now,” he said. “We’ve already gotten used to a calm life without any rockets, but now the story is repeating itself.”

Another employee said that the factories in the area have become accustomed to this situation over the past 12 years. “It’s sad that we’ve come to terms with this, but the fact is we live with it, because this is where our homes and families are.”

One of the factories hit on Sunday was also struck a few months ago. One worker was wounded in the June incident, and damage was caused to several structures. All the facilities had since been repaired, but they were damaged again on Sunday.

“It all comes down to luck,” said one employee. “There’s no way to predict in these cases. It was just unlucky that our factory was hit twice.”

Israel opens schools with record number of students

Israeli schools opened for more than 2 million students, a record for the country.

The number of students included 145,374 first-graders, including Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered in the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

Many cities by Monday had not completed their new preschool buildings in time for the start of the term to accommodate the government’s decision to provide free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, the Times of Israel reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting: “Hello to all the first-graders. This is what Israeli children who are starting the 2012-2013 school year will hear tomorrow. Each one of us remembers this exciting day. I remember it, with my book bag, pencil case and empty notebooks. Today, the technology has changed a little, but the excitement is the same, the children’s great excitement, and that of the parents, teachers and principals as well.”

Netanyahu also spoke Sunday with Moshe Holtzberg, who is living in Israel with his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit. Netanyahu wished him well and said the prayers of the entire Jewish people are with him.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry and the city of Eilat agreed late Sunday that children of African migrants will be integrated into the regular school system instead of the separate school system they had attended. The agreement came after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the end to the forced segregation.

Under the agreement, the migrant children will attend special classes in their regular neighborhood schools to help them overcome their language and educational gaps, and will be integrated into regular classrooms when possible after careful evaluation.

Eilat parents had threatened to keep their children at home until the threat of integrating the migrant children was rescinded.

Monday reportedly was the first time that the school year in Israel did not begin on Sept. 1; a new yearly school schedule was introduced last year.

Breaking down classroom walls with resilience theory

Why is the summer’s poetry slam on the loss of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) seared into our educational memories, while the details of yesterday’s Jewish history class can hardly be recalled? Why do the ultimate messages of pride and unity felt at the end of a massive color war ring deeper than silently reading what Rambam has to say about the topic? Schools have the tremendous opportunity and privilege of accessing and serving students for a longer duration and often in more depth than camps, Shabbatons, youth groups etc. … and yet informal learning venues are overwhelmingly cited as fun, remarkable places while school is something students may begrudgingly attend.

In a different world, frilly coral colonies, like swirls of tulle, run down the east coast of Australia. Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is the mother ecosystem, the marine equivalent of the world’s largest city. By all accounts, due to the increase of greenhouse gases, the acidification of the ocean and bleaching of coral, the coral should be gone. Wiped off the face of this earth. Yet it is still here, largely still glimmering its majestic colors. How? Ecological resilience. An organism or ecosystem is deemed resilient when it meets three criteria: it undergoes a tremendous change or shock but retains the same essential structure and function; it is capable of self-organization; and it can build and increase its capacity for adaptation and learning. The coral has recovered from major disturbance and, further, has largely continued to develop and reproduce.

Resilience theory is a perfect paradigm for producing students who are engaged with the subject matter and strengthened in their Jewish identities. Camps, Shabbatons, service learning, youth groups and other forms of education offer a dynamism and urgency that’s often missing from classrooms. Current parochial schools risk system collapse (read: apathetic, unengaged students) by not offering dynamic programming. Yet we can harness the best elements of these programs to create powerful experiences at the day school level, inside the classrooms.

How we do so is a fundamental question of building resilience, and it starts with creating a hybrid between what is traditionally referred to as “informal” and “formal” education through experiential education. (Let us also dispel the myth that experiential education is learning under a tree, or something of that nature. We are not discussing peppering every few lesson plans with an activity. Rather we are in the practice of making the topic come alive, of the students discovering their role within the topic.)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wisely said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Our education systems should not be solely focused on memorizing the information to sufficiently pass the test. Rather, it is to create that longing of which Saint-Exupéry speaks, to discover one’s self inside the information, to make that information part of the fabric of one’s identity. Information is not only retained this way, it is tangibly felt.

What would a classroom look like through the lens of resilience? For one thing, it would be multisensory. I ran a program for a synagogue in Montreal on Jacob robbing his brother Esau (a hunter who is characteristically rough and hairy) of his birthright blessing from their blind father Isaac. As the portion goes, Rebecca gives her preferred son Jacob advice on how to obtain the blessing. We blindfolded a few students who were “Isaacs” so that they could experience “blindness.” A few of the girls in the room were “Rebeccas” who gave half of the students, the “Jacobs,” twine (representing hair) to wrap around their arms and candy (representing the meat). The “Esaus” were given a dash of strong cologne and a different candy, and were told to speak gruffly. The “Isaacs” had to guess which group received the brachah. By utilizing the powerful elements of taste, touch, sight, sound and smell, the participants were fully engaged and had significantly more to contribute to our discussion afterward. By enlivening the senses that frequently lie dormant in educational activities, we are involving the whole student, and creating a deeper connection to the material.

A resilient classroom includes multiple methodologies. With the economic recession continuing to rage on, many schools have had to grapple with difficult decisions of hiring and firing. Again, ecology can provide a model for maximizing efficiency. One of the most innovative ideas in resource sustainability today is rice paddies in India that are used both for growing rice and breeding fish. Same resources being used, double the output. No waste.

Working off this model, knowledge generated in one classroom could be used in another, and experiences and sharing best practices should be openly encouraged. Let’s creatively look at the diversity of educators we have in schools to double the educational gain. Let’s encourage cross-pollination. Are the English teachers consulting the art teachers? Is the drama teacher asked to help run an exercise on enacting the receiving of the Torah from Sinai?

Perhaps more importantly, are the students themselves—the ruach (spirit) or student government committees, that master doodler in the back row, that chronic texter on the right—co-opted into the curriculum planning stages? Are students encouraged to dream up shiurs, lesson plans, exercises for their class? Want to really get students to master material? Put the onus of facilitating the class’ learning on the students themselves. Make them the teachers. Guiding this process is important. Proper attention to framing the learning and clear objectives should be shared. Such an approach would herald a watershed moment for Jewish education.

The backbone of experiential learning is a student-influenced inquiry process. Project-based learning and peer-to-peer learning in day schools serve as powerful tools for making this happen. These approaches are at the core of experiential education and, by their very design, promote collaborative classrooms and self-agency—hallmarks of educational resilience. The most successful classroom activities provide students with a clear context and mirror real-life tasks, encouraging students to build expertise. The tasks are collaborative, complex and require examining from multiple perspectives and disciplines. Inherent in the project or learning activity is the opportunity for students to reflect on their beliefs and values. Most importantly, the result is not predetermined; the door is left open to multiple possible outcomes.

Resilient classrooms consider changing the physical settings and routines of the class by adding or rearranging things. They are dynamic by moving away from rote memorization and toward textual experiences that place the learner in the text. Underlying an activity I ran in which students build a community out of cookies were the questions: What elements and characteristics are essential to a community? What makes a community successful? What do I want my community to look like? Students had more thoughtful comments to contribute toward our conversation on community once they had to physically construct their own communities.

Sara Smith incorporated these ideas in a lesson on gleaning, based on the second chapter of the Book of Ruth, which she taught to eighth graders at Pressman Academy. She had students glean, using pennies to represent crops, tapping into the emotions and realities of an impoverished person’s lifestyle. Students were told they were so poor that their only option for feeding themselves and their families is to go to someone’s field and pick up crops that workers had dropped. Three students were selected as workers in the field and given hundreds of pennies to scatter across the room. The remaining students picked up the pennies, but could do so only one at a time. The motivations of the collectors and workers were discussed during the debriefing of the activity. Jewish laws pertaining to these concepts were explained. Smith said, “They were able to understand the complex dynamic between the owner of the field and his workers, as well as their relationship with the poor who came to glean on their field.”

An ecosystem’s dependence on a single type of support, and similarly a classroom’s usage of one type of source, creates vulnerability. The experiential classroom’s lifeblood is drawn from multiple disciplines. Diversity in content presented provides multiple venues for students to connect with the topic. Educators should make and encourage the making of wild connections. Showcase the Maasai tribe in Africa, graffiti art, ancient philosophy, current events, popular video games and comics. Bringing in diverse ideas, cultures, etc. can further be strengthened by presenting students with rich choices that enable them to cultivate their own strategic and narrative immersion. Smith’s gleaning activity discussion could have brought in texts from agricultural revolutions, other points in Jewish history or law that address the hungry, or included how other religions give to their poor.

Resilience thinking is as much about withstanding disturbances as it is about using those events to ignite renewal and build a deeper sense of self. Building resilient Jewish identities and values is achieved when students are presented with meaty conflicts. The best way to enact this is by making classrooms challenging for each student via project-based learning, peer-to-peer learning, stimulating activities, probing questions and dynamic texts. Resilience in day schools emphasizes flexibility, a wide variety of disciplines, methodologies and content. It encourages us to anticipate, adapt and transform in light of unforeseen disturbances and champions adaptability and persistence. By implementing these strategies we can build resilience in our school cultures, our classrooms and, most importantly, on an individual level, with the students we serve.

Amanda Gelb works in the fields of experience design, Jewish education, museum consulting and spatial design. She is the creator of the Million Museum Project. Gelb is a proud member of the first cohort of Experiential Jewish Educators who received certification from Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.

Sinai Akiba teacher retiring after 46 years, will travel to Israel

After 46 years of teaching Hebrew at Sinai Akiba Academy, Rivka Shaked is retiring to spend more time in Israel. She will embark on her first extended visit at the end of this summer to celebrate the High Holy Days in Israel for the first time since her youth.

“Rivka is the teacher who, 20 or 30 years later, students ask about,” said Rabbi Lawrence Scheindlin, head of Sinai Akiba. “They say, ‘Rivka believed in me,’ ‘Rivka helped me see what I am capable of,’ ‘She taught me to care about myself and other people.’ ”

Although Craig Taubman, musician and former Sinai student, was never in her class, he still refers to her as his teacher.

“She was the spirit of Sinai. She gave freely of herself and was open to receiving freely of others,” Taubman said. “Most teachers think that they have to give from the head down, but she gave from the heart up. And she gave and gave and gave. She made everyone feel valued, which is the ultimate gift you can give to someone.”

Shaked was born in Israel, and describes the birth of the Jewish State as one of the highlights of her life.

“I hope to instill in our children the love for our tradition and to educate them to see and feel the depth, the joy and the value of our Jewish heritage,” Shaked said. “I wish for my students to grow and understand the role Israel plays in our lives.”

One of her most tangible accomplishments is the creation of a Hebrew curriculum, “Betzevah Ve’Shir” (“In Color and Song”). She composed 30 songs for it as well as drew each image herself to help the children feel comfortable with the material. Her work was later integrated into the widely used Tal-Am curriculum.

Before her tenure at Sinai, Shaked taught as a volunteer for immigrant students on Israel’s border towns, as an exchange teacher in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, in a Tel Aviv school, and at Temple Emanuel. Then, in 1966, she began teaching afternoon school at Sinai Temple. Three years later, Sinai Akiba Academy was established and she became one of the day school’s first Hebrew teachers, while maintaining her afternoon school job for more than 25 years.

“I saw Sinai go from a few bungalows on the corner of this street to a building that takes over an entire block,” Shaked said.

The Milken Family Foundation recognized her teaching talents in 1999 when she received one of the first ever Jewish educator awards, which included a gift of $10,000.

As much as Shaked looks forward to traveling to Israel, what she will miss most are her students, whom she calls her best teachers.

Graduation: Shining stars – our list of outstanding graduating seniors

Each year, we profile a group of outstanding high school seniors, culled from the many nominations sent in by you, our readers. And each year, we find it almost impossible to choose among the many extraordinary leaders, givers and enormously talented graduating teens.

But, choose we did. And, once again, the members of this year’s group know no limits in their quests for excellence and impact. They have given tirelessly of their time as mentors, tutors and sports coaches; helped families transition out of homelessness and poverty; participated in building a school in Sierra Leone; worked to prevent genocide; organized interfaith picnics; and founded an advocacy project to prevent drunken driving. They found their passions — drama, music, writing, languages, politics, business — and harnessed them to inspire others.

Just imagine what they’ll do as adults.

Sheridan Pierce
Taking her role(s) seriously

Quinn Lohmann
A song in his soul

Jason Aftalion
It’s all about the kids

Katherine Bernstein
Sometimes, less is more

Corinne Kentor
A real page-turner

David Shalom
Building a diplomatic resume at home, abroad

Marissa Meyer
Healing others, and herself

Leah Gluck
Working toward ‘never again’

Brian Hertz
Turning tragedy into prevention

Leila Miller
Finding common ground

Jacob Cohen
Giving himself a sporting chance

Eeman Khorramian
Dual identity yields an international outlook

ADL offers free trip to Washington, D.C., for High-School students

This November, approximately 100 high-school students from around the country will participate in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Grosfeld Family National Youth Leadership Mission, an annual three-day trip to Washington, D.C., for students, with all expenses paid for by the ADL.

The ADL’s Pacific Southwest division is now accepting applications for the trip, which will include a guided tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as its centerpiece and will bring together ADL delegations from around the country.

“Many of them are participating and learning about Jewish people for the first time, so this is the way that we kind of create bridges,” sais Eva Vega-Olds, an ADL project director who will accompany the Los Angeles delegation, along with other chaperones and a professional security team.

The trip takes place Nov. 11-14 and will include addresses to the students by Lithuanian Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin; U.S. Army veteran and liberator of Buchenwald concentration camp Leon Bass; East Los Angeles native Maria Reyes — a contributor to the “Freedom Writers Diary” and former gang member who credits Anne Frank’s diary with changing the course of her life; and ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. Students will tour the city’s historic monuments and participate in discussions in breakout groups. When they return, they will work with their delegation on a project drawing upon what they learned. 

Students interested in building leadership skills and learning ways to combat intolerance and promote diversity are encouraged to apply.

ADL’s Los Angeles branch will accept 10 students of any religion or background who will be juniors during the 2012-13 school year and who reside or attend school in Los Angeles County. The application, which features an essay prompt — a poem, video or photo essay can also be submitted — is due May 31.

Attracting the academically competitive in years past, the trip will be filled with educational activities and offer little time for leisure, said Vega-Olds

For more information, visit

OPINION: Keep down the rates of student loans

Education is the key to success—a “silver bullet” for changing lives in all segments of society. An affordable, quality college education must be available to all, not just the wealthy.

Horace Mann, the renowned innovator in public education, said that “Education … beyond all other devices of human origin is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

This is why, as educators, we must do all we can to convince lawmakers in Washington that they must not allow the interest rate on millions of so-called Stafford loans to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That will happen automatically on July 1 if Congress fails to act. It would affect 7 million students nationwide—400,000 in New York alone—and raise costs by an average of $1,000 each, the White House says. Doubling loan rates would cost New York students and their families an estimated $419.7 million.

Student loan debt is among the vital issues facing young Americans today. It has reached more than $1 trillion—higher than the debt on credit cards and car loans. The average balance nationally is about $23,000.

President Obama is urging Congress to keep the interest rates low; his presumptive Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, agrees. The political fight in Congress seems to be over how to pay for it.

This crushing debt comes on top of tuition increases. Tuition and related expenses increased 400 percent in the 30 years between 1980 and 2010, while median family income rose just 150 percent in the same period.

As a college president, I know firsthand how important it is that something be worked out. We must educate our young people in order to have a productive workforce. Hampering higher education will ultimately lead to the decline of America as a world power. We cannot survive as a nation in the global marketplace without student loans at a reasonable rate.

A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that two-thirds of Americans feel there is too much disparity between the haves and have-nots in our country. In considering ways to narrow the income gap, one constant factor is the strong relationship between education and lifetime income.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that median weekly earnings for college graduates for the third quarter of 2011 was $1,152 per week, compared to $636 for high school graduates and $459 for those without a high school diploma. So one of the most important goals of higher education ought to be to provide our young people with a high-quality education based on merit rather than means.

Increasing the interest rate on student loans will only serve to make it more difficult for low- and middle-income students to receive a high-quality education that will ensure upward mobility.

It is the responsibility of those in leadership positions to help provide access to a good education for all sectors of our nation. We must help nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs, thinkers, innovators and business leaders who one day will make their mark in the global marketplace and fortify our country’s status as a world power.

Making college affordable is one way to do this. Holding down the interest rate on student loans is another.

Dr. Alan Kadish is the president and CEO of Touro College and University System.

ADL prepares students to face campus anti-Semitism

A group of students received their task during a recent workshop at New Community Jewish High School: Craft a response to college students who liken the Israeli occupation to Nazi Germany.

In the proposed scenario, a few fraternity brothers digitally altered a photograph of fellow Jewish student Seth, placing his head on the body of a Nazi soldier. In the image, the soldier held a gun to a concentration camp prisoner. Beneath the photo were the words: “Seth takes aim at the Palestinians.”

The high school students agreed that the frat brothers’ actions were disturbing and unacceptable, but they couldn’t agree on what would be the best way to handle it if they were in Seth’s place.
One insisted it was a hate-crime and that the legal system should be involved. Another student said school administration should intervene and the students should be expelled.

The disagreements continued for several minutes until one suggested something different — educate the fraternity brothers.

“I like that,” said one of the group members, and the other students agreed.

The New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) students are the latest to participate in the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s new interactive workshop, a customized version of “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” a national ADL program that develops middle school and high school students’ skills for combating anti-Semitism or anti-Israel activities. The workshop at NCJHS focuses specifically on preparing students for what they might face once they’re in college.

“We decided to try something different in our region and tailor [‘Confronting Anti-Semitism’] to college-bound students, teaching them about confronting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism when they get to college,” said Alison Mayersohn, ADL’s senior associate regional director.

Run as a pilot program last year with NCJHS’ 2011 senior class, this is the program’s first official year. Held over the course of a week, the ADL program is a two-part program, with part one informational and interactive, and part two mostly interactive. ADL, one of the nation’s premier human relations and civil rights agencies, worked with half of the NCJHS senior class this past fall, and the agency worked with the other half of the senior class during the week of Feb 13. ADL held six sessions, with each group of students participating in two sessions, each session lasting from 55 minutes to a little more than one hour.

Students of the ADL program receive ADL materials and resources, including “Fighting Back: A Handbook for Responding to Anti-Israel Campaigns on College and University Campuses” and “Israel: A Resource Guide,” an advocacy guide of Israel-related terms, responses to inaccuracies about Israel and key dates in Israel’s history.

In part one of the program, Matt Friedman, ADL’s associate director and instructor of this year’s class, defines anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He explained to the students that not all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, that there is legitimate criticism of Israel, including of Israeli’s government, the media and other domestic issues. Friedman taught where the criticism crosses the line, referring to the three “D’s” of anti-Semitism:  double standards, demonization and delegimitzation.

Last year, the pilot program was so successful — and student evaluations so positive — the school asked ADL to return to conduct the same program for its 2012 seniors, said Cheri Mayman, director of marketing at NCJHS.

By encouraging students to intelligently stand up for Israel, when someone is being anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist, the ADL program teaches one of the lessons that NCJHS teacher Rabbi David Vorspan emphasizes in his Jewish studies class — wisdom. The teaching involves a passage of Talmud that says: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be men.”

“We felt the benefits of this [workshop] were too important to pass up the opportunity” of having it again at New Jew, Vorspan said.

Leading the program at NCJHS, Friedman is filling it for ADL Associate Regional Director Ariella Schusterman, who helped design the local program, while she is on maternity leave.

The ADL, which has offices in more than 20 regions nationwide, has taught versions of the “Confronting Anti-Semitism” program to religious school and confirmation classes, including the religious schools at Sinai Temple in Westwood and Temple Sinai of Palm Desert.

ADL offers this program for free at NCJHS — “It’s a community service,” Mayersohn said — and would like to bring the program to other high schools. Currently, NCJHS is the only Jewish high school to embrace the local ADL program.

During the workshop at NCJHS on Feb. 16, 19 students worked on group exercises under Friedman’s guidance. Friedman had passed out pieces of paper outlining real-life scenarios of on-campus anti-Semitism or anti-Israel activity. The students discussed how the scenarios made them feel and what would be ways to respond if they were students at those schools.

When the NCJHS students reconvened following the workshops, they shared their scenarios (e.g., student-led anti-Israel rallies, including an “apartheid wall” and a mock checkpoint) and their responses.

A classroom debate over the best way to handle such situations — telling the appropriate personnel at the university, learning campus free-speech rules, fighting back by planning pro-Israel programming on campus, being proactive rather than reactive — led to a conversation about cyber-bullying and whether it’s a crime.
The answer depends on numerous specifics about the bullying, Friedman said.

Similarly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, he told the class. So much of the truth lies in the space between black and white. Luckily, Friedman added, Jews are used to “nuance.” He drew parallels to issues they’re familiar with — like kosher laws – which rely on nuance.

Horrific real-life anti-Semitic scenarios aside, the ADL program shies away from fear mongering.

The program “doesn’t mean [to say that] every campus is a hot-bed of anti-Semitism,” Friedman said. However, there is acknowledgment of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incidents at colleges such as UC Riverside and UC Irvine.

The harsh truth is necessary, Friedman said. Without this program, “These kids are only getting one narrative. In college, [they] will see a different take on the Palestinian conflict. How are they going to respond to that and how are they going to handle that?”

Three U.S. students held in Egypt over protests

Three U.S. students were paraded on Egyptian television on Tuesday after being accused of throwing petrol bombs at police during protests near Cairo’s Tahrir Square where demonstrators have been demanding an end to military rule.

State television did not give their identities, describing them as “foreigners.” But the U.S. embassy confirmed that three U.S. citizens were being detained and the American University in Cairo said three U.S. students studying there had been held.

Egypt’s state television cited an Interior Ministry official as saying that the three had been detained after they threw petrol bombs at police protecting the Interior Ministry. It said the identities of the three were being established.

It showed pictures of three with their backs against a wall and looking at the camera. One person out of shot raised the head of one of the Americans with his hand to ensure he looked straight ahead.

It showed videos, taken by phone cameras, that it said showed the three taking part in the protest at night. One of the people in the picture wore a medical face mask that many protesters have been using to protect against teargas. Another had a headscarf around his mouth.

“Three of our American study-abroad students, Gregory Porter, Luke Gates and Derrik Sweeney, were arrested last night. We are in touch with their families and are working with the U.S. embassy and the Egyptian authorities to ensure that they are safe,” the American University in Cairo said.

“We have been able to determine that they are being held at Abdeen’s public prosecutor’s office,” it said in a statement that was e-mailed to alumni of the university.

The U.S. embassy also confirmed the detention.

“We have been in contact with the Egyptian authorities and can confirm that there are three U.S. citizens in detention in connection with the protest. We have requested consular access,” a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said.

She said the embassy expected to be granted access on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Dina Zayed; Writing by Edmund Blair

Columbia students disinvited from Ahmadinejad dinner

Members of a Columbia University international relations group will not attend a dinner with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the invitation was withdrawn.

The invitation to about one dozen members of the Columbia International Relations Council and Association was rescinded Monday by the Iranian mission to the United Nations due to the extensive and negative media coverage, the Columbia Spectator reported.

The dinner is still scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening. Other Columbia students, from the university’s School of International and Public Affairs, are still planning to attend the dinner, the Spectator reported.

Some Columbia students had organized an on-campus protest called “Just Say No to Ahma(dinner)jad.”

The university is not involved with the dinner.

Ahmadinejad is in New York to participate in the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. His controversial address at Columbia in 2007 embroiled the campus in a debate over freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Netanyahu unveils plan to combat housing crunch

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled sweeping housing reforms in Israel.

Netanyahu convened a news conference with his finance and construction ministers Tuesday to announce a plan under which Israel will provide low-rent housing for students and the poor, ease regulations on land and realty sales, and improve public transportation from cities to their periphery.

The prime minister said the “huge changes” stemming from the plan, called “Residence in Reach,” would start going into effect next week, ahead of the Knesset’s summer recess.

“The housing crisis in Israel is a real crisis,” he said in comments carried live on television and radio. “It is not something that somebody is fabricating nor something that is artificial. It is a real problem and anybody with eyes in his head and empathy in his heart understands that this is a problem.”

According to the findings of a newspaper survey, Netanyahu’s popularity has been sapped by escalating Israeli demonstrations against the high cost of living.

The Haaretz poll published Tuesday found that 32 percent of Israelis are satisfied with the prime minister, while 54 are not—an almost exact reversal of data from a May survey cited by the liberal newspaper when Netanyahu was riding high from the standing ovations he received after addressing the U.S. Congress about his vision for peace in the Middle East.

National priorities have since shifted to economic woes, with doctors going on strike for better wages and conditions and hundreds of young people camping out in tents and staging street demonstrations to demand lower property prices.

Jewish student group awarded European Union prize

The European Union of Jewish Students was awarded the European Union European Citizen’s Prize.

The prize, awarded July 1, recognizes the student organization’s achievements and activities, demonstrating exceptional commitment to promoting mutual understanding and better integration between the peoples of E.U. member states and for work promoting a greater awareness of genocide.

The group was lauded for its partnership with the European Union and activity which engaged in cross-border cultural cooperation, helping contribute to further European integration.

“The EUJS is proud and honored to be awarded such a prize. There is no doubt that it will be of huge benefit to EUJS and European Jewish students, who are highly politically motivated and proud to see their efforts lauded,” organization president, Benjamin Zagzag, said.

The European Union of Jewish Students is an umbrella organization of 34 national Jewish student unions in Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union, representing over 200,000 Jewish students.

Black students group slams ‘apartheid’ abuse

An African American students group took out ads in college newspapers blasting “Israel Apartheid week” organizers for abusing the term.

In a full page entitled “words matter” and appearing in the newspapers on April 7, Vanguard Leadership Group accuses Students for Justice in Palestine of a “false and deeply offensive” characterization of Israel.

“SJP has chosen to manipulate rather than inform with this illegitimate analogy,” Vanguard says in the ad, signed by its members attending a number of historically black colleges. “We request that you immediately stop referring to Israel as an apartheid society and to acknowledge that the Arab minority in Israel enjoys full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.”

The ad appeared in newspapers on campuses that saw “Israel Apartheid Week” activity in February, including Brown University, the University of California-Los Angeles, Columbia and the University of Maryland.

Vanguard, a leadership development group for students from historically black universities, has in recent years forged ties with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its members have visited Israel.

N.Y. budget includes tuition grants for rabbinic students

New York’s state budget includes tuition grants for college students attending some private religious institutions, including Orthodox rabbinical schools.

The money is available as part of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, under which any theological student who meets certain criteria, including attending a three-year program at a tax-exempt institution based in New York, can be eligible for the grants.

The institution also must be eligible under federal law for Pell grants for undergraduate study; the program does not exclude students studying for the rabbinate.

Some 5,000 men who attend dozens of Orthodox rabbinical schools in New York stand to benefit, according to The New York Times, but most rabbinic seminaries accept only students who have completed college.

Some New York State lawmakers have tried for the last 10 years to eliminate the program’s ban on state tuition assistance for college students who attend yeshivas that are not state-chartered, according to the Times.

Opponents say the provision violates the constitutional provision of separation of church and state.

Irvine 11 Task Force organizes to support student protestors

At a town hall meeting on March 5, more than 200 people pledged to express opposition to misdemeanor criminal charges filed against 11 students who disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), in February 2010.  Supporters calling themselves the Irvine 11 Task Force issued their call to action one week before the students’ scheduled arraignment on March 11.

Last month, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced charges of one count each of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and disturbance of a meeting against the UCI and University of California, Riverside, students.

Speakers at the town hall meeting, at the Islamic Institute of Orange County in Anaheim, suggested the matter would not have moved forward had the defendants not been Muslim.

“It’s an issue of free speech and of having the right to say your opinion, and whether you agree with the tactics is irrelevant,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “This is an attempt to target a victimized community. [Rackauckas] thinks he can score political points at our expense. The community has to lead efforts to expose these anti-Muslim bigots.”

Rackauckas’ office has said repeatedly that the students’ religion has no bearing on the case.

UCI administrators disciplined the students and suspended the campus Muslim Student Union (MSU) for one academic quarter for violating campus codes of conduct after determining that members had planned the disruption. Some community leaders, including 100 UCI professors, have argued the university’s action is sufficient punishment.  Others say the students should be punished for violating Oren’s First Amendment rights.

“The grass roots of the Jewish community is in strong support of freedom of speech,” Rabbi David Eliezrie of the North County Chabad Center, who although not at the event, said in an interview afterward.  “The indictment sends a message that if you deny someone’s right to free speech and expression, you are accountable to the law.”

Eliezrie called the matter a test case of the limits of free speech on U.S. college campuses, warning that failure to take legal action could result in pro-Israel and Jewish speakers being unable to speak in university settings. 

The task force distributed handouts with talking points and urged the audience to write letters to the editors and to phone radio shows. They also asked people to demonstrate outside the courthouse on the day of the arraignment wearing black and covering their mouths with tape to symbolize the silencing of free speech. 

“It is very important that all of us make the Irvine 11 a priority in our daily lives until the matter is over,” a member of the audience whom speakers identified as the father of defendant Taher Herzallah said. “It’s a case that we all believe is not a criminal case or a misdemeanor.  It’s a case of student activism.”

Hillel students and professionals gear up to face anti-Israel campus activism

Amanda Boris is nervous about what she’ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month.

“There’s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.

Last year, her campus newspaper ran an ad from a notorious Holocaust denier for several weeks, despite protests from the Jewish community. More troubling, she said, were the anonymous posts that appeared under the ad, stating that the Jews “deserved it” and they “better watch themselves.” And a professor who teaches an introductory course on the Middle East makes “openly false statements about Israel,” she charged.

Boris told her story to a group of Jewish students who joined some 300 of their peers from Aug. 11 to 15 at Washington University in St. Louis at the Hillel Institute, a summer training session designed to help them prepare for Jewish engagement work on campus.

A big part of that work is learning how to respond effectively to anti-Israel activities on campus.

Such activity has been on the rise on North American campuses for several years, but pro-Israel activists say last year was different: The new campaigns are better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic.

This summer, a number of national Jewish organizations, including Hillel, held training sessions to help their students and staff prepare for what is expected to be an even more targeted anti-Israel campaign this coming year.

“In the Jewish community there’s a lot of fear and anxiety, and that lands on our campuses, on our students,” said Hillel President Wayne Firestone at the gathering’s plenary session Aug. 11.

“We have seen things on campus, last semester in particular, that are really ugly,” he told the crowd. “We can imagine what we’ll face when we return this fall.”

Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel’s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.

And as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, efforts to bring resolutions calling for divestment from companies doing business with Israel were noted at more than half a dozen campuses—a new tactic in the anti-Israel movement that targets student governments.

Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, Hillel activists say, the charged atmosphere it creates leaves lasting wounds.

When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April (see sidebar), Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing on the other side of the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.

As a professional charged with helping students develop all aspects of their Jewish identities, Copans said she found the physical divide painful.

“Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,” she said. “I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that’s not what they get by being glared at across the room.”

Asking students to act as Israel advocates along with all the other things they do at college isn’t easy, activists say.

“Our students are coming to school to learn, and now they’re expected to defend,” said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs , a Los Angeles-based international organization that describes itself as working to ensure that Israel’s side of the story is being told on campuses and in other public spheres. “Israel is the target, but Jewish students who stand up for Israel also become the target.”

In mid-August, StandWithUs flew 40 of its campus leaders to Oxnard, Calif., for a training session, and the organization will host another session in November for 150 students. J Street U, a self-described pro-Israel advocacy organization with a network of supporters on about 40 campuses, sponsored its first student leadership conference in late May outside Baltimore, where work to counter the anti-Israel sanctions campaign was addressed along with other concerns. And AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offers such sessions throughout the year.

“We want to enable students to open up these difficult conversations on campus,” said Daniel May, J Street U’s national director.

“Everyone’s concerned, and that’s good,” said Rothstein of StandWithUs. “Once the year begins, everyone’s work on this will merge and hopefully strengthen the students.”

AIPAC declined to speak about the issue on the record.

Israel advocacy is a nuanced issue, say Jewish campus professionals, and that can be divisive.

“For the average student, Israel is a problem—and they don’t want more problems,” said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. “It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.”

Students with varying religious and political views are being asked to stand together for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and that can bring them into conflict with other friends and other causes, activists say.

“College is emblematic of what’s happening in the general society—Israel both unites and divides the Jewish people. That’s what we’re wrestling with,” said Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Hillel’s executive director at the University of California, Berkeley, which also faced a protracted struggle over a divestment bill last spring. “For me, pro-Israel is someone who wants to develop a deep, meaningful, mature, loving relationship with Israel. How this is manifested may be different for different people.”

But students active in Jewish affairs say it’s something they face whether they want to or not.

“We were very affected by the divestment struggles at Berkeley and San Diego, and we’re fully aware it is coming to our campus,” said Raquel Saxe, who is beginning her sophomore year at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Firestone also weighed in on the issue.

“We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear,” the Hillel executive said. “We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.”

During the Hillel Institute in St. Louis, some 80 Hillel professionals arrived early to take part in a 24-hour simulation exercise in which they played various roles on a mythical university campus faced with a divestment bill and a boycott of visiting Israeli professors.

The techniques used in the simulation are included in an Israel Advocacy Playbook that Hillel distributed at the conference and plans to give every Hillel campus professional.

“The group that went through this exercise together now has a common language,” said Chicago educator Carl Schrag, who developed and ran the exercise on behalf of the Israel on Campus Coalition. “When BDS [the sanctions campaign] hits—and I presume it will—hopefully they’ll remember they’re not alone.”

Coalition building is key to Israel advocacy work on campus, say those involved in leading such efforts. It shouldn’t come down to Jewish students against the rest of the campus community, they add—and as interfaith efforts increase on more and more campuses, Jewish students should find themselves less isolated.

Allison Sheren, now Hillel program director at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that things were different five years ago as divestment efforts hit her campus when she was a student.

Now she points to a “MuJew” program—a Jewish-Muslim alternative spring break option on her campus that has brought Jewish and Muslim students together on social action projects for the past three years.

“There’s a real focus on dialogue, on partnerships,” Sheren said. “When Israel issues come up, even if there are disagreements, there is discussion.”

Samantha Shabman, a student at George Washington University in Washington, says she’ll “defend Israel until the day I die,” but at the same time she notes that her school has a large Arab and Muslim student population she hopes the Jewish students will reach out to.

“We have to work together and show we respect each other,” she said.

Orthodox Students Thrive at Milken

Barbara Schloss had gone to Orthodox day schools her whole life. When it came time for high school, she figured, why change?

But the science-oriented teen soon felt dissatisfied with her choice of classes and electives, and saw her brother, Nate, doing things at Milken Community High School that she could only dream about. Two weeks into her freshman year, she asked her parents if she could transfer.

“She was bored, academically, at her old high school. She felt she was not being challenged and the extracurricular activities didn’t fit with her strengths,” recalled Barbara’s mother, Lenny Schloss. “She was getting jealous — she saw Nate doing tech theater and robotics and science research, and she was like, ‘I want to do all that!’”

Nate and Barbara are part of a growing group of Modern Orthodox students opting to leave the traditional Orthodox school system for a high school career at Milken. Parents say the school offers educational and extracurricular opportunities students often can’t get at smaller Orthodox institutions.

Over the last three years, Milken’s Orthodox student population has gone from zero to about 15 to 20 kids, said Head of School Jason Ablin. 762 students attend Milken.

Kids can get a “catered,” highly personalized academic menu at Milken that schools with more limited resources might not be able to provide, Ablin said, such as the science research program Nate Schloss is in at the school’s Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology. The eight-year-old academy has drawn in several students who had previously attended exclusively Orthodox schools, as have Milken’s programs in drama and art.

“These are very high-end kids in terms of their academic abilities and their interests,” Ablin said. “Milken has the kind of resources to be able to provide them with what they need, so parents are turning to us as a solution.”

At Milken, the Schloss kids have blossomed academically. Both of them were on a team that placed third in the 2009 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards, which challenges students to create products using science and technology.

Nate, a senior, was first drawn to Milken for its renowned Mitchell Academy, and is now captain of the school’s robotics team. In April, he led the team in competition at the national FIRST robotics championships in Atlanta. The school placed 23rd out of some 300 high school teams from across the country.

Between robotics, science research and his semester in Israel through the Tiferet Israel Fellowship — a Milken program allowing sophomores to spend a semester studying in Hod HaSharon — Nate said he’s “definitely” happy with his high school experience.

“I haven’t been able to find an extracurricular activity that other schools have that Milken doesn’t,” he said. “Milken just has so many more choices.”

That’s why the Schlosses decided not to limit their options when it came time to hunt for high schools for their kids. Although Nate and Barbara had only gone to Orthodox day schools from preschool through eighth grade, the family even looked at secular schools such as Harvard-Westlake and Windward School to make sure the teens got the curricular rigor they craved.

Dina and Michael Glouberman did the same for their daughters, both of whom will be Milken students this year after attending Yavneh Hebrew Academy from preschool to eighth grade. Dina Glouberman said she was happy with the education Yael, a sophomore, and Dani, a freshman, got at their old Orthodox school, but she wanted to broaden her daughters’ academic opportunities at the high school level.

“We liked Milken because we could have a high level of academics and still have a Jewish education” for Yael and Dani, both of whom were valedictorians at Yavneh, Glouberman said. “We also liked the idea of an integrated community that appeals to all walks of life, including Orthodox.”

For Glouberman, the idea of her daughters learning alongside secular Jewish students is anything but a drawback — it “adds to their experience and makes them stronger in who they are,” she said.

But making the switch to non-traditional Jewish studies classes can be a jolt for students used to learning in an Orthodox environment.

Nate Schloss said he’s happy with his Jewish education at Milken — “for the most part.”

“I’m used to being taught in an Orthodox way,” he said. “It was interesting for the first time in my life being in a classroom with non-Orthodox kids who had very different beliefs than me. It took some adjusting to, but I feel like I have a much broader understanding of Judaism now, and I appreciate my own beliefs and practices more.”

Outside the classroom, kids and their families also have to get used to less stringent observation of Shabbat and kashrut on school trips and events. Parents said they have to pay extra attention to make sure food provided on field trips and athletic outings is kosher, and to see that activities take place on an “Orthodox-accommodating” schedule.

When Barbara Schloss was in Israel this spring on the Tiferet Israel Fellowship, her father, Hal Schloss, asked to have her excused from the scheduled Shavuot program in favor of “a more traditional Orthodox experience” at her aunt’s house in Ra’anana. On the weekend trip to the Pete Conrad awards in April, the Schlosses brought enough kosher food to feed the whole Milken team.

“The official school position is that everything should be kosher and shomer Shabbat, but then there is the reality of how some things turn out,” Lenny Schloss said. But school officials are mindful of their students’ needs, and on the Pete Conrad trip, Milken paid for all the food, Hal Schloss added. “The administration is very supportive and always wants to do whatever is necessary to make it work for us,” he said.

Having Orthodox students on campus has made the administration much more aware of how to cater to a pluralistic population, said Ablin, head of school, who added that Milken’s Orthodox population has been a boon to the student body.

“The kids who have come from the Modern Orthodox community have completely taken advantage of everything there is at the school,” he said. “Other students have gone to schools with these kinds of resources and have had things like video production before, but these students have not. They’re like kids in a candy shop.”

But while Ablin, who is himself Orthodox, said he would be “thrilled” if more Orthodox students joined the Milken community, he is also wary of altering the school’s goals.

“Parents in the Orthodox community come to me and ask, ‘When are you going to make Milken more Orthodox, or have an Orthodox track at the school?’ I tell them I’m never going to do that,” he said. “What I want to do is expand the pluralism at the school. Our mission is to have an expansive, pluralistic community. That should be able to include students from the Modern Orthodox community, and also kids who come from a completely secular background.”

This year, however, Milken is offering a new program that could appeal to more Orthodox families — a Beit Midrash-style track for freshmen and sophomores featuring longer hours of classes and more talmudic studies. But Ablin said the program is open to interested students of all denominations.

Overall, parents said the few “minor” inconveniences — and few thousand dollars extra per year — are well worth it for the educational benefits their kids get at Milken.

“It’s a really well-run place with excellent opportunities,” Dina Glouberman said. “Our daughters are happy, so we’re happy.”

Report from Beijing: Israeli Olympians visit Beijing school

BEIGING (JTA)—Four Israeli Olympic swimmers (Itai Chammah, Guy Barnea, Tom Beera and Gal Nevo), the Israeli Ambassador to China, the President of Israel’s National Swimming Association and a slew of Chinese and Israeli reporters visited the Shi Jia Primary School on Monday, Aug. 18. This school was assigned Israel as part of a Beijing-wide program of partnerships between schools and Olympic countries. The Shi Jia school put on events over the last two years to teach the students about Israel, how to say “Shalom,” even had its students Skype with a school in Jerusalem. Of course, the school was following the progress of Israeli athletes along with China’s.

Hidden inside a neighborhood maze of alleyways, this 2000-student school is anything but small. The school was founded in 1939, but this site (which used to be a single-story temple style house) was newly constructed in 2004 and only serves the third through sixth grade.

And what service indeed. There was a room filled with rows of electric pianos, next to the hallway of individual music practice rooms that were nicer than the ones at my university. Of course, these were all on the bottom floor right next to the underground parking lot entrance, which reminded me of a United States mall. We also saw a beautiful theater with a superior tech booth, a whole science area that looked more like a kid’s playtime museum exhibit, plus a row of small table-saws that looked rusty and dangerous in comparison, for over 20 students at a time to make wood carvings.

The highlight of the tour for the Israeli Olympians was clearly the visit to the school’s unbelievable sports facilities. An outdoor track was surrounded by green landscaping, windmills and a dormitory with solar panels on the roof. Descending into the gymnasium, which had more equipment than a Bally’s Fitness Club, the fencing lesson seemed to be teaching the well-outfitted youngsters as much about shouting as technique.

Finally, the Israeli men were in their element at the pool, which was pumping various Beijing Olympic theme songs over the loudspeaker. An assorted crowd of boys and girls shivered outside the pool for the athletes’ millionth photo-op of the day, underneath towering photos with the Speedo logo printed on them of swimmers like Michael Phelps.

The kids looked a little lackluster as they posed in their swimsuits, but two of them perked up when someone told them the Chinese names of the Israeli athletes that were standing by their side. The kids’ faces lit up- “We heard of them!” they cried.

Ghana’s plight motivates rabbinical students

The dirt streets and makeshift shacks of Ghana may seem an unlikely place to learn to be a rabbi, but not for a group of students who recently visited the African country.

Twenty-five rabbinical students, including a few from American Jewish University (AJU), formerly the University of Judaism, came away from the trip with an understanding of AIDS in Africa — and the poverty that has helped turn the disease into an epidemic on the continent. Participants say the experience left a deep impression on them and convinced them of the need to do more to stop the spread of AIDS.

“I can’t teach a lesson about poverty, I can’t teach a lesson about tzedakah [charity] without drawing on this experience,” said tour participant Dan Kaiman, 23, of AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. “Because it’s part and parcel of so many of the tikkun olam — the repairing the world issues — that we deal with on a daily basis.”

The students visited Ghana for 10 days in January on a trip organized by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which supports the removal of restrictions from U.S. world AIDS policies, such as an abstinence-until-marriage earmark or an anti-prostitution pledge.

The students learned how desperate poverty contributes to the spread of AIDS in Africa when they visited a refugee camp in Ghana, where residents live in concrete-block houses on dirt streets, unable to find legal work because of their alien status.

Liberian refugees living in the camp told the rabbinical students some young mothers are forced to work as prostitutes to feed their children, often becoming infected with HIV as a result.

“The poverty was just something on a scale that I couldn’t quite imagine, living in Los Angeles my whole life,” said tour participant Adam Greenwald, 23, a student at AJU.

“To imagine if the choice is feeding your children today or a health risk down the road, I do certainly understand how a person could make the choice that they simply need to provide food for their family,” Greenwald said.

The students stayed in an area of Ghana called Hohoe, where they met with a Cuban doctor sent by his government to serve the country. The doctor, who is one of only a handful of licensed doctors in the area, explained that he sometimes diagnoses a dozen cases of HIV infection each week, said tour participant Joshua Corber, 25, of AJU.

The students also got an introduction to another side of health care in Ghana when they visited a healing clinic in a village near Hohoe, where patients with broken bones were bandaged with herbs, students said.

Chickens roamed the clinic’s dirt floors, and saws for amputations were among the few pieces of medical equipment on hand, students said.

An herbal healer at the clinic gave a disconcerting response when asked what he does to prevent HIV infection, Greenwald said.

“He said after each amputation he purchased a new saw,” Greenwald said.

For Corber, the tour revealed the social stigma that people with HIV encounter in Ghana.

“Nobody wants to admit that they have it, because basically the fear is and the reality is that they will be ostracized from the village, the community and their family,” Corber said. “And then they really will have no support at all.”

An estimated 2.2 percent of adults in Ghana had HIV or AIDS in 2006, which is relatively low for Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that accounts for one-third of all the world’s new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The rabbinical students who toured Ghana saw measures that are being taken in the African country to prevent the spread of HIV.

At the refugee camp for Liberians who have fled the civil wars in their home country, a bowl of free condoms was set outside the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Kaiman said. The camp was near Accra, the capital of the country.

And at the office of an AIDS-fighting group in Hohoe, the rabbinical students played the part of audience members, as a group of local teens put on a play about resisting the peer pressure to have sex at a young age. The teens present the play at schools in Ghana, as a way to educate youths to avoid HIV infection.

Corber, Greenwald and Kaiman, who all attend the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU, said their tour of Ghana left a deep impression on them.

“It certainly opened my eyes,” said Kaiman, who grew up in New Jersey. “Africa isn’t something far away and distant anymore. It’s something very personal, and it’s something that you can’t avoid.”

Since returning to the United States, Kaiman has given a presentation about his Ghana experience at a synagogue, and he has contacted his representative in congress and members of the House Foreign Relations Committee to call for changes to the president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Corber, who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, said that after having seen the work that New York-based AJWS is doing in Africa, he is convinced that a little money goes a long way in Africa. That’s especially the case when the money goes to groups such as AJWS that work with established organizations in the developing world, Corber said.

Greenwald said the experience reinforced his own core beliefs.

“The core of my religious commitment is the idea that all human beings are children of a single God,” he said. “And if a large chunk of those human beings are sick and dying, then those are not others — there are no others — those are brothers and sisters and cousins who are my responsibility.”

Briefs: Jewish educators award scholarships, State accredits Jewish teacher training

Jewish Educators Award Scholarships

Nine students from Los Angeles Unified School District schools each received a $2,000 scholarship from the Association of Jewish Educators (AJE), a group of Jewish teachers and administrators at Los Angeles public schools.

At a May 18 brunch, the group handed out six scholarships to high-performing Jewish students who were involved in the Jewish community.

The winners were: Zara Atanelov, Taft High School; Max Cecil, Cleveland High; Lili Pariser, Cleveland High; Arielle Turner, Narbonne High; Michaela Sola, Hamilton High Music Academy; and Lauren Zalman, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies.

In addition, the AJE has teamed up with its counterparts in the black, Latino and Asian communities to award Human Relations Multi-Cultural Awards to deserving students. Those scholarships, also for $2,000, went to Briana Ford, Carson High School; Alma Martinez, King Drew Medical Magnet; and Djamilia Niazalieva, Hollywood High.

More than 300 people attended the annual brunch, including LAUSD board member Julie Korenstein.

“I applaud these high school seniors for their commitment to their Jewish heritage and maintaining excellent grades,” Korenstein said. “Being active in your community is just as important as maintaining good grades.”

Since its inception, the scholarship program has provided more than $250,000 in scholarships.

For more information on the Association of Jewish Educators, contact Stu Bernstein at (310) 459-0022 or e-mail

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

State Accredits Jewish Teacher Training

After six years of training soon-to-be-teachers, the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) has earned the ability to grant state teaching credentials.

Instead of going through the 13-month teacher training program and then having to apply for a California teaching credential, attendees of Day School Leadership through Teaching (DeLeT), a program of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at HUC-JIR, can earn credentials in multiple subject areas for grades K-8.

The program helps teachers-in-training learn how to implement best practices in classrooms throughout North America. Partnered with Brandeis University in Boston, HUC-JIR’s DeLeT program recruits educators with a zest for learning for a yearlong fellowship that includes a mentored internship at a Jewish day school in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area.

During DeLeT training, teachers learn current methods and how to incorporate Jewish values and ideas into general studies.

This is the first time any Jewish institution in California has been authorized to give state accreditation, said Michael Zeldin, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education.

“We want to create a new kind of teacher who will be mindful of general and Judaic studies, who can incorporate and infuse all subjects of teaching. It takes a unique teacher to help students explore their Jewish self-identity, and it doesn’t matter if he or she is a math, science or language teacher — it’s all integrated,” said Rivka Ben-Daniel, the program’s education director.

For more information on the DeLeT program visit

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

Van Nuys High Valedictorian

Van Nuys High School named Cherise Meyerson its valedictorian. The top student in her graduating class of 503 students, Meyerson — who had a record of perfect attendance over her 12 years in school — is president of Van Nuys’ Jewish Student Union, a weekly club with Jewish events and discussion topics. She is also president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter, captain of the Science Bowl team and the highest individual scorer in Van Nuys history in the Academic Decathlon competition. Meyerson will attend UCLA in the fall as a Regents Scholar.


New Millions for Day Schools

The Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, helped Jewish day schools bring in more than $3 million this year from new donors and foundations.

The Jewish Funders Network challenged schools to find new donors of $25,000 or more through its MATCH grant program. The Network, backed by the AVI CHAI Foundation and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, matched new-donor money 50 cents to the dollar.

Fourteen Jewish schools earned those matching funds this year, bringing in a total of more than $1.3 million. Four years ago, the first time the grant was offered, only two area schools qualified. With the help of Miriam Prum-Hess, heading up the BJE’s new department for day school operations, schools received training and guidance in finding grants and nurturing new donors.

That approach also paid off with the Department of Homeland Security, which awarded close to $2 million to 14 Los Angeles Jewish schools in 2007. The funds pay for security infrastructure, such as cameras or fences. The BJE conducted joint training sessions with The Federation, and a total of 23 Jewish institutions received Homeland Security grants.

For additional information, visit


Irvine School Donates 6,000 Books

Students at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School teamed up with Access Books, a nonprofit organization, to donate over 6,000 books to a new charter school, Orange County Educational Arts Academy, during a community book drive this spring.

Leighann Pennington, the sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, facilitated the program at Tarbut V’Torah, a school in Irvine that promotes values of tikkun olam (repair the world) to students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Along with donating books to the library, Tarbut V’Torah students bonded with peers who attend Orange County Educational Arts Academy, mingling, cataloging books and painting murals together.

Founded in 1999, Access Books has worked with over 100 schools and donated more than 1.2 million books to several libraries.

“This project really helped my students take on important leadership roles,” Pennington said. “It was very inspiring to see the students interact with each other during the book drive. We are so proud to be a part of building the Orange County Educational Arts Academy.”

For more information, visit

Briefs: Sderot kids share their experiences with local students, Pico business owners protest traffi

Sderot Teens Open Their Hearts to L.A. Students

Ten high school students from Sderot, a small city that has been bombarded by rockets from the nearby Gaza Strip, traveled to Los Angeles this week to share their heartrending stories at college and high school campuses. They were brought here by numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. More than 60 attendees listened intently at USC Hillel Monday as the Israeli teens spoke about life under constant attack. Among the crowd were students representing pro-Israel groups from USC, UCLA, CSUN, Santa Monica College and UC Irvine.

After showing a video clip titled, “Everyone Deserves to Live in Peace,” Tabby Davoodi, director of academic affairs at the consulate general of Israel in Los Angeles, introduced the young students, asking if they were alarmed by the loud sirens in the video. Most of them, looking a bit shell-shocked, nodded their heads.

USC was one of three stops that day on the “The Children of Sderot: In Their Own Words” tour, which also included visits to Beverly Hills High School and Taft High School. At the high schools, the teens spoke to crowds comprised of Latinos, African Americans, non-Jews and others from varying faiths and nationalities. “It is important for the mainstream population to know the plight of Sderot. We want to highlight the celebration of Israel at 60 to the larger community,” said Esther Renzer, national president of StandWithUs, noting that the group recently donated a bomb shelter to the rocket-battered city.

For seven years the city has been under siege, and more than 4,000 Qassam rockets have hit Sderot since 2005, according to Roz Rothstein, founder of StandWithUS, a co-sponsor of the event. Between 75 percent and 94 percent of children in Sderot display symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War (NATAL), Haaretz has reported.

A few of the teen speakers discussed an incident when a 10-year-old boy, Yossi Haimov, was playing with his little sister in the courtyard of their apartment building and was struck by shrapnel, almost losing his arm. “All we want is to live normal lives like everyone else,” said Sapir Homel, 15, whose 4-year-old cousin was fatally injured by a Qassam rocket. “Conditions in Sderot are very hard,” Homel said. “We won’t leave, but it is dangerous. We don’t want Qassam rockets, but peace.”

At the event, Adi Amzaleg, was presented with a cake to celebrate her 15th birthday. “Despite everything, we stay to live our life in Sderot,” she said in broken English.

“We hear Qassam rockets every morning and night. If we don’t get hurt, someone we know will get hurt. We have no solution to the security problem. We want to live a normal life,” said Yarin Peretz, 15.

“We will be standing with you through this until it is done,” Rothstein assured the teens. “We are with you right there and are coming to visit this summer,” she said after awarding the youngsters envelopes filled with money.

In the question-and-answer segment of the event one audience member asked, “Would you want to grow up in Sderot and live there as an adult?”

“I was born in Sderot and will die in Sderot,” responded Oshar Hen, 15.

Before leaving the room, the crowd and Sderot group burst into song, singing “Shalom, Salem.”

For more information on “Live for Sderot” visit

— Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer

Pico Business Owners Protest Proposed Traffic Changes

A group representing business owners along Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles is filing for a temporary restraining order this week to protest the mayor’s Olympic-West, Pico-East Traffic Initiative.

The three-tiered traffic plan, which would limit parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards during rush hours, synchronize the traffic lights and eventually change the directions of the lanes (three west on Olympic, three east on Pico) is slated to begin implementation as early as March 8 despite a Feb. 13 Department of Transportation meeting on the initiative, which had recommended postponing action on the plan. The mayor ordered the DOT to begin implementation, saying the DOT has no jurisdiction.

Pico-Olympic Solutions, which claims to represent thousands of business owners and residents along the Pico-Olympic corridor, said this week they have retained a lawyer to file a restraining order against the initiative. “Don’t force Pico/Olympic on us,” said Brandon Silverman, leader of the opposition group. Owners fear their businesses will be adversely affected by the plan, which calls for restricted parking from 7-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. along Pico Boulevard from Centinela to Fairfax avenues. (The original proposal had continued to La Brea.)

“For a project like this, they need to verify what kind of losses would occur, what the financial and environmental impacts are and to get the community input on the solution,” Silverman said. “We want the opportunity to be heard.”

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who was instrumental with the mayor in pushing the plan, said the initiative would improve traffic in the area, one of the main concerns for his constituents. “We’re trying to do something immediate about it that could benefit hundreds of thousands of people,” Weiss said. “It would be a shame if someone tries to block that from happening.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Angels and Interfaith Discussion

“What is the role of angels in Judaism? It’s ambivalent,” said Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom. Shulweis will be one of the panelists at the fifth annual Interfaith Symposium of Theology, Art and Music on March 9, along with Jeremy Glatstein, an art historian at the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Right Rev. Alexei Smith, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Rev. Dr. David Worth, senior pastor at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom, will moderate.

“There are some times angels themselves are considered to be emissaries of good news, and there are some times when the angels themselves are considered to be very jealous of human beings,” Schulweis said. “In general, it seems to me that angels play a very minor role in Jewish thinking: They’re there, but they’re there as manifestations as some aspect of godliness,” he said. What is interesting, he said, about this series — now in its fifth year — “is that you begin to see the commonalities and divisions in each tradition.” Discussions are accompanied by an art exhibit and followed by a concert featuring the Choral Society of Southern California, the L.A. Zimriyah Chorale and the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir.

Angels and Interfaith

The Fifth Annual Interfaith Symposium of Theology, Art & Music workshop will be held on March 9 at 3 pm at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, 505 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. Symposium: $25, advanced reservations required (includes dinner and concert); Concert: $10. For more information call (818) 623-1000.

— AK

UCLA Shoah class attracts large number of Asian students

“The Holocaust in Film and Literature” is one of many UCLA classes that draws in undergraduate students looking to fulfill general education requirements. German 59, as it’s listed in the university catalog, has attracted 241 students this quarter.

The course demands are strenuous. Among the required readings are Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink. Additionally, students read selected works by authors such as Hannah Arendt and Nelly Sachs, as well as poetry, memoirs, encyclopedia entries and original documents. Assigned films include “Schindler’s List,” “Night and Fog” and several documentaries.

Allan, a 23-year-old chemistry major, said he is taking the class because he wanted to explore what caused such a great tragedy with so many deaths.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said, “but it’s an interesting topic and worth the time.”

Allan, a Filipino American, represents a surprising trend for a Holocaust studies class — about 40 percent of the students in German 59 are Asian or Asian American.

“This is not a class that’s taught only for Jews,” said Todd S. Presner, who teaches the course.

One explanation might simply be that the class reflects the demographics of the UCLA student body, which is roughly 33 percent Asian and Asian American. But that ignores some of the more profound motivations expressed by a random sample of students attending Presner’s lectures.

Several students say their interest was piqued in high school, when they first learned about the Holocaust, often through a Jewish teacher.

Isabella Niu, a 19-year-old political science major from Taiwan, first heard about the Holocaust in high school. She said she wanted to learn more after her teacher “just mentioned it and then dropped it.”

Angela, a 20-year-old Chinese American neuroscience major, is attending the class simply to learn more about the Holocaust. She felt it was important to study the topic, and it provides her a break from her science courses.

Presner’s reputation as an enthusiastic teacher who knows his subject is also an important draw for some students.

Among them is Patrick Agustini, a 21-year-old business major from Taiwan, who expects the course to “broaden his outlook and change his perspective.”

Don T. Nakanishi, UCLA Asian American Studies Center director, believes that Asian American students are interested in learning more about the Holocaust for the same reasons as other students: It was the most horrific example of human madness and extermination.

“They are interested in learning more about why it happened, what took place and what lessons we need to learn so that it does not happen again,” he said. “Asian American students may also have a special motivation, which stems from their interest in seeing potential parallels between the Holocaust in Europe and major episodes of genocide in countries from which they and their families fled, like the killing fields in Cambodia.”

Professor David Myers, chair of the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA, speculated that some Asian and Asian American students might be interested in the Holocaust because of a “lingering consciousness of Japanese internment.”

Yuri Shindo, a 19-year-old biology major from Japan, said that the Holocaust intrigued her, not because of Japan’s role in World War II, but rather because of “how the Japanese were treated in the United States.”

Shindo lamented the fact that the Holocaust is not taught in Japanese schools. She is aware that the Germans are much more knowledgeable about the war and feels that Japan should follow Germany’s example and include it in the school curriculum.

“Japanese people don’t know what happened,” she said.

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, the George and Sakaye Aratani Professor of the Japanese American Internment, Redress and Community at UCLA, said that he has not seen any empirical material, such as a survey, that would provide any insight into why Asian and Asian American students would be particularly interested in this or similar Holocaust studies courses. He recognizes that the medium might be as important as the message.

“Over the years, I have used documentaries as an integral part of my Asian American studies courses,” he wrote in an e-mail. “What I found is that no matter where I’ve taught, my Asian American students both appreciate and enjoy film and other visual material because they are able to ‘see’ things for themselves that the textbooks and articles only describe.”

While no one has seriously researched why Asian and Asian American students in particular are drawn to this Holocaust studies class, it likely has something to do with the professor’s approach. Presner doesn’t look on the Holocaust simply as a historical event or an enormous tragedy that happened to other people a long time ago in a far away place.

Rather, he said, “it should affect my students personally. Initially, it’s abstract and distant, but in time, it becomes personal and relevant. There is an ethical undercurrent in the class, and I’m not only teaching them facts but engaging my students to become more humane.”

ADL national youth conference inspires and empowers

On an overcast afternoon in Washington, D.C., sitting with about 120 other high school students from around the country, I listened to the empowering words of Holocaust survivor Henry Greenbaum as he described his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He declared that it wasn’t one particular beneficial trait or talent that enabled him to survive the Holocaust, but just the fact that he had been fortunate. It wasn’t survival of the fittest in the concentration camps but survival of the luckiest.

Greenbaum was speaking during the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 10th annual National Youth Leadership Mission, which took place over a four-day period in our nation’s capital. The mission sought to educate and empower teens around the country by relating the lessons of the Holocaust to current issues of bigotry.

Having grown up in Los Angeles and attended a private school for the past five years, one of the things that particularly excited me was being able to connect with people my age from completely different backgrounds and perspectives.

The main highlight of the conference was visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I discovered the true horrors of hatred and silence. One section that specifically affected me was a hallway filled with Holocaust victims’ shoes, where I saw a literal, concrete representation of the true enormity of lives taken in the concentration camps.

It seems my feelings were similar to Greenbaum’s, who mentioned that this is the one section of the museum he tries to avoid, for fear of becoming too overcome with emotion. When asked why, he said that it was entirely possible that one of those shoes had belonged to a member of his family or to one of his friends, and this was just too haunting for him to bear.

In addition to Greenbaum, we heard from a professional Nazi prosecutor, an activist fighting current discrimination in places around the world, and also from many people from the ADL who have made abolishing discrimination their life’s work.

We were fortunate enough to talk with Dr. Leon Bass, an African American who fought in World War II. He explained how he has sometimes questioned why he was even fighting for a country that did not treat him as a capable, equal citizen, and how he has constantly struggled with others’ belief that he “wasn’t good enough.”

Through every aspect of the program, I began to recognize all forms of discrimination and bigotry. Jeremy Browning, a conference delegate from Detroit, said, “You really can’t talk about community and peace without meeting and getting to know people who aren’t like you.”

Feeling similarly to Browning, I especially enjoyed developing relationships with people my age from all over the country, who possess unbelievable qualities of leadership and empathy, and have given me hope for our future generations.

Throughout the conference, I began to realize that not every German citizen — and not even every German soldier — had been an evil, cold-blooded person. They had been misled by ingenious propaganda, stifled by severe fear and, in many cases, had become simply too lazy to care about what was going on around them, as long as it didn’t directly affect them.

Comprehending this made me adamantly decide that I refuse to be a bystander of hate; I refuse to be silenced and to become a living example of the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Stephen Czujko, a student from Washington, D.C., who also attended the program, said, “I feel like my experience has helped me to mature and has given me the confidence to really make a difference.”

Czujko and some of his classmates are planning to have a Holocaust survivor visit their school and also want to raise money and awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

Browning and his peers are planning to lobby the Michigan state government for legislation requiring that the Holocaust and other genocides be taught in public schools. Erica McMahon, a conference delegate from Washington, D.C., is in the process of initiating a STAND (Students Taking Action Now Darfur) chapter at her high school.

“We are determined to make a difference, and I know that I can, because there are 120 people [that she met at the conference] doing the same thing,” she said.

With this in mind, the 10 Los Angeles delegates that attended the conference, in addition to about 10 more teens from the city dedicated to inspiring social progress, are beginning to formulate a social action project targeted to benefit our city. Hopefully, our vision will spread to many other communities.

Teenage leaders are beginning to act throughout the country, and I know that it is my generation’s turn to stand up and fight for the changes that we are certainly capable of achieving.

For information about ADL youth programs, visit For information about ADL youth programs, contact or go to

Briefs: UC ‘study in Israel’ program draws Sacramento attention; Gold officially the man at the Fede

UC’s Study in Israel Program Enters Legislature

The effort to reinstate the University of California’s study in Israel program entered the state Legislature last week.

Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced a resolution on Jan. 17 that urges the UC to adopt a policy similar to those at other universities, which allow study in countries under U.S. State Department travel warnings. Since the UC suspended its program in Israel in April 2002, during the Second Intifada, countless students have had to officially drop out of school and enroll directly in an Israeli university or through a third-party provider.

The move cost some students their financial aid and had to be made without the guarantee that credits earned during their semester or year abroad would be recognized by their UC campus. The same has been true for those wanting to study in the Philippines.

“The UC EAP policy does a disservice to interested students by judging potential programs without weighing the potential academic benefits against the potential nominal risks of traveling in a country subject to a less severe travel warning,” Migden, who is Jewish, wrote in SR 18.

Such resolutions have already been passed by the student bodies at Berkeley, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles. In the meantime, UC Provost Wyatt R. “Rory” Hume has asked campus chancellors to at least simplify the process of studying in Israel or the Philippines by providing counselors to explain which courses would count for credit, allowing students to keep their university e-mail and facilitating re-enrollment without reapplying.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Riverside Jewish Family Service to Close

Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities, the only Jewish agency in the city of Riverside not affiliated with a synagogue, is shutting its doors on Jan. 31.

“Because we don’t have a Jewish federation to fund us, we were unable to get that base amount of money,” said Ilene Stein, the group’s manager.

The office on 10th Street served nearly 100 clients from western Riverside and San Bernadino counties, offering services to Holocaust survivors, organizing grief and health workshops, visiting Jews in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes as well as providing gifts on Jewish holidays.

Stein said that the organization was dependent on grant money, and in the last two years its income dropped from $46,000 to $31,000.

“In the last four years, the grant cycles played against us,” she said.

Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities was incorporated in 1995, and board president Margie Orland told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that some volunteers would continue to serve people on their own.

“There’s a lot of need in the community. We hope some of this continues, perhaps through the temples,” she said.

Jewish Family Service of the Desert, which receives steady funding of almost $1 million from the Jewish Federation of the Palm Springs/Desert Area, has yet to discuss the possibility of expanding into the area covered by JFS of the Inland Communities.

In the meantime, Stein says Riverside congregations are struggling, and she worries that unaffiliated and secular Jews in the area are losing a critical resource.

“Where the biggest hurt is going to be is looking for Jewish information,” Stein said. “It’s going to be hard for new people moving into the area.”

— Adam Wills, Senior Editor

New Federation Chair Shares Vision at Hebrew Union College

Stanley P. Gold took over lay leadership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Jan. 1 with high hopes for a new future for the umbrella organization for L.A. Jewry.

“Have we made any progress?” he rhetorically asked about 30 students and faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) last week. “A little bit. I’ve been on the job two weeks.”

Gold’s talk, which focused on his vision for The Federation, was the first in a series of dean’s lunches. He began by telling the students why he took the volunteer job even after his wife and rabbi and friends and children counseled him otherwise.

“The one thing I am good at,” said Gold, who serves on the board of governors for HUC-JIR and is president of the private-equity firm Shamrock Holdings, “is I am a change agent.”

And certainly that is something The Federation could use. Jewish umbrella organizations across the country are suffering from decreasing involvement from younger Jews who no longer see the central model as integral to Jewish life. Locally, annual campaign revenues have been practically flat since the early 1990s (not including the $20 million Los Angeles raised in 2006 for the Israel Emergency Campaign).

“The Federation finds itself — and this is not a disparagement of past lay leaders or communal leaders — but it finds itself with a model and culture that was probably terrific 50 years ago, but society has moved on. Jewish life has changed,” Gold said. “It needs to change in order to accommodate.”

He had reiterated the three areas on which he has said he wants to direct The Federation’s focus: making Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles’ premiere Israel address; strengthening community relations, particularly with Latinos; and improving leadership and education programs. He also emphasized that The Federation needs to stop performing services “where we are sixth or seventh or eighth best. We don’t need to offer programs that other people in the community are doing better. We need to support them.”

Gold said he’s given himself six months to change The Federation’s culture and governance, and also said he expects to increase campaign revenues by at least 10 percent this year.

“Quite honestly, quietly we have an even bigger number in mind. But at least 10 percent,” Gold said. “And if we don’t achieve it, somebody ought to call us on the carpet about it. We ought to be held accountable.”

His first big test will be Feb. 10, when The Federation hosts its Super Sunday fundraiser.

The Bloods, the Crips and the rabbi

In 1970, Abraham David Cooper was arrested by Washington police during a sit-in across from the Soviet embassy and put behind bars in a jammed holding cell. The then-20-year old Yeshiva College student came away from the experience with two important observations that may have changed his life:

  • First, that he didn’t like being in jail.
  • Second, that the established Jewish organizations had been missing in action in what Cooper considered the defining Jewish struggle of the time.

In the intervening 37 years, Cooper has made a point of being present in many of the world’s hot spots, and, at the same time, managed to stay out of prison. And during roughly the same time span, he has played a key role in creating one of the most activist Jewish organizations in the world, working outside the boundaries of the traditional organized community structure.

Ordained as an Orthodox rabbi, Cooper’s formal title today is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC). That curious academic rank is a holdover from his initial work with the SWC-affiliated Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, but it hardly defines his role and influence on this Jewish institution whose mission is to promote understanding among the world’s people.

Cooper, 57, is, in most respects, the alter ego of Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and the 33-year-long relationship in which their interaction and division of labor are defined by a kind of shorthand telepathy, requiring no organizational chart or chain of command.

But if today the SWC is a worldwide presence — with seven offices at home and abroad, a landmark Museum of Tolerance, a reported 400,000 member families, high-profile donors and entr�(c)e to presidents and kings — a considerable share of the credit goes to Cooper.

While Hier is the ultimate decision maker and both men respond interchangeably, and instantly, to the endless real or perceived crises facing Israel and the Jewish people around the globe, Cooper does have specific areas of responsibility and expertise.

One is interfaith relations; another is the burgeoning area of cyberspace. Cooper testified before Congress as long as six years ago that the increasing sophistication of Internet propaganda by hate groups, white supremacists and Islamic extremists was exerting growing influence among younger people.

From his Pacific-oriented vantage point in Los Angeles, Cooper is the point man for relations with Japan, China and other Far Eastern nations, introducing Holocaust exhibits, exposing anti-Semitic literature, and establishing ties with political and religious leaders.

“Abe is the Wiesenthal Center’s ambassador to most of the world,” Hier said.

This “ambassador” also shows up in some unexpected places and situations.

Last year, for instance, Cooper was drafted as witness to a peace treaty signed by the so-called O.G.s (original gangster), the founding elders of the Bloods and the Crips, two of the most fearful rival gangs in South Los Angeles.

He was recruited for the assignment by Katy Haber, a London-born film producer, who has been working for many years with at-risk youth and the homeless in the African American community.

Haber had met Cooper while working as a docent at the Museum of Tolerance and had no doubt that he was the right man to win the confidence of the gang members.

“Who would be more appropriate than a man who works on conflict resolution with world leaders?” Haber asked rhetorically. “Besides, he is a man of deep intellect, extraordinary sensitivity, and one of the major humanitarians in our community.”

In the introductory meeting and after guiding the O.G.s through the Museum of Tolerance, Cooper complemented the broad lesson of mutual understanding with concrete specifics on community activism, finding jobs and how to deal with authorities.

Cooper said he has no particular formula or technique for bringing opposing sides to the table or bridging differences.

“Part of it is my background as a New Yorker, an American and a Jew, which has given me a certain quiet self-assurance,” he said. “Another part is the example set early on by my father.”

By way of contrast, Cooper was on the other side of the world last summer, on the Indonesian island of Bali. He was there as the organizer of the “Tolerance between Religions” conference, which brought together such unlikely participants as leading Muslim, Hindu and Jewish religious leaders, victims of the three faiths targeted by suicide bombers, and a Holocaust survivor.

In one speech, carried by Arab networks and worldwide, former president Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, upbraided Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his denial of the Holocaust.

Cooper’s organizing partner was C. Holland Taylor, CEO of the Libforall Foundation, which works with Muslim religious, educational, business and entertainment leaders to stem the spread of Islamic extremism.

After the Bali conference, Taylor and Cooper led a high-profile peace delegation from Indonesia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, on a weeklong mission to the Jewish state.

The experience impressed Taylor, who in a phone call from Indonesia described Cooper as “a brilliant strategist, who grasps immediately what can be done and who can juggle a dozen issues simultaneously.”

In the relationship between the Wiesenthal Center’s two top men, Cooper’s loyalty and admiration for Hier is unquestioned, but there is one easily noticed distinction between the two Orthodox rabbis.

As the Center’s clout has increased over the years, so has criticism of the institution within the general, and Orthodox, communities.

Complaints, mostly sotto voce, are aimed at the center’s alleged intrusions on the turfs of older community organizations, its political influence, the high salaries paid its top executives, violations of standards for nonprofit organizations, alarmist tactics and, in Israel, plans to build a $200 million Center for Human Dignity/Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem.

In practically all these criticisms, the target is Hier, who is sometimes described, in awe, fear or derision, as a “New York street fighter.” By contrast, Cooper gets off unscathed.