Hebrew U jumps to No. 17 in ranking of top Asian universities

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ranked No. 17 in a new ranking of Asian universities — the highest-rated Israeli university on the list.

The university’s placement in the 2016 Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings released Monday represented an eight-spot jump from the previous year.

The Hebrew University also was the highest-rated university in the Middle East.

“To emerge as Israel’s number one university and 17th across the entire continent of Asia is a major achievement and something to be celebrated,” said Times Higher Education Rankings Editor Phil Baty in a statement provided to The Hebrew University. “Hebrew University has shown particular strength in research impact – our analysis demonstrates that its research is pushing the boundaries of knowledge and is being cited globally.”

The ranking of Asia’s 200 top universities judges the institutions on the basis of 13 criteria, including teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

The National University of Singapore topped the list, followed by the same country’s Nanyang Technological University and Peking University in China.

Israel placed six universities among the top 100, making it the second-largest number from a Middle Eastern country behind Turkey with seven.

The other Israeli schools were Tel Aviv University, ranked No. 20; the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa (36); Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan (67); Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (79), and the University of Haifa (87).

Hospitals and universities try to stay above the fray

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Coexistence quietly continues in Jerusalem.

Ahmed Eid, an Arab, and Elchanan Fried, a Jew, admit that there are sometimes tensions between them. Fried is the Director of the Surgical ICU unit at Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, and Eid is the director of surgery. But the tensions have nothing to do with politics.

“We both have big egos,” Fried told The Media Line. “We often work on the same patients and we have to figure out how to do that.”

That is what happened recently when a 13-year-old Israeli arrived at Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, after he was stabbed by a 13-year-old Palestinian. The young Israeli was clinically dead and had no pulse. Both Fried and Eid saw the young patient.

“He had a small stab wound near his shoulder but that didn’t explain why he was in such bad condition,” Dr. Ahmed Eid, the head of the Department of Surgery told The Media Line. “I asked to turn him over to see if there was a wound there. Then blood started coming from this wound, and I understood that a major blood vessel was cut or injured.”

It was touch and go for a few days, but now the patient is out of danger and “spinning us around on his little finger,” as Fried said.

Eid and Fried (pronounced “eed” and “freed” — their names even rhyme) have an obvious affection for each other.

“I spend more time with him than I do with my wife,” Fried said laughing. “We’re good friends. He is a good man and an excellent physician. It’s a great honor to work with him.”

Both men have five children, and they occasionally socialize. Eid calls Fried “Elhi”, a nickname for Elchanan, and admits they have different political ideas.

“Maybe I and Elhi have contrary opinions about general policy – what we should do with the settlements and whether Israel should withdraw,” Eid told The Media Line. “I think we will have a big difference. But we don’t discuss this in our daily work, and we work very closely. We both work on the same patient.”

It is impossible to ignore politics in Israel. In 2002, a relative of Fried’s and a father of seven young children, Rabbi Elimelech Shapira, was killed in a West Bank shooting. The perpetrators have not been found.

Fried, who wears a skullcap showing he is religiously observant, says he checks his politics at the door. As the hospital is close to several large Palestinian villages, more than half of the patients are Arab. About a quarter of the medical staff is also Palestinian.

“There’s no difference whatsoever who the patient is,” Fried says emphatically. “A patient is a patient is a patient. What’s going on outside doesn’t cross the fence here in the hospital.”

Recently, some Israelis have called for doctors to withhold medical treatment from attackers. They argue that Israel should not expend precious resources on trying to save terrorists. Both doctors say they vehemently oppose adopting this idea.

In Hadassah Ein Karem several of the attackers are receiving treatment, although they are sometimes shackled to their beds and have armed guards posted at their door. Their families are not allowed to visit them.

Next to Hadassah Mount Scopus, Arab and Jewish students attend classes together at Hebrew University. While there have been some pro-Palestinian demonstrations at other universities, it has been quiet here. Yet some students say they feel the tension.

“Here on campus there haven’t been many problems but you can feel the tension,” Basel Sader, a Palestinian student from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina told The Media Line. “When the Arab students come to university they have to cross through a lot of checkpoints.”

He said there has been a dramatic increase in security at the university.

“Since we’re Arabs for most of the people here we’re terrorists or potential terrorists,” he said. “That’s completely wrong. We’re here to study and go home.”

Jewish students say that while they feel safe on campus, they worry about the environment outside.

“We are surrounded by Arab villages and it is frightening,” Aviran Cohen told The Media Line. “We’ve had a lot of stabbings nearby. Inside there is a lot of security but outside, going to the bus, it is scary.”

BBI and UJ join up to forge a home for pluralistic Judaism in landmark merger

The University of Judaism (UJ) and Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI), two Southern California institutions that for the last 60 years have educated and inspired Jews of all ages and affiliations — and that have both at times struggled through financial and leadership troubles — this week will announce that they have merged into one entity, to be known as the American Jewish University.

With two campuses, a roster of about 15,000 students and a remarkable range of educational, experiential, cultural and political offerings, the American Jewish University instantly becomes one of the largest and most unique Jewish educational institutions in the country.

The merger allows Brandeis to expand an educational mission that for years has been stagnating under the weight of financial insecurity and struggling lay leadership. It also allows the UJ to reintroduce itself to a local community that can’t seem to shake the image of UJ as a lower-tier university affiliated with the Conservative movement. As American Jewish University, it hopes to emphasize its pluralistic identity and the non-academic educational and cultural offerings that in fact form a much larger part of the institution than the graduate and undergraduate schools.

In its new configuration, these two Jewish academies hope not only to boost their California image, but to raise a national profile with an organization that now includes graduate and undergraduate schools, a rabbinic school, two overnight camps, kosher conference and retreat facilities, an extensive listing of adult courses, a commitment to the arts, Israel programming — and 2,800 acres in the Santa Susana mountains that include a working farm with goats, horses, chickens, cows and some crops.

“This is an important move in the direction of centralizing resources and talent in the Jewish community,” said David Myers, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA. “If we assume that Jewish literacy is an important ingredient in Jewish survival and continuity — and we educators believe it is — this could be a significant development in reinvigorating the cultural landscape of L.A. Jewry.”

The boards of both the UJ and BBI quietly approved the merger last week and are expected to have signed the closing contract this week, which according to California law will take effect 20 days after closing.

Under the new structure the two organizations will combine all assets and liabilities into the new American Jewish University, which will include the Familian Campus in Bel Air and the 2,800-acre BBI Campus in Simi Valley. They will have a combined operating budget of $25 million, $80 million in endowment, and land assets estimated to be in the high tens of millions of dollars. BBI has long been touted as the largest Jewish-owned property outside Israel.

The two boards will merge, with UJ chairperson and businessman Peter Lowy as president and Linda Gross, BBI’s chairperson, on the executive committee. UJ President Robert Wexler will continue as president, and most BBI programs will fall under the Department of Continuing Education currently run by the UJ and headed by Gady Levy. Gary Brennglass, executive director of BBI, will oversee operations and facilities, possibly at both campuses. Initially, all staff members will be retained and blended.

BBI’s two flagship programs — Camp Alonim, with about 1,200 kids and staffers in the summer, and BCI, a four-week institute for college-aged adults — will retain their own advisory boards within the board of the American Jewish University.

The UJ has operated in the black for the last several years, and UJ Chairperson Lowy, the CEO of mall giant The Westfield Group, says BBI’s financial troubles are moderate, and neither a deterrent nor a surprise — all financial, environmental, legal and other issues of both organizations have been fully disclosed. There is no major issue of deferred maintenance on the property, says Lowy, and American Jewish University is committed to investing capital in improving the BBI campus, starting with helping Camp Alonim wrap up a $6.5 million campaign to build a new dining hall, which already has raised about $4 million.

Brandeis’ Best Option

BBI, a camp and conference facility that both runs its own retreat programs and rents the facility out, approached UJ about the merger last June, not out of desperation or distress, leaders say, but out of a desire to liberate itself from constant struggle and to grow to the full potential its vision and assets imply.

“We could have continued doing what we were doing on our own, but we couldn’t do it big,” said Brandeis chairperson Linda Gross (see story page 16). “It would take a long time to build the infrastructure and the financial support to grow, and this offers us an opportunity to be so much more to this community.”

Some wonder whether the larger institution will simply swallow BBI, spelling the end of a patented approach to experiential Jewish education.

“Clearly this is a great coup for UJ,” said Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research. “In any corporate structure when you do something like this, one identity emerges more strongly than the other, and clearly the UJ is the stronger of those identities … I know what Brandeis would like to hear, but this sounds more like an acquisition than a merger to me.”

Gross, a Harvard MBA who worked at McKinsey and Company consulting, acknowledges that this is not a merger of equals, but she insists it is not an acquisition. She said she is confident that BBI’s vision and programs will reach greater numbers, and that more people will make their way to the BBI campus.

But she also acknowledges that this might be difficult for BBI’s multigenerational following of passionate and loyal supporters.

“There is a question of giving up our independence and giving up our identity, and there is an emotional loss that this is not going to be the Brandeis-Bardin Institute anymore. But it will always be the Brandeis-Bardin campus; it will always be that same place, that method, those programs. This is something people are going to have to get comfortable with,” she said. “I hope that people see this was a courageous thing.”

A merger at this level is unusual in the Jewish organizational world, where institutional egos and a tendency to over-process make cooperation rare. But this idea arrived at a time when both institutions were ready for change.

Different Tack on Campus Challenge

Speeches about “holocaust in Israel.” Academic boycotts. Divestiture campaigns. Professors who intimidate their students. Jewish speakers whose rhetoric is anti-Israel.

These program initiatives and phenomena that have seemingly overwhelmed our universities during the past few years have certainly transformed the campus quad into a zone of controversy. Some activists have gone so far as to characterize this onslaught as “Anti-Semitism 101” and have pressured the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to issue guidelines for confronting the scourge of campus anti-Semitism.

Indeed, the above occurrences are undeniable, as are the vile expressions of Jewish bigotry at a select number of institutions of higher learning. However, rather than focus on the catastrophic response, which is traditionally Jewish, it behooves us to observe that Jews are actually experiencing a Golden Age at American universities and that the general atmosphere at the most prestigious schools is positive and supportive of Jewish interests.

The past 15 years alone have seen the appointment of a score of Jewish university presidents and chancellors, some of whom openly identify with the Jewish community. And apart from the proliferation of Jewish studies programs, Holocaust courses and hundreds of Judaic scholarly volumes published under academic imprint, 20 new Hillel facilities have been dedicated in the last decade alone. Moreover, fraternities and sororities at major campuses, many of which were known to exclude Jews due to anti-Semitic bias, are now reported to have a Jewish membership in excess of 30 percent, while the traditionally Jewish Greek houses (with the exception of Alpha Epsilon Pi) are no longer exclusively Jewish.

As for the small number of notorious and outrageous incidents, the fact is that everyone who is concerned with the issue can identify each one of the targeted campuses, as well as the particulars of the specific brouhaha. If this is indeed the case, then the supposed widespread orgy of hate unleashed on the campus was actually limited to a few well-publicized events.

As such, rather than locking ourselves into a war-footing and training students to strike back and retake the campus, we ought to develop a strategy consistent with the campus reality that is appropriately creative, intelligent and nonconfrontational. In short, we should use our sekhel (common sense) and not only our prideful emotions.

At UCLA, where calm has generally reigned, that has indeed been our approach. And, recent events lend support to my contention that a positively oriented program is a more effective means of meeting the political challenge. For example, when we learned that Muslim students were planning to set up a mock checkpoint on Bruin Walk, we determined that our message would stress Israel’s pursuit of peace, and I decided to appear on campus with a sign declaring: “Peace for Israel. Peace for Palestine. Share the hope.”

As I stood holding the sign aloft with student eyes curiously fixed on the “old” man with the unconventional proclamation, whose hands were heavy and tired, a student approached and asked if he could help me by holding up one side of the sign. Only too pleased to receive assistance, I turned to the young man and asked him his name.

“George,” he replied.

“And where are you from?”

“Gaza,” he replied, continuing, “in fact, this is the only statement that I agree with. I reject the Muslim students’ tactics, and I disagree with the Jewish students who are in their face. Our goal should be to build understanding and cooperation. There’s no reason that UCLA students, no matter what their ethnic or religious backgrounds, should be fighting with each other. Yours is a better way.”

Subsequently, I learned from George that he was an engineering graduate student and that his father was born in Gaza, his mother in Ramallah. He was a veteran of UCLA’s interethnic struggles, having spent seven years as an undergrad and grad on the campus and had no patience for the politics of confrontation.

His heart-warming and mature reply confirmed and affirmed my strategy of stretching out a hand to our “hostile” neighbors and seeking to build a new coalition. (Coalition building, by the way, is an activity that is completely absent from the playbook of the so-called advocacy groups whose approach has dominated the public policy agenda of the Jewish Community over the past few years.)

George was/is a brother-in-peace. And our immediate goal ought to be to seek out other like-minded and gutsy brothers and sisters who can function as healing agents between the contending communities. Then we will be able to replace the politics of confrontation with the politics of reconciliation.

I believe firmly that if one party to the conflict sincerely opens his/her heart to the other, by acknowledging their narrative while maintaining the integrity of one’s own position, then the foreskin of the opponent’s heart will begin to peel away. This is the legacy of the Jewish tradition, and this is the way of the rodef shalom, the pursuer of peace.

In fact, the good will that was generated that afternoon on campus persisted into the evening, when I went to hear Malik Ali, whose anti-Semitic vitriol had roiled the waters at UC Irvine just the previous week. I found that he had chosen to tone down his vituperative rhetoric, due to a request by the Muslim student leadership. Moreover, two Arab students who knew me from previous encounters apologized to me for sponsoring such a scurrilous hater and pledged not to invite him again.

The following week saw a continuation of Hillel’s constructive engagement, as we sponsored the visit of former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon. Contrary to his own expectations, there were no counterdemonstrations as he had experienced at other universities, only polite, if challenging questions.

Our objective in extending the invitation was to expose students and faculty to a true national hero, who as Israel’s foremost military strategist was also consumed by the moral consequences of his decision-making. He distinguished himself in his provocative and poignant analysis of “The Ethics of Counterterrorism.”

Finally, to cap two weeks of intense programming, Hillel hosted Dr. Nayyer Ali, former board chair of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and co-editor of a volume on human rights in Islam, as its Friday night after-dinner speaker. His topic: “What Every Jew Should Know About Islam.”

Ali was magnificent as he presented both a basic history and theology of Islam in an organized, comprehensive and self-critical manner. He was not at all leery of pointing where things went wrong. Ali was also brutally honest when he openly admitted that the Arab world bears some responsibility for its Jewish refugees and was vigorously pragmatic and compromising when he resolutely advocated for a two-state solution.

But the highlight of the evening came in the question-and-answer period, when Ali’s remarkably irenic personality became apparent and in the private discussions that ensued for hours thereafter. For among the more than 100 attendees that evening were a group of Muslim student leaders, some of whom were clearly present to monitor the speaker and expected that he would denigrate Islam, much as their invited Jewish lecturers do when they speak of Israel or the Jewish community.

To put it baldly: They were blown away by the openness, the warmth, the welcome and, above all, the reluctance to engage in aggressive political debate. The conversations on that particular Shabbat of peace were of future dialogue, cooperative projects, Jewish and Muslim religious practice and of the joint effort expended on behalf of the kosher-halal dining program in the residence halls.

Students began the difficult heart-opening process: sharing their stories, curiously questioning the unknown “other” about his/her background, marveling innocently at the commonalities between Islam and Judaism.

It was a promising beginning, a small step on the long road to building trust between the two communities.

When I arrived home that night at 12:15 a.m., I knew that there was truly another path.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is director of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA and an instructor in sociology and Jewish studies at UCLA.


First Person – Granny and Sharansky

When my friends Cami and Howard Gordon invited me to an informal dinner with guest speaker Natan Sharansky at their Pacific

Palisades home, my first thought was, “Oh, good, I get to see their new house.”

It just seemed slightly more interesting than Sharansky’s topic: the Caravan for Democracy, a program that educates high school students about Arab-Israeli conflicts.

From memory, I could recall the broad strokes of Sharansky’s story. In the early 1970s, he was denied an exit visa to follow his wife to Israel. He protested and joined the Refusnik movement. He was imprisoned in Siberia and wasn’t released until nine years later, in 1986 (OK, I Googled that date). He was released during the Reagan administration and reunited with his wife in Israel. Thinking about this made me realize that people talked a lot about “Soviet Jewry” back then. Now neither word gets a lot of play.

Sharansky was a wonderful speaker who opened with: “I spent nine years in a labor camp in Siberia and nine years in the Israeli Knesset and I don’t know which was harder.”

It got a big laugh. You have to admire a man who didn’t leave his sense of humor in the gulag.

Next, Sharansky turned his attention to Ariel Sharon, who was still in a coma. Sharansky talked about the importance of having a prime minister who was born in Israel but still saw himself as a “Jew first and an Israeli second.” He praised Sharon for that. And then later called him “a gambler.”

Sharansky’s main topic was the rise in global anti-Semitism — not just in Iran, whose president has declared that Jews should be “wiped off the map,” but also in the United States. He was especially concerned about anti-Semitism on American college campuses and spoke about educating high schoolers to know the truth about Israel and understand its importance.

It was depressing to hear about rising anti-Semitism and as the talk started to wrap up, I had an additional sad thought. I desperately wanted to call my grandmother and tell her that I had heard Sharansky speak. But I can’t. She died in 1987.

Granny followed Sharansky’s story closely and I remember her deep concern over his persecution. She loved science and as a mathematician and a chess player, Sharansky was her kind of guy. So after the questions, I went over to see if I could meet him. He was surrounded by five men discussing politics and, for a moment, it seemed like I would never have a chance. (You know, Jews….) Then the group broke up and Sharansky was suddenly alone. I moved in quickly.

I said, “I just wanted to say something sentimental. In the ’70s, my grandmother–her name was Frances Cohn — worried so much about you. And she was so happy when you were released. She kept a photo of you from a magazine for a long time. I remember it. You had a big smile and very red cheeks. She would have been so proud to know that I got the chance to meet you.”

Sharansky nodded nicely, but seemed unsure how to respond since I hadn’t asked a question. He shook my hand and I leaned in and kissed him on both cheeks. He started to turn away, then thought of something and turned back to me with his finger in the air. He said, “I knew there were people who cared about me and that helped get me through.”

I couldn’t really speak after that. For so long, I had known one side of the story. Now I knew the other. More than 30 years ago, there was a beloved grandmother living in Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Brighton, Mass., who felt connected to a young Russian mathematician imprisoned in Siberia. She worried and feared for his life. But what I learned this week is that the young Russian mathematician in Siberia felt the connection, too.

Writing this, my chest still feels constricted. It’s a feeling both global and personal. I wish Israel were at peace and anti-Semitism was declining. And I wish I could call Granny and tell her that I met Natan Sharansky.

Nell Scovell is a writer-director living in Los Angeles.


Cutting Israel Ties Sparks U.K. Outrage

The backlash against the decision by a union of British university lecturers to sever ties with two Israeli universities began almost as soon as the controversial motion was passed.

A wave of condemnation met the decision by the 48,000-member Association of University Teachers (AUT) to sever links with Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities, following a resolution narrowly passed at the group’s annual conference April 22. Within days, a half-dozen AUT members resigned in protest, and more were expected to follow suit.

Britain’s Jewish community was outraged at the move to censure Haifa, because of alleged discrimination against a radical left-wing professor, and against Bar-Ilan, because of the support it provides to a West Bank college. The community quickly mobilized, with the Board of Deputies, the representative body of Anglo Jewry, announcing the formation of a Campaign Group for Academic Freedom to coordinate activity across a range of community groups in hopes of overturning the decision.

Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said he was “most distressed” by the motion, which he called “a sad day for British universities. The AUT has betrayed the academic principles it supposedly represents.”

Opposition also came from outside the Jewish community, with British newspapers united in their condemnation. The Times of London described the step as “a mockery of academic freedom, a biased and blinkered move that is as ill-timed as it is perverse,” warning that it could provide an excuse for increased anti-Semitism.

A spokesman for Universities U.K., a higher-education action group, said that the organization “condemns the resolution from AUT, which is inimical to academic freedom, including the freedom of academics to collaborate with other academics.”

One of the initiators of the motion — a weaker version of one that failed to pass the AUT last year — was Birmingham University lecturer Sue Blackwell, a long-time pro-Palestinian campaigner.

Blackwell told JTA that she had received many messages of support for the campaign against “apartheid” Israel.

But the motion has proved to be embarrassing not only for Blackwell’s own university — which immediately distanced itself from the boycott — but for her union. It rapidly became clear that implementing the boycott could put universities in direct contravention of their equal opportunity policies. AUT General Secretary Sally Hunt issued directions to members to take no action until further notice.

“The national executive will issue guidance to local associations on the implementation of the boycotts of the two Israeli universities in due course,” Hunt said. “Until this guidance is issued, it is stressed that members should be advised to not take any action in relation to a boycott which would place them in breach of their contract of employment.”

The British campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions is an issue that has refused to go away. It was initiated by an April 2002 letter in the Guardian newspaper written by a husband-and-wife pair of British Jewish academics, Steven and Hilary Rose.

Signed by 123 scholars, the letter proposed that since “many national and European cultural and research institutions regard Israel as a European state for the purposes of awarding grants and contracts,” it was time to declare a moratorium on any further support “unless and until Israel abides by U.N. resolutions and opens serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Coming at the time amid Operation Defensive Shield, Israel’s West Bank incursion following months of increasing terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians, the proposed boycott sparked a fierce international debate, and prompted an online counterpetition that quickly gathered support.

Further controversy followed that summer when Mona Baker, a linguistics professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, removed two Israeli scholars, Gideon Toury and Miriam Shlesinger, from her journal of translation studies.

Then, in autumn 2003, Oxford University took disciplinary action against pathology professor Andrew Wilkie after he refused to accept a doctorate application from a Tel Aviv university student. Citing Israel’s “gross human rights abuses” against Palestinians, Wilkie told Amit Duvshani, “I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army.”

The issue reappeared last December at an international conference at the School of African and Oriental Studies at London University on strategies to resist Israeli “apartheid.”

Ronnie Fraser, a math lecturer at London’s Barnet College and chair of the Academic Friends of Israel, said pro-Israel views have become increasingly unfashionable among the British intelligentsia.

The boycott movement also may have been boosted by the complacency of pro-Israel groups, which felt gratified by widespread opposition to the concept of academic sanctions.

“They thought the boycott had gone away,” Fraser said, pointing to the approximately 1,000 signatories to the original boycott letter, compared with around 15,000 signatures on the one rebutting it. Fraser believes the fact that the AUT motion was heard on Passover eve made it difficult for Jewish members to attend.

Other circumstances surrounding the vote have been the subject of scrutiny. Requests for outside speakers to make the case against the boycott were rejected, and there was no time made available for debate.

“The resolutions are as perverse in their content as in the way they were debated and adopted,” said an Israeli Embassy spokesman in London. “The AUT ignored overwhelming academic and public rejection of the proposed motions.”

Moves already are under way to collect the signatures of 25 AUT members to put forward a motion demanding that the boycott decision be overturned.

Fight Against Hate Hits High School


For Jewish students attending colleges like UC Irvine, Duke University or Columbia University, the shock of moving away from home is often only equaled by the shock on encountering virulent anti-Zionism on campus.

From firebrand anti-Israel speakers to demonstrations calling for divestment from the Jewish state, American universities have increasingly become bastions of anti-Israeli sentiment that occasionally bleed into anti-Semitism. Many newly minted freshmen are unprepared for such a hostile environment and often feel besieged or worse, experts say. That Muslim student activists often know more about the Middle East conflict and present their case more persuasively than Jewish students do only exacerbates their frustration.

That’s why some Jewish groups have now trained their sights on reaching out to high school students. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, for instance, has just begun publishing a weekly online newsletter for high school students called the Israel Highway (www.israelhighway.org). At Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, seniors enroll in a semester-long course on Israel advocacy that features guest speakers and an in-depth history of Zionism and the creation of Israel. After years of educating Jewish university students, organizations like Jewish National Fund, the American Jewish Committee and StandWithUs are teaching high school students how to become foot soldiers for Israel and Judaism.

“When students get to campus, there’s a lot of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment that they aren’t exposed to before leaving home,” said Michelle Beller, high school coordinator for Caravan for Democracy High School Edition, a new program created by Jewish National Fund (JNF), Media Watch, American Friends of Likud and other groups. “Rather than not knowing how to respond, we want to infuse them with knowledge about Israel and give them tools to [fight back]. If they don’t do it, who will?”

The Zionist Organization of America has begun offering advocacy training for high school students partly so they aren’t “susceptible to being taken in by the lies of the Arab propaganists [at universities] who call Israel a human-rights abusing horror,” ZOA National President Morton Klein said.

Caravan for Democracy High School Edition made its official debut Oct. 17 in Los Angeles at a JNF conference. An estimated 120 Southland-area juniors and seniors from Tarbut V’Torah, Milken and other religious and secular campuses participated. The event featured sessions on Israeli history and advocating for the Jewish state and included a speech by Ra’anan Gissin, senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In a reflection of Caravan’s growing influence, 350-area high school students attended its second Los Angeles event last November. Natan Sharansky, minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs delivered the keynote speech. StandWithUs, working in conjunction with Caravan, will host on advocacy event for high school students an April 17.

Caravan, which has already offered programs in San Francisco, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, plans to sponsor 25 advocacy sessions around the country for Jewish teenagers in the first half of 2005.

Like Caravan, StandWithUs now focuses an increasing amount of its energy on high school students. During the past 18 months, the group has held advocacy sessions at 35 area high schools, including Shalhevet, Milken and Taft.

At such events, StandWithUs speakers typically tell students about the anti-Israel sentiment they can expect to encounter on campus and how to combat it, said Roz Rothstein, the group’s executive director.

To supplement the high school visits, StandWithUs has begun sponsoring events outside of the classroom to create a community of young pro-Israel activists. In early March, the executive director of Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus, met over pizza at UCLA with 60 high school students to discuss anti-Semitism in the Palestinian media, among other topics. Future events might include concerts, dinners and movies — combined with advocacy sessions — that would deepen the knowledge and develop closer links among the pro-Israel high school students, Rothstein said.

Whereas Caravan and StandWithUS focus on high school students, a program sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) emphasizes those who teach them.

The AJC, in conjunction with Solomon Schechter High School of New York, created Israel Knowledge, Advocacy and Responsibility (IKAR) three years ago, a program that offers lesson plans, visual aids and lecture materials. Among IKAR’s suggested topics for discussion are defending Israel in the media and spotlighting its standing as the sole democracy in the Middle East. Other subjects include the refugee crisis that followed Israel’s creation and the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, said Rebecca Neuwirth, AJC’s director of special projects.

“There’s not very much out there for high school-aged students,” she said. “We’re trying to change that.”

For more information on IKAR, visit www.ajc.org/students/IKAR.asp. For more information on the April 17 StandWithUs event, visit www.standwithus.com.


University Students Returning to Israel


American student enrollment at Israeli universities is on the upswing, some U.S. institutions are mending broken ties, and others are initiating new contacts.

Although given numbers differ, there is broad agreement that after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, enrollment from the United States plummeted 75 to 90 percent in the following two or three years.

Among the hardest hit was the Hebrew University’s popular year-abroad program at the Rothberg International School.

In the last “normal” year before the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000, between 800-900 Americans were in attendance, said Peter Willner, executive vice president and CEO of the New York-headquartered American Friends of the Hebrew University.

By 2002, with the intifada in full swing and after the killing of San Diego student Marla Bennett in the terrorist bombing of the Hebrew University cafeteria, enrollment plummeted to 75.

However, in the current academic year, some 300 U.S. students are on campus and Willner expects the figure to rise to around 400 with the start of the 2005 fall semester. Similar improvements are being reported at Hebrew University’s six-week Hebrew-language summer sessions.

Following the lead of Canada’s University of Toronto last year, the University of Wisconsin, University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Washington University in St. Louis and Smith College have recently resumed their Israel programs.

The improved security situation in Israel and warming relations with the Palestinian Authority are credited for much of the upswing, but major roadblocks remain.

One obstacle regularly cited by American and Israeli university administrators is the U.S. State Department’s continuing warning against travel to Israel. The Caravan for Democracy of the Jewish National Fund recently launched a campaign petitioning the State Department to reconsider the warning.

Privately, some officials at American universities have also noted pressure from their insurance companies not to expose their students to risks in Israel.

Nevertheless, Michigan State and Indiana University have recently launched first-time programs in Israel, said Ilan Wagner, the Jewish Agency emissary for American students, while new academic initiatives are springing up in sometimes unexpected places.

Last summer, while most major American universities were still hanging back, the small Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa launched an innovative program at the Bar-Ilan University Law School, which has drawn students from around the world.

The program, which has won enthusiastic praise from the accrediting American Bar Association, had only four applications in early March of last year. At the same time this year, director Michael Bazyler had already registered 51 applicants for the 2005 summer session.

Other Israeli institutions are also reporting encouraging upticks in American student enrollment, though still lagging well behind pre-intifada numbers.

“At Tel Aviv University, we have seen a slow but steady increase in our overseas programs since 2003-04, even before the current cease-fire,” said program director Ami Dviri. “Currently, we have more than 200 American students, about half of our pre-2001 enrollment, and we expect a larger number this fall.”

Similar percentages hold for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, with 80 Americans enrolled in Middle East and environmental studies in 2000, 31 in 2003, and currently 42 students, according to spokeswoman Courtney Max.

Bar-Ilan University has seen a smaller decline in its pre-intifada enrollment of 60 overseas students in its freshman-year program.

“We have not been as hard hit as other universities because we have a higher proportion of Orthodox students, many of whom stayed on as yeshiva or seminary students,” said Rabbi Ari Kahn, director of the foreign students program.

The Whittier Law School program, the only one of its kind in Israel last year, drew 20 first-year law students from across the United States, Australia and Taiwan, half of them non-Jewish.

Some may have been attracted by the program’s promise of warm Mediterranean beaches, swinging nightlife in nearby Tel Aviv, great shopping and ample time for travel, but the four-week study session was anything but a snap.

An effusive inspection report by the American Bar Association held up the program as a “model” for U.S. law schools and noted that “if anything, the courses were academically too demanding.”

The program’s three courses on “Human Rights in the Age of Terror,” “State and Religion,” and “Holocaust, Genocide and the Law” were taught by Bazyler of Whittier College (whose most notable alumnus was President Richard Nixon) and two Bar-Ilan scholars.

Bazyler, the Siberian-born son of Holocaust survivors, and a leading authority on the judicial aspects of Holocaust restitution, was recently named by his law school as The “1939” Club Law Scholar in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies.

He gives much of he credit for initiating the Israel program to Whittier Law School’s Neil Cogen, whom Bazyler lauds as “the only dean at an American law school who is an Orthodox Jew” — and this at a Quaker-founded college in conservative Orange County.

Beyond the educational benefits, the program proved “a very special experience at a special time” for the young men and women who returned home as “legal and campus ambassadors for Israel,” Bazyler said.

While all students were instructed in security precautions, Bazyler said, “Many told me that they felt safer in downtown Tel Aviv than in downtown Los Angeles.”

One of the students, Wendy Yang, agreed. As a highlight, she recalled a private visit with Aharon Barak, president (chief justice) of the Israeli Supreme Court and, in summing up her stay, wrote:

“This was an eye-opening experience for me as a Taiwanese American and a Buddhist…. The Israelis are among the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met, and the personal connections and closeness is not something found here in America.

“The summer abroad in Israel was the best learning experience anyone could have hoped for,” she continued. “Beyond learning the law there was the courage and identity of a great nation.”

Such word of mouth by many participants has sent applications soaring for the two and four-week courses of the 2005 summer session (details are available at www.law.whittier.edu/israel). A grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will subsidize the tuition of 12 Los Angeles-area students.

At other American institutions, such as the 10-campus University of California, the relationship with Israeli universities has been “on hold” since 2002, although Gary Rhodes, director of the Education Abroad Program at UCLA, said that the decision was under constant review.

He expressed the hope that ties will be reactivated as the security situation in Israel keeps improving and the State Departments travel warning is rescinded.

A trickle of UC students have continued to study in Israel on their own initiative and expense, although credit for courses taken there is no longer granted automatically when these students return to their home campuses.

At universities that have resumed or started their Israel programs, the voices of influential alumni can be a persuasive factor.

Peter Weil is a Los Angeles attorney, a board member of the University of Wisconsin Foundation and former regional president of the American Friends of Hebrew University. He said he visited the Hebrew University and personally checked out security measures on campus.

Well satisfied with the results, Weil reported his findings to Wisconsin administrators, who listened attentively.

“I would encourage alumni of other universities to take similar steps,” said Weil, who also serves as president of the American Jewish Committee chapter in Los Angeles.

In the more hopeful current atmosphere, plans for future enrollments of overseas students in Israel are soaring well beyond pre-intifada years (according to the Institute for International Education, some 4,000 American college students were in Israel in 1999-2000, while the Jewish Agency cites a more modest number of 1,154, not counting yeshivot).

The Israel on Campus Coalition, made up of 26 Jewish organizations, launched a “Let Our Students Go!” campaign last fall that aims for 6,000 U.S. students in Israel within six years.

Vastly more ambitious is the MASA (Hebrew for “Journey”) initiative, approved by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Jewish Agency in December.

Though no timetable is given, MASA’s goal is to eventually up the enrollment at Israeli universities to 20,000 students from the United States and the rest of the Diaspora.


Jewish Studies Popular With Non-Jews Around the World

Contrary to widespread fears of a rising global wave of anti-Semitism, "we, as Jews, have many more friends than we think we have," said professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, president of the Association of Jewish Studies, which recently held its 34th annual meeting in Los Angeles.

The Dec. 15-17 conference attested to the growth of Jewish studies on university campuses in the United States and around the world, with an increasing number of non-Jews joining the ranks of scholars and students.

In Europe, as in China, there is "the phenomenon of Jewish studies without Jews," said Schiffman, a man of rabbinical mien with a kippah and full black beard, who chairs the Skirball department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Newly discovered Jewish archives are energizing research in the former Soviet Union, and some excellent scholarly work is coming out of German universities, he said.

Jewish studies in the United States really took off after the Six-Day War in 1967, a time that also brought a new awareness "of the centrality of Jews in the general culture," Schiffman said.

"Jewish studies are no longer a sideshow, but are now a respected part of the academic mainstream," said the NYU professor, whose own specialty is the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Current anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian agitation at U.S. colleges has not affected the popularity of Jewish studies but does indicate a need for more emphasis on Israel in the curriculum, Schiffman said.

One practical yardstick of an academic program’s viability is the number of jobs open to rising young doctoral graduates. At the Association of Jewish Studies (AJS) meeting, which also serves as a job fair, 50 openings at various universities were advertised.

"There is neither a glut nor a drought" in the supply line, Schiffman observed.

The AJS membership stands at 2,000 professors, librarians, archivists and graduate students, with Israelis representing about 20 percent of the number. There is also a scattering of European and Latin American members. The Los Angeles meeting drew nearly 800 participants.

Early Jewish studies centers — the one at NYU started in the 1930s — tended to concentrate on classical biblical and religious studies. For a while, in the second part of the last century, it appeared that preoccupation with the Holocaust might preempt the whole field, but a balance has now been achieved, according to Schiffman.

A recent trend points to the popularity of cultural and gender studies, and papers presented at the AJS meeting analyzed Jewish Hollywood and included such topics as "Food, Gender, Sex in Jewish Identity."

There is a growing interest in historical and political issues at Israeli institutions. Israel also hosts the triennial meeting of the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Another trend at U.S. universities is to cross the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines in so-called area studies. For instance, in Middle East studies, historians, economists, linguists, political scientists and sociologists will integrate their special perspectives in analyzing the geographic region.

Schiffman believes that the early Jewish studies centers not only proved that intellectual objectivity is possible in ethnic studies, but served as models for Black, Chicano and Asian centers. On the other hand, he credits the civil rights movement of the 1960s with providing "a greater comfort level with ethnicity" for all minorities, including Jews.

In addition, all such centers help disprove the concept of the American melting pot. "There are some things you can’t melt down," he said.

Schiffman has written eight books and has edited many others, but lately, has found himself much in demand as a television expert and commentator on Jewish topics.

It’s an awesome feeling, he said, "to know that some 18 million people are listening to your remarks on the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Second Temple period."

Overseas Studies Suffer

Many Jewish students are opting not to study abroad in Israel this year due to the tense security situation.

Major universities, such as Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have had to readjust their programs and secure funds in order to continue their programs and ensure enough classes so their students can obtain college units for their coursework.

American attendance is down 200 percent this year at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, the largest program in Israel for overseas students, which has been in existence since the 1950s. With only 100 Americans scheduled to attend, down from 300, there are "serious budgetary problems to the Rothberg School," according to Roy Rosenbaum, vice president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University, its fundraising arm.

With losses this year of about $2 million, the school is in a crisis because it counts on student tuition in order to run. As a result, American Friends began an emergency national alumni fundraising campaign to raise the $2 million.

The Hebrew University is not the only university seeing a significant drop in enrollment, although it is the biggest. Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, which usually has a small program, has an even smaller program this year. According to Courtney Max, the associate director of overseas students, there are only 35 students enrolled in the program this year, as opposed to the 65-70 students that usually attend. While their overseas program is intact, students will be faced with less classes from which to choose.

Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv is faring better with a drop-off of 20 percent. Debra Newfeld of Bar-Ilan said that they are planning to maintain "as full and enriching a program for the students as last year."

Some students, like Joshua Kornblitt, a junior at UCLA, are still opting to go. Kornblitt said he’s going to study at Hebrew University for his second semester despite the worries and protests of his parents. "My connection to Israel is too strong," he said. "I can’t wait to go."