College and your child


The following are some of the basic postulates about America, religion, society, morality, the arts and Israel that are taught at almost every American university.

America:

• The United States is no better than any other country, and in some important ways it is worse than many. 

• On the world stage, America is an imperialist country, and domestically it mistreats its minorities and largely neglects its poor.

•  “American exceptionalism” and overt displays of patriotism are examples of American chauvinism. 

• America is a racist country. You white students are racist — and you either acknowledge this or you are in denial.

• Non-whites, however, cannot be racist — because whites have power and the powerless cannot be racist.

• The South votes Republican because it remains racist, and the Republican Party caters to that racism.

• Women are victims — of men. Blacks are victims — of whites. Latinos are victims — of Anglos. Muslims are victims — of Christians. Gays are victims — of straights. 

• The American Founders were sexist, racist slaveholders whose primary concern was preserving their power and wealth.

• The original meaning and intent of the Constitution are either unknowable or irrelevant to today. 

• The Electoral College should be abolished in order to transform America from a republic to a democracy.

• America’s dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was racist and a war crime.

Religion:

• God is at best a nonissue, and at worst a foolish and dangerous belief. 

• Only people who reject science believe that the universe was designed.

• Religion has killed more people than any other idea, group or movement in human history.

• Christianity, in particular, has been a malevolent force, its history consisting largely of inquisitions, crusades, oppression and anti-intellectualism. Islam, on the other hand, is a religion of peace. 

• Criticism of Christianity is therefore enlightened. Criticism of Islam, however, is a form of bigotry known on campus as Islamophobia.

• The good done by Christians in forming the Western world is not attributable to Christianity. 

• Evil committed by Christians is due to Christianity. Evil committed by Muslims is not due to Islam. 

Society and Morality:

• The reason for Third World poverty is that Western nations exploited Third World nations through colonialism and imperialism.

• The great moral conflicts are between the rich and the poor and between the powerful and the powerless, not between the good and the evil (that is dismissed as Manichaeism).

• The state is the most effective vehicle to creating a humane society. Therefore the larger the state, the more good it will do.

• Big corporations are bad. Big unions are good.

• Capitalism is rooted in selfishness and is structured to benefit the wealthy.

• Health care for profit is morally wrong.

• War is ignoble. Pacifism is noble.

• Human beings are animals, differing from “other animals” only in having more developed brains. 

• Sexual orientation is biologically determined. Gender is not. 

• Therefore, men and women, including mothers and fathers, are essentially interchangeable. The notions that married mothers and fathers are the parental ideal and that mothers and fathers bring unique things to a child are heterosexist and homophobic.

• The greatest vehicle for women’s happiness is career satisfaction, not marrying and making a family.

• The primary causes of criminal violence are poverty and racism.

• Man-made carbon emissions are dramatically heating up the planet, and this will lead to global catastrophe.

Arts and Literature:

• There is no actual meaning to a text. Texts mean what the reader perceives them to mean.

• There is no better and worse in literature and the arts. The reason universities traditionally taught Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Bach — rather than, let us say, Guatemalan poets, Sri Lankan musicians and Native American storytellers — was not that they were the best but because of Western “Eurocentrism.”

Israel:

• Israel’s settlements on the West Bank are the primary cause of the Middle East conflict. 

• Israel is an apartheid state, morally little different from apartheid South Africa.

Many readers agree and many will disagree with all or virtually all of these propositions. But these are the propositions that almost every university teaches students (outside the departments of business, math and the natural sciences). 

Reporting on one study of college faculty, the Washington Post’s media reporter Howard Kurtz (himself a liberal), wrote: “At the most elite schools. … 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative.” Kurtz went on to note that 84 percent of instructors were pro-choice, 88 percent of professors want more environmental protection “even if it raises prices or costs jobs” and “65 percent want the government to ensure full employment, a stance to the left of the Democratic Party.”

“The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and religious studies, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative.” 

As Chris Mooney, a left-wing writer, wrote in the HuffingtonPost: “Higher education is a liberal and secular force in our society.”

If you are a parent who agrees with these postulates, you are likely to deem college worth $100,000 or more. You feel good knowing that the university is reinforcing your values and convictions in your child during the course of the four most impressionable years of his or her life. 

On the other hand, if you are a parent who does not hold these positions, you are not merely wasting an enormous sum of money; you are paying an enormous sum of money to have a college inculcate views and values that are counter to your most precious values and ideals. What you can do about it will be the subject of a future column.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Helping grads on their Jewish journey


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five challenges facing the American pro-Israel community in the next four years


The American pro-Israel community has a lot of work to do. While many pro-Israel organizations in the United States, including AIPAC, Christians United for Israel, Stand with US and Hasbara have been extremely effective in defending the Jewish State, there is always more we can do. Here is a list of the five greatest challenges facing the American pro-Israel community in the next four years.

The University

Unfortunately, the place where we send our children to grow up and obtain wisdom, the university, is the hotbed of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in America. Who can forget the exchange between David Horowitz and an anti-Israel student at UC San Diego a couple years ago? Mr. Horowitz asked her, “I’m a Jew. The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. [Are you] for it or against it?” The student answered “For it.”

Incitement against Jews and Israel at the university is not unusual at the hate-fest known as “Israel Apartheid Week,” where anti-Semites are invited to rail against the Jewish State. At one event at UC Irvine, Imam Amir -Abdel Malik-Ali—who has called Jews “the new Nazis”— blamed the financial crisis on “Alan Greenspan, Zionist Jew, Geithner, Zionist Jew, Larry Summers, Zionist Jew.” A few years ago, after visiting several universities in the U.S., Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh described what he observed: “I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah…What is happening on the U.S. campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation’ as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel.”

Up against such hate and propaganda, the pro-Israel community must fight back. The Horowitz Freedom Center has been very effective, launching important counterattacks like Islamic Apartheid Week and the Wall of Truth, which expose the hateful lies and hypocrisy of Israel’s enemies. The Jewish community must continue to give money to on-campus Israel advocacy organizations, and we must all redouble our efforts to make sure that Israel is adequately defended and promoted at American universities.

The Fringe of American politics

Thank God a majority of elected representatives in both parties strongly support the State of Israel. These members must make sure that the views at the fringe of their parties do not become mainstream. The Republican Party must guard against the likes of Ron and Rand Paul, who would like to see America pull back from the world stage and cease its support for Israel. Fortunately, this movement does not seem to be gaining steam, as every poll shows that the Republican Party overwhelmingly supports Israel.

Unfortunately, however, any serious reflection by pro-Israel Democrats must conclude that there is a problem within their leftwing ranks. Though most pieces of pro-Israel legislation overwhelmingly pass both Houses of Congress, those who abstain or vote in the negative are disproportionately Democrats. In 2009, the House passed a resolution condemning the Goldstone report–which had accused Israel of war crimes—by a vote of 344 to 36. 33 of the 36 who voted against the resolution were Democrats. In 2010, 333 members of the House signed onto a letter re-pledging their support for the American-Israel relationship. 7 Republicans and 91 Democrats withheld their signatures. Furthermore, according to a recent Gallup Poll question–“Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?”—78% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats answered Israel. This poll was reaffirmed when at least half the Democratic delegates to their convention in August expressed their disapproval of Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of Israel.

I am not writing this to score political points for Republicans, but to reveal a real problem within the Democratic ranks. This is so disappointing, because the liberal case for Israel is such a compelling one. Israel treats its minorities better than any other country in the Middle East—out of the 120 member Israeli Knesset, 16 are not Jewish. During its short existence, Israel has welcomed millions of immigrants from all over the world, including Africa and Russia. Israel has a very liberal supreme court, which routinely places restrictions on its military in times of war. Israel is also leading the way with game changing green innovations that will reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, Tel Aviv annually hosts a gay pride parade! What other country in the Middle East would be so inclusive?

American Jewish liberals must do a better job of making this case forcefully and passionately to their Democratic allies.

Apathy

Jews shouldn’t be ashamed to say that support for Israel ranks among their most important political priorities. If it doesn’t, then there is a problem.

According to an American Jewish Committee survey, when asked what political issue was most important to them, 4.5% of American Jews said U.S- Israeli relations, and a paltry 1.3% said Iran’s nuclear program. This is very troubling. If American Jews don’t care enough about Israel’s survival, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, then who will?

Jews in America clearly underestimate how important a strong and prosperous Israel is to the collective Jewish psyche. After all, the welfare of Israel is not disconnected from that of American Jews. If something terrible were to happen to Israel, or should there be a mass migration of Jews out of Israel, the status of the Diaspora would be negatively impacted forever, including in the United States.

A strong Israel with a strong military also serves as a deterrent against terrorist attacks against Jews all over the world. Furthermore, a strong Israel is in America’s national self-interest, as Israel is on the front line in the war against radical Islam.

Using these arguments, the pro-Israel community must do a better job of encouraging our friends and family to become more politically active, in order to promote a strong American- Israel relationship.

Iran and the Economy

America has been mired in an economic crisis since 2008. As such, American citizens and its elected representatives have been almost single mindedly focused on improving the economy. The race for the Presidency has largely been defined by whom could best promote a strong economy, even though the most important Constitutional powers of the President reside in the realm of foreign policy. This is understandable. However, it is up to those in the pro-Israel community to ensure that preventing Iran—which is led by a fanatic who denies the holocaust and wishes to wipe Israel from the earth–from obtaining a nuclear capability is not overlooked.

Unfortunately, this issue has not been addressed adequately to date. Though tough sanctions have been passed against Iran, it continues to spin its centrifuges. We in the pro-Israel community must insist that a credible American military threat be understood by Iran as a reality. This is the only way they will peacefully give up their nuclear weapons program.

To this end, we must write letters to our Congressmen, join pro-Israel organizations like AIPAC, give money to pro-Israel causes, and encourage our friends and family to do the same.

Israeli Delegitimization

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign—which encourages people to refrain from doing business with Israeli companies and universities –was launched against Israel several years ago. The campaign is meant to portray Israel in the same light as apartheid South Africa, a country that institutionalized segregation. Of course, this is complete nonsense, as more than one million non-Jews in Israel enjoy the same rights as Jews.  Furthermore, as cited above, there are 16 non-Jews serving in the Israeli Knesset.

Many college professors and pop music figures in America have embraced this campaign. Roger Waters, the former lead singer of Pink Floyd, is spearheading it. He refuses to perform in Israel and is encouraging his musical cohorts to join him. The Pixies, Elvis Costello, The Gorillaz and Carlos Santana have followed his lead, and have all canceled their scheduled performances in Israel. Famed American actress, Meg Ryan, refused to attend an Israeli film festival, because of what she viewed as Israel’s indefensible actions in response to the Gaza flotilla.

This is deplorable. The pro-Israel community must make it known that boycotting the only Jewish State will not go unnoticed. It is one thing to criticize Israel, which, in proportion and without demonizing, is acceptable. However, it is totally unacceptable to try to destroy Israel economically, which is the BDS campaign’s primary goal.

The pro-Israel community should not support those who engage in the BDS campaign; don’t buy their CDs, don’t go to their shows, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panel votes to recognize West Bank college as full university


The West Bank will have its first full university, pending the go-ahead of the Israeli military.

The Ariel University Center on Tuesday was recognized as a full university by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which handles educational concerns in the West Bank. The center, which has more than 10,000 students, Jewish and Arab, would be called Ariel University.

The 11-2 vote came despite a recommendation against approval by the planning and budget committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, as well as opposition from the country’s other seven universities and public figures who objected to upgrading a college located in the West Bank.

The final authorization for making the Ariel center a university will be made by the Israel Defense Forces’ central commander in the West Bank, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon. According to The Jerusalem Post, Alon is expected to back up the Judea and Samaria council’s decision.

The Judea and Samaria council was established in 1997 after the Council for Higher Education refused to discuss academic issues concerning the West Bank, according to Haaretz.

On Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that his ministry would earmark extra funds for the Ariel University Center, so that it would not cut into the funding of Israel’s other universities. Steinitz said he will ask the government to grant an allocation of some $5 million to $7.5 million for the next two fiscal years, with plans to increase the sum in future years.

Last month, the presidents of Israel’s universities called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the establishment of an eighth research university in Israel, citing a scarcity of resources. In a letter to Netanyahu, the presidents said that an eighth university would deal a “fatal blow to the higher education system in general, and the universities in particular.”

In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and to reexamine its status within five years. Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Support for Ariel school as university comes before vote


Israel’s Education Minister expressed public support for turning the university center at Ariel into a full university, and the Finance Ministry announced extra funding in advance of a committee vote on the issue.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced Sunday that his ministry would earmark extra funds for Ariel, so that it would not cut into the funding of Israel’s seven other universities.

Steinitz said he will ask the government to grant an allocation of some $5 million to $7.5 million for the next two fiscal years, with plans to increase the sum in future years.

He added that approving the upgrade would be “a historic move that would contribute a great deal to the academia in Israel and would even have an important contribution to culture, economy, society and the strengthening of Ariel.”

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced his support for granting the Ariel school full university status on Sunday, saying it would be in line with previous Cabinet decisions on the school.

The Judea and Samaria Higher Education Council is set to vote Tuesday on Ariel’s status.

The vote will come after the Planning and Budgeting Committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education recommended earlier this month to defer the decision until a comprehensive evaluation is undertaken in the next year, according to Israeli media reports.

In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and to reexamine its status within five years.

Last month the presidents of Israel’s seven existing universities called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the establishment of an eighth research university in Israel, citing a scarcity of resources. In a letter to Netanyahu the presidents said that an eighth university would deal a “fatal blow to the higher education system in general, and the universities in particular.”

Other public figures have opposed the upgrading of the Ariel center because it is located in the West Bank. The center has faced academic boycotts in the past.

The Ariel University Center has more than 10,000 students, both Jewish and Arab. Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Tel Aviv U. students marking Nakba face counter protest


Students at Tel Aviv University who marked Nakba Day with a ceremony were met with a counter demonstration.

Campus employees and other students protested the ceremony Monday marking what the Arabs call the “catastrophe”—the date on the Gregorian calendar when Israel achieved statehood in 1948—outside the main gate of the university.

The 400 participants in the demonstration were met with about 200 counter demonstrators, according to Ynet. At least three people were arrested.

The ceremony was not allowed to be broadcast on loudspeakers or a sound system, and organizers had to provide several hundred dollars for six security guards for the event.

The event was scheduled to include an alternative version of Yizkor, the Jewish prayer of mourning, as well as speakers reading the names of pre-1948 Palestinian villages inside what today is Israel and a moment of silence, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar on Sunday tried to convince the university to revoke its permission for the event during a conversation with university President Yossef Kalupter.

“The education minister is of the opinion that the decision is wrong and infuriating,” Saar’s spokesman told Haaretz.

Jewish and Arab students organized the event.

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.

Students stage walkout protest of Oren’s GW speech


A group of protesting students silently walked out of a speech by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, at George Washington University.

Near the beginning of the speech Monday night in Washington, more than a dozen students walked out of the room, with one holding a sign that read “Oren supports Colonialism.” Some audience members applauded lightly while Oren continued with his presentation.

According to GW Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, Oren asked the students to stay and participate in dialogue, but they formed a small protest outside the event. Kaiser-Blueth said the protest did not disrupt the event and told JTA that it was a “wonderful evening.”

While no student group has identified itself with the protest, GW does host a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. A Muslim Students’ Association also exists at the university; Kaiser-Blueth said Hillel has strong, friendly relations with the group.

Students have protested Oren’s speeches at several campuses, most notably in February 2010, when 11 Muslim students at the University of California, Irvine, shouted slogans at Oren and walked out. Ten of the students were found guilty of misdemeanors for disrupting the speech and were sentenced to community service and three years of probation.

Cornell, Technion joining for top tech campus


Cornell University and The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will partner to create a world-class applied science and engineering campus in New York City.

The NYC Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island is set to combine the strengths of both institutions.

Cornell President David Skorton and Technion President Peretz Lavie made the announcement Sunday.

“By joining forces in this groundbreaking venture, our two great universities will employ our demonstrated expertise, experience and track record of transforming new ideas into solutions to create the global avenues of economic opportunity and tech leadership that Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg envisions,” Skorton said.

An integral part of the campus will be the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, a 50-50 collaboration between the two universities to form a graduate program to focus on bringing products quickly to the market.

The partners will be joining in a full-scale campus—not a satellite of either school—to open in 2012, initially in either leased space or existing Cornell facilities in New York City. The NYC Tech Campus is planned to grow to more than 2 million square feet on Roosevelt Island, accommodating nearly 2,000 graduate students and 250 faculty, as well as visitors and corporate researchers. Cornell and the Technion will collaborate in teaching, educating and advising students.

The universities’ proposal will be presented to the city by Oct. 28.

ZOA complaint seeking probe of Rutgers


The Zionist Organization of America has filed a complaint against Rutgers University alleging that the school fostered a hostile environment toward Jewish students.

The complaint requests that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigate the New Jersey school for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The complaint was filed, said ZOA’s President Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, the director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice in a statement, “only after numerous serious efforts were made to get the university to respond to a long pattern of anti-Semitic hostility on campus, and the administration refused to do so.”

The brief names a number of examples, including one in which Jewish students allegedly were charged admission to a free event and a student was violently threatened on Facebook, as well as citing an alleged anti-Israel bias in the university’s Middle East studies program.

Rutgers denied the allegations in a statement, calling the assertions “factually inaccurate and significantly distorted,” and said the university “welcomes the opportunity to share with the U.S. Department of Education the accurate facts about the events that the ZOA has misrepresented in its allegations.”

Last October, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reclassified campus anti-Semitism as prohibited discrimination covered by the Civil Rights Act. In March, the Office of Civil Rights launched its first investigation into campus anti-Semitism at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In April, the American Jewish Committee in a statement criticized what it called the “misuse of Title VI to suppress anti-Israel speech,” saying the approach was “dangerous.” The statement, however, alluded to one of the instances at Rutgers outlined in the ZOA complaint as possibly warranting investigation.

AJC and ZOA were among the Jewish groups that had urged Duncan to issue the new Title VI guidelines last year.

At Berkeley campus, Jewish students on far left and far right on Israel talk about their motivations


It’s March, which means the days get longer and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heats up on campuses across North America with the annual staging of Israel Apartheid Week.

Last year, pro-Israel activists countered Apartheid Week events ranging from anti-Israel speeches to the staging of mock Israeli army checkpoints with pro-Israel events on 28 campuses highlighting Israel’s diversity and progressive character. This year, more campuses are expected to join in.

One of the most politically active campuses in the nation has been the University of California, Berkeley. Last year it was the scene of a protracted debate over an anti-Israeli divestment bill that tore apart an already fractured campus community and left many students shaken, others angry and still others too exhausted to care anymore.

In recent days, JTA spoke to four Jewish student activists at Berkeley about what motivates them on Israel-related issues. The students span the political and religious spectrum, from an ardent Zionist to a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, from Orthodox to secular. They all have strong Jewish backgrounds—three are day school graduates, and the fourth is an Israeli army veteran.

Here are their stories:

Jacob Lewis, leader of Zionist student group

Jacob Lewis (Photo by Matthew White)

While 100 people chatted noisily in the crowded room at Berkeley where Arab affairs expert Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University was about to start his lecture, Jacob Lewis was off in the hallway quietly unfolding more chairs for latecomers.

That’s his style. The 20-year-old sophomore isn’t the firebrand one might expect of the president of Tikvah, an avowedly Zionist student group that broke away from Hillel three years ago because its founders thought the established Jewish student organization on campus wasn’t pro-Israel enough.

“We’re the Zionist voice at UC Berkeley,” Lewis says firmly. “We advocate for Zionism as the national movement for self-determination of the Jewish people in their homeland, Israel. We were founded because no one else on campus was making that argument. No one was standing up to the rhetoric.”

Tikvah brings pro-Israel speakers to campus. Its activists distribute leaflets next to Israel Apartheid Week events and spearhead letter-writing campaigns to protest anti-Semitism. But they also present the diversity of Israeli culture and society by hosting events like a recent demonstration of Krav Maga, a form of self-defense developed in Israel.

The point, Lewis explains, isn’t that Israel is all good, but that it’s not all bad either.

That’s his main beef not only with Israel’s detractors on campus, like the Apartheid Week activists, but also with Hillel-affiliated groups, like the one that brought to campus speakers from Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli army veterans who oppose Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Lewis said they “nitpicked details” of a very complex situation, and thereby generated anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hostility instead of thoughtful conversation.

“They make the delegitimization of Israel on campus much more legitimate because they’re seen as a mainstream group, part of Hillel,” Lewis charges of the group that brought Breaking the Silence to campus.

On the other hand, Lewis is wary of right-wing Jewish community members who spew anti-Islamic hatred at meetings attended by Tikvah students. He doesn’t want them controlling the Israel dialogue on campus either.

“We don’t believe Islam is the cause of our problems,” he says.

Referring to the adults from the larger community, Lewis adds, “When people come and talk about ‘what all the Arabs want’ or ‘this is what Islam says,’ that’s difficult for us to deal with.

“We walk a very fine line,” he acknowledges. “Different elements from the community want us to do different things. But we’re 100 percent a student organization. We don’t really care what other people think we should do. We know what we need to do.”

Tikvah exists only at Berkeley, Lewis notes.

“Berkeley is an absolutely crazy place,” he says. “The rhetoric is much more venomous. The campus is much more sympathetic to a leftist worldview. And we don’t get the same support from the Jewish community that you might get on other campuses.”

Yet Lewis chose to attend Berkeley after 12 years of Modern Orthodox day school in Chicago precisely because of the Bay Area’s diversity.

“In high school I was surrounded by people who believed like I did, but I was usually to the left of my friends,” he says. “Then I got to Berkeley and I got involved with Tikvah right away. I feel like I’m wrong no matter where I am.”


Noah Stern, student body president active in Hillel

Noah Stern (Noah Stern)

Noah Stern has many demands on his time. The 21-year-old senior is an active member of Hillel, a fraternity brother at Delta Chi—and president of the student body. Plus he tries to squeeze in a little skiing.

Stern is the third Hillel activist in 10 years to be elected student president.

“We’re all Jewish guys from Los Angeles, and all in the same frat,” he says.

As president, Stern must navigate between his responsibilities to the entire student body and his personal Jewish convictions. It was easier last year, he says, when as a student senator he could represent his own constituents during the acrimonious debate over an Israel divestment bill.

Stern voted against the bill and went on to co-author a substitute resolution that did not single out Israel. The first bill passed but was vetoed by his predecessor; the second was voted down.

Now as president, Stern is happy the issue hasn’t resurfaced this year.

“My feeling is there’s acknowledgment that perhaps the [student assembly] is not the most appropriate venue for international politics,” he says.

Stern has a fine pedigree for a student activist: His father is a Reform rabbi, his mother works for the Jewish Federations of North America, and he attended Jewish day schools and Jewish summer camp throughout his childhood. He spent a year after high school in Israel with Kivunim, a Jewish program that encourages multicultural literacy and understanding.

In the same vein, last year he and a Muslim student co-founded Breaking Bread, an organization that sponsors coexistence dinner discussions on campus. The Jewish-Muslim dinner last December focused on cultural and religious similarities rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I won’t pretend it solved the conflict, but this is how I prefer to engage with the issue,” Stern says. “In general I’m not a protester. It presents a black-and-white position on issues that are very gray.”

As student president, even if he liked holding signs on Sproul Plaza, the arena of choice for Berkeley protesters since the early 1960s, he would be enjoined from lending his voice to a particular cause.

Israel Apartheid Week doesn’t stress him out, and he’s equally sanguine about Jewish students who protest Apartheid Week events.

“These are students that believe adamantly in their causes and are visible about it,” Stern says. “That’s how we do it here. Israel Apartheid Week, Israeli Peace and Diversity Week—it’s the Berkeley way.”

For his own part, he is way too savvy to speak, or act, off the cuff.

Asked about Peter Beinart’s New York Review of Books essay, which raised establishment hackles by suggesting that young Jews don’t have the same attachment to Israel and the Jewish community as their elders, Stern says Beinart was right on.

“I don’t think the adult Jewish community is as in tune with Jewish college students as they sometimes think,” he says, measuring his words carefully. “Strategies that might have worked in the past don’t necessarily meet the needs of today’s students.”

Not all Jewish students care about Israel, Stern says, nor should they be forced to. Those who do care don’t always agree, and that’s fine, too.

“The fact that different Jewish groups with difference stances on Israel exist on campus shows there’s a need,” he says.

Reb Zalman archives given to Colorado U.


The personal papers and other materials of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, have been given to the University of Colorado.

The material, including audio-visual material, have become part of the Colorado University-Boulder Library Archives, according to the Boulder Jewish News, after being in the care of Naropa University, which was working with the Reb Zalman Legacy Project of the Yesod Foundation to preserve, develop and circulate the rabbi’s writings and teachings.

The Jewish Renewal movement has infused modern Judaism with mystical teachings and contemplative practices influenced by Hasidism.  The movement is run by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal in Philadelphia.

Zalman was born in Poland and grew up in Vienna. The family settled in Brooklyn after fleeing the Nazis; Zalman was ordained by Lubavitch in 1947, received a Master of Arts degree in the Psychology of Religion in 1956 from Boston University and a Doctor of Hebrew Letters degree from Hebrew Union College in 1968.

“The acquisition of such an important archive makes the University of Colorado a world hub for the study of Jewish Renewal, specifically, and Jewish mysticism more generally. We are excited to be building the university’s resources with the archive of this important religious leader and thinker,” David Shneer, associate professor of history and director of CUs Program in Jewish Studies, told the Boulder Jewish News.

Zalman is currently professor emeritus at both Naropa and Temple University. He retired from the World Wisdom Chair at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, in 2004.

Indiana U. fires suspect in anti-Semitic attack


Indiana University reportedly has fired an employee who was identified as a suspect in one attack in a series on Jewish targets.

Mark Zacharias, the scholarship coordinator of IU’s Hutton Honors College Scholarship, was let go after working at the university for seven years, The Herald-Times in Bloomington reported Tuesday. He has been charged with felony institutional criminal mischief.

Zacharias had turned himself in on Dec. 17 and was released after posting a $500 bond.

He was suspended without pay on Dec. 9, The Associated Press reported.

Zacharias is accused of using a rock to break the staff directory glass display case for the Robert A. and Sandra B. Borns Jewish Studies Program on Nov. 30.
He has not been officially connected to the other recent incidents on the campus.

The other incidents include rocks thrown through the windows of two campus Jewish student centers and a rock thrown through the window of an apartment above the Chabad Jewish student center just off the university campus. In the latter incident, the rock nearly hit a student and put a hole in the opposite wall.

Also, eight religious volumes in Hebrew removed from shelves at a university library were urinated on in eight bathrooms in the library area, according to reports.

Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and secular universities


The Wall Street Journal recently published a column about ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) Jews in Israel who do not work for a living. Sixty-five percent of ultra-Orthodox men ages 35-54 do not go to work. Instead, they study Torah while demanding increasing amounts of money from the taxes paid by Israelis who work for a living.

The author of the column, Evan R. Goldstein, wrote: “Voluntary unemployment has become the dominant lifestyle choice for [Charedi] men. And even if there was a desire to work, [Charedi] schools leave students unprepared to function in a modern economy.”

If these data are correct, this is not only a problem for Israel, it is a problem for Judaism.

It is a problem for Israel for the same reason that able-bodied citizens receiving welfare has been a problem for America. It is economically unfeasible to support large numbers of nonworking citizens, and it is morally wrong for citizens who work and pay taxes to have their money forcibly taken from them (i.e., taxes) to pay to people who could work but who choose not to.

The reason for this problem in Israel is that in 1948 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion excused 400 yeshiva students from serving in the army, arguing that after the Holocaust it was critical for the Jewish state to support some of its citizens to concentrate on Torah study.

Few Jews, inside or outside of Israel, would oppose continuing this policy for a handful of scholars. But for hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Jews to demand to be supported — and protected — by other Jews (and, for that matter, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel as well) is entirely different.

It is also a problem for Judaism. It presents religious Jews, Torah and Judaism in a terrible light. Of course, most Orthodox Jews in Israel work as hard for a living as other Israeli citizens. But the largest group of Israelis that chooses not to work while demanding public funds to sustain them is the ultra-Orthodox, who also constitute an increasingly large percentage of the Israeli population.

As Goldstein notes in his article, the Shulchan Aruch, the Orthodox compendium of Jewish law, declares that “a respected and impoverished scholar should have a trade, even a lowly trade, rather than being in need of his fellow man.”

Goldstein quotes Israeli Orthodox scholars who claim that there is no precedent in pre-1948 Jewish history for an entire community devoting itself to Torah scholarship, let alone getting paid to do so:

“ ‘Torah study has always been for spiritual, not material, sustenance,’ Zvi Zohar, a professor of law at [the Orthodox] Bar-Ilan University, tells me. Moreover, the notion that a man’s primary obligation is studying, and not providing for his family, is ‘diametrically opposed’ to Jewish tradition, Mr. Zohar says.”

Goldstein cites an additional problem for Judaism in state-supported Torah study for vast numbers of men: He quotes professor Shlomo Naeh of the Jewish Studies Department of the Hebrew University, who says that it has harmed the quality of Jewish thought. Writes Goldstein: “Ultra-Orthodox self-segregation has cut ‘learning off from life,’ he wrote in a recent essay. As a result, the current generation of Torah scholars ‘is far from being one of the greatest … despite the existence of tens of thousands of learners.’ ”

This “self-segregation” — these ultra-Orthodox men rarely interact with non-Orthodox Jews, let alone with non-Jews — has another negative consequence: These men gain and therefore impart little wisdom. One might say that insularity and wisdom are mutually exclusive.

The irony here is that a similar problem exists at Western universities. There, too, many individuals who teach in the liberal arts or “social sciences” live off public funds (they get paid to teach a few hours a week, but otherwise the parallel is apt), and spend nearly their whole life in a cocoon (a secular left one), interacting almost only with people who live and think as they do, just as the Charedim do.

Most secular left professors and most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva scholars are mirror images of one another: A life devoted to the study of increasingly irrelevant matters, with the result that both groups usually lack wisdom and therefore too often produce nonsense, sometimes harmful nonsense.

Both groups venerate brainpower and knowledge over wisdom and common sense. The fact that Jews are drawn to each of these lifestyles — that of the yeshiva scholar and secular professor — reflects a real problem in Jewish life, whether ultra-Orthodox or ultra-secular, namely, worship of the intellect.

I saw this at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva I attended and at the Ivy League university I attended. Men with fine brains and immense knowledge about narrow areas of life taught me little about real life.

The intellect cut off from the real world, whether in a Charedi yeshiva in Israel or at almost any modern Western university, is not good for society. The issue is not Charedim or professors per se. The issue is Charedim and professors who leave the world to live in yeshivas or academia their whole lives. Thus, ultra-Orthodox like Chabad and others who do not want their followers to spend their lives only studying, and professors in junior colleges, who often come from outside of academia or who combine outside work with teaching, are not the problem.

The lesson is that far more important in life than intellect are common sense, goodness and the wisdom produced by a life that comes into regular contact with the Other. The Other in the Charedi yeshiva world is the non-Orthodox Jew and the non-Jew; the Other at the university is a conservative Christian or a conservative, period.

There is, however, one important difference between ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and universities. Yeshivas are honest about their primary goal: to produce an Orthodox Jew. Universities never acknowledge their primary goal: to produce a secular leftist.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.

More attacks hit Jewish targets at Indiana Univ.


The desecration of holy texts was among three new attacks on Jewish targets at Indiana University that come in the wake of two earlier incidents.

A rock was thrown Tuesday morning through the window of an apartment above the Chabad Jewish student center, located just off the university campus, nearly hitting a student and putting a hole in the opposite wall. Four non-Jewish students live in the Chabad apartment.

Less than an hour later, a rock was thrown at the staff directory glass display case for the Robert A. and Sandra B. Borns Jewish Studies Program, causing damage.

On Monday evening, eight religious volumes in Hebrew removed from shelves at a university library were urinated on in eight different bathrooms in the library area, according to reports.

Although no students have approached his office, Dean of Students Pete Goldsmith said he and his office are reaching out to the Jewish community and offering their support.

“It’s something that shouldn’t happen in the university community,” Goldsmith told the Indiana Daily Student newspaper. “It’s a place of tolerance.”

Uniform and plainclothes police officers have stepped up their presence around the vandalized areas, according to reports. The FBI has been brought in, since they appear to be hate crimes.

Bloomington police reportedly have a description of a suspect, allegedly seen at the site of one of the incidents. Reportedly it is a bearded male aged 40 to 50.

The rock thrown last week through the window of the Chabad House is now a piece of the foundation of the Jewish student center’s new 12-foot menorah, the Daily Student reported.

Meanwhile, Jewish students at the University of Ottawa have rebuilt a metal and wire menorah after their 10-foot-high menorah was stolen and later found badly damaged.

L.A.’s Jewish Community Library Likely to Move


A coalition of Jewish Community Library supporters say leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have spurned their efforts to create an independent library and to stop a proposed merger with the American Jewish University.

Since March 2008, leaders of Federation, which funds the library through the Bureau of Jewish Education, and AJU have been exploring a merger of the 30,000-volume collection at the Jewish Community Library with AJU’s 115,000-volume library at the Mulholland Drive campus. AJU plans to expand its library facilities in the next few years and to open the library up to the community.

BJE leaders say the merger is the only way to keep the collection public, since Federation has been steadily reducing its funding for the library, which draws about 2,000 patrons a year to its third floor suite in Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

BJE will not request funding to run the library for the 2010 fiscal year, BJE executive director Gil Graff told The Journal.

But library supporters say AJU shouldn’t be the collection’s only option. They have formulated a plan that would set the library on an independent course, to open a freestanding, centrally located facility, possibly with satellite facilities, that would increase community access to the library. They are not asking for funding from Federation – just to entrust it with the collection.

The supporters say a merger with AJU would sacrifice the library’s identity as a community resource.

“I just don’t think an academic library that sits on top of a hill, over a freeway, which you can’t even see from the street, which few people ever go to is the place to put a community library,” said Sherrill Kushner, an attorney who is heading up Save the Jewish Library, which also includes Orange County’s Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie.

But Federation officials say this plan is just another version of a 2006 plan that was already analyzed and rejected by a BJE task force set up to determine the library’s future. In 2008, that task force recommended pursuing the possibility of a merger with AJU. Those talks have been under way since June 2008.

Issues on the table include what to do with duplicate volumes, which could be placed in other libraries or institutions where the community could have access to them, Graff said. Still unclear is what would happen to the Slavin children’s library. Graff says BJE will not be asking for funding for that entity in 2010, either.

Eliezrie and Kushner say Federation leaders seem sold on the AJU plan, and they have had a hard time getting anyone to discuss their approach. While Federation vice president Beryl Geber said she is planning to meet with Eliezrie, Eliezrie said 10 days worth of emails to Geber, Graff and Federation President John Fishel have not yielded indication that a meeting will take place.

“The library should be an independent oasis for everyone,” said Eliezrie, who as Chabad’s liaison to United Jewish Communities is well seasoned in working with Federation. “I’ve been shocked that they won’t even talk about it. Let everyone meet and argue and hear what we have to say.”

Graff expressed pessimism about the ability of the grassroots effort would be able to take on the responsibility for the community collection with no facility, supporters or infrastructure to manage a library in place.

“It’s not clear to me that this is something as attractive as an entity with a history of 60 years and a campus,” he said, referring to AJU.

Kushner counters that it is difficult to fundraise without any indication that they could have access to the collection. The BJE and Federation will jointly decide whether the AJU merger will go through, and then the Federation’s Education Pillar will decide whether the new entity would get funding, and how much. Under a new structure put into place in Federation last year, Federation agencies do not get any entitlements and any non-profit can apply for funding – including AJU or an independent library.

The idea that AJU could get funding for absorbing the community collection is appalling to Abigail Yasgur, who resigned from her position as Jewish Community Library director in protest to the merger.

“Giving the library to the AJU serves only the interests of the AJU and the Federation, but not the interests of the people.  The arrangement serves the AJU by enlarging its collection. (While the specifics of the Federation-AJU arrangement remain unknown, should the Federation also decide to give funds to the AJU to take the Library, that would be scandalous,)” she wrote in an editorial submitted to the Jewish Journal. “The arrangement serves the Jewish Federation by lowering or eliminating the cost of running the library, which it has borne in major part.  But the losers in this deal, which has not been subjected to public scrutiny, are you and me and everyone else who seeks a Library that serves the people.”

Geber disagrees. She says the merger will give more people more access.

“What we are talking about is not the disappearance, but the expansion of the Jewish Community Library, and it relocation,” Geber said. “It means an expansion in the possible number of hours it is open, in the number of volumes, in the space it will have. These are all things it can’t do here.”

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Israeli study: As negotiators, man smart, woman smarter


Forget the men when it comes to business negotiations. Women may be more skilled than their masculine counterparts, according to a new study by an Israeli researcher.

The doctoral study, by Yael Itzhaki of Tel Aviv University (TAU), indicated that in certain groupings, women offered better terms than men to reach an agreement and were good at facilitating interaction between the parties.

“Women are more generous negotiators, better cooperators and are motivated to create win-win situations,” Itzhaki said.

Itzhaki, an adjunct lecturer at TAU’s Faculty of Management at the Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration, carried out simulations of business negotiations among 554 Israeli and American management students at Ohio State University, in New York City and in Israel.

The simulations, which were designed to examine how women behave in business situations requiring cooperation and competition, involved negotiating the terms of a joint venture, including the division of shares.

During the course of her research, Itzhaki discovered that while women in mid-management positions are often held back from promotion for being too “cooperative” and “compassionate,” men have begun to recognize the skills of their female colleagues and are now incorporating feminine strategies into their negotiating styles. “The men come in and use the same tactics women are criticized for,” she said.

Although both men and women can be good negotiators, Itzhaki emphasizes that there should be more women in top management jobs. Women have unique skills to offer, she said: They’re great listeners, they care about the concerns of the other side, and they’re generally more interested in finding a win-win situation to the benefit of both parties than male negotiators.

woman smarter william shatnerThese are especially desirable traits in today’s business world, which is calling for service improvements for customers and clients. Women today are earning more top positions in banking because of this trend, Itzhaki says.

In part, she says, women don’t reach CEO positions because they lack the right professional experience for the job and never enter the pool from which top positions are drawn. Managers commonly choose successors and colleagues who are most similar to themselves, Itzhaki explains. As a result, men are more likely to promote men.

Itzhaki, who is the founder of Netta, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement of women in the workplace, is currently advising Israeli companies on how to take affirmative action. Enforcing equal opportunity laws is one concern, but her advice also responds to concerns beyond the law. Are women being heard in corporate boardrooms? Does the company have policies that measure the amount of work accomplished and not merely hours on the job?

A lot of women don’t want to “fight” to be recognized, she said, preferring cooperation over competition. But more women in management can translate to a healthier bottom line, Itzhaki said.

“Businesses need to develop an organizational culture where everyone is heard, because women’s opinions and skills can give businesses a competitive edge,” she said.

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Donors push Bar-Ilan to head of the class


“I wish I had 10 percent of the success with the Israeli government as I have with private donors,” sighed Moshe Kaveh, the president of Bar-Ilan University.

His sentiment is understandable. Together with Israel’s six other research universities, Bar-Ilan has been in a prolonged financial wrestling match with the country’s budgetmakers, which, Kaveh warned, could well lead to another academic strike in the fall.

On the other hand, private donations to Bar-Ilan are at a new high, with the West Coast and the Southwestern states leading the rest of the country by a wide margin.

Kaveh was recently in Los Angeles and, in an interview, gave an update on the state of both his university and of Israeli higher education.

Founded 53 years ago, Bar-Ilan is now the largest Israeli university, with 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students, double the number of a decade ago.

To accommodate expanding enrollment, professional schools and research projects, the campus at Ramat Gan has also doubled in size over the last eight years and the campus is one of the showpieces of Israeli higher education.

Although many consider Bar-Ilan an Orthodox bastion, some 60 percent of its students graduated from secular high schools and only 40 percent from religious schools.

Regardless of ideology or academic major, however, every student must spend 25 percent of the curriculum on Jewish studies.

The religious and social mix makes for some lively discussions, inside and outside the classroom, but Bar-Ilan may be one of the few places in Israel, Kaveh said, where the Orthodox and the secular can debate their different perspectives with civility and tolerance.

Bar-Ilan has also seen a boom in new facilities, mostly underwritten by private donations, with Los Angeles philanthropists contributing the lion’s share.

Facilities for studies and research in nanotechnology, medicine, brain research, psychology, languages and Jewish heritage bear the names of such Los Angeles donors as the Gonda (Goldschmied) family, Fred and Barbara Kort, Max and Anna Webb, Lily Shapell, Jack and Gitta Nagel and Milan and Blanca Roven.

Now in the works is the Digital Judaic Bookshelf Project, which aims for nothing less than a complete compendium of Jewish knowledge and thought. Its foundation is the university’s Responsa Project, with some 90,000 questions and answers on all aspects of Judaism.

Private donations now make up 20 percent of Bar-Ilan’s total budget.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t have dreamt of the kind of support we are getting now,” said Ron Solomon, West Coast executive director.

The kippah-wearing Kaveh, 64, is a prominent physicist, who spends every summer conducting advanced research at Britain’s Cambridge University.

His area of scientific expertise is disordered systems and chaos theory, a specialty he finds useful in dealing with the Israeli government, and that brings him to the downside of his current message.

“All we have in Israel are our brains, but what we are seeing is a steady brain drain, mainly to the United States and Europe,” Kaveh said, sipping water in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel.

He puts most of the blame on the government’s budgetary priorities. Currently, the Ministry of Education provides 65 percent of the national university budgets, including faculty salaries, but during the last “seven bad years,” as Kaveh put it, the government has reduced support to higher education by 25 percent.

One result has been that faculty slots have been frozen at all Israeli universities, which means that retiring or departing professors are not being replaced.

Another drawback is that there are no positions available for Israelis who have finished their studies or taken faculty positions at foreign universities but want to return home.

The situation has become so confrontational, that the country’s professors went out on a three-month strike last winter, with Kaveh, as immediate past chairman of the Council of Israeli University Presidents, playing a key role in negotiations with the government.

Some figures point to the discrepancy in funding between Israeli and American universities. The Israeli government budget for all the country’s universities, with their 250,000 students, comes to $1 billion a year, Kaveh said.

By contrast, the University of California, with 10 campuses and 220,000 students, runs on an $18 billion operating budget.

Unless the Israeli government turns its attention to the problem and restores the cut funds, the country’s universities will likely shut down in October or November, Kaveh warned.

He brightened as he returned to discussing the fundamental mission of Bar-Ilan.

“We generally think of the B.A. as the bachelor of arts degree,” he said. “I like to think that B.A. stands for Ben Adam, the Hebrew term for mensch. That’s our real mission, to create a graduating class of menschen.”

Honey, you’re home!


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Student gets into good university. Student obtains esteemed degree. Graduate flounders in unsteady job market; must confront the dreaded possibility of moving back in with her parents, Ima and Abba, whom I dearly love — and come college, was all too ready to leave.

We didn’t see it coming. After school I moved from Boston to Los Angeles with my then-boyfriend, landed a great job close to home and started referring to myself as an “adult.” It worked: the gas and electric bills got paid, my grungy old Converse sneakers became a landing pad for sleek black heels, and we ate well enough to stave off scurvy.

Even when my parents decided to pack up and join me in Los Angeles, the glowing specter of independence still seemed to loom just a few exits down the freeway.

Then everything changed.

My relationship went crunch with the credit market — I grew tired of investing subprime. It wasn’t long before my hours at work were slashed, too, and I began to have nightmares of showing up at my parents’ door with a suitcase.

It’s not like they wouldn’t understand. In fact, when I first called in January to sheepishly report that my job had been cut to part time and I’d need some help buying groceries, my mother suggested I move in with them “for now” with the excitement of a “Kadimanik” inviting her best friend over for a slumber party.

Which is what scares me.

Don’t get me wrong — my parents are wonderful. Growing up, they gave me a Solomon Schechter education; extra napkins in my lunchbox; lessons in ballet, piano and (reluctantly) driving; and the breathing room to move 3,000 miles across the country to start a life of my own. They even gave me eight months before moving into a ranch house a couple blocks down the street.

But something tells me that’s the closest we should get. It’s one thing to drive from Sherman Oaks to Encino on a Sunday morning to meet them at More Than Waffles; it’s another thing to roll out of bed and meet them at the kitchen table.

Ah, the kitchen….

Where so many home-cooked meals might await. Where I could open the fridge and grab an afternoon snack that isn’t ramen (an old habit that should have stopped with college tuition). Where I could enjoy unlimited access to Mom’s kugel and Dad’s matzah brei and, best of all, probably not have to lift a finger.

Adjoining the kitchen, the laundry room. I can almost hear Mom’s casual offer, called out in a singsong key as she passes the extra bedroom I’ve taken over, to wash my white load if I’m too busy. That, and if I need anything at Barnes and Noble, she’s heading over there later today. By the way, how am I doing on tampons?

Not having to vacuum. Not having to pay for cable. Not having to worry about dropping off a rent check on the first of every month.

As blissful as this all sounds, it’s also the point at which the daydream ends.

Something fundamental has changed since the last time I lived under my parents’ roof: I no longer need to be babied. And moving back in with them would mean I’d have to keep close watch on my independence skills to make sure they don’t melt away under Mom’s sure-to-be intense regimen of mothering.

Dating also poses a problem. Newly back on the singles scene, the last first-impression I’d want to make is a three-for-one deal — sign up for me, get my parents for free.

Hanging out at “my place” would mean being prisoners of the only 175-square-foot space in the house where we could get any, ahem, privacy. Otherwise we could cozy up to watch TV on the living room couch, a special, limited-edition model that — did I forget to mention? — comes equipped with two built-in chaperones.

I’d want any serious beau to meet my parents after at least a couple weeks, not when he drops me off after our first dinner-plus-movie outing. And even if the mischpacha didn’t come out to accost us at the car, the barely restrained refrains of “how did it go?” when I walked in would have me heading for that kugel-stocked fridge.

Still, the quandary remains: How do I make it in this dollar-hungry city alone?

The answer: Hire me. I’ll do laundry. I’ll vacuum. I’ll even be your personal kosher chef and make you matzah brei in the mornings (my own signature version). Anything to stave off an onset of that increasingly common condition striking 20-somethings everywhere — Childhood, Part Two.

If only they taught this stuff in school.

Rachel Heller is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and can be reached at rsheller@gmail.com.

Hillel opens doors to non-Jews, campus at large


Hillel centers on university campuses were viewed not long ago as little more than the local Jewish hangout, a place where students could come for kosher meals or socialize with other Jews.

But in a move that Hillel leaders say has been forced upon them by this generation’s altered social landscape, the organization is throwing open its doors to everyone, designing programs that appeal to Jews and non-Jews and hyping its contribution to university — not only Jewish — life.

Examples of the shift are abundant.

Rabbi Joshua Feigelson, the self-described “campus rabbi” at Northwestern University, has designed a campus-wide program called “Ask Big Questions” that stresses the value of Jewish wisdom in addressing contemporary challenges. Other Hillel chapters are organizing interfaith programs, like Jewish-Muslim coexistence houses or trips to rebuild the Gulf Coast. And it’s becoming more common to find non-Jews serving on local Hillel boards or as regular attendees at Shabbat dinners.

The shift is even evident in Hillel’s changed mission statement. Prior to 2006, the organization sought to increase the number of Jews “doing Jewish with other Jews.” Now it seeks to “enrich” Jewish student life, the Jewish people and the world.

“Most of the students that we have are not interested in doing Jewish with other Jews,” Feigelson said. “They’re interested in doing Jewish with their friends who are doing Catholic and Puerto Rican and Turkish — their friends and their family. The challenge for us is how do you create expressions of Jewish life that students will deem to be authentic at the same time as they are not exclusive or tribal.”

Beginning under the leadership of Richard Joel, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life sought to expand its reach beyond the minority of students with strong Jewish identities who naturally gravitated to the local Hillel chapter.

But Hillel leaders say increasingly that to reach the majority who might view the organization with anything from disdain to indifference, it must actively counter the perception that its chapters are “Jews-only” venues.

As it attempts to do so, Hillel finds itself negotiating a tricky line between Jewish particularism and universality, between the twin imperatives of creating uniquely Jewish programming and protecting the fluidity of personal identities that today’s college students see as their birthright.

“We’re in a world that has no boundaries — no boundaries and infinite choices, literally,” said Beth Cousens, Hillel’s director of organizational learning and the author of a 2007 monograph, “Hillel’s Journey: Distinctively Jewish, Universally Human,” which lays out guiding principles for Hillel in the coming years.

“It is just dumb, it’s counterproductive for us to create boundaries,” Cousens said. “The way to make Jewish life vibrant, and help people fall in love with Judaism and discover who they are Jewishly, is not to be afraid.”

Much discussion at Hillel’s recent summit in Washington, D.C., focused on the peculiarities of so-called millennials, the generation born after 1980, and their unique set of cultural dispositions: globally minded, skeptical of institutional authority and unwilling to have their identities narrowly defined.

At the summit’s opening plenary, Robert Putnam, the Harvard University professor who authored “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” described how he could name the religion of every person in his high school class because faith defined the limits of his generation’s dating pool. High-schoolers today, he contended, couldn’t perform a similar feat.

“It’s not that people have stopped being religious, it’s just not that big a deal anymore,” Putnam said. “That line has been somewhat deconstructed.”

For those who worry about the threat of intermarriage to Jewish continuity, the rise of the millennial generation, and Hillel’s response to it, is likely to keep them up at night.

Hillel responds that it simply has no choice, that if an intermarried couple doesn’t meet at Hillel, they will meet at a party or in the classroom where the organization will have no influence on them.

“Hillel is acknowledging that we don’t live in a Jewish bubble,” Cousens said. “If we don’t do this, we’ll be irrelevant.”

Putnam has written extensively on the decline of community in America, and he urged the 675 summit participants — most of them Hillel professionals — to look for ways to create social connections that stretch across the boundaries of race or ethnicity.

In interviews on the sidelines of the summit, evidence emerged to suggest that process is already well under way.

At Syracuse University, the election of a non-Jewish student to the Hillel board occasioned some opposition. But while a meeting must sometimes pause to explain a particular Jewish phrase or practice, student leaders mostly say the addition has been positive.

“I think it’s been a mutually beneficial experience for not only him and the board, but for also the community at large to see that we’ve reached beyond the Jewish student, that we’ve reached beyond what Hillel’s stereotype is, and to bring in other types of people, and to really let ourselves realize that Hillel isn’t just for one type of person,” sophomore Jillian Zarem said. “It’s for as many different people as we can reach out to.”

At the Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, a Korean student who regularly attended Shabbat dinners at Hillel managed to recruit his Jewish roommate who previously wouldn’t set foot inside the building.

“How did he do it?” asked Aaron Weil, the executive director of the Pitt center. “He said, ‘John, I’m a Baptist. I’m Korean. I’m going to Hillel. Don’t you think it’s a little bit odd that I’m willing to go to Hillel and you’re not?’ He didn’t have a comeback for that, and he came in and saw the open community.”

“The benefit to us,” Weil continued, “is by making ourself a place that is open to all, Jews are going to feel more comfortable to go there because they’re not going to a place that is Jewish only. Jews are looking today, in general, for opportunities to be Jewish but not to be separate.”

Some students follow road less traveled to college


The obsession among middle-class Jews about getting into the best possible college is a well-worn stereotype: Parents begin agonizing even before their children are accepted into preschool.

Kids are enrolled in an endless array of extracurriculars — piano lessons, ballet, soccer, sometimes all on the same day — and at the same time they are expected to earn perfect grades and demonstrate their leadership skills and social compassion.

Families shell out money for expensive tutors and test prep classes, as well as private consultants who help lay out the road to that dream university, which will lead to the best graduate program, which will lead to the perfect job, which will lead to an ideal life.

This tired and overplayed stereotype may contain some truth, but the other
parallel reality is that there are also many students who retain enough independent thought to create their own unique paths.

Because in truth, not everyone goes to Harvard, and that’s OK. In fact, not everyone wants to go to Harvard (or Princeton or Yale or Stanford), or even stocks up on enough Advance Placement credits or extracurriculars or unique experiences to get into the Ivy League schools (or UCLA or Michigan or NYU).

“The resume is a reflection of you,” college freshman Alex Popper says. “You shouldn’t be the reflection of resume.”

The Jewish Journal talked to four students who shatter the Jewish college-obsessed stereotype.

Meet Tuvia Korobkin,Tuvia Korobkin who chose yeshiva over college, then got into UCLA Law School. Walla Walla, Wash., was a better choice than Berkeley or Brown for Marnie Burgoyne. It wasn’t until high school that Popper figured out what made him tick academically. And Jessica Tanya Spivak, who took the high school equivalency exam, struggled to achieve mediocre grades until she got to the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University), where last week she graduated summa cum laude.

When it came time for law school, Tuvia Korobkin was in the enviable position of having to choose between UCLA, USC and Georgetown (he got wait-listed at NYU and Penn). So what was his undergraduate experience that so impressed these high-ranking schools?

At Ner Israel in Baltimore, an all-male yeshiva, Korobkin earned a bachelor’s in talmudic law.

While Ner Israel, which is accredited by the state of Maryland, offers the option of — but does not require — taking secular classes at nearby universities, Korobkin chose to focus on his Talmud study and took some summer classes in politics and economics at Santa Monica City College.

Korobkin, who just successfully finished his first year at UCLA Law School, says he and his parents always knew he would go to graduate school. He took an LSAT prep course and aced the test, and that, along with his innate intelligence, was enough to get him into some of the best law schools in the country, even without a conventional undergraduate education.

Korobkin’s childhood education was somewhat fragmented as the family moved to follow his father’s career path (Rabbi Daniel Korobkin is now the spiritual leader at Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Hancock Park). He spent nursery through early elementary school at two San Diego Jewish day schools, then fourth through eighth grade at the Jewish day school in Allentown, Penn., where he was one of four kids in his graduating class.

“I really liked going to school there. I got a lot of personal attention, and it laid a great educational foundation for later years,” says Korobkin, 22, and the oldest of 10 siblings.

In ninth grade, Korobkin boarded with a family to attend a yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y. When his family moved to Los Angeles, Korobkin rejoined them and attended Valley Torah High School for a year and then YULA boys yeshiva high school for a year. Throughout his school career, even with all the movement, both his grades and his behavior were excellent.

Rather than stay in high school for 12th grade, Korobkin took a high school equivalency exam to earn his diploma and spent the next two years at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel. While he originally intended to attend Yeshiva University in New York, which has a conventional general studies curriculum, he switched to Ner Israel, where his father was ordained.

In addition to taking summer school classes at Santa Monica City College, Korobkin enhanced his college education through a reading list supplied by his grandmother, a former English teacher.

With law school’s formulaic and highly focused material, he says he has no problem keeping up, and his expertise in the legal thinking of Talmud study doesn’t hurt.

Korobkin admits he does occasionally question whether he missed out by not attending a regular college.

“I guess socially it would have been a lot different, and I would have been more well-rounded, as far as my secular education,” he says. “But the path I took was very satisfying. I learned a lot and value the years I had in yeshiva. I made very good friends, I had great rabbis and it really made an impact on my life.”

From Russia, With Bs

Jessica Tanya Spivak never liked school much. She was the first in her Moldovan immigrant family to be born in America, and the language barrier always made school difficult.

Jessica Tanya Spivak
Her parents, who both have advanced degrees from the former Soviet Union, knew that education would get their daughter ahead. She had tutors, they got her into good magnet schools and they had lots of talks trying to figure out why she just wasn’t getting the material.

Spivak went to three elementary schools, finally landing in the gifted magnet program at Wonderland Avenue School in Laurel Canyon and then John Burroughs Magnet School in Hancock Park for middle school.

Some of the time she tried hard; other times she just gave up. She had some teachers who really tried to help her through, and most others who just let her fall through the cracks. For high school, Spivak went to Cleveland High School Humanities Magnet in Reseda, which has an intense, interdisciplinary, writing-heavy curriculum. The school was an hour-and-a-half bus ride from her Hollywood home, and she had to be at the bus stop by 6 a.m. and often stayed up well past midnight studying. All this while she took classes in art, dance, tennis — and kept up active involvement in Temple Israel of Hollywood, where she was an assistant teacher, president of the youth group and often led services or chanted Torah for the whole congregation.

BBI’s Linda Gross sees big upside in merger with UJ


When Linda Volpert Gross took on chairing the board at Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI), it seemed that she would have a simple tenure. The institute had just hired Rabbi Isaac Jeret as president, someone they hoped could lead BBI into a bright new future.

But ten months into his tenure, Jeret left, and the institute found itself — after multiple changes at the helm — once again searching for vision and direction.

In the end, Gross says, she believes it was the leadership vacuum that allowed Brandeis to merge with the University of Judaism and create the American Jewish University, with the BBI campus in Simi Valley and the Familian campus at the top of Mulholland.

It is a decision she is confident will guarantee the longevity of Brandeis’ core mission and values.

Gross, 43, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Her family attended synagogue at Valley Beth Shalom (where she’s still a member), she spent afternoons at Los Angeles Hebrew High School and summers at Camp Ramah. She admits that it was probably the fact that she was a latecomer to BBI — that it wasn’t her emotional home — that allowed her to have the distance necessary to oversee the relinquishing of its independence.

She is a keen business person. Gross earned an MBA from Harvard and worked at the McKinsey and Company management consulting firm before she became marketing director at Citysearch.com. After she had kids, she started working part time, and in 1997 became a full-time mom. Her husband, Larry Gross, was president of Knowledge Adventure software, and he recently started an alternative fuel and ethanol firm. They live with their three children — ages 9, 12 and 14 — in the verdant hills of Encino in a spacious and warm home.

The daughter of community activists Dick and Marcia Volpert, Linda had never been on a board before when, in the mid 1990s, a friend asked her to consider getting involved in Brandeis. After one visit to the campus, she was in.

As chairman, Gross has shrunk the board from 72 to 25 people, creating a separate board of trustees for longtime supporters. She launched a strategic assessment that set the foundation for the merger and led to other improvements in the programming.

Veteran Brandeis supporter Dick Gunther says Gross’ navigation of the merger process has been courageous, honest and thorough, blending her business sense with the needs of a nonprofit. Even the small handful of board members who were ambivalent about the merger agree that Gross has been an able leader.

Gross will be on the executive committee of the board of the American Jewish University, and while she is eager to get back to her family life and away from sleepless nights and hours on the phone spent bringing the merger to fruition, she is also ready to stick to her commitment and set an example for her family.

“My children learned that when you say yes you hang in there until it’s done, and you do the best you can and sometimes it’s not easy,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a bad lesson for my children to learn. They are being raised in a loving, wonderful home in the lap of luxury with everything good in the world, and if this is a little tough on them, in the big picture that’s okay.”

Then she adds with a shrug and smile, “In the small picture, it means I have a meeting this afternoon to talk about communications, and I am missing my son’s basketball playoffs.”

— JGF

NCJF: A treasury of Jewish cinema


Sharon Pucker Rivo recently dropped by my home to talk about the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) and left behind a catalog of the center’s holdings.

It’s rare that a catalog makes for spellbinding reading, but I discovered in it a new and fascinating picture of pulsating Jewish history, as viewed by filmmakers over more than 100 years.

The oldest film listed is the silent “Levy and Cohen: The Irish Comedians,” which was made in 1903 and runs for all of one minute. By the time the great American director D.W. Griffith (“Birth of a Nation”) made “Romance of a Jewess” in 1908, the 16 mm film ran an astonishing 10 minutes.

Rivo dropped off a DVD of one of the latest catalog listings, Paul Mazursky’s “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy.”

I hate to admit it, but after decades of writing about Jewish-themed movies, I had only the vaguest notion of the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF), but executive director Rivo filled me in.

Located on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., as an independent entity, NCJF holds the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of Jewish-themed films and videos.

Included are some 10,000 cans of film, holding features, documentaries, shorts, newsreels, home movies and institutional films from 1903 to the present, augmented by thousands of master videotapes.

Many of the older holdings have been restored by the center, which also serves as a research resource, organizer of film festivals and distributor to institutions and individuals.

Almost every Diaspora community in the world is represented, with particularly rich holdings from Poland, the Soviet Union and the United States. Holocaust films record the Final Solution at work in obscure places, and there is even a selection of Nazi propaganda films.

Rivo takes special pride in her Yiddish-language collection of 35 features, including restored productions of Poland’s “Yidl Mitn Fidl” (Yiddle Wth His Fiddle), the Soviet Union’s 1919 “Tovarish Abraham” (Comrade Abraham) and America’s “Der Yidisher Kenig Lir” (The Yiddish King Lear), in which the Shakespearean tragedy time-travels to the Jewish Vilna of the early 1900s.

Reform, Conservative, Orthodox leaders tell all


“Where are we as a people?”

On Monday, the three heads of the leading Jewish seminaries tackled this question, as well as the challenges of teaching a new generation of Jews in an hourlong plenary session that stepped outside the overriding focus on Israel at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly.

Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University (YU); professor Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Rabbi Norman Cohen, provost of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) spoke about training the next generation, led by moderator Dr. Beryl Geber, associate executive vice president, policy development, of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

It was the first time that these Orthodox, Conservative and Reform leaders have appeared together, a reflection, perhaps, of the changing of the guard at the seminaries. Joel, the former director of Hillel: The Campus for Jewish Life, is three years into his job at the Orthodox YU, and Eisen, chair of the department of religious studies at Stanford, is the newly elected chancellor of the Conservative JTS and will begin there in July. Both appointments have been hailed as indicators that the institutions are moving in new directions.

Although it was not a “Kumbaya” session, where the three leaders of the universities “waved candles and sat together,” as Joel said in a post-meeting discussion with the three leaders and The Journal, that was not his ultimate goal. Instead, they focused on their common challenges and goals, while still delineating their differences.

They share the aim of trying to create seminaries more in touch with the outside world or, as Eisen said, “The sociological understanding of the realities of American Jewish life.” They all are seeking to educate Jews of all ages about Jewish life and Israel and, most importantly, exploring how to create meaningful experiences that will engage the younger generation.

“There’s no doubt that the young people today will not be just like us,” Eisen told the thousands of people at the morning plenary. “There’s a lot that’s not working, a lot that’s not worth joining and there’s a lot that’s not directed at them. We can’t really look at 18-year-olds and 25-year-olds as future propagators of the Jewish people. We have to work with them as individuals with hearts and souls and minds that we need right now; that we have something to say to right now.”

Joel said he was having “deja vus all over again,” because in 1969, at a similar meeting, the younger generation disrupted the meeting, saying the elders didn’t understand them, and they wanted their voices heard. They said, “If only they would be allowed to join the conversation, it would be different!” Joel said, “They were allowed in, and it is different.”

But also, in many ways, he said, it’s not different.

“Young people are young people,” he said. “They would like to matter in the world.” The challenge, he said, is not understanding them but “feeding them” by educating them.

This next generation, said HUC-JIR’s Cohen, is “searching for answers. If we can provide communities of meaning that can draw them in, that will enable them to struggle with the enduring question of life that we all have; they will ultimately be drawn in.” Cohen discussed the synagogue as the way to engage the younger generation.

Overall, the three expressed hope and optimism that there are ways to engage the next generation, although during their public discussion, they were light on specifics. JTS’s Eisen brought up Birthright, the fully sponsored free trips to Israel offered to people 26 and under. He called it the most successful program for the Jewish continuity “since the bar mitzvah” and suggested that the community do something similar for older people.

After the plenary, the three discussed ways that they are implementing change within their seminaries. “The training at the colleges is radically different today” than it was 20 years ago, Cohen said.

For example, he said, instead of simply taking classes, students are mentored, and they work in the community.

Eisen said that from his perspective at Stanford, he sees the JTS students as living in a cocoon “surrounded by people committed to Jewish professional careers,” and he wants to get them into the real world. “I think that all of us have a problem that a huge portion of the rabbi’s job is something they’re not prepared for,” he said, referring to everyday problems, such as dealing with synagogue boards. Joel added that YU has now begun tracking its rabbinic students to find out which ones plan to go onto pulpits, into education or other professions, so they can tailor their education accordingly.

Cohen of the Reform seminary said one of the biggest challenges is to create collaboration between the denominations.

“We are tremendously fragmented,” he said. “How do we begin to see each other as partners?”

During the plenary, Cohen encouraged the federation system to be the mediator and unifier in bringing synagogues and institutions of different movements together.

“Our mere presence here is a statement of unified vision,” Cohen said.

But Joel was quick to point out both publicly and privately that their vision is not exactly unified.

“Let’s acknowledge some clouds,” he said. “We have huge differences between us that will never be overcome. There are boundaries we can’t bridge. Good will will not overcome those boundaries.”

The Reform and Conservative movement share challenges that are different from the Orthodox, such as intermarriage, assimilation and engaging the next generation. The Orthodox are grappling with how to apply the Torah and moral learnings to the secular world and how to engage their Jewishly educated children in the world, while the Reform and Conservative are looking at how to apply the lessons of the outside world to educating their children Jewishly.

For example, Reform and Conservative congregants and students focus on social action programs, such as helping people in Darfur, to which they apply accompanying texts from the Torah and rabbinical teachings. YU students, on the other hand, might have studied at yeshiva in Israel and learned the “Ethics of the Fathers” but don’t know how to apply it in their own communities or other communities.

Noteworthy sessions and events at the G.A.


SUNDAY, NOV. 12
10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tour of the Skirball Cultural Center
Note: Tour leaves from Westin Bonaventure and returns to the L.A. Convention Center.

2:30 p.m.
Opening Plenary: “One People, One Destiny, One Great Day in November”
Greetings: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Keynote Speaker: Israel Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “We Are Not Alone: Allies in Making the Case for Israel”
Speakers: Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., and former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission; Randy Neal, California regional director, Christians United for Israel; and Nancy Coonis, superintendent of Secondary Schools for the L.A. Archdiocese

4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Jewish Learning: Activism and Social Justice”
Speaker: Rabbi Miriyam Glazer of the University of Judaism

MONDAY, NOV. 13
8:30 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Plenary: “The Jewish Future: Where We Are as a People”
Moderator: Dr. Beryl Geber, associate executive vice president of policy development, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los AngelesSpeakers: Rabbi Norman Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York

10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Plenary: “Emerging Global Realities and the Challenge of Radical Islam”
Speakers: Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International; and Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” and “American Vertigo: Traveling in the Footsteps of Tocqueville”

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Media Lessons Learned From the War”

Speakers: Aviv Shir-On, deputy director general for media and public affairs, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jeffrey Goldberg, New Yorker staff writer and author, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide;” and Irit Atsmon, former Deputy IDF spokesman

2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism”
Moderator: Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Speakers: Steven Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project; Aviva Raz-Shechter, director, Department of Anti-Semitism & Holocaust Issues, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Charles Small, director, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Yale University

3:45 p.m.-5 p.m.
Plenary: “Challenges of the Jewish People at the Beginning of the 21st Century”
Speaker: Likud Chairman and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dr. Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP

8:15 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Event: “A Once in a Lifetime Evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall”

Background: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will co-host a concert of Jewish music at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program will include selections by Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill. Performers include Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, an 85-member chorus and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Gerard Schwarz.

TUESDAY, NOV. 14
8:30 a.m.-10 a.m.
Plenary: “Challenges and Opportunities: Israel 2006”
Moderator: Judge Ellen M. Heller, president, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Speakers: Israel Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Israel Education Minister Yuli Tamir
Special Guest: Moshe Oofnik, Sesame Street Workshop

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Understanding Islam: Current Trends”
Speakers: Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and chairman of The Middle East Media Research Institute; Norman Stillman, professor and chair of Judaic history, University of Oklahoma; Irshad Manji, author, “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”

2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Breakout Session: “Working to Save Darfur”
Speakers: John Fishel, president, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, co-founder, Jewish World Watch; and Ruth Messinger, president/executive director, American Jewish World Service

4:15 p.m.-5:45 p.m.
Plenary: “The New Frontlines: Facing the Future Together”
Keynote Speaker: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15
8:30 a.m.-Noon
Meeting: “Translating the GA Into Action: Open Board of Trustees & Delegate Assembly Forum”
Goal: Coming up with an action plan based on issues addressed at GA.

Sense of past leads Loyola Marymount to remember Kristallnacht


Father Michael Engh thinks it’s only natural that a Catholic university host the citywide commemoration of Kristallnacht, which is marked by many historians as the beginning of the Holocaust.

“We had a public Rosh Hashanah celebration in September; we observed Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust memorial day, and we hope to establish a Jewish studies program,” said Engh, dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).

On Nov. 9, members of 11 co-sponsoring Jewish organizations and academic study centers will gather at the Jesuit-founded institution to remember the night and day in 1938 when Nazi gangs torched and ransacked hundreds of synagogues and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses in Germany.The keynote speaker will be Natan P.F. Kellerman, former director and chief psychologist of AMCHA, a social and psychological support organization for Holocaust survivors in Israel. He will speak on “Remembering the Holocaust: For Good and for Bad.”

Engh said he was asked by his friend, Bill Elperin, president of the “1939” Club, a Los Angeles organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, whether LMU would host the commemoration. Engh agreed and noted that the university’s ties to the Jewish community go back a long way.

Founded in 1911, LMU established a law school in 1920 that set no quotas on admitting Jewish students, which was in sharp contrast to most private universities at the time.

LMU’s theological studies department traditionally has had a rabbi on its faculty, including such early luminaries as the late Rabbis Edgar F. Magnin and Alfred Wolf of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.The addition of a Jewish studies program, incorporating existing courses on the Holocaust, is not an option but a necessity, observed Engh.

“You can’t be a great university without a Jewish studies component,” he noted, pointing to such programs at Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. “We are just trying to catch up with the modern world.”

A Catholic alumnus has offered to endow a lecture series on Jewish topics at LMU, which is not supported by the Los Angeles Archdiocese but instead relies on tuition and private gifts.

Professor Arthur Gross-Schaefer, chairman of LMU’s business law program, has taught at the university for 26 years and testifies to its welcoming atmosphere. In addition to his professional qualifications as a CPA, lawyer and teacher, Gross-Schaefer is also a rabbi and volunteer director for the campus Hillel chapter.

“In October, we even had a sukkah on campus,” he said proudly.

Gross-Schaefer estimated that there are about 100 Jewish students among the 5,300 undergraduate and 1,997 graduate students on the Westchester campus, with a much higher Jewish proportion among faculty members.

In the classroom, Gross-Schaefer is not constrained by disciplinary boundaries. He teaches ethics and spirituality to business students, and recently, he and a nun jointly taught a course on the Book of Job.

Given such active Jewish programs at a Catholic university, wouldn’t it be fair to teach aspects of Christianity at Jewish colleges?

Not necessarily, Gross-Schaefer said: “You see, Judaism is part of the Christian tradition, but Christianity is not part of the Jewish tradition.”

The Kristallnacht commemoration will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 in the Roski Room of University Hall, followed by a dessert reception. Admission and parking are free, but reservations are required.

Beware the Finkelstein Syndrome


In May of 2006, I witnessed the bizarre rantings of the author and Holocaust revisionist Norman Finkelstein at UC Irvine. This was the second time that I had the misfortune of sitting through his lecture, the first time was at Cal State Fullerton.

Finkelstein uses his identity as the child of Holocaust survivors to gain credibility, distorting history by omitting context and defaming well-respected figures for the purpose of promoting hatred against the State of Israel and minimizing the horrors of the Holocaust.

His lectures include predictable rants against Israel, promotion of conspiracy theories regarding the reason his own new book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” (University of California Press, 2005), was not reviewed and a strange continuous bashing of Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz for writing “The Case for Israel.” He spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing about Joan Peters’ book, “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine,” and calls survivor Elie Wiesel the “clown in the Holocaust circus.”

How twisted is Finkelstein’s sense of human decency?

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I find Finkelstein beyond despicable. I believe he openly and methodically lies in order to promote his own anti-Israel agenda.

It is well known that some children of Holocaust survivors carry severe scars and wounds that actually manifest in peculiar psychological behavior. For two decades, I worked as a licensed family therapist, and I believe that some day soon there will be a formal psychological syndrome that would account for self-hating Jews like Norman Finkelstein. Perhaps the syndrome will even be named after him: The Finkelstein Syndrome.

It’s inconceivable to me that Finkelstein might achieve tenure at De Paul University in Chicago, where he presently teaches his bizarre theories. That he is an assistant professor there is, in my view, a badge of shame for De Paul.

His true occupation is as a member of a traveling circus, a freak show of anti-Semites who promote anti-Israel propaganda from campus to campus. He openly admits to having high regard for Hezbollah on his Web site, and he promotes the false notion that “scholars widely agree that Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinian people in 1948.”

Even the historians that he quotes disagree with him. He denies the evidence that Arab leaders told Palestinian Arabs to leave Israel in 1948 so that the combined forces coming from Arab countries could exterminate the Jews, after which the Arabs who had lived in the region could return.

He denies the overwhelming evidence that this was the case, contained within periodicals and confirmed radio announcements at the time — among them The Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station, The New York Herald, London Economist, Time Magazine and Jordanian Daily Newspaper — that clearly reflected the push by Arab leaders to encourage the flight of their brethren for the purpose of the annihilation of the Jews and their reborn state. (A compiled list of critical quotes from reputable sources regarding this issue is available at standwithus.com/campus/pdfs/flyers/ArableaderstellPalestinianstoFleein1948.pdf).

I cannot help but wonder why Finkelstein fails to mention that approximately 150,000 Palestinian Arabs chose to remain in Israel in 1948, becoming Arab Israelis with descendants and friends that now number over 1 million. Growing numbers of Arab Israeli citizens, with representation in Israel’s Knesset, do not match with his accusation of ethnic cleansing.

I once wrote a letter to Finkelstein, because I was frustrated after attending one of his deeply disturbing lectures. I asked him why he lied to well-meaning students during his lecture. I showed him the evidence that the flight of the Palestinian Arabs from Israel in 1948 was, in part, due to the war, and, in part, due to the clear calls from Arab countries.

I showed him evidence from credible sources. I asked him to refute them, but he did not in his reply. Instead, he told me to read his book, and he told me that our conversation was at an end.

As I sat watching Finkelstein this second time, I looked around the room at the eager 300 to 400 students who came to hear him speak. Many of them were already anti-Israel and enjoyed his presentation, because it supported and expanded their own prejudices. Others, however, had heard that a controversial speaker was coming and came in good faith with open minds.

I watched for three straight hours at UC Irvine as students were poisoned by the Finkelstein Syndrome. I walked away feeling saddened by the notion that young hearts and minds were affected by a man of such dubious scholarship and malicious intent.

What remedy do we have when a hateful propagandist and academic fraud like Finkelstein comes to town? As the national director of an organization that believes in free speech, the only power we have is to expose him as a failed scholar who lacks balance, as a man with an obsessive agenda and as a man who respects the likes of Hezbollah.

Maybe if these things about him become more widely known, the people who may have the misfortune of attending his future lectures will come for entertainment, rather than for education.

Roz Rothstein is national director of StandWithUs.

 

The Circuit


Kudos for Kuh

Los Angeles culinary expert Patric Kuh was honored recently in New York by the James Beard Foundation for his humanitarian efforts during the the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards.

Kuh won kudos in the Magazine Restaurant Review or Critique category for his work at Los Angeles Magazine.

A Clear Need

Bob Ralls and Linda Falcone accepted awards from Harold Davidson, chairman of the board for Junior Blind of America, at the nonprofit organization’s gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The event was held specifically to recognize the contributions of the couple to Junior Blind of America, where they have served as president and vice president of development for more than 20 years. For more than 50 years, Junior Blind of America has offered unique programs and services to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent.

Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai

While many Jewish Angelenos gathered to do a mitzvah for Big Sunday or to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut at the Israel Festival, a group of almost 300 Wilshire Boulevard Temple staff and families gathered at the Irmas campus for a cause equally personal. The morning’s event was dubbed a “Farewell to Anat Ben-Ishai,” who retired this year after 15 years as director of the Edgar F. Magnin and Gloria and Peter S. Gold Religious Schools.

“You’ve been an inspiration to our children. We can’t pay any person enough for that,” Rabbi Emeritus Harvey J. Fields told Ben-Ishai via a video message. Fields prerecorded a special goodbye message to Ben-Ishai, knowing he would be out of the country for the event. He said what would be missed most in Ben-Ishai’s absence would be her “poetic soul,” her storytelling, and her “care about each of us.” He also noted the excellence of the synagogue’s religious schools today “is your crowning achievement.”

Indeed, in the time Ben-Ishai served as Hebrew school director, the school grew from less than 400 students attending Hebrew school once a week at one campus, to close to 1,000 students attending three days a week at two different campuses.

The haimishe event, as one attendee described it, included many students, several of whom came with their parents. The day began with the tribute and was followed by Israeli dancing, children’s art projects and lunch, as well as a video station to record personal messages to Ben-Ishai and another station to “Write an Anat-o-gram.”

Students also participated in special art projects in their classes, as well as a video project, in which they bid Ben-Ishai farewell and told her they would miss her friendliness and her stories.

Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), acknowledged Ben Ishai’s leadership contributions over the years, stating that out of the five outstanding teachers recognized by the BJE last year, two teachers were from Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

“Anat,” he told her, “you are truly a teacher of teachers.”

Ben-Ishai told those assembled that her greatest pride came from seeing her student’s independent participation in acts of tikkun olam and tzedakah.

The Anat Ben-Ishai Religious School Scholarship Fund was established May 3 in Ben-Ishai’s honor.

Those wishing to contribute may call the school at (213) 388-2401. — Keren Engelberg, Contributing Writer

Much About Maller

Hot dogs and happy memories were the recipe for the weekend as Temple Akiba, the Reform congregation of Culver City, honored Rabbi Allen Maller for 39 years of dedication and inspiration. The weekend was filled with events to bring the congregation together to celebrate and reflect on the Maller’s years as their leader.

Friday night a special service was held and representatives of California Assemblywoman Karen Bass and L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke presented commendations. Former Culver City Mayor Albert Vera and Culver City Councilwoman Carol Gross praised Maller’s contributions to the community — the City Council even designated April as “Rabbi Maller Month.” There was a “Potpourri of International Tastes” dinner Saturday night and an original musical review written by Barbara Miller that featured five temple members — performing a “shtetl-flavored” tribute to Maller and Temple Akiba.

Maller will leave Temple Akiba at the end of June. Rabbi Zach Shapiro will become new spiritual leader of the congregation.

Magbit FUNDRAISER

Nearly 800 donors, community leaders and public officials gathered May 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 17th annual Magbit Foundation gala to raise funds for interest-free loans for Israeli college students and to celebrate Israel’s 58th year of independence. Master of ceremonies and Magbit leader David Nahai, chair of the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board, welcomed the guests and the contributions of the local Iranian Jewish community that started the Magbit Foundation.

Keynote speaker, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, acknowledged Magbit’s nearly $3 million in loans given to almost 7,000 new immigrant Israeli university students during the last 17 years.

“The fact that you have provided a means for the talented students in Israel to get the education that will help better the world is truly remarkable,” Villaraigosa said.

Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch spoke about the uniquely strong sense of Zionism of Iranian Jews living in Southern California.

“My friends I have known many Jewish communities around the world, but I have grown to admire the Iranian Jewish community for your sense of Israel and love of Israel which is heartfelt,” Danoch said.

Guests also enjoyed the Middle Eastern dancing of the Sunflower Dancers and the singing of acclaimed Israeli Noa Dori. Also in attendance were Israeli Justice Ministry official Shlomo Shachar, and Los Angeles Jewish Federation President John Fishel — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Fight Against Campus Bias Gets Boost


If you’re a Jewish college student, you no longer have to tolerate anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing on your campus. You are protected under our federal civil rights laws. These were the landmark conclusions of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency that analyzes information about discrimination and reports its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress.

In November 2005, the commission held its first-ever hearing on the issue of campus anti-Semitism. One topic was the Zionist Organization of America’s precedent-setting civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine, who have faced a pattern of anti-Jewish hostility that university administrators have known about but have failed to adequately address. Based on the hearing, the commission recently issued historic findings and recommendations that both Jews and non-Jews can applaud.

According to the commission, the problem of campus anti-Semitism is “serious.” In addition to name-calling, threats, assaults and the vandalism of property, hatred toward Jews is being expressed on campus in subtler ways. Zionism — the expression of Jewish rights and attachment to the historic homeland of Israel — is being unfairly mischaracterized as racism. Israel is being demonized and illegitimately compared to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, and its leaders are being compared to Hitler.

At UC Irvine, annual campus events (titled, “Anti-Zionist Week” and the misnomer “Israel Awareness Week”) have been regular opportunities to attack Jews, Zionists and those who support Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Signs have equated the Star of David with the swastika and depicted it dripping with blood. Speakers have portrayed Jews as overly powerful and conspiratorial; one referred to “the Jewish lobby” as a “den of spies.”

At San Francisco State University, fliers depicted a baby with the caption, “Palestinian Children Meat — Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” The commission rightly condemned all this conduct as anti-Semitism, finding that “[a]nti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”

The commission also recognized that Jewish students face harassment inside the classroom. Many academic departments present a one-sided, anti-Israel view of the Middle East conflict, squelching legitimate debate about Israel. According to a Jewish student at Columbia University, her professor said that she had no claim to the Land of Israel because she had green eyes and therefore could not be a Semite. In response to such incidents, the commission recommended that academic departments “maintain academic standards, respect intellectual diversity and ensure that the rights of all students are fully protected.”

According to the commission, “severe, persistent or pervasive” anti-Semitism on campus may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI requires that colleges and universities ensure that their programs and activities are free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.” Otherwise, they risk losing their federal funding. The commission recognized that Jews are protected under Title VI because they are an ethnic group sharing a common ancestry and heritage.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education ensures that colleges and universities comply with Title VI. The commission recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism.

The commission also urged university leaders to denounce anti-Semitic and other hate speech. Some have already done so: When a cartoon mocking the Holocaust was published in a Rutgers student newspaper, the university president publicly recognized that although the publication was constitutionally protected, it was hurtful to the community and inconsistent with the university’s values. He urged the students involved to take responsibility for their actions and succeeded in getting them to apologize for the hurt they caused to the community.

Not all university leaders have exercised the same moral leadership. Some have remained silent in the face of anti-Semitic speech and conduct, justifying their silence by saying that offensive behavior is constitutionally protected. Of course, we must all stand up for free speech and vigorous debate — especially on a college campus, where the exchange of ideas should be encouraged. But hateful, degrading and demeaning speech is hateful, degrading and demeaning, no matter where it occurs.

We can’t lose our common sense about what is hateful and harmful, just because it is expressed on a college campus. If college officials remain silent, they help perpetuate the bigotry. And their silence contributes to making the targets of the hate feel even more marginalized and unwelcome.

What should you do if you are experiencing anti-Semitism on your campus, to the point that the environment feels hostile or intimidating?

First, you should try to resolve the problem internally by working with university officials to create an atmosphere that is tolerant and respectful. While colleges and universities must uphold the right of free speech, they have a legal obligation to provide you with an educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. If working with university officials fails and the hostile environment persists, then you can and should file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (www.ed.gov/ocr).

More information is forthcoming. The commission has recommended that OCR conduct a public education campaign, and it will be distributing its own materials to inform students of their rights. Hillel directors should be getting the message out to college administrators and to their Jewish constituents. The Zionist Organization of America will be undertaking its own nationwide effort to inform Jewish students and college administrators that anti-Semitism is illegal and that students have legal tools to fight it.

Whatever your campus experience, if you are a Jewish student, it’s important to know that the Civil Rights Commission has staked out its position firmly supporting your right to be free from campus anti-Semitism. You have the right to obtain your education in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and that does not intimidate or harass you because you are Jewish or support Israel.

Susan B. Tuchman, is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, and testified at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ hearing on campus anti-Semitism on Nov 18, 2005. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.