November 15, 2019

Europe and UCLA

This past week we celebrated Purim and I returned from the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC.  Both events were tied through Prime Minister Netanyahu’s amazing speech before Congress.  AIPAC built to the speech, and Purim was made more meaningful because of it.  And now we are caught between Purim and Pesach, between our self-defense from annihilation in Persia and our redemption from slavery in Egypt.  And for all of these reasons, I find myself searching for an internal Jewish answer for how to respond to modern day anti-Semitism.

At AIPAC, the two issues heavily addressed in the break out sessions besides for Iran’s Nuclear ambitions were the growing BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) Movement against Israel on college campuses and the rise in European anti-Semitism.  Having been raised as a grandchild of four survivors of the Shoah (Holocaust) I feel like I have come to a view on Europe that makes sense of it for me.  Namely, for me Europe is only a large landmass with a constant charge of ebbing and flowing anti-Semitism that I have to fly over on my way to and from Israel.

So, I tried attending several sessions on how to combat the BDS Movement on college campuses.  The sessions were always in the largest conference rooms and they were always over-attended with people spilling out into the halls.  Here in LA, UCLA’s passing of BDS legislation in the student government was alarming because I have so many loved ones, family and friends, who have either attended or are hoping for their kids to attend.  But the BDS Movement has infected the entire University of California school system, it has caught hold up and down the east coast Ivy League Schools, and most recently it has even reached my own childhood backyard in its adoption at Northwestern University.

I could not hear the panels discuss combating BDS but I did watch the faces of people as they left the hall with depressed despondent eyes.  What can we do?  Or better yet… What can we do?  That very question either admits despair or searches for inner strength.  I will choose to address the latter.  I will assume that amongst us, American Jews, there are those who are now tired of banging our heads against the same wall and expecting things to change.  I hope there are those amongst us willing to listen to new ideas.  Here goes…

Perhaps it is now time to admit defeat on these campuses.  The world has taught us an important lesson, there is no amount of truth that can sway an anti-Semite from believing the anti-Jew, anti-Israel propaganda they have consumed.  In the same way that I believe that Jews do not need France but rather France needs Jews, Jews do not need UCLA but rather UCLA needs Jews.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of colleges and universities in the US, let us not remain fixated on the campuses that belittle the self-image of our children and inculcate them with shame.

Envision a day where the Jewish community turns its attention on colleges and universities that have otherwise never drawn our attention.  Let’s us consider pouring our resources onto those campuses – our greatest resource being the hearts and minds of our Jewish children.

No single family can do this alone.  This has to be an effort by American Jewry as a whole.  Many Jewish parents will ask, “But if we turn our backs on the Ivy League are we not putting our kids at a disadvantage?”  Simply put, the answer is no.  If we make it known, that our decision in selecting schools is now based on our Jewish principles and no longer dependent on the institutional selection of our children, then the job market will reward them.  And wherever we send our kids and our communal resources, that will become the new Ivy League.

Let us not act any longer like UCLA is our Jerusalem that we must fight for it at all costs.  History has taught us that there is only one Jerusalem.  Jerusalem belongs to us.  Fight for Jerusalem always and forever.

As for UCLA, it will fade away in time as it becomes increasingly hostile towards Jews just as the great centers of learning in Germany and Spain and Babylonia beforehand.  On the other hand, the Jewish quest for knowledge and the Jewish mandate to educate our children will never fade.