Yesterday, the Open Hillel campaign, a student led initiative to change policies around permitted conversations on Israel on campus, presented their petition ( 801 signatures strong as of this writing) and letter to the Hillel International Board in Washington, D.C.
The grassroots initiative was started by members of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a Hillel-affiliated group, when PJA was prevented from co-sponsoring an event with the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Hillel. Open Hillel urges Hillel International to revise, reconsider, and ultimately remove its Standards for Partnership, which read: “Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, has chapters and affiliates on university campuses across the US and abroad. Hillel International currently publishes “Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities” which declare, “Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”
The Open Hillel campaign asks that Hillel ”remove all political litmus tests for co-sponsorships, affiliated groups, and invited speakers.”
More from the letter (written and signed by Jewish student leaders from universities across the country):
“Pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and no Jewish individual or group should be excluded from the community simply because of political views. The prohibition against anyone who “delegitimizes” or “applies a double standard” to Israel is used to silence students who are critical of Israeli policies or express views with which the Hillel leadership disagrees. These policies deny all students the opportunity to learn about a range of views and form well-supported and defensible opinions about Israel. We all lose out when important perspectives within our community are stifled.”
The campaign is currently awaiting a response from Hillel International and will continue to expand if Hillel International is resistant to the requests of the petition and letter,
This is an interview with Emily Unger, a Harvard senior majoring in biology, and the former chair of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, the student group organizing a protest against Hillel’s ban on partnerships with groups back boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Jewschool: Give us some background about your experience with this issue at Harvard.
Emily Unger: I’ve been involved in the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) since the beginning of my first year at college, and this entire time, we’ve prided ourselves on working together with both Harvard Students for Israel and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and co-sponsoring events with both groups. Last semester, we planned to co-sponsor an event with PSC called “Jewish Voices Against the Occupation”, which brought two speakers, an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, to talk about their experiences doing non-violent activism against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories (protesting home demolitions in the West Bank, etc.) and how this related to their Jewish identity. We wanted to hold the event in the Hillel building, since it was a Jewish event and we thought it would appeal to Jewish students.
Sandy Fox is a graduate student in History and Israel Studies at NYU, studying the history of Israeli education and youth culture. Her work includes research on the history and politics of Israeli and Palestinian Sesame Street programs. Sandy is a Brooklyn resident and a camp counselor for life.
This is our Gchat conversation about staffing Birthright.
Me: So, Sandy Fox, you and I have both staffed Birthright trips. What do you have to say about propaganda?
Sandy: Plenty of that, but much less than I expected?
Me: There’s the “make aliyah” thing. Is that what you were thinking of?
Sandy: A lot more “Jewish peoplehood” propaganda rather than Israeli hasbara (advocacy) political propaganda. I didn’t feel that our guide was pushing a political agenda regarding Zionism or the occupation or any of that. If anything, he was an earthy crunchy type, in the best way possible.
Me: That’s been my experience as well.Is that bad, do you think? Jewish peoplehood as propaganda?
Sandy: I don’t actually think that the whole Jewish peoplehood agenda – which also includes inviting people to explore their Jewish identity – is a bad thing. In fact, I found that most of my participants came on the trip looking for a connection to Judaism that they felt they lacked. We had a particularly emotional experience during Friday night tefillot overlooking the Kotel. I was the staff member in charge, and I basically got a bunch of participants to agree to help me lead. But it wasn’t going to be traditional tefillot in any way, because most of them had no knowledge of liturgy. What I asked of them was to bring something – a poem, a story, whatever they wanted – to share with the group, maybe a reflection on a Shabbat experience they’ve had, or something about the week, or if it was their first Shabbat ever, to talk about that. I think about 6 participants got up and talked, and it was incredibly powerful. They all told such personal stories of searching for connections to Judaism, trials and loss and it seemed like practically everyone cried.
I can’t call that propaganda. All I did was sit them in a circle and say, hey, talk to the group about whatever you want. It could have ended up being very superficial, but people wanted to share, and talk, and cry. Maybe something is in the food?
Me: It’s definitely in the food.
Sandy: The schnitzel is laced with cocaine?
Me: I think we’ve uncovered the secret.
Sandy: The other aspect of Taglit is that it’s not like we can make a blanket statement about it. There are all these buses and trip providers that operate differently. Even the dynamic of each staff is so varied. So I can say, hey Chanel, on my trip, everything was so cool and open, and people asked the tough questions and cried. But on other trips I’m quite sure there is serious propaganda, in the hasbara sense of the word.
Me: Do you think your group was expecting hasbara?
Recently, Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine created, published and distributed a Zine called “Birthright? A Primer” for folks contemplating going on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. The primer includes testimonies from previous trip participants, as well as resources for exploring Israel/Palestine after the trip. Tufts SJP organizers Matthew Parsons, Anna Furman and Dani Moscovitch spoke with Jewschool about the primer, how and why it happened, and what impact they hope it will have.
Jewschool: What was the impetus for creating the primer? What’s the goal?
Anna Furman: The goal of our zine is to equip students who have chosen to go on Birthright with a body of knowledge that they will not find otherwise. I think the most important section of our zine may be the section that encourages students to extend their trips and to go with various groups to the West Bank. If I had a zine like this when I had gone on Birthright 3 years ago, I am pretty certain that my whole understanding of the region and my relation to it would have been very different. More »
Who says there are no paying jobs left in journalism?
By day, I’m the editor of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and the director of the 40-years-young organization that publishes it, the Jewish Student Press Service. Since the JSPS was founded (New Voices itself is 20 years old), we’ve been a home for independent Jewish journalism–written and published entirely by college students.
We operate on the most shoestring of budgets, but occasionally, we get the exciting the chance to actually hire someone. In this case, I’m looking for 10 someones! If you know a student journalist who might be interested in this, let me know in the comments or by emailing me at david(at)newvoices.org.
Here’s my full pitch:
Jewish Student Journalists: We Want to Pay You!
New Voices Magazine, the national Jewish student magazine, is seeking student journalists to do paid reporting from their campuses this fall! More »
I’ve got universities on the brain lately as my own Drew has recently intensified our so-far lackluster work on our “Strategic Plan.” So this event caught my eye.
The HC website lists these questions as up for discussion at the event:
How will colleges and universities meet the challenges of the shifting paradigms in higher education?
What should their roles be in developing the next generation of Jewish leadership?
Students who have experienced Birthright Israel are ready for more engagement with Israel and with Jewish life; are we ready for them?
What aspects of higher education should the Jewish community support?
The first, second and fourth questions sound great. The third one is giving me some trouble.
First of all, it acknowledges a premise that I reject: that the Birthright is the source of engaged young Jews in America. It’s part of the clod of notions that spring forth from the idea that young Jews, especially college Jews, are not engaged with Jewish life, and that the only way to engage them is through Israel.
Second of all, and even more narrow-sighted, is this problem: Do any of these college presidents think that the only source of engaged Jewish students at their institutions is Birthright? If they’re focused on “are we ready for them [Birthright alumni]?” how is that going to affect their readiness for Jewish students engaged with Jewish life in some other way? And what does it even mean that they need to be ready?
These questions are not meant as rhetorical, by the way. I’m looking for y’all’s ideas on this. So if anyone goes to this, I’d love to hear how it goes.
It’s like I’m staring down the barrel of something. Not a gun, that’s too dramatic, but something that you’d stare down in a moment of pure adrenaline and uncertainty and fear, if those things could ever go together.
I leave for Israel in four days. I can’t stop thinking about kashrut certificates on my El Al dinner plate, the awkwardly sized “Tzevet” name tag that I’ll be gifted with as a Birthright staffer, the impossibly long days, conversations that will feel dangerous and therefore desperately important. I want to be a better staffer this time, one with eyes wide open, amenable to the distractions that I know are really teachable moments.
I’m not the same Jew I was the last time I was in Israel, two years ago. I’m more skeptical that things in the region can change. I’m more cynical about Jewish communities and more radical in my politics. I’m less traditionally observant. I’m tired.
I hope I’m wrong in thinking that these brave folks about to travel with me are expecting a sanitized version of Israel- a place that is purely and simply anything. There are experiences like that, of course, moments where nothing else would be appropriate, and you have to let them exist. But I’m not too tired to be honest. I’m done existing in a space where people are too afraid to think, where we put the future of the Jewish community at risk in the name of being right (pun intended).
Something has survived, though, some part of me is clearly not done, or I couldn’t bring myself to take on this adventure that will be sleepless, frustrating, and ultimately an exercise in willing suspension of disbelief. Birthright works, according to research, as in, it connects young Jews to each other and to their identities, but what does that mean? Is connection the same thing as being able to criticize and push, as saying you believe we can do better? It takes much more than ten days to do that. If we’re lucky, it might take less than a lifetime.
In his May 6, 2010 Op-ed “Fighting the new divestment effort on campus,” Hillel CEO Wayne Firestone puts forth a plan that continues to ignore any sort of reality that might allow local student groups to beat back the ever growing Israel divestment movements.
The Firestone Plan outlines three steps to address the divestment movement. First student groups should address their needs locally, without outside help which is interesting coming from the CEO of Hillel International. Then students should build coalitions (again without outside help) by bringing student government officials to AIPAC events and other such “get to know Israel” programs. And finally, student groups should remain on the branding message that Israel is a high-tech leader that shares Western values. As a former student senator and Jewish activist at the University of California, Davis, I can tell you without any shadow of a doubt that the Firestone Plan is fatally flawed. More »
I’m tempted to argue with the whole piece, line by line, but instead, I’m just going to draw out a few problems.
Beginning Monday, university campuses play host to an annual event known as Israeli Apartheid Week, where Israel is assigned the role of Jew among the nations — singled-out, cursed and harassed.
Some Jewish students at Carleton and the University of Ottawa will discreetly choose to stay home, to avoid having to answer for the Jewish state. The whiff of something medieval hangs over this March ritual.
This isn’t about Jews, say the organizers. It’s about Zionists. Problem is, the activist groups behind Israeli Apartheid Week are doing everything to erase the distinction. One of those organizations, the Ottawa Public Interest Research Group, refused in 2008 to promote a lecture on African development because Jewish students happened to be organizing it. The event had zero connection to Israel but OPIRG said it wouldn’t partner with the Jewish students’ union due to the latter’s “relationship to apartheid Israel.”
That’s an ominous introduction to the article. Too bad I need to argue it down. So long as the Canadian Jewish community (like the vocal majority of many countries’ Jewish communities) maintains that Israel and zionism are an integral part of Jewish identity, and are inherently linked, I can’t blame student groups and other organizations for drawing a similar conclusion. So long as Hillels across Canada (and across the US) house Israel advocacy and zionist groups, and many have histories of bashing Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian groups, I see no reason why those groups shouldn’t be able to “retaliate” with Israel Apartheid Week. More »
Now that Brit Tzedek has merged with J Street, we’re witnessing the rapid growth of “J Street Locals” proliferating throughout more than 20 regions across the country. (I’m happy to be attending the launch of J Street Chicago at Emanuel Congregation this Thursday night and even happier to hear that a healthy turnout is expected.)
I’m dismayed, though, to learn that J Street Philadelphia‘s debut is receiving more than its share of ridiculous attacks from certain corners of the Philly Jewish community. I’ve just read that even Penn Hillel has come under fire for renting out its facility to this “anti-Israel” group.
A flap over Hillel of Greater Philadelphia’s decision to lease its space to J Street — for the official launch of its Philadelphia branch — is just one local manifestation of a debate that has roiled much of the national Jewish establishment since the advocacy organization was founded nearly two years ago…
Gary Erlbaum, who sits on the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Israel advocacy committee and is also a board member of the Jewish Publishing Group, has been outspoken in his opposition to J Street, and is upset about Hillel’s decision to host the group’s Feb. 4 event.
“What makes them pro-Israel? If the Palestinians had a lobby, it would be called J Street,” said Erlbaum. “The Hillel building is an inappropriate spot for a group that’s anti-Israel.”
Oh, for God’s sake. A group committed to supporting the two-state solution through a diplomatic means, while safeguarding Israel security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state, is somehow “anti-Israel?”
You know, sometimes when I’m feeling really, really optimistic, I dream about what it might feel like if the American Jewish community actually could tolerate the kind of vigorous and freewheeling debate that they enjoy in the actual Jewish state itself. (Now wouldn’t that be “pro-Israel?”)
Let me start by saying that as excited as I was to fly the Jewschool flag, I was somewhat suspicious of the event itself. I tend to sneer at the kind of spirituality that comes with chanting and meditating and crystals and beads and what-have-you, and that’s sort of what I expected to be bombarded with here. After all, I know that Jay Michaelson is prone to running off to Tibet for a month of silent contemplation, and Seth Castleman has built his career on bringing the Dharma and the Torah together. I know that Danya holds a torch for the kind of traditional Jewish spirituality that I both crave and mock, although from reading her memoir I know that she’s adopted the lotus position herself on more than one occasion.
So let me be the first to say that the event was not that at all. Sure, Danya and Jay disagreed on whether aromatherapy bath crystals can really be considered spiritual tools, but the discussion was much more focused on the interplay between “religion” (i.e. the structures & strictures, rituals and communities of organized faith) and “spirituality” (what Danya calls the moments of feeling groovy). (Incidentally, if you were hoping for more of an exploration of how your boogers embody God, Jay is holding a series of conference calls for folks to come together in exploration of the non-dual Judaism he espouses in his book.)
The three speakers introduced themselves and their approaches but then quickly moved on to the Q&A portion of the evening. They did two rounds of four questions each. I tried to capture the entire Q&A session with my Flip Camera, but the darn thing crashed after Seth & Danya answered the first four questions and Jay had answered the first three. But the footage I did manage to get captures enough of the feeling of the event and many of the interesting points. I’ll lead with Jay’s answer to a question about the place of Judaism in his spirituality. (This is from the first round of questions, so I don’t have Danya & Seth’s answers to the same question.)
Behind the cut are more videos addressing the role of music in each person’s spirituality, the place of Israel in their spirituality, and approaches to balancing structured religion with a desire to “pick and choose” and get rid of bits of religion that don’t sit well with us. More »
Think you have some wisdom to share with the NUJLS crowd? They’re still accepting applications from presenters for the conference. I presented at one of the conferences a few years ago and can tell you that it was a great experience in which I not only learned a ton, but also met some fantastic people who continue to do great things in the world (and who continue to be my friends).
You might not call this direct support of Breaking the Silence, but you can call it standing up against right-wing blowhards like Mort Klein. This I can definitely respect. Rabbi Bernie was distraught by the “lack of context” to the exhibit but nonetheless stood by his students’ decision to bring the exhibit into a Jewish space. He, like many others, disagree with the soldiers on many points. But thank the Lord this doesn’t mean he’s like some of the people who’ve come to exhibit simply to tell the soldiers that they should be shot as traitors. Or even attack them (and Hillel International at large) for being anti-Israel, as Mort did in a press release.
The highlights here, the full open letter below the fold.
On the ZOA:
I do not know the mission of the ZOA. If, however, your mission does include working with young Jews, you have done a grievous disservice to the ZOA. If it is not part of your mission, you should not intrude clumsily and aggressively into the Harvard campus, and undermine the good work of young Jews…
…Truth from a skyscraper in New York City looks different than on the ground of a campus in Cambridge. Every campus and every Hillel has its own unique culture.
On the student body:
Many students feel inconvenienced by the presence of the exhibit in the building. Many more criticize the presentation of the exhibit itself. Some feel that it humanizes the soldiers and they come away with a more positive feeling about Israel. I myself did not anticipate this response. It is more widespread than I would have thought.
On what Mort’s press release did:
…As a result of your actions, our students are receiving hate emails [from ZOA members]. In light of what you have said and have not said, this is a totally predictable response. If you intended to injure and hurt young Jews, your recent actions and words are a success. If your goal is to inflame and to defame Harvard Hillel, you should justly feel a sense of pride â€“ mission accomplished.
Whether you’re into Breaking the Silence or otherwise, you can also tell Mort to fuck off here.
I had an acquaintance in college, a man whose parents had moved to America from Bangladesh, an observant Muslim with whom I would spend late nights discussing religion and watching the mountain fog coalesce. We lost touch after he moved off-campus and later graduated, but I still remember one comment he made to me after I did my best to explain to him what a “machloket” is and how the halachic system accomodates (or otherwise dealsÂ with) disagreements in matters of law.
He was impressed, and complained about the Muslim student group on campus, sayingÂ the form of Islam espoused thereÂ was too strict and particularistic. Muslims from Bangladesh, he said, don’t practice the religion the same way as Muslims from Arabia, and the Arab students in charge were intolerant of that diversity. He and other non-Arab Muslims were told that their clothing was “un-Islamic” and their observances were faulty. He objected, saying, “I’m not Arab. I shouldn’t have to follow Arab cultural norms to be a good Muslim.”
Apparently, policy clashes between conservative and liberal Muslim students, and between Muslim students with different traditions, are common on college campuses. Sound familiar? But unlike in the Jewish communityÂ where Hillels haveÂ a set policy of pluralism dictated from on high by philanthropists and “Jewish professionals”, according to this article by the New York Times’ gloriously-named Neil MacFarquhar each franchise Muslim Students Association chapter (there are more than 200 in the US) sets its own rules as to what food/clothes/events/philosophies are acceptable. Depending on where you go to school, your local MSA mayÂ alternately scandalize traditional parents or Imams, and shun students who aren’t “Muslim enough”.
The reporter, who apparently attended last weekend’s MSA West Conference in San Jose, got some good anecdotes, includingÂ community reaction to the sexes mingling at a barbecue, a potential member driven away because he wore a Budweiser t-shirt, liberal Yale vs. Wahhabist UC-Irvine, and the kinds of sermons given by Imams who visit college campuses.
I’m wondering what can we learn from this article, and what those of us still in school can learn from our Muslim fellow students. And what can we teach them? Keeping in mind the extensive similarities and deep differences between JudaismÂ & Islam and between the Jewish community & the Muslim community, there’s got to be some productive knowledge to be gleaned. What do you think it could be?
Hillel recently released a guide for including LGBTQ students in its campus activities. The guide, downloadable as a pdf, and the press release are available in full here.
At 186-pages, it’s lengthy and fairly comprehensive, touching on topics from the history of the American LGBTQ movements, to resources for coming out, to queer and Jewish content for programming. The guide also includes a glossary of commonly used queer/LGBTQ-related terms.
My concern, however, is that the length will actually be a barrier. Those Hillel staff who aren’t interested in stepping outside the box, or making an effort to include these students in their programming, will be quick to dismiss a document of this length. (I mean, heck, it took me over two weeks since I saw the press release to read it – and I’m interested!) Maybe I’m just jaded by incredibly negative Hillel experiences, but I think this guide is largely “preaching to the choir.”
“Hillel is opening the doors for all Jewish students, of all sexual orientations and gender identities,” says Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone. “The resource guide provides Hillel directors with practical recommendations for welcoming this important population into our Hillels.”
To take off the cynical hat, I hope that Hillel staff are given more than just this guide – that they’re provided with additional resources for understanding what they read, having their questions answered, and ensuring that they do, in fact, make their local Hillel an open and welcoming place for LGBTQ students.
After damn near two years of planning, fundraising and designing (and re-planning, re-funding and re-designing) the improved New Voices web site is up! Archives, comments, free subscriptions, and all — welcome to the 21st century, Jewish Student Press Service. If you’re not familiar with the sordid history of JSPS/New Voices and it’s thorn-in-the-side approach to Jewish campus life, then read editor Josh Nathan-Kazis’ enemies list below…
The November/December 2007 issue of NewVoices is online now at newvoices.org. Highlights include:
A Quiet Freshman’s Secret Past, by Arielle Reich. One year ago, Sam fled his isolated Satmar upbringing for the secular world. This fall, he’s starting college. And you thought your first year was tough.
A Student-Run Shabbaton Falters, by Ashley Bagan. Once the vanguard of the post-denominational movement, Jews in the Woods has fallen on hard times. Will it be a casualty of its own success?
The Best Years of our Lives, by Marissa Brostoff. Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer reflects on his time as editor of Avukah Student Action, a Jewish student newspaper of the World War II era.
My Enemies List, by Josh Nathan-Kazis. Hillel’s domination of Jewish campus life is dangerous for Jewish students, and the Jewish community as a whole. Here’s why.
Mazal tov to the ever-fabulous Becca Oshins for organizing this important program. It is so exciting to see active, passionate students using the resources of the established Jewish institutions to make an impact. (Well…okay in this case, through no impact…)
Footprint Forward, NYU No-Impact Week 2007
Presented by the Bronfman Center Selma Ruben Distinguished Lecture Serie
NYU Footprint Forward Week (November 4-12) is about making an active environmental difference in a livable way. Through presentations, workshops, a guidebook, and an online community, we hope to inspire over 500 students and community members at NYU and in the surrounding neighborhood to live as close to a zero net impact lifestyle as possible for the duration of the week!
While low-impact living necessitates some changes in lifestyle, Footprint Forward is ultimately about doing more, not less. It means making choices that are within the boundaries of our professional, academic and personal needs that help sustain our school, our city, and our world â€“ as well as ourselves.
Footprint Forward begins on November 4th at 2:00PM at NYUâ€™s Bronfman Center with a private workshop with “No Impact Man” Colin Beavan, www.noimpactman.com, and culminates with a community-wide lecture in the Great Hall at Cooper Union on November 12th at 7:15PM. Throughout the week there will be positive impact events, lectures, volunteer opportunities, social opportunities and more. All are welcome to participate to whatever degree they are comfortable.
Rebecca Oshins and Adam Brock, student co-chairs of Footprint Forward, are dedicated to making a real impact. As Rebecca says, â€œFootprint Forward is a chance for each of us to make a significant positive impact in our community and in our lives. We are so excited to see the high level of participation and commitment from across the university.â€
For more information on Footprint Forward, a complete calendar of events and to register please visit this link.
The event is co-sponsored by the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life Selma Ruben Distinguished Lecture Series, and the NYU Green Arch, with participation from clubs and organizations across campus.
Footprint Forward Committee, NYU Senior
jill.goldstein -at – nyu – dot – edu
This month’s features look at the endangered state of women’s health at Stern College of Yeshiva University and the story of outlaw Jews involved in the Jewish mob. Continue reading to learn about Harvard students starving for workers’ better wages, obscure Jewish teachings on fingernail hygiene, a sex-panic in 1920s Boston, and a handful of other topics.
Also, a big welcome to Liz Alpern and Joshua Nathan-Kazis as the incoming director and editor for 2007 – 2009. Kudos to Ilana Sichel and Sarah Braunstein as they conclude two years at the Jewish Student Press Service — the magazine looks more beautiful than it ever did, covers the edgy news that Jewish students want to read, and the organization has once again survived through another debacle of speaking truth to power (read all about it in The Nation).