J Street Local’s Bumpy Philadelphia Road

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.

According to the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent:

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?”)

My Flip Camera May Not, In Fact, Be God

Okay, I promise this is my final post about Everything Is God: A Jewish Spiritual Woodstock, the event held Sunday night at Harvard Hillel. Jewschool doesn’t often cosponsor real, live events up here in Beantown, so you’ll forgive me for being a little more excited than usual at getting to represent us out there “In Real Life” as the kids say.

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.
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Jewish Continuity, Queered

Learning how to integrate my identity as a gay man and my involvement in the Jewish community was one of the most important accomplishments of my college career. Luckily, queer Jewish college students don’t have to do this alone. The National Union of Jewish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, and Questioning Students (or NUJLS for short) is a tremendous resource for queer Jews on campuses and the people who love them.

NUJLS’s annual conference is coming up April 3rd to 5th at UPenn. Click here to register!

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).

Harvard Hillel director excoriates Mort Klein

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 – mission accomplished.

Whether you’re into Breaking the Silence or otherwise, you can also tell Mort to fuck off here.

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What does Muslim pluralism look like?

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 deals with) disagreements in matters of law.

He was impressed, and complained about the Muslim student group on campus, saying the form of Islam espoused there 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 community where Hillels have 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 may 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, including 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 Judaism & 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 reaches out to Queers on Campus

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.

Nov/Dec ’07 New Voices issue on their brand new web site

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 New Voices 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.

Plus, a homelessness protest in Jerusalem (see cover image), a Jewish American Girl doll, Reb Schneerson skips the Acid Test, an original comic, reviews, and more.

You can subscribe to the print edition of the only national, independent student magazine for free. Enjoy!

NYU Hillel Launches No-Impact Week

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 – as well as ourselves.
Footprint Forward begins on November 4th at 2:00PM at NYU’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, “Footprint 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.”
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.

Contact information:
Jill Goldstein
Footprint Forward Committee, NYU Senior
jill.goldstein -at – nyu – dot – edu
954.614.9783

New Voices: The Body Issue

Bodies — legal and illegal — is the theme of the latest issue of New Voices magazine, the only national magazine by and for Jewish college students.

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).

New Voices is free free free — subscribe here. Under two years out of university? Then become a contributor here. Want your synagogue’s students to receive it for free, too? Rock on.

more love for y-love

you know — if you’re in montreal….

because everyone’s favorite Bostoner Hasidic hip-hop phenomenon is much too modest to post this himself.

(but check out the modesty in those eyes….)

Hillel takes action w/Guster, JDub, and all of Los Angeles

In college? Like the beach and warm weather in November? November 12 (conveniently timed to coincide with the GA), join Hillel, JDub, and more than 1,000 other students for JUST For a Day, to take to the streets and beaches of Los Angeles for a one-day social-justice blitz that will make a difference in lives of Angelinos.

The day culminates with a FREE show by Guster and The LeeVees at the Henry Fonda Theater.

Meet students from all over the west coast, volunteer your time and learn about the issues affecting LA. Organizations with volunteer opportunities include:
P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless)
Heal the Bay
Los Angeles Regional Food Bank
Venice Family Clinic
Beit T’shuvah
Downtown Women’s Center
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Buses will be traveling to/from the following Hillel’s:
USC, UC IRVINE, UC RIVERSIDE, UCLA, CSUN, SD State, UCSD, UC Berkeley, UCSB, Long Beach, Occidental, Claremont, and UofA. For more information and to register check out JUST For a Day

JDub doesn’t often get the opportunity to produce FREE events, and we’re particularly excited for this one. See you there.

Hillel Leaders: It’s Not About Anti-Semitism

The Chronicle reports that some Hillel leaders aren’t so interested in bitching about anti-Semitism:

“The troubling question for me,” said Chaim Seidler-Feller, executive director of the Hillel chapter at the University of California at Los Angeles, is, “‘Why can’t we hear the good news? Why are many Jews hysterical?’ We seem to be junkies for anti-Semitism.”

“Our Jewish knowledge is quite meager,” he continued. “Our positive experiences are so rare that we rely on anti-Semitism to sustain our Jewishness.”

He acknowledged that anti-Semitism does exist on campuses but reminded the 40 or so people who attended this session in a hotel conference room here that campuses are experiencing a “golden age” of Jewishness, with a significant number of Hillel chapters, university presidents and professors who are not only Jewish but identify themselves as such, and a plethora of Jewish periodicals and books published by university presses. Jewish intellectual activity, he said, is “celebrated and embraced.”

More.

Universities oh my

An interesting mix of media coverage populates the internet today, from the coverage of the rise of secular Jewish cultural programs in universities throughout the country, to the release of a report stating the need that NYU Hillel’s be more “welcoming” to undergraduates who have one Jewish parent, to the extensive coverage of “Inspiring Values, Creating Leaders: The Summit on the University and the Jewish Community,” hosted this week in DC by Hillel. The conference drew more than 600 university leaders, professors, students and Jewish professionals to talk about yes–one of jewschool’s favorite talking points–how to reinvigorate Jewish life into Jewish youth culture.

What stood out the most in reading this coverage was, not only that Hillel pledged to double its numbers over the next five years including “double its annual campaign; double its funding to local Hillels; and launch an aggressive recruitment and retention program for campus professionals,” but also that the Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center will increase its endowment from $10 million to $100 million.

Unbelievable! $100 million!!!

Now I don’t know about you, but Hillel on my campus was far from innovative, embracing or capable of truly bringing in or meeting the needs of the breadth and depth of student life, and I don’t think that this has to do with money–inherently one institution will never be able to meet the needs of a population of people, however small or large, that varies extensively on a number of demographics, including region, class, language, race, political affiliation, background and upbringing, and the list goes on and on.

So what gives? The Schusterman’s seem to be busy with Hillel, recently supporting endeavors in Texas and DC.

So who is the Schusterman Fund?–well according to their website:
“The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is dedicated to helping the Jewish people flourish by supporting programs throughout the world that spread the joy of Jewish living, giving and learning.”

The list of places that this foundation supports is unbelievable–from federations to colleges to the Jerusalem Open House, they’re across the map–Granted I’m not “in the know” about the foundation world, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of these folks before–and I’m wondering if maybe other folks haven’t either and if not, that maybe it’s time we start knocking on their door in Tulsa, and bring coverage like the New Voices recent article on JCPA and the bureaucracy of students trying to engage with a body that claims to “serves as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community in addressing the mandate of the Jewish community relations field,” or a host of other examples about the barriers to reinvigorating Jewish life, and the need to, not just study the issues impacting Gen X and Gen Y, but to also allow us to build, define and cultivate communities by and for ourselves. And definitely not only through the halls of Hillel.

I’ve always wanted to visit Tulsa, OK.

Update: A Jewschool reader rightfully suggested that we should clarify, that Charles Schusterman passed away in 2000, and since then Lynn has continued to pursue the philanthropic course she first charted with her husband of 38 years. She is joined in this task by her daughter, Stacy Schusterman, the other director of the Foundation.

2nd UPDATE:
Just got off the phone with the Schusterman Family Foundation, and indeed as Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications of Hillel wrote in the comment roll, it is NOT the Family Foundation that is increasing its endowment to Hillel by ten. Rather, the Hillel’s headquarters was named after the Schusterman’s after they gave an endowment to help build the center. A bit confusing with the names for sure, but, nonetheless, apologies for continuing to feed this confusion between the foundation, and Hillel’s international center, on Jewschool.

GW Hillel director brands Palestinian activist a “terrorist”

Upheaval on the GW campus: Fadi Kiblawi, a Palestinian rights activist, is threatening to sue GW’s Hillel chapter after its director Robert Fishman branded Kiblawi a terrorist/terror supporter in an e-mail distributed to the Hillel listserv. An advocate of divestiture and “the one state solution,” Kiblawi has previously been arrested by Israeli security forces for participating in ISM demonstrations within the occupied territories.

In a rebuttal to Fishman’s allegations, Kiblawi (who is also contributes to the Arab group blog KABOBfest), wrote:

The damage that the Hillel e-mail has caused to my reputation and my personal life has been debilitating. However, I am not a vindictive person. I believe that Hillel is an important social and spiritual center for Jewish students on campus. My principal concern at this point is to have my name cleared of the entirety of Hillel’s public allegations, which have now gained much currency on blogs and sites throughout cyberspace. I therefore ask Fishman to send a mass organizational e-mail repudiating his erroneous claims and apologizing immediately. However, if he declines to do so, he has left me with no choice but to pursue other options to exonerate myself – i.e., via legal means.

Some Hillel members have echoed Kiblawi’s concerns, including Will Dempster, senior editor of The Hatchet (GW’s campus paper), who labeled Fishman’s remarks “repugnant.”

I’ve contacted both Fishman and Kiblawi for further comment…

[Update] See, sh*t like this looks pretty ugly (even if the “journalist” is a nutjob). If anything, Kiblawi comes across as a monumental dick whose passion for his cause gets the best of him time and again. However, I don’t know if Fishman’s got any evidence to support his claim that Israel considers Kiblawi a terrorist. Getting arrested for civil disobedience does not make you a terrorist.

Further, Rick Dorfman (whose campus Zionist group is funded by Aish HaTorah and the ZOA) did indeed file a lawsuit against U Mich with the assistance of everso-psychotic Frontpage contributor Debbie Schlussel (who is currently crusading against cleavage). In it he cited an affidavit submitted by one David Herz claiming to have heard conference participants chanting “charad al-yahud.” However apart from his, and one other biased pro-Israel activist’s testimony, there is no evidence to support the charge — or specifically the claim that Kiblawi himself was involved in, let alone led the chanting (a claim which neither Herz or Dorfman make, but Fishman does). Which is not to say the chanting didn’t happen — it may very well have happened. There’s just no solid evidence to prove it and is thus an irresponsible charge to make.

While Kiblawi is mentioned in Dorfman’s lawsuit, it is only for his essay “A Perspective on Palestine while High on Vicodin,” the title of which conveys, if anything, the impression that the contents were expressions of a drug-addled imagination. You wouldn’t read the fantasies of Burroughs in Naked Lunch or Thompson in Fear & Loathing literally. Even if troublingly consistent with Kiblawi’s other statements and behavior, it can not be taken as a serious expression of his desire.

Finally, Kiblawi did cover for USF professor Sami Al-Arian claiming, in a debate with Dorfman on CNN, that Al-Arian had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the FBI. Shortly thereafter Al-Arian was indicted for helping Islamic Jihad orchestrate terror attacks which took the lives of over 100 civilians, including two American students. He was ultimately cleared of those charges (as were his codefendants) and now remains in custody awaiting trial on additional charges that he organized US fundraising operations for Islamic Jihad. This, however, was not actually a crime until 1996, when Islamic Jihad was officially listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, and therefore he cannot be prosecuted for any activities prior to then. Yes, I know better, you know better, we all know better — we’ve seen what Islamic Jihad hath wrought on the Israel. But in a free society, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and Kiblawi cannot be considered a supporter of terrorism for stating the inconvenient fact that Al-Arian is not a convicted terrorist.

Therefore, in essence, all of Fishman’s claims are erroneous. And while that shouldn’t exactly let Kiblawi off the hook, because I get the feeling he’s not the Jew-friendly pascifist he claims to be, Fishman should apologize, and campus Israel activists across North America should take notice. Slander may be effective in marginalizing Israel’s opponents among some audiences, but it can have the opposite effect in others, as it legitimizes claims of Zionist bullying. Fishman’s rallying cry should have focused, not on Kiblawi as a personality, but on divestiture and why it is both discriminatory and diplomatically ineffective. Fight the position, not the person. Do it with humility and grace, calmly and coherently, and you just might win the argument. Otherwise you’re going to be embarassed. And Fishman should feel embarassed right now.