Campus questions that cannot be ignored

This week, my youngest child becomes a college graduate. As I head back to her campus for the final time, I can’t help but be stunned at how the years have flown. I think back on the many, many campuses I have toured, and I remember the many questions parents asked such as,  “Is there a Hillel?” and “Will I receive a copy of their grades?” But almost no one asked about the blue lights scattered around the campus. Or whether there was any training around the dangerous combination of alcohol, drugs and sex. Or how the college administration handles charges of sexual assault.

Maybe we don’t ask because we don’t want to think about why there are so many emergency phone booths with blue strobe lights to call security. Sure, we’ve heard stories about incidents of dating violence, but that wouldn’t happen on this campus. That wouldn’t happen to my daughter.

But the thing is … it could. The statistics are frightening. More than one in five women will be the victim of attempted or completed sexual assault during her college years. What’s being done about it?

We can’t let one more student face assault. We can’t let one more young woman be told by administrators that she needs to accept her role in what happened to her. We need to expand Title IX so it includes domestic violence and stalking. We need to stop shrugging off incidents as simply poor decisions our children make that are just part of being in college and growing up. It’s time for us to step up and do something.

President Obama has responded recently by calling for transparency and responsibility with new and stronger requirements for colleges to report on dating violence and sexual assault. We applaud the administration for these landmark initiatives through the White House Task Force to Protect Students Against Sexual Assault.

Engaging men and boys as allies is the only way to turn the tide in what is an unqualified epidemic. This is why we, along with Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternities and Sigma Delta Tau (SDT) sororities, created Safe Smart Dating, the first national program on dating abuse and sexual assault for the Greek community on college campuses. We were extremely proud that the program was recently awarded the prestigious Laurel Wreath for outstanding programming for the fraternal world from the North-American Interfraternity Conference.

Through a series of discussions, scenarios, news stories, live text surveys and video, we bring young men and women together to help them define and identify dating abuse and sexual assault as well as build skills to be active bystanders at school and in their communities. This past year we piloted the program at the University of Pennsylvania, Purdue University and George Washington University.

Programs such as ours help raise the level of conversation between young men and women on college campuses, but it’s just the beginning. Let’s not be afraid to ask how the school does training, how they handle complaints and how they report incidents on campus.

Lori Weinstein is the CEO of Jewish Women International, the leading Jewish women’s organization working to end violence against women, instill financial literacy and empower women and girls to become leaders. To learn more about Safe Smart Dating, go to jwi.org.

Memo to JT: J Street Unworthy

Shame on the JT for questioning the integrity of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and its democratic voting process (“Referendum on the Presidents’ Conference,” May 9).

The Conference of Presidents has sent a clear message by refusing to accept J Street as a member. The message: J Street is unworthy of being considered part of the pro-Israel Jewish community. Instead of accepting that message, the JT prefers to attack the messenger, the highly respected Presidents’ Conference.

JT’s position is all the more reprehensible because it sows confusion and dissension within the American Jewish community at a time when unity is most needed to support Israel against its many detractors.

It goes without saying that J Street is an anti-Israel, anti-Zionist organization, its protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Every one of its major policy positions and activities has been designed to defame Israel’s democratically elected government and denounce Israel’s ethically, morally and legally sound policies.

The JT makes the risible claim that J Street’s views “have a significant following in the Jewish community.” The real question is what impact those views and activities are having on the community and on the U.S.-Israel relationship. A case in point: J Street’s campus arm, J Street U, corrupts gullible, uninformed college students with lies, half-truths and anti-Zionist propaganda, for instance, by bringing speakers onto campuses who promote BDS [the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel].

As a wolf in sheep’s clothing, J Street would do even more harm to the unity of the Jewish community if it ever were given the chance to enter the Conference of Presidents’ big tent.

Marc Caroff
President, Louis D. Brandeis Chapter
Zionist Organization of America
Silver Spring

How will Modi lead?

Narendra Modi (Narendra Modi Offical Flickr)

Narendra Modi
(Narendra Modi Official Flickr)

A youthful nation and growing economic powerhouse, India has long been forging strong business relations with Israel. Those ties are expected to grow stronger following last week’s landslide election of India’s conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader Narendra Modi.

As chief minister of Gujarat state in Western India, Modi, 63, oversaw a pro-business climate and expanded trade with Israel. In fact, according to recent reports, Gujarat signed an agreement within the last year with an Israeli company and two others to build two semiconductor fabrication plants for a total cost of almost $10.4 billion. Trade between the two nations is $5 billion a year, not counting defense trade.

Modi reportedly wants to continue to improve India’s relations with Israel, which is good news for the Jewish state. It doesn’t hurt for a small nation with eight million people to have the world’s second most populous nation in its corner. And India and Israel clearly have security interests in common, as Islamic terror threatens both countries.

But it would be a mistake for the two countries to base their relationship on an anti-Muslim platform. And we hope that doesn’t become the focus of further efforts to bring the countries closer. A large percentage of the population of both countries is Muslim — indeed, India is the second-largest Muslim nation in the world after Indonesia. But defining your country as anti-Muslim doesn’t make sense and is no way to lead a nation forward

Yet, that is what India’s BJP has done, at least in some respects. The BJP has sought to identify India with the Hindu religion and has vocally rejected the country’s secular tradition of the last 67 years. And within its pro-Hindu promotional activity, the party has vocal anti-Muslim elements. Although candidate Modi has distanced himself from his more radical party supporters, many recall the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 that left 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslim. Then-Chief Minister Modi has been accused of looking the other way during that dark episode.

Today, incoming Prime Minister Modi is a man who promises to pull India out of its economic torpor. Clearly, his message has resonated among India’s youth, its business class and millions of others who saw this election as an opportunity to change direction and leadership with an eye toward a brighter economic future. If  Modi chooses to lead as an Indian and operates as a pro-business conservative, he will be someone with whom both Israel and the United States could work. But if the prime minister designate begins to voice and act on the dark chauvinism at his party’s heart, he should expect a much rougher ride.

For the ZOA, No Palestinian State

Issachar Friedman contends that the choice for Israel lies between “nuanced ‘land for peace” or the “hawkish territorialism and revanchist one-state” ZOA agenda (Your Say, April 24).

The ZOA does not support a one-state agenda, as Friedman would know if he examined our website and publications. Rather, we presently oppose creating a Palestinian state, because neither Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority nor Palestinian society in general accept living in peace alongside Israel in a Palestinian state. Abbas and the PA have repeatedly rejected accepting Israel as a Jewish state, demanded that a future Palestinian state be judenrein and refused the idea of ending the conflict even if such a state is created. In case there is any doubt, Abbas reiterated all these points to President Obama just weeks ago.

Friedman claims that pikuach nefesh — protecting and saving lives — has priority over territory. So it does, but his point is irrelevant when experience has shown that ceding territory to unrepentant and unreconstructed Palestinian terrorists has led to a massive increase in the loss of Israeli lives. That is why, for example, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which initially cited the imperative of pikuach nefesh in supporting the Oslo Accords, has since admitted it was tragically mistaken to do so.

Creating an irredentist Palestinian Authority state, which can import heavy weaponry, along Israel’s longest border and within mortar range of Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem and the coastal plain, which house the vast majority of Israel’s population, drastically endangers Jewish life and statehood.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

True Freedom Implies a Return to One’s True Essence

What is the truest definition of freedom? I believe that an exploration of a difference of interpretation between two Talmudic sages on a phrase in our Torah portion will shed a great deal of light on this fundamental existential question.

Commenting on the verse that submits that if the nation walks in God’s ways, He “will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid, and I will cause evil beasts to cease from the land,” Rav Yehuda explains that the evil beasts “will disappear from the world,” whereas Rav Shimon Bar Yohai interprets that only the evil of the beasts will “cease from the land,” but not the beasts themselves.

What is the significance of this debate?

To answer, we should first consider another difference of opinion. In last week’s portion of Behar we read: “And you shall hallow the 50th year, and proclaim liberty (Hebrew, dror) throughout the land. … It shall be a Jubilee unto you, and you shall return every man unto his possession, and every man unto his family.”

Dror is generally translated as liberty or freedom; Rashi quotes Rav Yehuda (B.T. Rosh Hashana 9b), who associates the word ‘dror’ with ‘dur,’ to dwell, teaching that true freedom means the ability to dwell anywhere one wishes, without any restrictions at all. Nachmanides takes an entirely different slant, connecting the Hebrew dror to dor, a generation, citing a famous verse in Ecclesiastes: “One generation (Hebrew, dor) passes away and another generation comes.”

Rashi’s focuses on the Jubilee’s declaration of dror as expressing physical freedom, whereas Nachmanides’ explanation focuses on something beyond the physical, on that which gets passed down from generation to generation and represents eternity.

The freedom declared by the Jubilee Year grants us the opportunity to realize our true potential, to express our most fundamental essence grounded in the roots of our very being.

Every Jew becomes free from external domination, returning to their own land under their own government; fruits and vegetables may be eaten freely without back-breaking labor; debts that enslave the poor to their creditors are rescinded; and a year of Torah study frees every Jew from the psychological limitations and addictions that imprison their soul-psyche. Freedom means that one has the unfettered ability to express their truest self, to realize their greatest potential.

Now we are ready to return to the difference of opinion regarding the situation at the time of redemption, when Israel lives by the Divine commandments.

According to Rav Yehuda, the Almighty will effectuate a change in nature. But according to Rav Shimon bar Yochai, we will effectuate the change in ourselves because we — and the entire universe along with us — will return to our original nature expressing the original purpose of our being. In the words of Nachmanides, “When Israel observes the commandments, the land of Israel will be like the world at its beginning, before the sin of Adam, when no wild beast or creeping thing would kill a human.”

Which vision of the end of the days is better? Nachmanides prefers the interpretation of Rav Shimon Bar Yohai, because therein lies the essence of our nature, the purpose of creation and the true meaning of freedom.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.

Wohlberg: Rabbi or Self-Serving Figurehead?

The last time (and it was the very last time) I attended services at Beth Tfiloh, I listened to Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg’s “sermon” praising then presidential Republican candidate John McCain while denouncing Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Now I read that Beth Tfiloh recently hosted right-wing Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer, warmly introduced by Rabbi Wohlberg (“Right On! Beth Tfiloh hosts political commentator Charles Krauthammer,” May 9). While the rest of Jewish community may worship Rabbi Wohlberg as a spiritual leader, I find him nothing more than a slick, self-serving, smooth-talking figurehead whose political views have no place in any house of worship.

Perhaps when Rabbi Wohlberg retires, which I truly hope will be soon, he can pursue a second career as a Fox News commentator alongside Krauthammer.

Richard B. Crystal
Pikesville

Presidents’ Conference ‘a Rickety Contraption’

The rejection of J Street’s application for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is curious (“Not So Fast,” “What is the Presidents’ Conference?” May 9). Nevermind what some may consider J Street’s controversial Mideast positions or its separately incorporated political action committee, the rejection speaks worlds about the Presidents’ Conference itself.

Curiously, the vote was by secret paper ballot. But voting at the Presidents’ Conference isn’t the same as individual citizens voting for school board members. The concept of “one man, one vote” doesn’t apply here. Rather, the Presidents’ Conference is more akin to a parliamentary body. Votes are cast by representatives of the Presidents’ Conference’s constituent member organizations. In this context the voters are answerable to the membership of their own organizations for the votes they cast on their behalf at the Conference. Why do so many of these representatives not want their memberships to know how they voted in their names?

Commendably, some organizations such as Ameinu and the ZOA were quite public about their voting intentions. But why won’t all of the 22 organizations opposing the J Street application state their opposition publicly? It is in this context that one appreciates the principled contemplation by the Union for Reform Judaism to reconsider its Presidents’ Conference membership.

J Street’s views and outlook may be controversial and distasteful to some. It is also clear that J Street represents a large stratum of American Jewish opinion. URJ’s potential withdrawal from the Presidents’ Conference belies the Conference’s claim to represent organized American Jewry.

The Presidents’ Conference was always a rickety Rube Goldberg contraption, co-founded by a most unlikely pair of statesmen: John Foster Dulles and Nahum Goldmann. Are its pieces now falling apart?

Elihud Davison
Morristown, N.J.

Facebook Challenge: an Israeli-Palestinian Accord

What can Israelis and Palestinians agree on?

Everything. Or nothing.

I was asked to address this question by the moderator of a Facebook forum devoted to discussing Middle East peace. I have joined a number of such groups in recent weeks in a blatant effort to help promote my new book, “Broken Spring.”

My experience with most of the groups has been disappointing. All of them have “peace” in their titles, but the overall tone of the posts, with some notable exceptions, is extremism and hate.

The ideologues and extremists on both sides — those who truly believe that Israel is a cancer that must be removed, that everything Israel does is aimed at oppressing the Palestinians, that Israel intentionally and happily kills Palestinian babies or those who believe that all Palestinians are terrorists, that all of them believe Jews should be massacred at every opportunity, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian or Palestine, that all of them should be expelled to Jordan or the moon or wherever — those people make up the “nothing” part of the equation.

I got into a Facebook discussion with a couple of Israel-bashers who assumed that I’m a mouthpiece for the hated Zionists. I explained that, indeed, I am an Israeli, but I am a journalist and analyst who has covered the conflict hands-on for four decades and is just trying to provide some background and context. The reply was that this person has also covered the conflict for decades, although he’s never been within 4,000 miles of the region. I admit that I laughed.

There are issues and narratives that will never be reconciled. Who did what to whom, when, why? Which side has suffered more? Who has historical/religious/security rights to which sliver of land? On that basis — and that is the basis of many of the comments I’ve read — nothing ever will be achieved.

Israeli President Shimon Peres believes peace can be made by looking forward, not backward. Peres isn’t right about everything, but he’s right about that.

Israelis are sitting on the edge of their collective chair waiting for Egypt to abrogate the 1979 peace treaty that has revolutionized the Middle East far more than any accord between Israel and the Palestinians ever could.

Israelis were certain that the day after the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo, the treaty would be canceled. It wasn’t. They assume the new military rulers are just as anti-Israel in their own way, and cancelation is just a matter of time.

It hasn’t happened. It won’t. The reason is that Israel and Egypt both have vital common interests at stake, interests that require that the peace treaty
remains in force and that cooperation increases.

If the principle of acting according to interests is accepted, then it’s a matter of hammering out terms that both sides can live with as opposed to what both sides believe is theirs by right.

One central part of this is, it’s a package deal. If we bring individual issues to the fore one by one, then of course each side must reject each demand of the other side.

The price of not reaching an agreement is more stalemate, more suffering, more wasted resources. Time is not on anyone’s side, because the choice is clear:

Everything. Or nothing.

Bring Alan Home!

It breaks my heart to read about Alan Gross (World Briefs: “Alan Gross goes on hunger strike,” April 11). Alan and I go back to fifth grade at Campfield Elementary School, when his family first moved to Baltimore and he showed up in my class on the first day of school. We became instant friends and stayed close through high school. We joined Chesapeake AZA together. I remember frequently staying for dinner and sleeping over at his house when we were kids. We lost track of each other in college and reconnected, like many in our generation, on Facebook a few years ago. I remember meeting his wife when they were dating, early in our college days.

I lived in Miami from 1978 to 1984, and I understand the hurt of losing a business, or worse, losing your country. Two of my grandfather’s brothers left Cuba after having their businesses confiscated by the Castro government. Many cannot stomach the idea of any contact with Cuba. Their representatives, Bob Menedez, Democratic senator from New Jersey, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican congressional representative from Florida, do not want the U.S. to make a deal with Castro. Cuba is personal to them.

Alan Gross is personal to me. The United States could negotiate his release, probably in exchange for the three remaining prisoners of the Cuban Five.

If Israel can negotiate with Hamas to release an Israeli soldier, if we can have trade relations with Russia, China and Vietnam, then we can talk about a prisoner swap with Cuba.

Alan went to Cuba on a U.S. government program. I’m sure he thought the government would help him out if he got in trouble. If our government can’t help this one man, then no one working for the U.S. can feel safe. It is up to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who attended Sudbrook Junior High School with Alan and me, to find a diplomatic solution and bring my good friend home to his family.

Barry Wendell
Morgantown, W. Va.

In Memory of Inge Weinberger

The [Yom HaShoah] commemoration in Baltimore (“Legacy of Loss,” April 18) included candle lighting in memory of our Holocaust survivor family members who died this past year, along with a candle for Ms. Inge Weinberger z”l, whose work with HIAS was a beacon of light to survivor family members when we came to the United States from the displaced-person camps and knew no one and had no one.

Frania Kryszpel Block
Baltimore