UC Irvine Actually Safe Space for Jews

The Jewish students at the University of California-Irvine and our supporters took a strong stand this month, showing our campus community that we will not be intimidated or allow our vocal support for  Israel to be stifled.

Last month, a pro-Israel event sponsored by the UC Irvine student organization, Students Supporting Israel (SSI), with support from Hillel, was targeted by anti-Israel protestors on the UCI campus.

A dozen students had gathered in a classroom to watch the Jerusalem U film, “Beneath the Helmet.” The program was meant to inform young people how their contemporaries in  Israel prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for the awesome task of protecting their country. A screaming mob disrupted the screening, tried to force their way into the room and chased one student into hiding after she had been caught outside when the protestors arrived. Our students and staff had to be protected by campus police.

How ironic that at a sight intended for learning, anti-Israel students tried to shut learning down. Through bullying masquerading as social justice, they sought to make a statement that engagement with Israel will be met with harassment and intimidation.

The incident made news. It scared some people. And it made people question whether pro-Israel students can safely hold events on their own campus.

Three weeks later, the campus and broader communities made a statement of a different kind. More than 400 students, alumni and Jewish community members gathered for a rescreening of “Beneath the Helmet” at the UCI Student Center, on an evening that will be remembered as truly special.

IDF Cmdr. Eden Adler, featured in the film, attended the event and shared his personal story with the audience. We were joined by colleagues and friends from many other  organizations who partnered with us on this event, including Chabad of UCI, StandWithUs, Hasbara Fellowships and the Secure Community Network of Jewish Federations of North America.

While the first screening was met with hostility, the rescreening, nearly 40 times bigger, was peaceful and celebratory.

Our messages that night were clear. The community and the university will not allow our students’ right to engage with  Israel on campus to be curtailed. Freedom of speech and assembly, and the rights to inquire and learn, are fundamental values of UCI that belong not to only some students, but to everyone. Most important, our students stated forthrightly that despite the egregious incident of May 18, they feel safe at UCI. They implored audience members to send their children and grandchildren to UCI in order to grow and strengthen the community of students connected to Israel.

 

Lisa Armony is executive director of Hillel Foundation of Orange County and director of the Rose Project of Jewish Federation & Family Services.

A Real Concern

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

Could a massacre similar to the gunning down last week of 49 patrons of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., happen here in Baltimore?

No matter how much we might wish for the better, the answer is frighteningly yes, God forbid. The fact is, the terrorism corollary of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” means that so long as there are people willing to risk their life to claim that of another, we will never be able to eradicate the threat of violence from our society.

But that’s not really what the debate over gun control playing out over the airwaves and on our social media accounts is really about. If it were, we would have long ago abandoned the idea that a prime duty of government is to provide for the safety of its citizens.
Rational people on either side of the debate accept on the one hand that 100 percent safety is unachievable and on the other that any policy that reduces the risk of casualties from a mass shooting is inherently worthy of consideration.

At the center of just such a conversation sits the state assault weapons ban authored in part by Attorney General Brian Frosh back when he was a member of the Maryland legislature. Facing an upcoming decision by a U.S. District Court, the ban, which survived an earlier legal challenge, was modeled on a federal ban that expired in 2004. While the National Rifle Association argues the Maryland law presents too great a restriction of Americans’ Second Amendment rights to “keep and bear arms,” Frosh looks to data indicating that as soon as the federal ban expired, mass shootings precipitously increased. One of the best ways to keep military-style weapons such as the Sig Sauer MCX used in Orlando out of the hands of terrorists, his allies argue, is to make their purchase illegal.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the Jewish community, as it does on so many issues, has a nuanced view — meaning consensus beyond agreeing that people should be safe is hard to come by. Both the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington are in favor of assault weapons bans, and many rabbis, including Beth Am Synagogue’s Daniel Cotzin Burg, are as well. But Edward Friedman, the editor-in-chief of the NRA’s monthly Shooting Illustrated, happens to be Orthodox, and Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath
Israel of Maryland, notes that there is merit to both sides in the gun control debate.

There are “definitely plenty of people in the community who feel strongly about the need for protection,” he says. “At the same time, the availability of an assault weapon … is a real concern.”

Clearly, we need to do more to prevent attacks such as the one last week. Equally clear is the constitutional right to own a gun. What that weapon may be and exactly who may own it are hopefully questions we’ll be able to sensibly and civilly answer in the weeks and months ahead.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Economic Support for Terrorism?

Does foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority contribute to terrorism? An independent study in the United Kingdom suggests that it indirectly does, pointing to the P.A.’s much criticized policy of paying the salaries of people on the government payroll while they are serving time for terrorism.

The pro-Israel community has been making just such an accusation for years. The recent report by the Overseas Development Institute adds a crucial voice to the analysis. According to the study, the evaluation of a $224 million grant by the U.K.’s Department for International  Development (DFID) to pay for the  expansion of the Palestinian civil government workforce “suggests that people who know their families will still receive their salary and that they will have a job waiting for them after time in jail have less reason to avoid committing a violent act.”

One big caveat is that much of that 13-year period covered by the report does not  include the five-year period of the DFID grant. Nonetheless, two members of Parliament criticized the aid. Sir Eric Pickles, a Conservative lawmaker, said: “British taxpayers will be shocked to learn that we are helping to fund an equal opportunity employment policy for convicted terrorists.” And MP Joan Ryan, who chairs Labour Friends of Israel, called for an independent inquiry to make sure tax revenue is spent on building peace rather than “ending up in the pockets of convicted terrorists.”

The British government is now investigating the issue. But the prospect of an  increase in international criticism of P.A. practices raises the question of what the international community can do. The ODI study noted that “in the absence of donor support, a prospective collapse of the Palestinian economy would create acute adjustment costs, with an associated risk of an escalation in violence.” Put a different way: You think it’s bad now? Imagine how bad things would be without the P.A.

That’s actually a serious issue. Even with all of its problems, the P.A. is an  internationally sanctioned body that  cooperates with Israel on security measures, and it is the Palestinian address that Israel deals with in negotiations large and small. But while those functions are  important, they cannot excuse encouragement and sanctioning of terror. Rather, the international community should vigorously insist that President Mahmoud Abbas make good on his public promises to stop salary payments to terrorists.

A peace breakthrough may not be in the cards at this time. But it should be possible to raise the economic consequence of committing an act of terror, and it is not unreasonable to demand that the P.A. do its part to help achieve that result. This is another instance where actions speak louder than words.

The Greatest Threat to Palestinian Arab Youth

On May 19, The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper covering Congress, other governmental agencies and related activity, published a one-sided, anti-Israel op-ed entitled “Obama must act to protect Palestinian youth” by Brad Parker of Defense for Children International-Palestine. Parker claimed a special envoy for Palestinian children would “ensure that Palestinian children’s rights are not abused.” His commentary obscured the greatest threat to Palestinian Arab youths: manipulative Palestinian leaders promoting anti-Jewish incitement.

Parker claimed “recent violence” is due to “hopelessness” Palestinian youth feel over  Israel’s “violent military occupation.” He omitted the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian-Israeli violence since September 2015 has consisted of Arabs attacking Israelis, including children, with rocks, vehicles, knives and guns.

Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group ruling the Gaza Strip and whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and genocide of Jews, disagrees with Parker’s assessment.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said as much in a speech at a rally on Jan. 19: “This intifada is not the result of despair. This intifada is a jihad, a holy war fought by the Palestinian people against the Zionist occupation,” meaning Israel, which unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Excusing Palestinian anti-Jewish violence as the result of “despair” over the lack of a Palestinian state, Parker omitted that Palestinian leaders have consistently rejected U.S. and Israeli offers of a “two-state  solution.”

Instead, the P.A. and Hamas have continued anti-Jewish incitement — frequently encouraging children to perpetrate  violent acts. Palestinian children’s TV shows teach “there is no Israel” and Jews are the “most evil among creations, wretched pigs.”

In its March report entitled “Educating the Next Generation,” the Mideast Freedom Forum, a German-based think tank, found that Palestinian school textbooks “consistently portray Jews in a strongly negative manner,” deny the existence of Israel and are awash with anti-Semitic stereotypes.

In an article professing to advocate on behalf of Palestinian children, Parker failed to acknowledge the use of Palestinian children as human shields by groups like Hamas.

If Parker wants to “ensure that Palestinian children’s rights are not abused” he should speak to Palestinian leaders. But it’s doubtful he would find a willing reception. It’s unfortunate that The Hill, forgoing fact-checking, chose to give Parker’s unsubstantiated screed a platform.

Sean Durns is a media assistant for the Washington D.C., office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

A Second Chance Parshat Beha’alotcha

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

I was in a total fog during my first year in high school. I entered a strange school, much larger than the one I had attended previously, and was not given the benefit of any orientation to the new environment. I struggled academically and socially. But I knew one thing: I liked to write, and I sought to learn how to do so.

I learned that there was a special track in the English  department for those who were interested in writing. I was turned down, but I persisted and made it my business to arrange for an interview with Joe Brown, the instructor for the journalism class.

I will never forget Mr. Brown because he was impressed by my perseverance and gave me a second chance, explaining that many freshmen often become overwhelmed by the novelty of their new environment and don’t always excel to their full potential. To this day, every time I put a pencil to paper or fingers to a computer keyboard, I think of Joe Brown.

Parshat Beha’alotcha, we read of a group of people who, like me, were unable to fulfill their responsibilities the first time around. In their case, it was the mitzvah of bringing the Passover offering on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, which they failed to do. For them, it was not the strangeness of a new school that prevented them from doing the mitzvah properly. Rather it was because “they were unclean, having come into contact with a dead body, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day” (Num. 9:6).

“Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the  Israelites?” (Num. 9:7) They persisted and insisted upon having the same benefits of the rest of the people.

The Lord gave them a second chance. He told Moses that, forevermore in the history of the Jewish people, when individuals are faced with circumstances that prevent them from bringing the Passover offering in its proper time, “they shall offer it in the second month.” God, in His infinite mercy, gave a second chance, a kind of a do-over session, to a group of people who could have easily given up, but who did not want to be left out and therefore persevered in their search for a spiritual privilege.

There is so much to be learned from this story.  Although we cannot play God, we can certainly emulate Him and give others a second chance. We need not strictly enforce all of our rules but can recognize that there are circumstances in the lives of men that prevent them from doing the right thing the first time around and who therefore  require a little “slack.”

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union.

Question Off Target

Before the JT publishes a poll question it should do some  research to see if the question  is even relevant. Anyone who responded “yes” to the June 17 question, “Do you believe that either federal or state officials should ban the sale of assault weapons?” clearly is not versed on the facts of this issue.

To begin with, assault weapons, most accurately defined as weapons with high-capacity magazines and the capability to fire multiple bullets with one pull of the trigger, have been banned for civilian use on the federal level for many decades with very few exceptions. That federal ban carries over to the state level as well. In October 2013, the state of Maryland passed the Firearms Safety Act of 2013 that also banned the sale of semiautomatic rifles if they were cosmetically similar to the already-banned assault rifles by having a folding stock or a flash suppressor.

In addition, the sale and purchase of a magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds became illegal in Maryland. This law was successfully challenged in court, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said that the ban on semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines should be subject to strict scrutiny, not intermediate scrutiny, because they “are in common use by law-abiding citizens.” The court acknowledged that the state has a right to limit the use of or ban citizen possession, sale or transfer of “dangerous and unusual” weapons (such as hand grenades), but the weapons and ammunition barred by the 2013 law did not fall under that provision.

The fact is that there is no meaningful difference between a legally sold/purchased civilian AR-15 and a hunting rifle. In fact, the AR-15 is chambered for a .223 caliber round whereas many hunting rifles are chambered for .30-30 or .308 caliber rounds, which are significantly more powerful. Banning assault weapons has already been done. Can we please find a real solution?

Of Modesty, Handshakes

With regard to the comment if the JT’s June 17 editorial “Of Swiss Handshakes, Restricted Swimming,” comment that “many observant Jews will decline  a handshake from someone of the opposite sex out of modesty”:

Modesty is an arbitrary, subjective criterion, lacking dispositive validity. Halachically, according to Rambam, only  libidinal physical contact between the sexes is prohibited.

Anecdote: When an Orthodox rabbi of my acquaintance was apprised that a colleague “does not shake hands,” his spot-on response was: “What then does he shake?”

Shabbos at the JCC: Crossing the Line

090613_Rabbi_Moshe_HauerLast week, the board of the JCC voted overwhelmingly to open the Owings Mills JCC for the full day on Shabbos, expanding on the afternoon opening that was initiated seven years ago. This is a troubling  decision.

During the broad communal debate over the initial Shabbos opening of the JCC, many asserted that it would be inappropriate to initiate, within a communal facility, a practice or program that trampled on the deeply held sensitivities of a significant segment of the community. That argument was rejected by the JCC and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which claimed that the Orthodox had their JCC in the Park Heights building, while the  Owings Mills campus belonged to the local non-Orthodox population. The argument — made by a community that functions under the slogan of “We Are One” — was disturbing then and is disturbing now, but it is what it is.

As a result of this premise, this latest decision should have come as no surprise. But it, nevertheless, is both surprising and profoundly disappointing and concerning.

The challenge of continuity grows stronger as connections grow weaker, as new generations of Jews come of age without memories of their Yiddish-accented bubbie and her Shabbos candles and holiday recipes.

 

It is surprising because the initial opening was undertaken with a clear red line, that in deference to Shabbos the  facility would open only in the afternoon and with a pledge that the Shabbos experience at the JCC would be enriched with meaningful and substantive elements that would make that day at the J different than any other. This latter pledge was never fulfilled, and now, seven years later, the red line has been crossed.

It is disappointing and concerning as we consider the frightening trends of disaffiliation in the Jewish community. This should be the dominant concern of Jewish leadership and the thrust of communal investment — financial and human — as we face the crisis of continuity exposed most  recently by the Pew study, but lived and witnessed by Jewish communal professionals and leaders each and every day.

The challenge of continuity grows stronger as connections grow weaker, as new generations of Jews come of age without memories of their Yiddish- accented bubbie and her Shabbos candles and holiday recipes. Yet in Baltimore, the trends  of disaffiliation in the non- Orthodox community, while alarming, have always been slower and better than in other communities. This does not appear to be a result of uniquely creative local programming initiatives, but rather can be attributed to our “bubbie substitutes,” i.e. The Associated’s commitment to maintaining a traditional structure and feel in its many robust organizations and facilities, and the unique cohesion and connection between the community’s various segments. These have provided the community with both structural and human anchors of Jewish identity and continuity.

The challenge faced by the JCC leadership is significant and understandable. The Owings Mills Jewish community is shrinking and not attracting young Jewish families, such that a significant percentage of new JCC members in Owings Mills are from outside the Jewish community. These members are joining the JCC not for Jewish community but for recreational convenience, and to attract them the JCC feels the need to compete with a new LA Fitness opening in the area. The result is a Jewish communal organization and facility that, in its struggle for financial viability, has chosen to drop critical elements of its traditional structure and to become less of a place of Jewish cohesion and connection, with the wishful hope of compensating for that profound loss with well-meaning promises of effective Jewish programming.

If we are in the business of keeping our fitness facilities operating in the black, then this may be a good business decision. But if we are in the business of maintaining, building and nurturing a Jewish  future and stopping the alarming erosion in the parts of the Jewish community that the JCC was  created to keep connected, it  appears to be a very poor  business decision.

In the past, The Associated recognized that these decisions were not local to the JCC’s membership, finance and planning committees but represented existential questions that needed to be addressed by a broader conversation with communal leadership. This time, they have not stepped forward to do that. They should.

All of us in the Jewish community face a challenging future and must share a commitment to do what we can to keep all Jews identified with the Jewish community. We need to put our heads together and consider what has worked and what has not; to choose how to invest our human and financial resources in ways that make sense for the real business at hand — maintaining, building and nurturing our Jewish future.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is the spiritual leader of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion  Congregation and a member of the board of The Associated: Jewish  Community Federation of Baltimore.

Simply, Sadness

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

You can tell a lot about a person by how he or she responds to a crisis. The same can be said for a community.

Take a look at all of the reactions this week to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history: Among the near-universal condemnation — news reports indicated that at least one religious leader, a Baptist pastor in California, actually condoned the murders early Sunday morning of 49 innocents at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., simply because they identified with the LGBT community — people of all stripes and political persuasions sought to cast blame for the massacre beyond the 29-year-old shooter. Some, seizing on a reported statement the gunman made to a 911 operator, blamed Islamic terror groups and radical Islamic theology. Others blamed America’s lax gun control laws, noting the ease with which a person can legally buy a military-style weapon like the type of assault rifle not only used in Orlando, but less than four years ago in the Newtown, Conn., massacre at an elementary school.

Still others blamed hate in general and homophobia in particular. And there were also those who blamed all of the above.

The country will be certain to debate all of these viewpoints, hopefully in an attempt to forestall the next attack on innocents, from whatever corner it emerges. But if you take a step back from the bloviating taking place on social media and on television talk shows, it turns out that the true reaction of the nation, far from seeking to explain the evil that has claimed far too many innocent lives over the years, has been one of a profound sadness that such evil exists. Even more, there’s an immense grief that such evil continues to act with impunity. Pausing for a minute to contemplate the tragedy has been the wisest reaction.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the Jewish community, both globally and right here in Baltimore, is likewise struggling to come to terms with the carnage almost 900 miles to our south. Even though some learned of the attack as Shavuot ended Monday night, their emotions were as raw as if the news had only then flashed across their smartphones. One rabbi from New Jersey, who was visiting family in Baltimore for the holiday, took to Facebook to note that the day of the shooting, synagogues across the globe were reading the Ten Commandments and their simple injunction to not murder.

There seems to be the realization that no matter how much we all, as Americans, as Jews, identify with the victims, real explanations for the frequency of violence, for the ease of it — it was just four days earlier that two gunmen killed four patrons at the popular Sarona Market in downtown Tel Aviv — are hard to come by. Instead of quick fixes, it will take all of us of goodwill, all those who cherish life, to work together to make our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation and our planet safe.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

Strange Bedfellows

I simply do not understand the intensity of the current anti-Trump crusade as represented by the JT’s May 19 “Trump: No Way” letter of Ruben Moller.

Sure, Trump’s “ideas are not really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies” (Hillary Clinton); and he is “utterly amoral” (Ted Cruz); “a con artist” (Marco Rubio); and “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” (Lindsey Graham).

But that’s just repackaged, old-style politics speaking.  Moller and others have lost sight of the big picture, mistaking not just the trees, but the leaves for the forest.

In this perilous time of immense cultural division, scabrous political polarization and heightened racial tension, what America needs above all else is a unifier. And Donald J. Trump has demonstrated an uncanny ability to accomplish just that.

After all, he has brought together under his banner, in support of his presidential candidacy: David Duke, the No. 1 anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi white supremacist in America; and Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 pro-Israel, Jewish billionaire in America. If Trump can get these two together on the same page, linked arm-in-arm, caroling the same song, then without doubt, he is the leader this country demands right now. Other than The Donald, who else’s brand may claim, symbolically, to have conjoined SS  partisans with IDF aficionados?