Sunday, August 13, 2006

OC Jewish Life Article: Getting Proactive in Tackling Anti-Semitism on Campus

In August 2006, OC Jewish Life published Ted Bleiweis's follow-up article to his July 2006 article.

The text and printable versions of letter to UCI referred to below is available here.

Last month, I did little kvetching in this column. Author Michael Wex, wrote a book that said we Jews were Born to Kvetch. I only kvetched a few paragraphs.

I kvetched about three important points: 1. Our community needs to be kept better informed by its leadership. 2. Community organizations must channel more funding for Jewish education on campus, especially in the area of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. 3. “Ordinary” community members must take an active role in challenging anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in our communities and on our campuses.

You might say, “So, Mr. Monday morning quarterback, it’s easy to give advice. What are you doing about this?” Fair enough! I remember how my grandparents used to yell at the television, when a news report came on that they didn’t like. Then it hits me like a bolt from the blue! I won’t just kvetch! I’ll write a column! I’ll write a letter! I’ll speak to anyone willing to listen. Better yet, I’ll arrange an event or two of my own!

I telephoned Jewish friends to hear what they knew. They didn’t know much at all. (Most were relieved that I wasn’t yet another person soliciting a donation) Next, I phoned various synagogues and organizations that I attend. Finally, I contacted the alphabet soup of Jewish community organizations in Orange and LA counties. I focused on those that were intimately involved in with the UCI situation. My “gripe” was that I had heard about the “Holocaust in the Holy land” farce (sponsored by the UCI Moslem Union) from a radio talk show.

After spending many hours of telephone and face-to-face conversations with key Jewish organizational people, I began to understand the problems more clearly. Everyone comes from a different political, religious, philosophical, you-name-it point f view. It works the same way with Jewish organizations. This one wants to show a movie; that board member says, "No it's too controversial!" This one schedules a meeeting with the chancellor; that group doesn't get invited. This organization says it's protected speech; the other says, "No, it isn't." So it goes. This isn't to say that they're not working earnestly.

I phoned Kevin O’Grady, associate director of ADL; then I called Rabbi Keiffer at Temple Beth Emet. Both were to very eager to participate in a community forum. Rabbi Keiffer suggested June 30, Shabbat evening services. I said “great idea”, never hinting that I feared no one would be in town. It was July fourth weekend. Dr. O’Grady invited Jeffrey Rips, Executive Director of Hillel O.C. Surprisingly, the turnout was wonderful.

Both Speakers gave informative insights into the UCI problems. They noted that the UCI administration has never publicly acknowledged that anti-Semitic activities occurred on campus. A woman who attended classes CSUF said many of her professors were clearly teaching biased and revisionist history about Zionism and Israel. Dr. O’Grady said that was a problem on many campuses across the nation, including UCI.

Before the event a letter adopted by Temple Beth Emet was distributed to all attendees. Both speakers publicly endorsed the letter and encouraged everyone to mail it to Chancellor Drake. The temple president officially sent a copy to UCI, Rabbi Keiffer forwarded copies to his colleagues on the O.C. Board of Rabbis, and Dr O’Grady forwarded it to more than 1,000 people. Several other shuls and organizations have endorsed the letter.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t be a Monday morning quarterback! Get informed! Get involved! Write letters, talk to your friends. Encourage your shuls and Jewish organizations to be more vocal and proactive in stamping out anti-Semitism. Our schools and universities should be centers of knowledge understanding, not hatred.

Ted Bleiweis, a business owner in Orange County, is a concerned member of the Jewish community.

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