AS A MEMBER OF THE IRVINE JEWISH COMMUNITY, I WILL CONTINUE BEARING WITNESS FOR ISRAEL AT UCI LONG AFTER THE PRESENT CROP OF HILLEL EMPLOYEES AND UCI STUDENTS MOVE ON
I, as a member of the Irvine Jewish community, participated in peaceful and dignified demonstrations supporting Israel during anti-Israel Hate Week at UCI. I went to the campus, held placards, and respectfully quietly bore witness that I am a Zionist, that I love Israel, and that I am not deterred from demonstrating that love on the UCI campus. I did not wait for Hillel to invite me, and I do not care whether Hillel wants me there. Irvine is where I live. Long after the Jewish students at UCI have departed from Irvine, long after yet another Hillel director departs from Irvine, my community and I will be here. Irvine is not Berkeley, and our Jewish community will bear witness.
A UCI Hillel student told me that “We students are the new leaders of the American Jewish community. We are the future. We know best what is best for UCI. Your role in the community is to give us the funds. And otherwise – just butt out.”
And so, a word to a friend. Irvine is our community, too. We, too, are its leaders. In the Irvine and greater Orange County Jewish community, there are nationally prominent experts on Israel and the Middle East, published authors, trained and experienced teachers, leaders capable of offering Israel advocacy training and teaching, Jewish leaders who actually fly across the country to teach and train others. There are Ph.D.s and scholars, scholarly researchers and exciting speakers. We are not called upon by the local Hillel or the Orange County Jewish Federation because we do not share the J Street message that got a rabbi invited to an Orange County Hillel campus, and we do not support the Olive Tree foolishness. Our offered services repeatedly are rejected. So be it. A $5,000 honorarium from an East Coast Jewish audience pays more than would the pro bono (free of charge) presentation that the same expert among us offers locally as a loving service to the community.
But let us be clear: This Hate Week issue and our place as a Jewish community proximate to the campus transcends the students on campus. Perhaps you may have seen Breaking Away, an Academy Award®-winning flick. Its subplot is instructive. We the Jewish community live here in Irvine today, and we will be living here tomorrow, long after several of today’s UCI college and grad students have moved on. We have a long-term stake in the community, and we therefore have a stake in the neighborhood campus that brings occasional Jew-haters (including Jewish Jew-haters) out of their respective rat holes and into our midst. We regularly are asked – even guilted – to contribute money to UCI Hillel, apprised that it is our obligation to do so because we have a stake. I personally have made such a donation to UCI Hillel. I sat for three years on the Board of Directors of Orange County Hillel. Some of us even have devoted hundreds of hours of our own personal time to students at UCI, even at the expense of personal family time, vacation time, and at the expense of money.
We have seen students come into Irvine, then move on, much as I moved on in my life 35 years ago from the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University, where I studied as an undergrad, and subsequently from the Westwood campus of UCLA Law School. Thus, it is important to recognize that, in the course of a lifetime, many of our respective lives are intersecting concentric circles, elliptical encounters. The world does not revolve around me, and it does not revolve around this or that student. One day it is about mobilizing the Irvine and Orange County Jewish community to help the former salaried Hillel Director actualize his hopes and agenda, and then he is gone, forgotten, but we still are here. Jewish organizational professionals come and go. We have seen the revolving doors at the Irvine Bureau of Jewish Education, the American Jewish Committee, the Tarbut v’ Torah school, and yes at UCI Hillel. We remember the Hillel directors who used to tell us what is good for Irvine, the Hillel activity directors, the Hillel visiting rabbi. We have seen them come, and we have seen them go. But we still are here. This has continued to be our community where we daven in shul, learn Torah, make friends, go to work, and support Israel.
Through each of the transitions, we donate money and time, patience and passion and participation. One day it is the new Hillel Program Director arriving all excited with big plans, and another day it is someone else with a completely different program agenda. But we the Orange County Jewish community remain here, committed and devoted to this place and to our friends and families and dreams, realizing that our tzedakah dollars are being allocated in ways that we find objectionable. If UCI is going to bring Nazis and Jew-haters to our neighborhood, as it frequently does with our tax dollars, then UCI is part of our concern. In 2010, for example, the Moslem Student Union reported that it would be paying Norman Finkelstein $2,000 to come to my neighborhood with his anti-Israel drivel; Amir Abdel Malik Ali $1,200 to bring his anti-Jewish hate to our city; Alison Weir $750 to tell her stories of drivel. My taxes pay for it. My community must bear the pollution they bring. And, regardless of what the local UC may be, our Irvine Jewish community will not be a Berkeley. We will bear witness for Israel, and we will not be deterred.
When phantom students’ names are signed to documents without the signatories’ knowledge, assent, authorization – and in some cases over their explicit objections – it is we, the community, that receive the defamatory letters, breaking the peaceful moment as the Shabbat ends. We do not heatedly return the letters with overheated, over-exercised verbiage, telling the senders: “The students on campus are the leaders of tomorrow, so solicit the Big Gifts and Major Donations from them. It is they, the students at UCI, who alone are impacted at UCI, so let them tend to themselves, and how dare you approach with a fundraiser’s solicitations those of us who are not on campus?”
But there is a time for everything under the heavens: A time to be still, and a time to speak. A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Among us as Jews there always is a time to love and a time for peace. But this also is a time to speak and time to refrain from embracing. There will be absolutely no support for the Federation of Orange County from this quarter, nor from those who share my concerns, until the Federation and Hillel publicly withdraw from their associations with the Olive Tree Initiative. My desk is loaded with ample Jewish charitable alternatives to support, and tzedakah never stops in my home. But tzedakah must be just. And there is never a shortage of worthy Jewish causes to support that never would spend a penny of Jewish tzedakah money to fly a local Jewish student to “Palestine” for a film-viewing in Jenin depicting the Israeli people as barbaric and cruel murderers. No, not a charity for me.
Today I received in the mail three requests from Hillel to attend a pro-Israel event on campus. If Hillel wants me to watch an Israeli Hookah Lounge take shape at UCI, it is within my rights and it is my obligation as a Jewish community member in Irvine to bear witness for Israel when I believe the time and need demands. And I will continue doing so long after the current transient crop of UCI Hillel makhers moves on to their next town, their next promotion, their next salary increase.
Rabbi Dov Fischer
Rav, Young Israel of Orange County
(949) 300-8899 (Rabbi’s Office)
Rabbi Fischer is founding member of the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism.
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