Knowledge for College

0117cbihatespeechWhen Rabbi Robin Hoffman Foonberg, Director of Education at Congregation B’nai Israel, mentioned “hate week” to me, I looked at her in amazement. I subsequently learned that it is actually called many things: Israel Hate Week—also known as Israel Apartheid Week, Justice in Palestine Week, Anti-Israel Week and, on the other side, Israel Solidarity Week.

The ADL points out that “The University has traditionally served as an enclave for intellectual expression, insulated from the distractions of the world outside… At hundreds of institutions of higher learning, the concepts of academic freedom and student activism (which have been part of the Jewish success story on campus) have been invoked to shield hatred… In recent years, campuses have become a new proving ground for the tactics of all manner of extremists, forcing some colleges and universities onto the frontline in the fight against extremism….”

And so today, our teenagers, who are entering college, face an environment that may prove to be extremely hostile to them. “The openness that has been a hallmark of higher education is now proving to be fertile soil for the seeds of hate—specifically anti-Semitism,” continues the ADL.  How do we prepare our teens to deal with this hatred?

Last year, Robin Steinmetz spoke with Foonberg and expressed her concern for the safety of her daughter, a high school senior. “I was aware of what was happening at UCLA,” she said “ but it became even more relevant because my daughter was going off to college, and I thought back when I was that age and wondered what I would do if I had to face that kind of rhetoric.”

“I don’t think we should be running away from it,” continued Steinmetz. “We should stand up for ourselves. The kids want to know the truth and why should they, Jewish American teens be caring about Israel.”

In response to that concern the pilot program “Knowledge For College” was developed and will once again this be offered this year to Orange County High Schools students. The program is partially funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County with support from Jerusalem University and takes place at various synagogues in the county.

“Students will be presented with facts in an objective way through short documentary films, engaging speakers, and small discussion groups,” said Foonberg.  “We want them to walk away feeling prepared to deal with issues as they arise on campus and educated to make their own informed and thoughtful decisions on how they want to engage in college life as a Jewish student.”

Over the course of three Sunday evenings, Jewish teens will meet each other and learn about: What is the BDS Movement? What’s the Big Deal with this Israeli/Palestinian Conflict? How to deal with Anti-Semitism on campus? How to handle and analyze Biased Media Reporting?

Steinmetz, who has become a strong advocate for the program created a Facebook page, “Knowledge 4 College” which presents up-to-date pertinent information about what’s happening on college campuses. “It’s not always easy to create a balanced program around such a politicized issue,” said Steinmetz. “The most important thing is we don’t want students to walk away thinking they can’t go to these schools- but to learn how to deal with it.”

Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.

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