HomeNovember 2012Varying Degrees

Varying Degrees

The University of California Irvine has not always been an easy place to be Jewish.  For some recent Jewish leadership scholarship recipients, that was reason enough to enroll.

In September, the three recipients of the first-ever Hillel Jewish Student Leadership Scholarship and Rabbi Allen Krause Memorial Scholarship began their freshman years at UCI, each vowing to commit to strengthening Jewish student life on a campus whose reputation had suffered greatly within the Jewish community.

In 2010, 11 people were arrested and the university’s Muslim Student Union was banned for a year after anti-Israel hecklers repeatedly disrupted a speech given on campus by Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren.

The incident put a spotlight on what Jewish students had said was a growing culture of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism at the university.  It sparked a number of programs, dialogues and other efforts to try to improve relations between Muslim and Jewish students and the University and Israel as a whole.

As part of that effort, the Rose Council, a group dedicated to fostering Jewish student life at UCI, awarded three incoming UCI students each $5,000 scholarships for the 2012-2013 school year.

David Friedman
18, Beverly Hills

Major: Biological science

Past leadership roles: Friedman participated in the Pro-Israel (AIPAC) Activism Club, was the Chessed Chair for the student council, co-founded an engineering club and was yearbook editor.  He’s a former Diller Teen Fellow and was involved with community service through Bnai Akiva where he was a youth counselor.

Why UCI: Debating between Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Boston University and UCI, Friedman said he’d likely be able to fund his in-state education without taking out student loans.

“Also I can’t argue with hopping in my car, and 45 minutes later, being home.”

Current involvement:
Hillel, Chabad

Goals: Each year, Muslim student groups erect a temporary wall on campus, plastered with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda.  Friedman would like to set up tables near the temporary wall, highlighting Israel’s many humanitarian successes, including Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based international humanitarian project dedicated to improving pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

First impressions: “I really wasn’t sure about how I would feel when I got here.  When I came to orientation, it was all really nice.  In regards to the Jewish community, through Bnai Akiva and USY, I already had a fair connection with the Jewish community here.  Once I got here, it was really easy to reconnect, and Chabad was instantly welcoming.”

Sharon Shaoulian
18, Newport Beach

Major: Political science

Past leadership roles: Shaoulian founded Club Shalom, Newport Harbor High School’s only Jewish club, created to combat “hints of latent anti-Semitism among the student body.”  She was also secretary of the National Honor Society and editor of her school newspaper, active in the Friendship Circle of OC and an NCSY officer.

Why UCI: “I was deciding between UCI and UCLA.  I thought Jewish life was stronger at UCLA, and UCI had problems in the past.  Part of why I chose UCI was I think things need to turn around over here.  I just wanted to do my best to be a Jewish voice.”

Current involvement: Honors Program, Anteaters for Israel, Hillel, Chabad

Goals: Shaoulian would like to help strengthen the Jewish response to “Hate Week,” what some students call the Muslim students’ group weeklong anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations on campus.

“The Jewish side needs to counter that more than it has in the past.  Not in an aggressive way, but by putting out what is true.”

Making a difference: During summer orientation, talk among her dorm mates turned to ethnicity and religion, and Shaoulian found herself explaining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to students who had never had a meaningful conversation with a Jewish person on the topic.

“At the end, one of the guys said, “I want to visit Israel now.”

Rachel Weiner
18, Manhattan Beach

Major: Informatics

Past leadership roles: Weiner was a Diller Teen Fellow, taught and volunteered in youth education programs at Congregation Tikvat Jacob and received the City of Los Angeles and Bureau of Jewish Education Chaver Award.  She was also involved with the Jewish cultural club at school, science Olympiad club, math club and key club.

Why UCI: “My Jewish community was warning me against it because of the reputation.”

But UCI is one of the few colleges offering a major in informatics, and Weiner had already fallen in love with the school when she tagged along on her older sister’s college tour as a 7th grader.

Current involvement: Hillel, Chabad, Anteaters for Israel.  Weiner is also considering rushing the school’s Jewish sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi.

Goals: “I’m really into community service.  I want to organize groups to go into Jewish preschools and volunteer and raise money for different causes.”

Being an ambassador: “I wear a Jewish star necklace, and people ask me what that means.  I feel that it is very important to me to tell people what Judaism is so they don’t think it’s something foreign and terrible.”

Students who have applied to UCI and are interested in the 2013-2014 scholarship, contact Lisa Armony, director of the Rose Project, Jewish Federation & Family Services: lisa@jffs.org.  Application deadline: February 1, 2013.

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