Campus Judaism needs money

Campus Judaism needs money

Everyone is feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and everybody is forced to make cuts. Some of those cuts, though, hurt more than others.
Next week at the University of Pittsburgh, a consortium of campus and national groups advocating that universities divest their portfolios of companies doing business with Israel until the so-called occupation of the West Bank is lifted, will hold a conference. They are expected to stage workshops and present speakers who make their case for punishing the Jewish state economically.
That such a conference is going to be held in our city isn’t a crisis, though it is a wake-up call. Jewish communities must come to college campuses prepared to meet anti-Israel demonstrations with honest, factual dialogue.
But this is getting harder to do.
Hillel Jewish University Center was unable to hire an Israel programming officer this year after the previous person in that position left in May. And while there is a Jewish Studies program at Pitt (the chair of the program, Alexander Orbach, is retiring in April, though he expects his position to be filled), there is no Israel studies chair at the school — something we think a college town of this size definitely needs.
These days, engaging our young people on campus can’t be taken for granted. They have no memory of the Holocaust or Israel’s War for Independence. They are not even old enough to remember the Six-Day War.
But they do remember Intifadas 1 and 2. They hear the accusations that Israel used cluster bombs in Lebanon and attacked civilians in Gaza (never mind if any of it is true). They get a steady dose of anti-Zionist rhetoric on YouTube, Facebook and countless blogs.
These days, we have to compete for the hearts and minds of our youth because (thank God) they know how to think for themselves.
The pressure is on us to show them why they should support Israel, why they should engage in Judaism, and why they should be proud of Zionism — be it the liberal or conservative brand.
All of this takes money.
Ways must be found to give Hillel JUC the staff and resources it needs to do its job. Ways must be found to endow an Israel studies chair. Yes, it’s easy to say what we must do but hard to actually do it. But unless the problems are identified, they can’t be solved.
Recession or no recession, now is not the time cut Jewish resources on campus. We owe it to our future to find the money.