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Listen to European Jews and you will hear plaintive pleas for religious and cultural support for communities, especially smaller ones, which are devoid of rabbis and educators, prayer books and Hebrew lessons — a “skills deficit,” as one expert put it. Rather than rescue, they need, and deserve, rejuvenation.
As Helise Lieberman, director of the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland, said: “It’s important for us to get beyond our stereotypes to understand exactly what the map of Jewish Europe looks like.”
4. Jewish college students need grown-up help to combat creeping anti-Zionism on campus.
Not always. The decision by Swarthmore College students to become an “Open Hillel,” defying Hillel International to include non-Zionists in their programming, may well be replicated on other campuses in 2014. This is what students do: challenge rules, push boundaries, create their own acceptable realities and, hopefully, learn to live with the consequences.
Let this be a teachable moment rather than a cause for hysteria. Hillel has the right to set its own rules; students have a right to challenge them; both sides have the obligation to negotiate with civility and respect. The myriad outside groups established to protect college students from forces real and imagined ought to step back and interfere only when necessary, and then only when asked.
The Jewish community needs to have more faith in its college students to deal with controversy. The appalling decision in December by the American Studies Association to support an academic boycott of Israel will no doubt set in motion more such votes this year. But let’s remember that within a few weeks, at least 55 colleges and universities rejected the move, in a support of academic freedom and a rejection of the double standard used toward Israel.
Academia in America isn’t hostile to Jews and Israel. Some academics are, and their views are being roundly dismissed by their peers.
Let 2014 be a year when we try harder to put controversy into perspective. The Forward signs its name to that pledge, too.