Colleges Connect Online

Chabad Gains Popularity on University Campuses

By Mordechai Shinefield

Published August 26, 2005, issue of August 26, 2005.
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A new Web site is connecting Jewish students on college campuses across the country.

Campus J, launched this spring at www.campusj.com, offers a forum for students to report on Jewish activities at their universities, and to exchange ideas and information.

Campus J founder Steven I. Weiss — a frequent contributor to the Forward — envisions his site as more than a virtual bulletin board; he also hopes to train a young generation of Jewish journalists to deliver hard news about their communities. In the three months since his site launched, he has recruited contributors from a dozen colleges, both religious (Yeshiva University) and secular (Duke University, the University of Chicago).

Weiss, 24, says his inspiration came from an article in Harvard’s daily student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, which discussed novel ways for Hillel to conduct Sabbath services. He felt that other college campuses would benefit from knowing about Harvard’s Hillel, and vice versa. He designed Campus J as a network of interconnected blogs from numerous schools, each reporting events from its particular campus, and through that connection influencing one another.

When George Washington University blogger Jaclyn Schiff complained in a post about her school’s inability to consistently get the quorum of 10 men required for daily prayers, people from New York University and elsewhere responded. “The group [was] always left ‘counting heads,’” explained Schiff — an international affairs major and journalism minor entering her senior year — on Campus J. Her remarks immediately elicited possible solutions to the problem; some suggestions, such as advertising in the Hillel newsletter and approaching non-Orthodox Jewish groups, were implemented immediately.

Duke senior Corinne Low hopes that Campus J will allow her to keep her school’s administrators in check as they go through a transitional period. Last fall, the Palestinian Solidarity Movement came to Duke to hold a conference. Coinciding with their involvement on campus was an editorial in the school paper calling Jews “overprivileged” and using other racial stereotypes. Administrators responded to an outcry from Jewish students by promising more support. Now they are hiring a full-time rabbi for Duke’s Freeman Center for Jewish Life, where Low volunteers. Low said that Campus J will allow her to comment on changes as they occur, and will let the greater Jewish community know what is going on at Duke. “Campus J allows me to hold the administration accountable for what they do,” said Low, who is pursuing a certificate in journalism in addition to her double major in economics and public policy.

Menachem Wecker, an English literature major who recently graduated from Y.U., reported for Campus J last semester. He said that events at one college could inspire students at another: “If I see they have brought in an interesting speaker, then maybe I would want to arrange it here.”

Though Weiss hopes that Campus J eventually will encompass the entire swath of Jewish campuses, he said, “Realistically we expect to reach 10 more in the coming year.” Already, student reporters from various unrepresented campuses are submitting applications.

Campus J is a for-profit organization mostly paid for by online advertisements. “It gives [the site] credibility,” Weiss said, that a nonprofit, subservient to the ideology of its funders, might not have. The profits at this point, however, are mostly theoretical; Weiss doesn’t draw any money from the site, and the bloggers, for now, are unpaid.

What Weiss can offer the bloggers is experience. Wecker and Low, for example, are looking toward careers in journalism, and they view Campus J as part of their professional training as well as an extension of their Jewish life.

“The idea of an online venue for Jewish students who are interested in journalism to be able to cover their college beat might help prepare them for careers in journalism,” Wecker said, adding the caveat, “But it’s too early to tell.”






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