Monthly Archives: June 2011

Fierce Competition for Yeshiva A Cappella

By Charles Kopel

Just when you thought the Maccabeats craze was finally over, a new a cappella group is making strides in Washington Heights. The Y-Studs is performing at Yeshiva University (YU) events, posting videos on Youtube, and giving the competition a run for its money. More surprisingly, the suggestively-named group at the Orthodox school is exploring non-Jewish themes. Among its repertoire are renditions of the gospel tune This Little Light of Mine, The Lion King classic Be Prepared, and Bruno Mars’ Marry You (first performed for a public marriage proposal on the Yeshiva campus). It’s rolling out the Jewish hits as well, including remakes of Rabbi Isaac Hutner’s Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and Naomi Shemer’s Lu Yehi (the Israeli response to the Beatles’ Let it Be). Ironically enough, the presentation of non-Jewish themed music to YU is what may place this group at the forefront of the next chapter of Jewish collegiate a cappella in the United States.

The Y-Studs, consisting of ten male undergraduate and graduate students, was launched in late 2010. Founder and president Mordy Weinstein decided that the Yeshiva community had room for quirky, creative, college-style a cappella, “sort of a cross between a fraternity and a singing group.” He hoped to fill a niche left empty on campus by the Maccabeats, who, despite achieving renown since its 2007 founding, maintained a style seen by many as reflecting standard “Jewish a cappella,” with mostly traditional, Hebrew songs. Weinstein hoped to depart from an exclusive focus on Jewish themes, emulating a diverse array of groups, including the “Beelzebubs” of Tufts University, “On the Rocks” of the University of Oregon and “The Accidentals” of the University of Georgia.

The genre of Jewish collegiate a cappella is increasingly popular around the country. A February article in the Forward estimated that some 40 Jewish collegiate singing groups exist today, up from 30 a decade ago, and just one in 1987 (“Pizmon” of the Columbia/Barnard/JTS community). In recent months, this surge gave rise to the Kol HaOlam National Jewish Collegiate Competition in Washington, DC. Weinstein’s other group, Queens College’s Tizmoret, took the title at the first annual competition, which featured nine groups, and received a consultation with JDub records.

While the few dozen Jewish a cappella groups on secular campuses present something of a novelty in their respective settings, the Jewish a cappella scene at the Yeshiva University may seem ordinary by contrast. The Maccabeats have managed to transcend its setting with notable talent and creativity, and also with a commitment to reaching out beyond the YU community with a message. As Julian Horowitz, the Maccabeats general manager, explains, the group’s purpose is not just to entertain and profit, but also to educate and inspire. “Our music reaches all kinds of Jews,” adds Horowitz, “and being able to touch people from so many backgrounds is what really keeps us going.”

The Y-studs takes the converse approach, imagining that its community will appreciate a singing group that doesn’t confine itself primarily to Jewish themes. But the Maccabeats, perhaps unknowingly, beat Weinstein’s new group to the punch, releasing the viral single Candlelight, a spoof of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite, just a month after the Y-Studs’ launch—before its first major performance. Although the theme of its lyrics was very Jewish, Candlelight’s invocation of pop-culture preempted some of the Y-Studs’ innovations. Word had not yet spread about the Y-Studs, and the new gang in town was immediately cast by critics as a response or imitation.

Still, the competition has breathed new life into both groups, as each seeks to snatch new gig openings on and off campus. The hope is, as in any industry, that the competition will breed greater talent. (Representatives of the Maccabeats have publicly welcomed the arrival of competition.) There is also a basic necessity of numbers. Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus has 1,500 undergraduate students, and many more than 14 (the number of Maccabeats members) of them are interested in singing. YU’s female undergraduates on the Beren Campus in midtown Manhattan have an a cappella group of their own, “The B’Notes.” Because of religious modesty laws, it is unlikely that a co-ed a cappella group would fare very well in the Orthodox university.

It is only the beginning of a journey for the new singing group, and the coming academic year will be crucial for the Y-Studs singers to prove themselves as performers on a larger stage and distinguish themselves from the Maccabeats. The group’s decisions to perform non-Jewish themes and to forego the Maccabeats’ formal style (white shirts and ties) for casual dress, and even occasional costumes, has begun this process, but only the Y-Studs’ creative arrangements and stunning harmonies can really set them apart. Even if stardom is not in their future, these students have contributed something special to campus life in the all-Jewish college. As Weinstein said, “I wanted to cultivate a brotherhood of singers and create more of a love for a cappella, an art form that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.”

Hannah Senesh, Golda Meir, and now Kate Bornstein

By Bonnie Rosenbaum

My introduction to Jewish heroes can be traced back to one amazing Barbie doll.

It was 1986, I was in 7th grade, and my Sunday school class at Temple Sinai had started a unit on “Great Jews.” Carrie Horrowitz marched to the front of the classroom, launched the blond statuette into the air, and began her oral report: “Hannah Senesh was a brave woman who parachuted into Yugoslavia to save the Jews during the Holocaust.”

Barbie quickly crashed to the floor and my classmates and I tried to stifle our laughs. Thus began our lesson on Jewish heroes.

As a 12-year-old girl who spent her lunch hour playing football with the boys, Hannah defined awesomeness through her parachute alone. Only years later did I learn the full story of her life, her poetry, her defiance.

When it came time for my presentation, my friend and I staged an interview between a journalist and Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel and the world’s third female to hold this title. Another kick-ass woman who flaunted gender roles and came out ahead. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion even called her “the best man in his cabinet.” Golda soared to the top of my personal list of Jewish heroes. (I wish I could say that I played Golda, but I was too shy. Plus my friend’s father was a real Israeli, so I reasoned that she had a more legitimate claim to the star role.)

The other Great Jew who made a mark on my consciousness was Sandy Koufax, the award-winning pitcher for the Dodgers who refused to play the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Even then, I understood the public nature of his private decision and joined his legion of admirers.

Now, in June 2011 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Pride Month, I’m marveling at a new roster of Jewish heroes recognized by many and selected by our staff at Keshet to inspire a new generation of 7th graders. We took three LGBT Jewish changemakers who transformed our world—Harvey Milk, Kate Bornstein, and Lesléa Newman—and put their beautiful faces on bold, modern, 18×24 posters for the LGBT Jewish Heroes Poster series. We celebrate their amazing accomplishments and their dual identity as Jews and queer people. And being 2011, we also created a small website to showcase them.

I’m working up the courage to call the rabbi at my old synagogue to ask him to buy these posters for the Hebrew and Sunday school classrooms. Hang them up for the cool athlete who never mentions his uncle has a boyfriend, for the quiet girl who doesn’t feel right in her own body, and for their classmate who is worried what it will be like when both her moms are called to the bima for her bat mitzvah. Hang them up for the teacher who shows up to services with a handsome friend he calls his roommate. And hang them up because we know all too well the feeling of being outsiders, strangers, and a people who need visible role models.

Our deepest hope is that these LGBT Jews find their rightful place alongside Hannah Senesh, Golda Meir, and Sandy Koufax in classrooms, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, camps, Federations, Hillels, and Jewish organizations everywhere—as educational tools to spark conversation, dialogue, learning, and reflection.

And pride.

Bonnie Rosenbaum is the Deputy Director of Communications and Planning for Keshet

Governor Perry Wants You to Find Jesus

By Steven Philp

Whether you are Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, if you are passing through the Lone Star State on August 6 you might encounter an unexpected stranger: Jesus. That is if you believe the testimony given by Eric Bearse, spokesperson for The Response; according to a radio interview posted on Right Wing Watch, Bearse has promised that the event—an ecumenical prayer meeting scheduled at the Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX—will allow people “regardless of their faith tradition or background… [to] feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ.”

Bearse’s comments—broadcast on American Family Radio—came after the event received heavy criticism for alienating non-Christian Texans; after all, The Response is being co-hosted by the office of Texas Governor Rick Perry. His administration published a press release on June 6advertising the event. In the statement, he issues an official proclamation for a “Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation” and encourages his fellow governors to give similar legislation in their states. The official website for the governor continues to carry the statement, which implies that his administration is strongly biased toward the Christian tradition despite the diversity of his constituents. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, a 2000 survey estimates that both the Jewish and Muslim populations of Texas fall over 100,000 individuals respectively.

According to his press release, Governor Perry’s participation in the event is motivated by a vision of “unity and righteousness for our states, nation, and mankind.” He states, “Given the trials that beset our nation and world, from the global economic downturn to natural disasters, the lingering danger of terrorism and continued debasement of our culture, I believe it is time to convene the leaders from each of our United States in a day of prayer and fasting, like that described in the book of Joel.” Yet he is decidedly non-specific concerning what is degrading American culture. If anything, the language is uncomfortably similar to a number of extreme conservative voices; a quick search of the Internet will reveal that the term “debasement of our culture” or “debasement of American culture” is used in reference to the LGBTQ community, immigrants and us: the Jewish community.

The association between Governor Perry and the event is complicated by its co-host, the ultraconservative American Family Association. This organization has lent its voice to a number of national issues, including freedom of religion, same-sex marriage and abortion; their advocacy trends to the far right, and it has become a leader in the fight against religious pluralism, marriage equality, and the right to choose. According to the Action Statement posted on its Web site, the American Family Association hopes “to restrain evil by exposing the works of darkness.” A component of this is converting individuals to Christianity. It is evident that The Response is another evangelical tool of this organization; in fact, Bearse explained that a component of the event is to convey the message that “there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ.” Naturally, religious expression and the right to assemble is protected by the First Amendment. Yet some are questioning whether Governor Perry’s sponsorship of an event that—in part—envisions the United States as a Christian nation is appropriate of his office.

On June 9, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League released a statement criticizing Governor Perry; while it supports the need to address the economic and social hardships faced by many Texans, the ADL does “not agree that official statements and rallies that divide along religious lines are a productive way to address these difficulties.” The press release—authored by Martin B. Cominsky, ADL Southwest Regional Director—continues, stating that elected officials should not be using the resources at their disposal to promote events that endorse a specific religion over others. Although the statement from Governor Perry promises that he has attended functions “hosted by various faith traditions,” it does not hide the fact that The Response is Christian, albeit “non-denominational” and “apolitical.” Regardless, his sponsorship of the event has revealed which Texans Governor Perry is representing, and it is certainly not all of them.


Stay Salty, Smoked Salmon

by Theodore Samets

Growing up, I was scared of lox.

Well, at least I thought it was lox. Turned out, the slimy, pinkish orange, cold fish I abhorred—but have come to love—wasn’t lox at all, as my parents called it. It was nova.

As I grew older, I fell in love with the stuff. But in rural Vermont, where I grew up, it can be hard to find anything but pre-packaged “smoked Atlantic salmon,” $5.99 for a four-ounce package.

Then, a few weeks before my bar mitzvah, friends of my parents brought some fresh lox back from Montreal. It looked the same as smoked salmon, but boy was it different. I was a man; it was time to give up kids’ fish and move to the grownup version.

I had been introduced to belly lox, and life would never be the same.

Incredibly salty, bright orange, and full of flavor, belly lox isn’t smoked; it’s cured. Fold it over a half of a sesame bagel—with cream cheese, of course—and you feel like you’re eating the real deal.

There is no debate as quintessentially Jewish as “nova vs. lox”; experts move beyond this question to “Russ and Daughters vs. Zabar’s” and “Montreal vs. New York bagels.” (For me, there’s no question: If there was a way to get fresh Russ and Daughters lox onto a just out of the oven “white” Montreal bagel, I’d be in heaven.)

Fans of belly lox know one thing: We’re in a minority. Indeed, on a recent visit to Russ and Daughters, I ordered lox, only to be asked by the woman behind the counter, “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes,” I responded, “Belly lox please.” Many people, it seems, order lox when they really want smoked salmon.

Despite the supposed Jewish affinity for either type of cold salmon, it seems accidental that lox is a Jewish food at all. Several years ago, a New York Times exposé looked at just how lox and a bagel became the stereotypical New York brunch.

In the essay, Erika Kinetz wrote that it was a feat of timing combined with the then-inexpensive costs that connected smoked fish to the Jews:

Eastern European immigrants would have appreciated lox both for its price—9 cents for a quarter-pound in the 1920’s and 30’s—and for its convenience. It was easy to handle — and pareve, making it acceptable with milk or meat. It fast became a staple.

Today, lox may still be a staple of the Jewish diet, but it’s certainly not cheap. My lunchtime order (belly lox and light plain on toasted everything) at Ess-a-Bagel runs $10.75 before tax, and a quarter pound of fish there will run you $9.25. That said, it’s worth every penny.

Despite the differences between lox and smoked salmon – and let’s be clear, these differences are important – there’s something that makes the fish a unique connector between Jews all over North America.

Kinetz points out that, historically, lox is more of a New York phenomenon than a Jewish one. The claim is verified by by Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish, where he writes, “The luxurious practice of eating lox, thought to be so typical of eastern European Jews, actually began for them in New York. Lox was almost unknown among European Jews.” Still, the fish has taken on a life of its own among Jews. Lox’s natural partner, the bagel—according to Rosten, first mentioned in print in the 1610 Community Regulations of Cracow, which stated that “bagels would be given as a gift to any woman in childbirth”—has been part of Jewish cuisine for 400 years, making “lox and bagels” an appropriate alternative for expressing oneself as Jewish in the ever-complicated “religion” box on Facebook.

Bagels may have the more overtly Jewish history, but they’ve become part of the American culinary mélange. (It’s hard to imagine, but less than 30 years ago, only one in three Americans had tried a bagel.) Even though it’s the bagel that’s Jewish more than lox, the orange fish still has a Jewish air about it, as it’s intrinsically linked to the food with which it is most commonly served.

If recent musings in the Times and elsewhere are any indication, the assumed Jewish connection to cold, salty orange fish isn’t going anywhere. In an era where Jewish leaders are worried that future generations won’t hold on to everything from federations to Israel to kashrut, lox seems safe.

Just don’t tell those young people that what they’re eating might not actually be lox.

Arab Spring, Flotilla Summer

By Adina Rosenthal

‘Tis the season. Flotilla season, that is. Summertime marks a new tradition of groups gathering in boats and sailing to the Gaza Strip, with the alleged aim of providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, though many think the main objective is to test Israel’s resolve by breaking its naval blockade.

Last year, the flotilla made headlines when IDF commandos clashed with Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara, a ship sponsored by the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a Turkish NGO accused of having links to Hamas and al-Qaida. With nine killed and several injured, including Israeli soldiers, the aftermath of the conflict resulted in an inquisition and finger pointing that has torn holes in the alliance between Israel and Turkey and has given the international community another excuse to vilify Israel. Since the disaster, Israel has added the IHH to its terror watch list.

Keeping with tradition, the “Freedom Flotilla 2” plans to set sail at the end of June. However, there’s something different in the air this summer. World governments and the U.N. are pleading with participants not to sail to Gaza and elicit a showdown with the Israelis, even in the name of humanitarianism. Even more surprisingly, the Mavi Marmara, now seen as a symbol of the Gaza struggle, recently announced it would not be part of this summer’s brigade.

So what gives? Why has “Flotilla: the Sequel” lost the wind in its sails? While the IHH cites damage from last year’s IDF raid as the reason for the Mavi Marmara remaining docked, it’s possible that the overall initiative has lost steam due to the strong winds still lingering from the Arab Spring.

While the Arab Spring didn’t directly hit Israel, its implications have reverberated throughout the Jewish state, particularly from neighboring Egypt and Syria. With Hosni Mubarak pushed out of power and democracy trying to take hold, Egyptians reopened the Rafah Crossing, ending their participation in the four-year blockade of Gaza, which began in response to Hamas’ takeover. The combination of Egypt reopening Rafah and Israel allowing more aid into Gaza seem to have deflated the rhetoric and the apparent urgency of the mission.

In Syria, the Arab Spring uprisings against Bashar al-Assad’s government have spread to the Israeli frontier. After 37 years of quiet on the border, al-Assad allowed thousands of Syrians to protest, perhaps to detract from attention at home. One opposition group—Reform Syria—claimed on their website that the protesters were poor farmers, paid $1,000 by the Syrian regime to protest and promised $10,000 for their families if they were killed. Moreover, the Syrian chaos has spilled into Turkey, with thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing oppression across their shared border.  Perhaps Turkey is trying to hedge its bets, keeping Israel happy by discouraging flotillas as violence encroaches on its borders.

Despite clear differences from last year, flotilla advocates still believe there is work to be done. “While we wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the Egyptian government to regularly operate the Rafah crossing… Israel’s unlawful blockade remains in effect,” said a Greek coordinator of the flotilla. Bülent Yıldırım, head of the İHH stated, “In the past, we went there for Gaza, but now we are going for humanity and the law,” highlighting the flexible rationale behind the flotilla missions.

Clearly, the Arab Spring has shifted the playing field of the flotilla initiative. But what does it mean for Israel?

Despite this year’s more tamed rhetoric and the Mavi Marmara’s lack of participation, Israel has thoroughly prepared for any summer showdowns. According to one Israeli diplomatic official, Israel is “continuing to prepare for the flotilla as usual…We have not heaved a sigh of relief, but are continuing to prepare on all fronts, including the diplomatic front.”  Last year, Israel was arguably unprepared for the violence that ensued. Learning from past mistakes, the IDF has spent weeks preparing, training through simulations geared specifically toward a worst-case flotilla scenario. According to Israel Navy commander, Adm. Eliezer Marom, the Navy “will continue to prevent the arrival of the ‘hate flotilla’ whose only goals are to clash with IDF soldiers, create media provocation and to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Though the flotilla summer is as full of uncertainties as the Arab Spring, Israel must remain vigilant in securing its safety and protecting its borders. In other words, business as usual.

A Video Game of Biblical Proportions

by Steven Philp

For three days earlier this month, the computer and video game industry madeits annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles, where the Electronic Entertainment Expo is held each summer.  The excitement promulgated by the expo, where video game heavyweights shows off new games, downloadable content and hardware for the upcoming year, will carry the industry through the next twelve months, causing fanboys and fangirls to save their pennies for the most anticipated products. Highlights from 2011 included the next installments in high-grossing series like Mass Effect, Uncharted, The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy, as well as a new high-definition system from Nintendo called Wii U. But amidst all the excitement over high-profile projects, one game being developed by a small game publisher has caused a buzz of biblical proportion. Due to be released under Ignition Entertainment, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron loosely follows the Book of Enoch on a quest that engages with overt Christian and Jewish themes.

The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish text traditionally believed to be authored by the eponymous great-grandfather of Noah. Although not included in the Jewish biblical canon–even, surprisingly, in the Jewish Apocrypha, a collection that includes other extraconincal texts such as Jubilees and Sirach–it has survived as part of the Christian tradition. Written in Hebrew, stories like Enoch were largely preserved in the Eastern Christian tradition—in fact, the Book of Enoch is considered part of the Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox canon—but the influence of some of these works can be seen on rabbinical exposition. In addition, fragments of these texts – such as Enoch – have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first section of the Book of Enoch, from which the video game finds its inspiration, describes the fall of the “watchers,” heavenly guardians who would father the Nephilim with human women – the “b’nei Elohim” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-2 – and illustrates the travels of Enoch.

El Shaddai’s plot follows the journey of Enoch, a man so pure of heart that G-d has tasked him with the salvation of the world. He must redeem humankind from consorting with and worshipping seven angels placed on the earth as guardians. If he fails, G-d will unleash a flood that will destroy mankind. Enoch is accompanied by Lucifel, an archangel who will ultimately betray G-d’s mission and adopt his more infamous pseudonym: Lucifer. The seven angels have crafted individual utopias that span time and space; as a result, swords and magic meet cell phones and motorcycles. The resulting aesthetic is a blend of the modern, the historical, and the fantastic. The protagonist wields a sword to fight sprites and monsters while Lucifel wears designer jeans as he guides Enoch through his battles.

This twist is the result of a contract with several Japanese designers, who were tasked with creating the look and feel of the game. Shane Bettenhausen, director of business at Ignition Entertainment, explained this decision by saying, “These stories, these myths and legends, they used to be part of the oral tradition. For us to take this ancient tale – that a lot of people in the West don’t even know – and reinterpret it is really cool.” Premier among the designers is Takeyasu Sawaki, who is credited with the revolutionary aesthetic of games such as Okami and Devil May Cry. Bettenhausen explained that the designers were given a copy of the Book of Enoch and told to adapt it to a modern audience.

While El Shaddai: Rise of the Metatron is unusual in that it refers to an actual biblical text, narratives that deal with themes of good versus evil or the existence – or non-existence – of divine beings are not uncommon. Games with biblical themes have not always been received as well as their non-Abrahamic counterparts: Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a game that sparked controversy in 2006, was derived from a book series loosely based on the Apocalypse of John (colloquially, the Book of Revelation). The game instructed the player to convert or kill non-Christians; as a result of the ensuing controversy, large game publishers have shied away from overt biblical themes. An exception to this rule was the wildly successful Dante’s Inferno. Produced by Electronic Arts in 2010, this video game is an adaptation of the 14th-century biblically inspired epic by the same name.

When confronted with the possibility of poor sales, Bettenhausen responded positively. “I think when you see this game, there are lot of things about it that might prevent it from reaching a true critical mass audience,” he explained. “The art design is abstract – and that’s by design. The character design is very atypical… There’s a few things that make this left of center. We’re not expecting to get ‘Joe Wal-Mart.’” He continued, “Once the game is out, we may find a few people who are on the fringe who may be upset but having played the game through, I don’t think that will be the case.”

Shuttering Yale’s Center on Anti-Semitism

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Yale University announced yesterday that it is closing its Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA). According to Thomas Mattia, an official from the university’s Public Affairs office, the center is being closed down because it “was found in its routine faculty review to not have met its academic expectations.”

Faster than you can say ‘anti-Semite,’ Yale’s decision has launched a contentious debate.  Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called it “particularly unfortunate and dismaying” and a victory for anti-Jewish groups.  David Harris of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said it would “create a very regrettable void” in anti-Semitism scholarship.

The trouble seems to stem from a 2010 YIISA conference entitled ‘Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity’ which focused on anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.  According to the Jerusalem Post and other Jewish media, unidentified sources said that Yale closed down YIISSA because of pressure from outside groups who wanted to shut down discussions around Muslim anti-Semitism, not because of any academic failures.  Not everyone who made the link between the shuttering of the center were anonymous, however.  Walter Reich, a professor at George Washington University and former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote a fiery op-ed in the Washington Post decrying Yale’s decision, placing the blame on pressure from Muslim students, activists and others because of the discussion of Muslim anti-Semitism.  “Why did Yale kill the institute?” Reich asks.  “The answer is simple,” he says.  “The conference provoked a firestorm,” and as a result, “Yale administrators and faculty quickly turned on the institute. It was accused of being too critical of the Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism and of being racist and right-wing.”

The left-wing blogosphere has responded by calling the conference “flawed by an ultra-Zionist agenda that compromises its academic integrity.”  While not going so far as to call the conference an exercise in hate-mongering—as a PLO representative to the United States did—many bloggers wrote that by focusing primarily on anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, alongside other controversial topics like Jewish self-hatred, the conference became more focused on a certain political, rather than academic, agenda. Yet, like their conservative counterparts, many liberals have also argued against the closing of the center, advocating instead for a change of tone.

The bigger question is: Do we really need another institute that looks at contemporary anti-Semitism?  In the US alone, every major city has a museum dedicated to study of the Holocaust, which often sponsor lectures from professors and others on contemporary anti-Semitism.  Major American Jewish organizations from the ADL to the AJC to the Simon Wiesenthal Center focus significant time and energy on the topic.  Prominent American universities have Jewish studies departments, which tackle current anti-Semitism in academic fora.  A quick Google search will show that there is no shortage of conferences at any of these institutions with titles like “Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives” or “Antisemitism in Contemporary Europe.”  And that’s just the United States.  We haven’t even gotten to Israel.

In his op-ed, Reich argues that if Yale stands by its decision, another university should welcome the center onto its own campus, but another conference or lecture hosted at yet another university with experts or activists speaking on contemporary anti-Semitism is not going to put an end to this type of hatred.  In its mission statement YISSA’s director Charles Small called for a center that would “explore [anti-Semitism] in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary framework from an array of approaches and perspectives as well as regional contexts.”   As important as that kind of forum is, it already exists many times over. It would be a better use of resources to have a center that focuses not on less visible topics rather than the well-worn themes of hatred and anger.  It could look at questions like, what is being done around the world to counter forms of anti-Semitism?  Who are the leaders and activists engaged in that work and what lessons do they have to teach us?  Where are Jewish communities growing and flourishing?  What does that mean for world Jewry?  How do these lessons apply to others?  And so on.   To create a center at a big-name university aimed at fostering those kinds of debates would truly be something different.  Who will be the first to rise to the challenge?