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January 9, 2017 4:30 pm

New Program Aimed at Combating Ignorance, Hostility Towards Jews, Israel Launched on Four New York Campuses

avatar by Lea Speyer

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Students at Baruch College participate in an "Interfaith Meet & Greet." Photo: Interfaith Entrepreneur Fellowship.

Students at Baruch College participate in an ‘Interfaith Meet & Greet.’ Photo: Interfaith Entrepreneur Fellowship.

The head of a new program aimed at combating ignorance about — and hostility towards — Jews and Israel on the part of students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds described for The Algemeiner on Monday how he sees the initiative taking hold.

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the Skirball Executive Director of the NYU Bronfman Center, said that the Interfaith Entrepreneur Fellowship, which was launched in September at four City University of New York (CUNY) colleges — Queens, Hunter, Baruch and John Jay — seeks to enhance collaboration and cultivate personal relationships between Jewish students and non-Jewish peers who have tended to view the religion and the state of the Jews in a negative light.

“Jews have a lot in common with other minorities, where feeling discriminated against is concerned,” Sarna said. “But out of ignorance or stereotyping, these other groups can make the profound mistake of assuming that Zionism and Jews who support Zionism are the same as white supremacists or people who support apartheid.”

Sarna explained the impetus behind his “interfaith” initiative — funded by a UJA Federation of New York grant — as one he felt necessary, due to the growing feeling of isolation among Jewish students. When he realized it was becoming “more and more difficult to find co-sponsors for any campus events held by Jewish groups, not only those pertaining to Israel,” he said he decided it was a serious issue that must be rectified. It was then that Sarna established the fellowship, during the course of which participants undergo “intensive training” to formulate a plan of action for “challenging and fixing a problem in their current landscape.”

As news of NYU Hillel’s focus on forging interfaith and inter-communal ties spread, Sarna said, students at other New York schools began reaching out to him and his staff for advice.

Dana Frenkel, the Interfaith Entrepreneur Fellow at Baruch, told The Algemeiner that she has encountered little resistance when reaching out to students of other religions “in dialogue and friendship.” She said her efforts last semester included a well-attended “speed-faithing” meet-and-greet, co-sponsored by Hillel, the Muslim Student Association (MSA), the Muslim Business Association, the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Hindu Student Association.

“Faith-based students understand each other by virtue of the fact that we center our lives on something intangible and beyond total comprehension,” she said.

In contrast, Hunter College’s Interfaith Entrepreneur Fellow Allison Reich told The Algemeiner that to make the effort more palatable to some groups, such as the MSA, which “felt uncomfortable collaborating” on events connected to the campus Hillel, due to some of its “ideals,” programs had to be rebranded as “neutral — rather than ‘Hillel-run’ — to enable everyone to join” without experiencing ill ease.

Sarna told The Algemeiner that while overcoming Jewish-Muslim tension was a key focus of the program, it has received criticism from some Jews “questioning whether we are sacrificing our values,” and others “going so far as to say that we are enabling jihad.”

However, Sarna said, “If we can build social capital with other groups to create a campus climate that is more inviting, then why not do it?”

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  • It seems to me, the main source of this international hostility against Jews, comes from Jewish hostility against fellow Jews.

    It seems less possible for Nonjews to effectively harm Jews − unless fellow Jews recruiting Nonjews to do so.

    For example, there would be no US president who betrayed Israel at the UN, unless there was JStreet egging him on, to legitimize such extreme racism and double standards against the Jewish nation.

    The challenge is, when conflicts between Jews versus Jews, become impatient, intolerant, and devolve into hate speech, hostility, and ignorance. For examples, Progressive Jews delegitimizing Orthodox Jews and Israeli Jews; Israeli Seculars vilifying Israeli Orthodox; Israeli Rabbinate demonizing Progressive Jews; Orthodox Jews delegitimizing Progressive Jews; Orthodox Jews delegitimizing the Jewish nation state; and so on and so on. There is a lot of blame to be shared.

    Obviously, the culmination of all of this Jews-versus-Jews hate speech is, all Jews everywhere lose legitimacy.

    Different points of view are normal for Jewish cultures, and when ‘for the sake of the heavens’, are healthy. Even humanistic, diverse, freedom-loving, brave, idealistic, pure, and holy to Ha’Shem.

    Yet sometimes, Jewish divisiveness gets lost in respective points of view, and the conflicts against fellow Jews grows bitter.

    The danger happens when one group of Jews starts recruiting Nonjews to fight against fellow Jews. Once Nonjews get involved in the internecine Jewish conflicts, the sense of belonging to the same family no longer applies. Among the audience of Nonjewish groups, the excessive internecine hate speech against other Jews translates into deadly harm against Jews, and puts all Jews everywhere in danger.

    The impression that the involved Nonjews might see is, all Jews are hateful and hated. The appreciation that Nonjews often have for the Jewish people erodes because of the Jew-v-Jew hate speech.

    So, this program to combat Nonjewish ignorance and hostility is important.

    At the same time, it is even more effective to create a program to combat Jewish ignorance and hostility against fellow Jews.

    The temptation that one Jewish group can succeed at the expense of an other Jewish group, is an illusion. Our history for the past four thousand years, since our origin as a people, demonstrates again and again, how every calamity came about by recruiting Nonjews to fight in Jewish versus Jewish struggles.

    We Jews are all in this world together. We thrive together or we die together. All of us. Together.