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Rutgers Hillel celebrates successes in combating anti-Israelism on campus

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Honorees and others at last week’s gala are, front row, from left, Mark Busch, Michal Greenbaum, Katie Landy, Ruth Cole, Andrew Getraer, (not an honoree but Rutgers Hillel executive director), Rona Shein, Raffi Mark, and Frankie Busch (not an honoree but a co-chair of the event). In the back row, from left, are Liran Kapoano, Leonard Cole, Jeff Shein, Mariya Badu, Melissa Schoffer (not an honoree but a co-chair), and Sarah Morrison. courtesy Rutgers Hillel

It was a tough year for friends of Israel on the Rutgers campus.

But last Tuesday night, at the Rutgers Hillel Gala held in Livingston, student activists got a warm reminder that they don’t stand alone as community leaders from all corners of the state came out to support the 68-year-old campus organization.

“The Rutgers Hillel Gala was an overwhelming success by every yardstick,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel. “We surpassed both attendance and fundraising goals by comfortable margins and, perhaps most important, the evening was a social success thanks to the Hillel students who provided programming and master of ceremonies duties. The gala was a perfect end to a highly successful Hillel school year and provided a running boost to the $18 million capital campaign to construct a new Hillel on the Rutgers campus.”

Some 275 people attended.

Local students spotlighted include Sam Weiner of Paramus, who was one of the masters of ceremonies for the evening, and two of the undergraduates who received “Student Rising Star” awards: Mariya Badu of Fair Lawn and Raffi Mark of Wayne. Michal Greenbaum, originally of Teaneck, who graduated in 2007, received Hillel’s first Young Alumni Award.

Highlighting the connection between the campus community and the established Jewish community was the leadership award given to Leonard and Ruth Cole of Ridgewood. Ruth Cole is president of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations, which is funding Hillel’s battles on behalf of Israel on campus. (See related story.) Leonard Cole is chair of the Birthright-Israel Committee of the Jewish Federations of North America and a faculty member at Rutgers, where he is an expert in bioterrorism and terror medicine on the faculty of the Division of Global Affairs.

Mark, along with Liran Kapoano of Highland Park, presented a program entitled Fighting the Delegitimization of Israel on Campus.

“Since November of last year we have been subjected to numerous anti-Israel events and a significant increase in campus tensions,” said Mark. “Rarely has a day gone by when we have not had demonstrations, op-eds, or events that seek to falsely cast Israel as an aggressive, apartheid state or even draw comparisons between the Jewish state’s defensive actions and Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.”

“Rutgers University has found itself on the front lines of international anti-Israel efforts, as well as some visiting programs that can only be described as anti-Jewish,” said Getraer. “I was very proud of the Hillel student leadership and how they rose to the occasion to delegitimize the delegitimizers.”

One such event, co-sponsored by pro-Palestinian group BAKA (Belief, Awareness, Knowledge, Activism) and IJAN (the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network), was entitled Never Again for Anyone. The premise of the event was that the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis was equivalent to the treatment of Jews and other political prisoners of the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was advertised as “free and open to the public,” and so as a response Hillel organized a silent protest. Several students planned to sit in the front rows of the event wearing yellow shirts that said “Don’t Politicize the Holocaust” and, during one of the pro-Palestinian speeches, stand for a moment of silence before exiting. The event caught the attention of Jewish leaders from surrounding communities, and almost 400 people showed up to protest. Seeing that they were outnumbered almost three to one, the cost of admission, which previously was a suggested donation, suddenly became mandatory. The protest was thus held outside the event’s doors.

Hillel was on the front lines crafting responses to each anti-Israel event as it came up, as well as creating new pro-Israel programs to bring the community together. During Apartheid Week, Hillel set up a booth near BAKA’s apartheid wall and handed out cake with an Israeli flag design in the icing, as well as pamphlets, Israeli candy, and snacks. The overall feeling from the group was that the pro-Israel side attracted far more passers-by than the wall.

There were also many pro-Israel events that were not reacting to anti-Israel sentiment. For instance, IsraelFest, held just a few days before RutgersFest, included a large inflatable rock wall labeled Masada for anyone who wanted to climb. Participants left with bags and sunglasses labeled IsraelFest, as well as pamphlets and other sources of information on the Jewish state.

“This year has been a stressful year with constant reminders of the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel movement on campus,” said Mark, “but Hillel has remained not only supportive but a true safe haven against negativity which will only improve with the new staff.”

In addition to its pro-Israel activities, Hillel also is a resource for many Jewish religious and cultural events and activities, such as Birthright trips, ASB (Alternative Spring Break) trips to Guatemala, Israel, and New Orleans, and programs for freshmen to get acquainted with one another and Hillel.

Badu’s description of her experience with Hillel exemplifies the role of the organization in forging Jewish identity among students.

“I was never fully sure what Judaism meant to me as I was not raised religiously,” said Badu, who was born in Russia. “I was unable to identify myself with a specific denomination. Through Birthright and my experiences within Hillel, I have been truly able to embrace my identity and come to terms with my strong cultural ties to Judaism, which have come to be an integral component of my identity. Hillel played such a pivotal role in my college career and inspired me to continue to be involved in the Jewish community now that I have graduated.”

“Working with student leaders such as these every single day is one of the best parts of my job,” said Getraer at the gala. “The generation of Jewish youth today faces challenges like we’ve never seen before. We intend to give them the inspiration to become Jewish leaders.”

Anti-Israel graffiti on an "Israeli apartheid wall" set up on Rutgers campus.

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The battle in defense of Israel on the Rutgers campus is being joined, and Rutgers Hillel is hiring the professionals to lead it.

“It’s not enough to respond to the delegitimization attacks and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel. “We need to be prepared, not only with a strategic response, we need to be educating and engaging our students about Israel before it’s time to respond.

“Let them respond to us,” he said.

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Stay tuned for the return of comments

Daniel posted 04 Jun 2011 at 10:21 PM

After reading this article I must say that I am throughly upset with the Rutgers Hillel far more than I have been all year. I would like to clearly state that I am a JEWISH UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT at Rutgers University. I would also like to make it clear that I was involved with two Hillel Based Clubs for the past two years. Andrew Getraer speaks on behalf of the Jewish Students at Rutgers University, however he has no right to do so. Much of the Jewish population at Rutgers University is in no way affiliated with Rutgers Hillel, so right there, he has no right to speak for the Jewish students, population, youth, etc. Andrew Getraer cannot speak on the behalf of Hillel Students because not all of them agree with him and his POLITICAL VIEWS. He can only speak on behalf of the Zionist Students within Rutgers Hillel, which may I remind everyone that Zionism is a political position, not a religious one.

This brings me to my next point. I am also a member of BAKA, which in the past Andrew Getraer, Other Zionist Students, and Other Jewish Media Outlets have described as an anti-semetic, anti-israel, anti-jewish, and anti-zionist organization. Well as a member of BAKA I would like to point out two things: 1) If I am a Jew and member of BAKA, does this make me not jewish? and 2) There are actually a good handful of Jewish students in BAKA as well as islamic, catholic, and christian members as well. BAKA is an organization that advocates for peace in the middle east. BAKA does not delegitimize the holocaust or the state of Israel, however they feel that there is a need for peace in the middle east just as everybody else does, however they believe that the Palestinian people are mistreated by the israeli government, as do I, a Jew.

Another point I would like to make is that everyone needs to understand that being anti-zionist is DOES NOT mean anti-Jewish in any way, at all, no if’s, and’s, or but’s. So it is wrong for the ongoing claims against BAKA and in regards to the Event “Never Again For Anyone” need to end. While the event may have disagreed with political and military actions taken by Israel when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it in no way reflects any kind of anti-Israel or anti-Jewish position, which Rutgers Hillel has invented for the media in regards this event and BAKA.

I hope that all I’ve said can open up some eyes to see that the Rutgers Hillel has been fighting an unjust, one way battle against people who hope for peace and the better treatment for all people, and that the members of BAKA are on the same side, they want peace in israel, and a home for everyone.



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