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February 29, 2008

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 29, 2008 PAGE 5A m, i By Stacey Palevsky j. the Jewish weekly of northern California SAN FRANCISCO--We sat in a circle as the sun set behind the Sonoma hills. As one of 10 staffers at a ninth-grade Jew- ish retreat, I helped explain the afternoon activity, called "secrets." I knew the teens immediately understood the seriousness of the exercise because, for the first time all weekend, they were so quiet I could hear my own breath. The rules were simple. Anyone who wanted to share a secret could. Every confes- sion was to remain completely confidential and respected. Just in case a secret opened the floodgates, teens could talk to an on-site therapist after the activity. The goal was to build com- munity by building trust. The retreat was planned by Midrasha, a community high school program supported by the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay's Center for Jewish Livingand Learning, and local synagogues. For an hour, teens and even staffers spoke up, each voice a single tree in a quiet field. One secret in particular took rodt in my mind: "I feel like stu- dents at my school judge me, and think of me as someone with no social life who studies all the time." The secrets (and tears) continued, punctuated by laughter when more than one boy revealed he liked Oprah. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about the revela- tion that one of the teens felt unfairly judged by peers. It reminded me of, well, me. I don't reflect on my high school experience. But I can't help doing so when I'm at these retreats. Like many 14-year-olds, Iwas awkward and shy in new social situations. I didn't play sports or join school clubs. I was happy hanging out with my small, well-behaved circle of friends, who all hovered somewhere between nerdy and cool. I joined the Jewish youth group BBYO in the spring of eighth grade, and my whole life changed. I became a Ieader. I planned programs, attended sleepovers and conventions, was elected to the high-profile regional board. By my senior year, younger members looked up to me. A lot of what I learned in BBYO I carry with me today. I'm comfortable in my own skin, proud of being Jewish, unafraid to try new things and meet new people--all traits that bloomed because of youth group. Once when Iwent to aweek- end convention, someone told me she thought it was interesting that some of our friends were "dorks" at their high schools but considered cool and universally well liked in our youth group. Would if Midrasha provide the same opportunity? I would soon find out. The room sagged from the weight of all that truth as the "secrets" discussion concluded. I worried that the emotional purge would darken the evening's activities. But when night fell and Havdallah concluded, I saw that the secret-sharing had bonded the teens just like we hoped. How could I tell? Just before the evening's talent show, many of the previ- ously horrified-to-be-center- stage students signed up to perform, no longer reluctant to get out of their comfort zones. They told jokes, read poetry and contorted their double-jointed limbs. All routines were met with cheers and applause. The clapping echoed in my brain, and I realized why Jewish youth programming is so powerful--because it gives teens the power to break free from the rigid social grids of high school. With Midrasha, BBYO and the like, students are given a clean slate and the chalk to sketch and inhabit their real selves. They can reinvent their identity inways that otherwise aren't possible until college or adulthood. That this is happening in a Jewish context is important. Suddenly, Judaism is not just prayer books and a map of Israel, but the reason why they are able to grow, gain confidence and feel a sense of camaraderie that might be absent in their school lives. It gives them a reason to love being Jewish--and a rea- son to believe in themselves. Stacey Palevsky lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at Copyright 2008 and re- printed with permission. Read j. online at wwwljewishsf. com. By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week NEW YORK--Israel has no shortage of crises. And while most attention the last few months has focused on the Winograd Commission report, with its findings of failures in the government's conduct of the 2006 war with Hezbollah; the Annapolis conference and the on-again, mostly off-again peace talks with the Palestinians; and the growing concern about Iran's efforts to make good on its promise to destroy the Jewish state, one could make the case that Israel's greatest worry is not over its mili- tar'L diplomatic or political strength, but its serious loss of brainpower, which affects every aspect of society. "The most important re- source we have in our country is our brains," noted Moshe Kaveh, an internationally acclaimed physicist who is president of Bar-Ilan, the larg- est of Israel's seven universi- ties, with more than 32,000 students. During an interview in New York last week, accompanied by Mark Medin, the newly appointed; New York-based executive vice president of the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, the soft-spoken professor warned that if what he called the academic "brain drain" taking place over the last few years in Israel con- tinues, the results will be "a catastrophe" for a country reliant on developments in science, technology and other fields to bolster the economy and maintain a qualitative edge in the Mideast. As chairman of the Council of Israeli University Presi- dents, Kaveh played a key role as point person between professors and the govern- ment during the country's longest education-related strike that ended several weeks ago after more than three months, losing most of the semester. But he said the underlying problem remains because the issue "is not just about the budget, it's about an attitude," and that's what disturbs him so much. Kaveh is not convinced the government has the resolve to enact recommendations he believes are absolutely essential, though politically unpopular, despite a personal promise made to him last week by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. !'He told me last Sunday that in 'the short period' the government will go forward" with the recommendations of the Schochat Committee, which Kaveh says "gives hope to the future of higher educa- tion in Israel." He interprets that to mean the government will act before passover; if not, he and his fellow university presidents are prepared to make good 6n a threat to keep their schools closed next fall. It was just such a threat, Kaveh said, that forced the creation last year of the Schochat Committee, an in- dependent, blue-ribbon panel of academics and economists dealingwith reforms in higher education. The context for the crisis, according to Kaveh and his fellow university presidents, was that with tuitions so low -- only $1,800 a year -- Is- raeli universities have relied heavily on the government, which provides about two- thirds of their funding. But over the last seven years, that funding has been reduced by 25 percent. One of the many negative results has been that the universities had to cut some 800 teaching positions during that time. According to Kaveh, some 4,500 Israeli professors --al- most halfofthe country's total -- now teach overseas, most of them in America, where they not oniy find posts but make about four or five times as much in salary as they would in Israel. He well understands the pull of economic security, recalling that almost 30 years ago, he was offered a job by Exxon in the U,S. that would have paid five times the salary he now makes as president of Bar-Ilan. He turned it down, he said, realizing it would become increasingly difficult to return to Israel: "You need to be a true Zi- onist" to resist such "tempta- tions," Kaveh said, asserting that he is hoping to bring back "the ones who really want to come back" and who are willing to forego higher salaries because they believe in Israel's mission. To reverse the disturbing trend in higher education, the Schochat Committee is calling for giving back the government budget cuts to universities; providing professors with a 25 percent increase in salary; adding 100 Israeli academic posts a year; and releasing students (who usually start college after completing three years of army service) from paying tuition until after they have completed their studies, giv- ing them 10 to 15 years to pay back their loans. It's a "brilliant" proposal, said Kaveh, who noted that he called for such a plan five years ago. But he acknowledged that it would require a 100 percent increase in tuition, to about $3,600 a year. And while he called such a move reason- able and fair, he said that not only will students protest a tuition hike but politicians will be loathe to endorse such an increase shortly before elections. Still, he insisted, "the gov- ernment needs to go forward with this plan even if students disagree," adding that he and his university colleagues are "pushing for this hard line" because it is the only way to reverse a situation that is a real danger to Israel's future success as a society. He is also calling for long- range planning in education as an urgent priority in a In addition, Kaveh be- moaned the level of Jewish ignorance among Israeli youth and pointed out the critical gap filled by Bar-Ilan, the only Israeli university that requires students to take courses in Jewish-related .studies, in a society increas- ingly split between religious and secular Jews. Sixty-five percent of Bar-Ilan students are secular, but Kaveh as- serted that advancing Juda- ism and democracy would continue to be a primary goal of the school. His outlook and accom- plishments are admirable, and judging from his resume in physics, his expertise in "disordered systems" and "theories of chaos in matter" may prove an advantage in try- ing to get Israel's educational system back on track. One early sign will be whether Olmert makes good on his promise of government approval of the Schochat Committee recommendations in the next two months. Gary Rosenblatt is editor country that has one of the and publisher of the New lowest ratios of government York Jewish Week, from which spendingonhighereducation this editorial is reprinted and where only one-third of with permission. He can be youth pursue a university reached via e-mail at Gary@ degree, By Paul Goldenberg NEW YORK (JTA)--In the aftermath of the recent car bombing and subsequent death of Hezbollah's notorious security chief, lmad Mugh- niyeh, serious threats were issued by Hezbollah officials against Israel and Jewish communities everywhere, including North America. Judging from past attacks in Argentina and elsewhere, such talk of targeting Jewish institutionsworldwide cannot be viewed as an idle threat. American Jewish institu- tions are all too familiar with the consequences of hostile behavior motivated by fervent rhetoric and unrest in the Middle East. Itwas only two years ago, af- terAl-Qaida's second-in-com- mand, Ayman al-Zawahiri, threatened that his organiza- tion "will attack anywhere" to avenge Israel's war with terrorists in Lebanon, that an attack by a lone sympathizer left one dead and five injured at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. These ever present dangers posed by organized terror groups and lone wolves call for a balanced approach for preparing and protecting our communities from hos- tile intentions and natural disasters. Initial reports from the news media two weeks ago indicated that attacks upon synagogues and/or Jewish population centers might be imminent. In many cir- cumstances, however, the media does not have access to sensitive information from law enforcement on such matters. Three years ago, in order to create a line of commu- nication with government authorities in such a situa- tion, the leadership of the organized Jewish community formed the Secure Commu- nity Network. With its rapid communications system, SCN is relied upon as a trusted partner and adviser for the law enforcement agencies across the country as well as the Jewish community. As part of its mission, SCN has been in daily con- tact with senior officials at the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and many other federal and state law enforcement agencies. All indicated that--at this time--no specific threat has been confirmed. However, last Monday's firebombing of the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in Los Angeles reminds us of the need to remain more vigilant than ever. We cannot afford to be complacent in light of the challenges our changedworld poses to our communities here and abroad. Being seri- ous about security is not just about employing more secu- rity officers or buying more technological equipment. tt is about an operational and financial commitment for instituting a mindset and culture of security that encompasses a broad array of adequate preventive mea- sures, planning, volunteer- ism, training, exercises and recognizing that self-reliance is more important than ever before. In ,short, it is essential that the Community be bet- ter prepared and educated to deal with safety and security issues. And, at the same time, there is great need to balance vigilance with a Balance on page 17A AN 152AELI EC)UCATION To pRov l BOMB SHELTER5 1:02/