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March 15, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 15, 2013 Begin was right to fire Sharon over '83 massacre By At/A61alo (JTA)--Israel's State Ar- chives recently released the previously classified minutes of a 1983 Cabinet meeting duringwhich the government debated the Kahan Commis- sion's recommendation to fire Defense MinisterAriel Sharon on account of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The killings had taken place some months before, on Sept. 16, 1982, when 150 fighters of the Lebanese Chris- 'tian Phalanges entered two Palestinian refugee camps and massacred 700 to 800 residents. The Israel Defense Forces, which controlled the area, allowed the Lebanese PAGE 5. A. forces access to the camp. The Kahan Commission blamed Sharon and senior Israeli officers, finding that they consciously disregarded the risk that the Christian fighters would seek revenge for the murder of their leader. It recommended that Sharon resign or else the Cabinet Should fire him. The dramatic proceedings give us a fascinating snapshot of Sharon, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and their handling of core Jewish and Israeli dilemmas. Sharon made an impas- sioned argument for the Cabi- net to reject the commission's recommendations. "We are talking about a lot more than the question of whether Sharon should go or not gO," he said. "The [corhmission's] conclusions are grave for Israel and the entire Jewish people .... They implicate all of those seated here, including Mr. Prime Minister." The commission "did not hesitate to draw a parallel between Israel and the indi- rect accomplices to pogroms against the people of Israel," Sharon said. If the govern- ment upheld its findings, it would give "those who wish us evil" a homegrown basis to say that the Jews too are capable of "genocide" and would stain Israel with the indelible "mark of Cain." In what quickly became known as the "bourekas speech," Sharon told his colleagues that their choice was between their individual interests and the country's. "If you chop off my head... you will be still sitting here next week enjoying the bou-- rekas ]filled pastries served at the governmen t meeting]," he told them, "but you would have betrayed the Jews." The meeting had all the core ingredients of the Israeli- Zionist drama: Should we apply universal principles of democratic governance or account for the particulars of the Jewish condition (we have so few allies that we accept them as they are)? Should we be expected to fight fair and maintain the "purity of our weapons" in a cruel neigh- borhood? How do brothers in arms judge each other when one falls short of the highest ethics and the world stands ready to condemn us? These themes came to a crescendo when Begin told Sharon that he would vote against him. Here was a man whose connection to the Sha- ron family literally dated back to his birth. Sharon's grand- mother was the midwife who delivered baby Begin at Brest Litovsk in the Old Country. Begin had survived the Soviet gulag, the Nazis, the shelling of the Altalena, nearly three decades in the opposition, seven elections as the head of the losing party and Ben-Gurion's un- bending animosity. And here he sat, confessing to being "broken-hearted,, looking at an Israeli-born hero who had previously been thought of as his natural successor and deciding to follow principles of universalism and democracy. "Believe me when I say that I speak from profound pain," Begin told Sharon. "I have not slept all night. Woe to this night. But we have no choice but to accept all of the recommendations of the commission. This is the judgment. We accepted the Begin on page 19A Engage Russian-speaking Jews on their own terms By Abby Knopp NEW YORK (JTA)--In 1993, one of the reat scholars of Russian Jewry, Zvi Gitel- man, noted that "since the 1880s, no group of Jews has migrated as often, in as great numbers, and with such im- portant consequences as the Jews of Russia and the FSU. The mass immigration of Rus- sian/Soviet Jews played a great role in shaping the character of the two largest Jewish com- munities in the world, those of the United States and Israel. American Jewish and Israeli politics, religion,'culture, and economics have been, and are still, profoundly influenced by those who came and are coming from the FSU." Twenty years later, I read Gitelman's statement as a reminder of what should be but not of what is. If we are honest withour- selves, we must admit that North American Jewish edu- cational and spiritual frame- works--the places where Jews live and learn Jewishly--have By Yonah Schiller NEW ORLEANS (JTA)-- "Hillel's not really my thing. That's not me." This is not what you want to hear as a first-year Hillel director acclimating to a new campus. Yet when I arrived at Tulane University four years ago, that's the refrain I heard as I tried to fig/are out how a Jewish student population that comprised more than 30 percent of the school's student body could barely turn out 100 students for its largest events. Hillel at Tulane had been built on Jewish communal best practices, but it was not actually reflective of the social and religious wants and needs of the school's more than 2,000 Jews. Itwas out of touch with the real desires of te demographic Hillel wanted to reach, and the handful of students who participatedwas cloistered in its own insular Hillel community. We had to change the way we were thinking. Since then, we have been able to increase participation by 230 percent and boost our fundraising by 78 percent. We've quadrupled the num- ber of students we send on Birthright Israel and more than tripled attendance at weekly Shabbat services. Students on their own have yet to be profoundly influ- enced by Russian-speaking Jews who arrived in the im- migration of the second half of the 20th century. Why? It's because too many American- born Jews continue to view them as either charity cases or in need of our brand of Jewish wisdom. We still have not figured out how to listen and really hear what Russian Jews are saying about Jew- ish identity, peoplehood and education, and the Jewish community is suffering and continuing to pay the price of disengagement. With Russian speakers comprising at least 15 per- cent of the U.S. Jewish popu- lation-many researchers believe the number is much higher--we need to care deeply about their engage- ment. To be sure, there are some notable figures from the Rus- sian community who have translated their particular language of Jewish identity into successful literary ca- reers, careers in Jewish com- munal service or even, dare I say, leadership roles on Jewish boards. These individuals of- ten are touted as examples of how successfully Russian Jews have integrated into North American society. But how many others are active in Jewish life--walking the halls of our JCCs, sitting next to us at our board meet- ings or sending their children to our camps and schools? Happily, there are success stories--and more emerging all the time. Great things happen to engage the Rus- sian community when in- stitutions understand that they must invest in hir- ing Russian-speaking and Russian-thinking staff. As with most communities, a little familiarity goes a lori way. The Russian-speaking community will always be more likely to trust and be influenced by someone who understands their history, background and values. Of course, this makes absolute sense. Take overnight, camp, for example. Most Jewish camps are filled with the children of those who experienced wonderful summers at camp themselves or grew up hear- ing such stories from friends and family. These parents have a cultural and social legacy that is suffusedwith an inherited familiarity of camp. But even Russian-speaking Jews who were born here--let alone those that arrived as youngsters--do not have that touch point. Therefore they must, in avery real sense, take a leap of faith and send their children into an unknown en- vironment away from home. Who better to help them feel comfortable with that choice than a peer who understands what they need in order to feel at ease with such a decision? More often than not, once Russian Jews choose a Jewish destination for themselves and their children, they bring along their social network and become great advocates. Even better, when an institu- tion builds programs with Russian-Jewish cultural in- clinations in mind--and that often must happen to retain them--the institution it,self evolves and grows. Success is easy to demon- strate. Jewish community centers that offer high-level lectures or literary events are seeing a significant uptick in Russian-Jewish participation; family programs that provide high-level arts projects for children and historical or lit- erary context for their parents are succeeding in meeting the needs of Russian-speaking Jews. And camps that add specialties in the arts or dance are doing infinitely better at recruiting campers from Rus- sian-speaking backgrounds than their counterparts. As moe Jewish communal professionals and volunteers take notice of the significant opportunity that this popula- tion sector represents, our institutions will see growt h , expansion and innovation. This was the approach pro- posed at the first Think Tank on Russian-Jewish Engage- ment at Camp held recently Catching the wave at Tulane Hillel raised more than $25,000 for various Hillel causes. We've created a complete cultural shift, as now our participants are primarily students who wouldn't typically participate in Jewish institutional life. All in just three years. How did we do it? We tore down everything and let the majority rule. Like many Jewish institutions, Tulane Hillel was built by Jew- ish professionals, not by the people it wanted to reach. It wasn't Tulane students' thing because they did not create it. In 2008 it was run by students who had madebe- ing Jewish central to their identities at college. Naturally they created Jewish program- ming based on their own interests. But this strongly identified group was a tiny Jewish minority on campus. Their social reach was limited because their circles extended primarily to students who already shared their passion for Judaism and their affinity for Hillel. This made it nearly impossible for Hillel's student leadership, and the organiza- tion at large, to meaningfully address the broader campus population--despite offer- ing cash incentives--or even compelling content. The same could be said of the staff. I realized this in the midst of my search to find an "engagement associate." Can- didate after candidate was well meaning and well qualified in terms of organizational expe- rience and Jewish academic pedigree. Yet I realized I was talking with Jewish profes- sionals like me. I realized that if I wanted staff who could easily relate to Jews of the Tulane diaspora, they would need to be from the diaspora. So I found in many cases that the more affiliated the candidate's Jewish back- ground, the less qualified he or she was for the job. We responded by dissolving the existing student leade- ship board and sought stu- dents who would have never been involved with organized Jewish life. And we gave them the keys to the car. We did not ask these new students how we could best leverage their social networks to benefit Hillel. Instead we made it clear that our inter- est was in them and not for the betterment of Hillel. We wanted to know how Hillel could best aid them in further- ing their interests, passions and aspirations. They would redefine Jew- ish life at Tulane. Instead of designing programs from the top down that we institution- ally thought might work, we charged these new leaders with planning programs on their own, and we created a micro-grant pool to fund their ideas. Instead of hav- ing an insular group trying to figure out how to reach the mainstream, we let the students of the mainstream reach out to their friends gnd natural social circles. They would lead Hillel, and their interests would determine Jewish life on campus. Over the past three years, our student leadership has grown from 35 Jewish insid- ers to 160 students. The new voices have brought to the table programming that was different from what we might have suggested. Some were truly unique: an urban farming collective set up in lower income neighbor- hoods; a university-wide open mic night; an architectural competition for sukkah de- sign on campus. Others more closely resembled programs at other Jewish organizations: a Sunday bagel brunch, a bone marrow drive, sponsored Shabbat dinners. The new Hillel leaders created an organic recruit- ment process that altered the culture and perception of who can lead and be part of Jewish life. Their network became our network. Some of the core students felt initially that their Hillel had been taken from them. In the end the already affiliated found their place and we still serve as their primary Jewish resource. But if we were to reach the broader popula- tion, the organization had to be re-created by the broader population. We brought the outside in New York City. The three dozen camp and commu- nity professionals from across North America who attended left prepared to make the right kinds of investments to increase engagement with Russian-speaking Jews. Change takes time. Main- stream Jewish institutions have certainly started to make headway toward engag- ing this important and still underrepresented group in Jewish communal life. I am heartened because I believe that this is only the beginning of substantive growth in this arena a we continue to work hand in hand with Russian- speaking Jews to build our institutions and our programs in such away that they bcome more vital and, ultimately, more interesting to a broader audience. The results are what we are all striving for: building a stronger and more vibrant Jewish commhnity. Abby Knopp is the vice president for program and strategy at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. in--and 'they aren't our guests. They are our leaders. Rabbi Yonah Schiller is the executive director of the Tulane University Hillel and an adjunct professor of Jew- ish civilization and Jewish mysticism at the New Orleans school. Dry Bones