Event: Is Jewish Education Broken?

Image- Speakers Lab

Is Jewish Education Broken? debates new visions for liberal Jewish schools in the 21st century. Presented by Speakers' Lab, a new public programming initiative of the Posen Foundation, with Tablet Magazine and The New School for Public Engagement, Jewish Cultural Studies Program.

As enrollment declines in liberal Jewish schools, scholars and educators are asking critical questions about the relevance of Jewish education to today's students. Is Jewish Education Broken? will explore current models and challenges facing liberal Jewish education, and propose new curricula and educational models for teachers and administrators for the future. Concerns and topics will include:

  • The discrepancy between 20th century Jewish educational models and 21st century perspectives on Jewish life.
  • The teaching of Jewish culture as ahistorical and disconnected from contemporary life.
  • The role of Jewish schooling in Jewish continuity.
  • Concerns about using the American school model to teach Jewish culture.
  • The rise of new and informal Jewish educational models.
  • The challenges of teaching minority education in America.

Panelists:

  • Zvi Bekerman, Director of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education, Hebrew U.
  • Benjamin Jacobs, Assistant Professor of Social Studies, Education and Jewish Studies, NYU
  • Jonathan Krasner, Associate Professor of the American Jewish Experience, HUC-JIR
  • Tali Zelkowicz, Assistant Professor of Education, HUC-JIR.
  • Moderator: Bethamie Horowitz, Research Assistant Professor, NYU.

Free and open to the public. Seating is limited and pre-registration is encouraged. Sign-up at www.speakerslab.org or by calling 212-564-6711 x305.

April 26th: Alisa Rubin Kurshan at NYU Wagner

Via our friends at the NYU Wagner/Skirball Dual Degree Program in Nonprofit Management and Judaic Studies. RSVP here.

If you can't make it, we hope to make a podcast available afterwards.

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Language, Culture, & School

Two articles from the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service caught our attention recently, in light of our upcoming event this Monday (see flier below for details). The event will explore issues facing dual language public schools -- institutions which might be viewed by some as vehicles to preserve and transmit cultural identities, while others would seek to minimize or oppose this goal since public schools ought to serve society as a whole, rather than individual cultural sub-groups. (A viewpoint from the perspective of promoting multiculturalism might not view these two goals as being in tension.)

BJPA didn't have these articles in mind while planning the event, but they're worth excerpting in advance of it.

Leon Wieseltier: Language, Identity, and the Scandal of American Jewry

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The American Jewish community is the fi rst great community in the history of our people that believes that it can receive, develop, and perpetuate the Jewish tradition not in a Jewish language. By an overwhelming majority, American Jews cannot read or speak or write Hebrew or Yiddish. This is genuinely shocking. American Jewry is quite literally unlettered. The assumption of American Jewry that it can do without a Jewish language is an arrogance without precedent in Jewish history. And this illiteracy, I suggest, will leave American Judaism and American Jewishness forever crippled and scandalously thin... Without Hebrew, the Jewish tradition will not disappear entirely in America, but most of it will certainly disappear...

In America, the first evidence of Jewish illiteracy occurs as early as 1761 and 1766, when Isaac Pinto published his translations of the liturgy into English. He was acting out of a sense of crisis, out of his feeling that Hebrew, as he put it, needed to “be reestablished in Israel.” Of the American Jewish community of his time, Pinto recorded that Hebrew was “imperfectly understood by many; by some, not at all.” In 1784, Haym Solomon found it necessary to address an inquiry in the matter of a certain inheritance to Rabbi David Tevele Schiff of the Great Synagogue in London, but the renowned Jewish leader could not write the Hebrew epistle himself, and so he enlisted the help of a local Jew from Prague. In 1818, at the consecration in New York of a building for the Shearith Israel synagogue, Mordecai Emanuel Noah observed that “with the loss of the Hebrew language may be added the downfall of the house of Israel.”...

Of course, I do not mean to deny the validity or the utility of translation, which was also a primary activity of Jewish intellectuals throughout the centuries... Translation has always represented an admirable realism about the actual cultural situation of the Jews in exile. Whatever the linguistic delinquencies of the Jews, their books must not remain completely closed to them. Better partial access than no access at all, obviously.

Moreover, we are American Jews; that is to say, we believe in the reality of freedom, and we are prepared to pay its price... The requirement that a Jew know a Jewish language is not a requirement that a Jew know only a Jewish language, and it is certainly not a requirement that a Jew express only one belief in only one means of expression... My question to the Jewish writer in America is not, what language can you write? My question is, what language can you read?...

Illiteracy is nothing less than a variety of blindness, and the vast majority of American Jews are blind. The extent of this blindness—and it is a willed blindness, a blindness that can be corrected—can be illustrated anecdotally. Here is a tale. Some years ago, the exiled president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was traveling around the United States in the hope of enlisting sympathy for his cause, and he went to New York for a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Now, in his youth Aristide had studied at a seminary in Jerusalem, and he happens to be fluent in Hebrew. It seemed entirely natural and right, in his view, to address the assembled representatives of the Jewish community in what he took to be their own tongue, or at least one of their tongues. And so he began to speak to our leaders in Hebrew. After a few minutes, the negidim rather sheepishly asked their distinguished non-Jewish guest if he could make his remarks in English, because they could not understand what he was saying...

All this is not justifiable. It represents a breathtaking communitywide irresponsibility. Between every generation, not only in circumstances of war but also in circumstances of peace, much is always lost. Only a small fraction of the works of the human spirit ever survives the war against time, but the quantity of the Jewish tradition that is slipping through our fingers in America is unprecedented in our history. And it is the illiteracy of American Jewry that makes it complicit in this oblivion.

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Adam R. Gaynor: Beyond the Melting Pot: Finding a Voice for Jewish Identity in Multicultural American Schools

For the better part of a century, integration has characterized the Jewish experience in America, but modern Jewish education struggles to reverse that trend by separating Jewish youth from their non-Jewish peers and herding them into the walls of our communal institutions. This model ignores a particularly acute demographic reality: most American Jews no longer affiliate with the communal institutions in which Jewish learning takes place. Consequently, this article posits that the key to providing high-quality Jewish education with the majority of Jewish students, who do not access Jewish learning or intensive Jewish experiences, is to reach them in the multicultural environments in which they live and learn daily. More specifically, I argue that we need to create, support, and replicate programs that are integrated elements of school communities, the places in which Jewish kids and young adults spend the majority of their time...

...It is worthwhile to note that although Jews are well represented and largely successful in universities and schools, Jewish content is generally absent. Often, when Jewish content is integrated into curricula, Jews and Jewish culture are portrayed as obsolete. Jewish content most often appears in courses about Bible, representing ancient Jewish history, or about the Holocaust, representing Jewish victimization. For Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, the implicit message conveyed through these choices (in the absence of other content) is that Jewish culture lacks contemporary relevance. When prominent Jews, such as Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, and Bella Abzug, are studied, the fact of their Jewishness and its impact on their work remain unexplored. On occasion, Jews emerge in elective courses about the Middle East, but are often portrayed as a monolithic and imperialist group. The diversity of Jewish opinions about the Middle East and the complex modern history of Jewish identities and communities that have affected this topic remain unexamined...

Historically, the problem of representation in educational institutions and curricula is not unique to Jews. For traditionally marginalized and disempowered groups such as communities of color, women, gays and lesbians, and all combinations thereof, the problems described above have existed to a greater or lesser degree for centuries. However, for several decades now, other historically disempowered communities have increasingly seen themselves reflected in the curricular and extracurricular programming of public and private schools on the primary, secondary, and university levels; there is no good reason why Jewish students cannot see themselves reflected in these spaces as well...

Multicultural education has had a profound impact on the contemporary educational landscape, particularly following periods of intense student activism in the late 1960s and early 1990s. In concert with feminist theory, it has brought significant attention to the histories and literature of people of color and women through curricular enrichment and the founding of specialized, interdisciplinary departments at colleges; it has led to the diversification of faculty and student bodies; it has forced schools and colleges to reconsider discriminatory policies; and it has increased faculty professional development on cross-cultural teaching that can lead to improved achievement (Tatum, 2003). However, except for the recent growth of Jewish Studies courses and departments, Jewish content is still nearly absent from curricula, and Jewish culture is largely ignored by student services offices...

Ironically, it is the Jewish community’s own resistance to multicultural education that has prevented our inclusion in educational curricula... Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century were fierce proponents of public education; unlike Catholic immigrants who opted for parochial education in large numbers, Jews valued public schools as a route toward acculturation (Krasner, 2005). Jews have also been fierce defenders of the separation between church and state and have supported the exclusion of religion as a census category. Jews embraced the universalism of the Enlightenment, which was reinvented in the melting pot motif, as a ticket to achieve unprecedented success in America. For many Jews, multiculturalism theoretically threatened the universalism that facilitated this achievement...

The prevailing, isolationist model of Jewish education that pulls students out of their everyday lives and separates them from their peers has not inspired significant participation. Sometimes, separating and feeling grounded as a group are important, and we should honor those needs. However, if we are to inspire Jewish students to feel invested in their Jewishness, then Jewish learning has to imbue their everyday lives with meaning. The key to doing this is through high-quality Jewish education in the multicultural environments in which they live and learn daily. Our aim should be to create, support, and replicate programs that are integrated elements of students’ schools, the communities in which they spend most of their time. Multicultural education is the practical framework for this approach.

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And don't miss the event this Monday:

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From the J-Vault: "in his own language"

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"For the success of this work of Americanizing and educating the immigrant," writes Rabbi Henry Cohen, "one thing is essential. You must go to him first in a friendly and democratic way in his own language."

As you may have seen, our March newsletter featured a Reader's Guide to Jewish Languages, in connection with an upcoming event on Dual Language Public Schools. (March 26th, from 3 to 5. Click here to RSVP.) At the event, educators and scholars will discuss issues of language and education, especially as they relate to issues of culture and identity in the United States. This installment of the J-Vault explores related concepts.

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This week, from the J-Vault: The Immigrant Publication Society (1915)

You ask me to give you an account of our new society. I am very glad to do so, particularly at this time, when the need of making all our immigrants a vital part of the nation is greater than ever before...

For the success of this work of Americanizing and educating the immigrant, one thing is essential. You must go to him first in a friendly and democratic way in his own language. This is the only way to reach him. Every stress must of course be laid upon the necessity of his learning English, and simple and practical books on learning it must be promptly offered him. But to the cleverest, the simplest English book is at first impossible. Not everyone has the gift of languages. Some few never learn any English at all, but, fortunately, experience gives abundant proof that the immigrant can absorb the spirit of the new country through his own language...

The first step in so essentially a patriotic American work was the preparation, curiously enough at the suggestion of the Royal Italian Immigration Commission, of an Immigrant's Guide, telling the newcomer the things which he needs to know, and which he knows he needs... The success of this "Little Green Book," as it was at once called, was immediate. With the cordial help of many interested Jewish societies, it was soon carefully adapted in every detail for the use of the English - speaking immigrants.

Describing the success of the book, and bolstering his case for the need of a new organization dedicated to publishing non-English books, Rabbi Cohen noted that the New York Public Library was in the midst of a sharp rise in demand for Yiddish books.

But ordinarily the librarian in opening a department in a foreign language is forced to depend upon a chance adviser, with consequences that are sometimes amusing, sometimes really disastrous. The problem presents serious difficulties. How can the librarian be sure of giving the immigrant the best books and papers in his own language, not only for his pleasure, but very practically to help him, explaining America and its opportunities, putting before him the means of learning English, of becoming an American citizen, and of satisfying many of the most important necessities of his new life? How can the librarian be sure that she is not innocently placing on the shelves books that are atheistic, anarchistic, propagandizing, indecent or simply "trash?" What hooks should she buy first? What size are they? What do they cost? How shall the foreigner be taught the privileges and rules of the library?...

How remarkable a thing it is that the first popular Yiddish bibliography published in America should be printed at the insistence of American librarians—one of a series that Mr. Anderson, with the practical experience of New York, says, are: "Exactly what we need to help us make the immigrant understand America and its institutions."

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***Join us on March 26***

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Podcast: Jewish Values, Jewish Interests

Ruth Wisse

This was easily our most provocative event to date.

On Monday, December 5th, Prof. Ruth Wisse and Rabbi Joy Levitt joined BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the NYU Law School for a wide-ranging, passionate, broad discussion of how the Jewish community should relate to the outside world.

After a brief ceremony honoring Gail Chalew for her 20+ years as editor of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (the digitization of which on BJPA was the impetus for the event), Rabbi Levitt spoke of her decisions, as Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, to reach out to non-Jewish poor and minority communities, as well as the Muslim community leaders affiliated with the Cordoba Center / Park 51 "Ground Zero mosque" now known as Prayer Space. Prof. Wisse spoke of Israel under attack and an American Jewish community lacking in moral confidence, and judging Judaism based on liberal standards instead of liberalism based on Jewish standards. Our fearless leader, Prof. Cohen, acted as moderator, but without setting aside his own positions on the issues.

Click here to listen.

Our Afternoon with a Persona Non Grata

The Hill reports that PLO Representative to Washington Maen Rashid Areikat often finds it hard to get a meeting with the right people:

In an interview with The Hill, Areikat said he can’t always get an audience with lawmakers to discuss Palestinian issues. Some congressional offices won’t even let him through the door. “This is really unfortunate. … You have to talk to a party that is very, very crucial,” Areikat said. “The Israelis are talking to us. Why wouldn’t these members of Congress talk to us?”

Making no endorsements of Areikat's (the PLO's) positions, or judgments about his situation in Washington, we can't resist using this story as an excuse to remind blog readers that they can see a video of a long lecture and Q&A with Ambassador Areikat here. He spoke in front of an audience of American Jewish leaders at BJPA in March of this year.

Podcast: Fields of Engagement

For those of you who missed our September 19th event, "Fields of Engagement: Debating Key Questions of Research and Jewish Education," the full podcast is now available here.

Brandeis to Host Socio-Demography Conference Oct 23-24

Brandeis

You may recall that in our August newsletter, BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen lamented: "The lack of a 2010 NJPS leaves a gaping hole in our knowledge of the American Jewish community." Next month, a conference at Brandeis will attempt to overcome this difficulty and make the most of the data available:

Although there is no longer a national study of American Jews sponsored by the Jewish community, the past decade has witnessed the growth of alternative approaches to understanding the U.S. Jewish population. To assess current understandings of the socio-demography of American Jewry, Brandeis will again host a conference of research scholars and policy makers to take stock of current knowledge, consider future research, and engage producers of research and policy makers in conversation about the usefulness of the information being generated...

...The specific goals of the conference are to assess the current state of knowledge about the size and characteristics of the American Jewish community, illuminate current socio-demographic research, and consider how the findings of demographic research can be used by scholars, funders, and policy organizations concerned with the Jewish community. One outcome will be a scholarly publication summarizing current research and application. But, more importantly, the conference also aspires to foster better informed dialogue about American Jewry and enhanced development and use of socio-demographic research.

The relevant links:

BJPA is one of the co-sponsors for this conference. Browse our holdings on Demography here.

September 19: Debating Key Questions of Research and Jewish Education

Symposium flier

Click here to RSVP.

JTA Launches Digital Archive

Last night JTA celebrated the launch of its new digital archive, which now offers access to over 200,000 articles from its 90 years of reporting. Fittingly, the event was held at the Center for Jewish History and featured the usual set of hors d’oeuvres  and Jewish cocktails (i.e. kosher wine), as well as remarks from JTA Editor-in-Chief Ami Eden, Prof. Jonathan Sarna, and two writers describing how they have used the archive to unlock riches from the past. Sarna demonstrated how the archive can be used to access in-the-moment reporting on all of 20th century Jewish history, from the most significant events (such as its coverage of Israel’s declaration of independence) to the more banal (for example, the untold story of Jews and dolphins). In particular, Sarna emphasized JTA’s coverage of the unfolding of the Holocaust – often the only source to cover this atrocity as it was happening (at least in English – the Yiddish papers were much more attuned to it).

The connections between BJPA and JTA are strong. In addition to sharing a key funder (thank you as always, Charles H. Revson Foundation!), BJPA staff also served on the JTA Archive Experts Committee. But most importantly, BJPA and JTA share key founding principles. Both archives see themselves not simply as a static storehouse of historical material; both are also public educational tools that seek to use the past to create a more substantial and informed discourse on the Jewish community’s present and future. As BJPA director Prof. Steven Cohen said in a video produced for the event (see below), “for anyone who wants to see how Jewish history has meaning and implications for us today, we need the JTA historical archive.”

Like the BJPA, the JTA archive provides free and open access, and is very attentive to the user experience, offering multiple ways to engage with the site’s rich material – including different ways to browse, search, and save the archive’s material for future reference.

BJPA is pleased to welcome the JTA into the community of Jewish digital archives. 

Wiesel at Wagner

by Aimee Gonzalez

(cross-posted at Wagner Today)

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, whom many consider to be the most articulate witness of the Holocaust and whose work, Night, has become a classic account of that time, visited New York University’s Puck Building on April 12th with the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. In light of his most recent publication, An Ethical Compass, and the general theme of social entrepreneurship Wiesel discussed ethos, and why we need it to advance society.

Speaking to a room filled with students, community members and faculty, Wiesel asked, “Where are we? With so many changes, convulsions, what is happening to the world? We need a historic compass,” to situate and orient ourselves. That compass is ethos.

For Wiesel, ethos “is a choice between good and evil. How can we make such a distinction? First decide what is not good—anything involving humiliation of the other.” He discussed Hitler and Stalin’s use of their leadership position to preach an ethos that was not truly there—and was instead a way to justify millions of deaths. Wiesel reminded his audience that “the choice is always in our hands.” He gives the example of the SS (Hitler’s protection force that grew into a paramilitary organization), emphasizing that they had a choice. In fact, it was a voluntary position; no one should ever believe that they were coerced.

Given Wiesel’s life story, references to Hitler and Nazi Germany are inevitable. However, he also defines ethos as generally “respect[ing] the other for whatever the other is.” His childhood love for the others in his community, beggars and madmen, grew into the social activism he is well known for today. To illustrate this respect for the other, he gave the example of his visit to German President Johannes Rau, in which he pointed out that the one thing Germany had never done was to ask the Jewish people for forgiveness. In 2000, Rau flew to Israel and went before the Knesset, and wrote letters to survivors, asking for forgiveness.

Wiesel gave another example of his social activism, the mediation between the Minister of Apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela. After many days of frustration, he “took them into a room and said, ‘talk to each other.’ That was the beginning of the end of apartheid.”

His policy of respecting the “other” in others has earned Elie Wiesel recognition and reputation beyond his story of survival. Although he has written extensively about his experience, and especially the challenge of writing about the Holocaust, he has also been an activist on behalf of other humanitarian causes. (See, for example, this 2000 open letter of advice to then-President Clinton regarding the situation in Sudan.) Wiesel has also established a foundation to combat injustice and indifference worldwide.

Browse the BJPA for more resources on the Holocaust, Holocaust Education, Genocide, Human Rights, Global Responsibility, and Ethics.

PLO Representative Maen Areikat at BJPA

3-10-11 Edited to add: You can watch the ustream version below, with ads, or find the ad free version in our collection.  NYU Wagner has also made a podcast available.

On Wednesday March 2, 12:15 PM, the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner and the Taub Center for Israel Studies at New York University will offer a "live stream" of an invitation-only talk with Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, Chief PLO Representative to the United States.

Entitled "The Palestinians and the American Jewish Community: A Challenging Relationship," the presentation will take place in front of a live audience of professors, students, Jewish communal leaders, journalists, and others. To see and hear this remarkable event, come back to this post, or go straight to ustream.tv: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ambassador-areikat

(Please note: Ustream shows about 30 seconds of advertising before beginning to stream the event, so please allow time for that. After that, it is possible to close the ad that appears along the bottom of the screen).


Video streaming by Ustream

"The Palestinians and the American Jewish Community: A Challenging Relationship" Presented by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner and the Taub Center for Israel Studies at New York University.

Wednesday March 2, 12:15pm EST. 

The Ambassador will engage with a diverse representation of people highly involved in Jewish communal life or in the academic study of Israel and the Middle East. Clearly, questions pertaining to the American Jewish relationship with Israel are high on the American Jewish communal policy agenda and the Ambassador will address one component of this relationship. This event, in line with the missions of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and the Taub Center, seeks to elevate and inform discourse on Jewish communal policy. Ahead of the event, you may wish to read Mr. Areikat’s interview with David Samuels, published in Tablet Magazine.

Maen Rashid Areikat, PLO Representative to the United States

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Maen Rashid Areikat was born October 12, 1960 in Jericho in the occupied West Bank. Prior to his appointment to Washington, Mr. Areikat served for 11 years at the Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) of the PLO in Ramallah, most recently as its Deputy Head and Coordinator-General (2008-2009). Mr. Areikat first joined NAD in 1998, when it was headed by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and served as its Director-General until March 2008. In addition to overseeing NAD’s day-to-day operations, Mr. Areikat was responsible for overseeing the work of the Negotiations Support Unit (NSU), which provides legal, policy, communication and technical support to Palestinian Negotiating Teams and to the Palestinian Leadership.

Prior to his service at NAD, Mr. Areikat spent five years at Orient House (1993-1998), the headquarters of the PLO in Jerusalem and of the Palestinian Negotiating Team to the Madrid peace talks. While at Orient House, he served as spokesperson for the late Mr. Faisal Husseini, former PLO Executive Committee member in charge of Jerusalem Affairs, and later as Desk Officer for the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa in Orient House’s International Relations Department. Mr. Areikat previously took part in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations at Beit Hanoun in Gaza and Taba in Egypt in 1996, in Jerusalem in 1997 and was an official member of the Palestinian delegation to the Wye River negotiations in 1998.

During the course of his career, Mr. Areikat has traveled extensively throughout the region and abroad, including numerous official visits to Washington, DC and several European capitals, and has participated in various conferences and symposiums on the Middle East peace process and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Areikat earned his Bachelor of Science in Finance from Arizona State University (ASU) in 1983 and his MBA in management from Western International University in 1987. He received his diplomatic training at the Ministry of External Affairs in Ottawa, Canada in 1993 and 1994, and completed a training course in good governance at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2001.

Invitation/Reminder: Wednesday Webinar on Middle East Peace Negotiations

Professor David Makovsky will discuss "Middle East Peace Negotiations: Is There A Chance For Success?" on Wednesday at 12pm Eastern Time.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of The Washington Institute's Project on the Middle East Peace Process. He is also an adjunct lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is the co-author with Dennis Ross of the recently released book, Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction in the Middle East (Viking/Penguin), as well as many other publications.

Click here to RSVP or for more information.

NYC Event: Love, Hate, and the Jewish State

We're proud to be one of the many cosponsors of this great New Israel Fund and Makom's event, Love, Hate and the Jewish State 3.0: What's Jewish about a Jewish State?

If you're in NYC, register and join us for what should be a great conversation!

Love, Hate and the Jewish State 3.0: What's Jewish about a Jewish State?

Thursday, June 24 at 7:00 pm The JCC in Manhattan 334 Amsterdam Ave at 76th Street Cost $10

Do your social justice values impact the way that you relate to Israel as the Jewish state?

Social justice and Israel are often polarizing and separate conversations. Israel's Jewish character affects government policy, life-cycle events, state symbols, and everyday life for both Jews and non-Jews.

Join us for the third in a series of highly interactive, non-persuasive, open discussions with a diverse group of people in their 20s and 30s.  The program will be followed by a reception.
Hosted by Joel Chasnoff, Comedian and Author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah