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June 14, 2012 - Image 78

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-06-14

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Guest Column


Jewish Students Get
Boost To Fight Hostile
Campus Environments


here has been a huge clamor over
the use of Title VI. Let's clear
the air and explain what it really
means to educational institutions. The 1964
Civil Rights Act was landmark legislation
that prohibited major forms of discrimina-
tion: race, color, religion or national origin.
Its Title VI provision bars violations based
on race, color or national origin (religion
is excluded); programs that receive federal
funding (such as schools) can
lose funding for violations. Both
K-12 schools and colleges and
universities depend on federal
The federal Commission on
Civil Rights said that campus
anti-Semitism is a "serious
problem" and that the U.S. Office
of Civil Rights (OCR) should
protect college students from
anti-Semitic and other discrimi-
natory harassment by vigorously
enforcing Title VI. Yet ominously
in 2007, the OCR said it would
not respond to a complaint filed
by Jewish students at the University of
California, Irvine, alleging severe, pervasive
and persistent anti-Semitic harassment,
intimidation and discrimination, because
it "lacked jurisdiction" — that is,
because Title VI excluded reli-
gion as a protected class.
In 2010, persistent
Jewish activism result-
ed, after a six-year
campaign, with the
U.S. Department of
Education announc-
ing that Title VI would
be interpreted and
enforced so that Jewish
students would be pro-
tected from anti-Semitic
discrimination under Title VI.
The Zionist Organization of America
(ZOA) should be applauded for leading this
important fight.

Driving Forward
In actual practice, educational institutions
need to take concrete and effective steps
to end harassment, intimidation and dis-
crimination to prevent its recurrence, and
to correct a hostile environment for Jewish
students. These steps should include:


Ji:Ine 14 2012

Title VI of the Civil
Rights Act now provides
a key legal solution.

• Disciplinary measures for those who
commit anti-Semitic bigotry;
• Publicly labeling the inci-
dents as anti-Semitic;
• Educating teachers and stu-
dents about the dangers of anti-
Semitism and recognizing when
anti-Semitism occurs;
• Informing all students of
a school's procedures and offi-
cials when seeking redress for
incidents of discrimination and
If schools take these concrete
actions, Title VI becomes a guide
to ensuring that schools do the
right thing and schools need not
fear legal actions.
For example, when a LGBT student at the
University of Michigan was slurred, the uni-
versity official directing the school's office
serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-
gender people immediately issued a
campus-wide letter and a uni-
versity regent publicly stat-
ed,"When one member of
our campus community
is targeted because of
his or her identity, we
are all attacked."
Jewish students
deserve no less pro-
tection. Title VI now
gives Jewish students an
important legal solution
to a hostile campus environ-
ment. Campus anti-Semitism is
intolerable and unacceptable — and is
unquestionably a form of bullying.
Jewish students deserve the same educa-
tional environment as every student — one
that is physically and emotionally safe and
conducive to learning.

Sheldon Freilich of Bloomfield Hills is a board

member of the ZOA Michigan Region and

the Jewish Community Relations Council of

Metropolitan Detroit.

Israel Confronts Scope
Of Religious Pluralism


he popular belief is that the
Jewish population of Israel
includes some Orthodox Jews
and mostly secular Jews. You seldom
hear about other religious streams.
But times are a-changin'.
The Masorti (Conservative) and
Progressive (Reform) streams, buoyed
Israeli Rabbi Miri Gold
by strong support from their American
counterpart movements, are making
more noise as pluralism in the Jewish state commands more of the reli-
gious spotlight. It's hard to pinpoint a number, but a recent survey esti-
mates more than 500,000 Israelis identify as Masorti or Progressive.
The total represents 8 percent of Israeli Jews. More than 70 rabbis are
serving Israel's 100 Progressive and Masorti congregations.
While it's true that percentage may be influenced by an unknown
number of Israeli Jews supportive of any option other than the
Orthodox establishment, the reality is societal changes are giving root
to Israel's more liberal streams gaining a toehold in the open waters of
legal and political equality.
That's a significant step in the pitched battle by those streams to
be recognized by the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, which has
guided Israeli religious life since statehood 64 years ago.
The May 29 announcement that the Israeli government will now
pay the salaries of 15 non-Orthodox rabbis in outlying areas is a good
starting point. The action didn't grant such rabbis any authority over
Jewish law or ceremonies, but it does open the gates for better rela-
tions between the more liberal streams and the government. The initial
impact will be limited because most non-Orthodox Jews live inside
Israel's large metro areas, not within the regional councils and farming
areas affected by the ruling. That limitation is likely to be chipped away
at to bring all Masorti and Progressive rabbis into the rabbinical fold in
the eyes of the government.
A key byproduct is that Masorti and Progressive Jews in funded
regions won't have to continue giving privately to keep their rabbis
going while also paying taxes to fund the Chief Rabbinate.
In effect, the government legitimized the Masorti and Progressive
streams, assuring they no longer can be cast as fringe players. There's
now an incentive to create more non-Orthodox congregations, which
eventually would mean less dependence on the American Jewish com-
munity to stay afloat.
The spur for the trailblazing announcement was a 2005 petition by
the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and former Detroiter
Rabbi Miri Gold, who asked the state to fund the Progressive commu-
nity at her Kibbutz Gezer just as it funds the Orthodox communities
and their 4,000 rabbis. While happy, she noted after the announce-
ment: "Israel is still not the bastion of religious freedom nor the stal-
wart promoter of religious pluralism. We still have many hurdles, but I
believe we'll have renewed energy and determination to push forward."
In other breakthroughs for pluralism: the Orthodox members of a
Mevasseret Zion religious council hosted a May meeting with Alona
Lisitsa, a Progressive rabbi, participating; the Israel Religious Action
Center, the Progressive stream's legal arm, has secured state funding
for the construction of two synagogues, one in Carmiel in the Galilee
and one at Kibbutz Gezer south of Tel Aviv; and the preschool waiting
list for Eshel Avraham, a Masorti congregation in Beersheba, boasts
230 children.
This isn't a hate-filled battle among streams of Israeli Judaism.
Rather, it's a determined bid by non-Orthodox Jews – and their syna-
gogues and rabbis – to feel religious diversity is a welcome com-
ponent, not a red flag of unrest or a radical threat to the nation's
Orthodox oversight. 0

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