Wednesday, December 15, 2010
RABBI DOV FISCHER: Tammi Rossman-Benjamin's response to Dr. Daniel Wehrenfennig, director of the UCI Olive Tree Initiative
Having read the letter of December 8, 2010 by Dr. Daniel Wehrenfennig, director of the UCI Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), responding to valid concerns raised by Prof. Tammi Ross-Benjamin, I now feel it is time for Jews in Orange County to withhold any further support for the Jewish Federation of Orange County until the Federation disassociates and withdraws from continuing to support the OTI, directly or indirectly, with Jewish charitable funds. I likewise will now urge all individuals of similar mind to mine to withhold support from the Jewish Federation of Orange County on those same terms. The notion that the Jewish Federation is taking Jewish charitable dollars and spending Jewish tzedakah funds to assist UCI Jewish students to participate in OTI is so profoundly disturbing that I cannot see how any Jewish philanthropist would want to know that her hard-won earnings during this Great Recession are being spent in this manner.
Jewish funds should not be expended on paying for Jewish students to travel throughout “Palestinian” towns and villages to hear lectures by trained anti-Israel propagandists from “Palestine,” as part of an OTI mission to expose Jewish students to a “balanced” understanding of narratives: (i) on the one hand, Israel’s unequivocal right to live, (ii) balanced on the other hand with the right of Palestinian Arabs to aspire towards absorbing and nullifying the only Jewish state in the world – the death of Israel. In the words of Dr. Wehrenfennig : “The Olive Tree Initiative is an experiential learning initiative that shows both, and even multiple sides and narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” My Young Israel synagogue does not bring Christian missionaries to our congregation so that our congregants can better receive a “balanced view” of theological narratives. Our “experiential learning initiative” is attained by educating our members by presenting information, including information believed by others – “and even multiple sides and narratives” – for their benefit. We educate expansively, beyond insularity. Yet, we do not need Christian missionaries to educate us. We do not bring Christian missionaries to teach their version of Torah, their version of Isaiah 7:14 or 53, to our teens and college students. We teach. Likewise, we do not need – and we certainly should not contribute towards such endeavor with Jewish tzedakah funds – Palestinians dedicated to the death of Israel to educate our Jewish college students for balance. There are ample Jewish educational programs, from a wide range of perspectives, that can educate ably, presenting multiple perspectives.
It is unconscionable that a Jewish Federation would expend even supplementary Jewish charitable funds to fly and transport Jewish UCI students on programs that compromise the Shabbat – and all the more so, incredibly so, that desecrate Rosh Hashanah. What Jewish philanthropist is so bereft of meaningful Jewish charitable choices for his philanthropic generosity that he must have his tzedakah employed for sending Jewish students to a program that spends part of Rosh Hashanah in a Jewish setting and part of Rosh Hashanah in “Palestine”? Dr. Daniel Wehrenfennig, director of the UCI Olive Tree Initiative, means well when he writes: “Again, if the Jewish students wanted to they could opt out of the Jordan trip or parts of it because of religious reasons,” but he does not realize how damning the statement is. I do not want my college Jewish son or daughter being flown or otherwise transported to “Palestine” and Jordan, along with Israel, during Rosh Hashanah, with some concession of “opting out” from the group dynamic “because of religious reasons.” I want my Jewish son or daughter, if spending time in Israel during the High Holy Day season, devoting that time to experiencing the Days of Awe with everyone else in the group, thus creating a reinforcing socializing and educating experience. The college years pass by so rapidly, and these moments must be cherished for the opportunities they offer us to educate and welcome Jewish students to the meaning of Jewish life.
Please do not misunderstand. Someday my son or daughter will find himself in situations that amply integrate him with the rest of the world. She will meet and encounter Palestinians. She will be on business travel as Shabbat draws near and may need to individuate herself from the mainstream to observe Shabbat. So it will be for them, as it has been for me. In ten years as an attorney with two of America’s most prominent law firms, I socialized and integrated with people of all backgrounds in my firms, and I arranged with judges and opposing counsel to calendar court days so that I would not be compelled to compromise Shabbat or Jewish holy festivals. Despite never having attended an OTI Rosh Hashanah program, I was thoroughly capable of socially integrating my lifestyle and religious beliefs with others, including Arab Moslem friends. But during my formative college years, my time in Israel was spent attending Jewish programs that did not divide Rosh Hashanah with Bethlehem, “Palestine” or trips to Jordan. Perhaps some parents (or college students) differ from me, and they respectively want their children (or for themselves) to attend programs that “balance” Israel’s right to live with a normative Palestinian perspective that Israel should be destroyed as a Jewish State, and perhaps they want to be on a program that gives them the option of spending half their Rosh Hashanah in Bethlehem under the aegis of anti-Israel Palestinian propagandists trained in reaching American youths, like Rachel Corrie, and sensitizing them to the “Palestinian narrative.” They have that right – but not to have it funded, directly or indirectly, with Jewish Federation charitable dollars.
Dr. Daniel Wehrenfennig, director of the UCI Olive Tree Initiative (OTI), has written his letter, in explicit pertinent part, to defend the practice of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, its Rose Project, and other of its funding channels to participate in allocating Jewish charitable funds towards OTI. That is Dr. Wehrenfennig’s right and institutional responsibility. I, too, am entitled to my right and responsibility to act in accordance with my free conscience. As a rabbi, a religious leader and teacher in the Jewish community of Irvine in Orange County, I also have a right and a responsibility. At this moment in time, in the face of this very unfortunate situation, my responsibility is to announce publicly that I believe it proper for Jews to withhold any further contributions from the Jewish Federation of Orange County until the Federation publicly and explicitly assures the Jewish community that it no longer will participate materially in supporting Jewish student participation at Olive Tree Institute programs that bring UCI Jewish students in part to “Palestine,” where those Jewish students are exposed to trained and skilled Palestinian Arab propagandists educating them with the “Palestinian narrative” that would mark the death of Israel as a Jewish state. I urge others to follow my lead, and I will encourage others whom I know to spread this call far and wide.
I am grateful to Prof. Rossman-Benjamin for her leadership in bringing to the surface truths that needed to be exposed.