by Howard Wohl
I know am I only one person. Yes, I may have several roles, such as husband, father, grandparent, et al. In my Jewish volunteer life I am on several boards, in what I see as a quest to further Jewish Continuity and to strengthen our People. Yet, so many times I am confronted by a fellow Jew who is also engaged in these same goals who cannot seem to comprehend what the two of us have in common.
Let me give you a few examples and perhaps you can help straighten me out. In one instance, I represented one of the denominations at a discussion among Federation people (pardon me if this seems like a plot from Star Trek). During the course of the conversation, at least one person questioned what I was doing on the teleconference. Though our denomination had joined in securing funding for Israelis who were badly impacted by the recent flare up with Hamas, others seemed to feel I must have taken a wrong turn or somehow been in the wrong church. I explained that even though I at this time was on the call as a representative of a denomination, I was also one of the larger supporters of our local Federation’s campaign. As if I had to explain that the kippah I was now wearing might also be acceptable on their phone call. Needless to say, I was perplexed.
Now I am also president of my alma mater’s campus Hillel. We recently had a rather uncomfortable situation when the Political Science Department decided to co-sponsor an event featuring Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler speaking about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. First, a number of Jewish politicians decided to demagogue the issue, demanding the College’s President be decapitated and free speech to be denied. After we made a series of public statements, one right-wing zealot apparently determined that I was insufficiently indignant and, as he had two years prior, repeated his accusation that I was acting like a capo in the death camps. As I tried to get recognition from the Jewish Media that this incident was not about Free Speech (unless Hate Speech is included) or Academic Freedom (how can it be when the department invited two speakers who would deny academic freedom to some?) but rather about Academic Integrity (this same department had shown its perverse anti-Israel colors a few years prior and students have complained that they feel intimidated in many of their classes). The event itself proved my point, as Jewish students who had registered were denied entrance, others who managed to secure entrance through the efforts of a College administrator were told they “did not belong”, the Media was barred, especially a journalist wearing a kippah, and the event was conducted as a one-sided lecture about how bad the Israelis are. So much for the department’s supposed interest in airing disparate views. How many other organizations not directly involved in pro-Israel advocacy rose to defend us, to contribute to our efforts or to publicly defend us? Sadly, it was too few to count on the fingers of one hand.
So who are we? Yes, a number of national Jewish organizations showed up at the College President’s door. Unfortunately, only one bothered to check in with our Executive Director to find out where our students stand. I am sure they got involved so they will have something to remark about in their next fundraising letter or to show how they stood up for students, even though they had no idea who or what those students thought.
Oh yes, I have plenty of fellow Jews who tell me they are amazed that I would stand up and speak truth to power. They then tell me in a softer voice that though they respect what I am doing, it is not their thing. They would rather give to Chabad or the Israel Air Force Center or their local synagogue, to list just some of their justifications, and why should they get involved? After all, this happens all the time and what can they do about it? Excuse me. I am beginning to think that my battle to further Jewish continuity is falling on deaf ears. Perhaps, my efforts are too Jewish or insufficiently so. Perhaps, my efforts are too parochial, too provincial or too far left or right or just not their cup of tea. I have to say, this is frustrating. No, I will not cease in my efforts to defend out People, to encourage teen-agers and college students to find meaning in their Jewishness and to coalesce as one People. Look, I am still waiting for a response that will say, “Are you kidding, four Jewish kids (or young adults) were kicked out of a campus event because they are Jewish? How can I help? Who can I speak with? What can I do to ensure that our Jewish children are respected and Academic tyranny is stopped dead in its tracks?” I am waiting….
Howard Wohl is a philanthropist involved in a number of charitable organizations. Howard spent more than forty years leading two successful businesses. His views are based on decades of involvement and he is proud to be associated with organizations undergoing change and working for the welfare of the Jewish People.