Your Daily Phil: Inside Rabbi Noah Farkas’ vision for LA Federation + Federal discrimination complaint against Brooklyn College
Good Thursday morning!
Two students attending a master’s degree program in mental health counseling at Brooklyn College claim in a federal discrimination complaint that they faced a “hostile environment” toward Jews in their courses.
The complaint was made under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in federally funded institutions, including public campuses like Brooklyn College. It was filed early last year to the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of the students by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The Brandeis Center said it received notice last week that the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights had opened an investigation based on the complaint.
The two students who submitted the complaint — one of whom is Hispanic — told eJP that they faced consistent pressure from other students and faculty to identify primarily as white, rather than Jewish, during class discussions of their personal identities.
“As somebody who has obviously grown up their whole life in a brown body, yes, I know that there is colorism and I’ve experienced it, but now that I identify as Jewish, all the sudden I’m white, and it’s like none of my experiences matter to you,” said the Hispanic student, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of backlash, describing the perceived attitude of students and faculty in the program.
Appeals to the administration went nowhere, the students said. The first student told eJP that they complained to a director of the degree program, who did not offer to address the issue. The student told eJP they then followed a formal complaint-filing process, but never received a response. The student told eJP that they dropped out of the program on Monday, months ahead of graduation, due to the alleged discrimination.
The Brandeis Center told eJP that it did not confer with Jewish professionals on campus prior to filing the complaint. Nadya Drukker, executive director of the school’s Hillel, told eJP, “It’s my impression that most [Jewish] students feel comfortable at Brooklyn College” but, “unfortunately, antisemitism is on the rise around the country and on college campuses. Brooklyn College is not immune.”
Brooklyn College spokesperson Rich Pietras defended the school’s record in standing up for Jewish students in a statement to eJP on Wednesday. “Brooklyn College unequivocally denounces antisemitism in any form and does not tolerate it on its campus, and is committed to working cooperatively and fully with the U.S. Department of Education,” Pietras told eJP. “The college appreciates the important role Jewish Americans have played in the rich history of the country, the city and the campus.”
The agenda for new L.A. federation CEO Noah Farkas: Building trust and diversity
In January, just six days into his new job as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Rabbi Noah Farkas had found some time to make his office his own: Along with 30 still-packed boxes of books, the Plano, Texas, native made room for a Dallas Cowboys mini-helmet, a baseball he caught at a Dodgers game and a rock decorated by one of his kids to read “Abba rocks 2015.” In truth, Farkas’ work had begun two months earlier, when he began meeting with more than 100 stakeholders throughout the Jewish community. The personal stories of L.A.’s Jews, he told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Esther D. Kustanowitz, are “key to understanding who we are and what we all want to accomplish.”
A new generation: Farkas, 42, is succeeding Jay Sanderson, 64, who headed L.A.’s federation for 12 years. Farkas told eJP that he intends to use three values — trust, leadership and diversity — to guide federation operations. He hopes to express those values by prioritizing mental health, fighting antisemitism, Israel engagement and programs that explore Jewish diversity. He will be guided in that effort by a Los Angeles Jewish community study due out later this year from the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.
Pulpit rabbi to CEO: Farkas comes to the federation after 13 years on the pulpit at Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Encino with more than 1,500 members. The Jewish mission of the federation, he feels, is not that different from that of a synagogue — it’s just less localized. “Synagogues, schools, camps and agencies are limited in their scope and mission to their part of the community,” he said. “They need to be more focused; it’s what makes them unique and special. The federation is [not] and should not be limited in that way. We are the only organization in Los Angeles whose interest encompasses everyone.”
Community-centered: “I want us to think proactively about what kind of Jewish life we want to create together, the kind that we should be dreaming about [and] thinking about for ourselves, for our children, for anyone who wants to go on this journey with us,” Farkas said, adding, “It begins with a federation telling its story in a way that tells the truth, that we’re actually not as deeply self-interested as we are interested in the community, and the thousands and thousands of people we help.”
Better communication: Farkas is also planning to develop a more transparent model of how federation money is raised and invested in their partners, he said, so that donors understand their impact. The federation has a $56 million budget and approximately 12,000 individual donors. “Helping someone from falling into homelessness, bringing that Jewish child to Jewish education, fighting against antisemitism, supporting a protected and flourishing State of Israel,” he said, listing some of the federation’s goals. “Their dollars really do do those things. And I’m going to try to show them how.”
EXHAUSTING, BUT EXHILARATING
Two years is a really long time
“My daughter had to take a moment to think it over. She was considering how old she had been at the start of the pandemic. ‘Was I really only 12?’ she said, startled by her own answer,” writes Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein of Congregation Shir Shalom in Buffalo, N.Y., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
View as a dad: “Two years is a really long time, in all of our lives, but most certainly for my now 14-year-old. Over that time she has passed from pre-teen to teen, became a bat mitzvah and nearly made it through all of middle school. How fast this time has flown! And, how intolerably slow! In March of 2020, none of us could possibly have imagined just how long this virus would persist.”
View from the pulpit: “As a synagogue rabbi, I have seen a lot during these two years. Dozens of b’nei mitzvah services, weddings, baby namings and funerals, all with the twists and turns of planning during this crazy time.”
Bright spots: “But, as heartbreaking as it has been, there have also been some definite bright spots, ways our world has changed for the better, not just for the duration of the pandemic but for good.”
Relaxed scheduling: “Remember a time when what was on the books, was on the books, never to be changed under any condition? Now, our calendars are full of wiggle. What was true today may not be true tomorrow. Jewish holidays and life cycles are still there, but how and when we choose to celebrate them is up to us.”
From generation to generation: Teenage reflections in the wake of Colleyville
“There is a popular joke among Jews that any Jewish holiday can be summed up in three sentences: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat! While I have always loved that we, as a people, are dedicated to food, the first sentence of this summary is eerily accurate,” writes Samantha Solomon, a high school sophomore from Palo Alto, Calif., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Hardwired into my DNA: “Judaism teaches us to pass on our values l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Among the many gifts I have received through this lineage, a passionate survival instinct frequently feels most important. The grit and resilience of my ancestors is hardwired into my DNA. Generation upon generation of Jews have faced antisemitism, yet somehow, against all odds, I am still here. Despite every attempt to eradicate our otherness, we remain. From the stories of our holidays to the history learned in Sunday school, the spirit of resilience is instilled deep within us at a young age. It is a necessary resilience that is tested at every turn.”
Duty bound: “When I was 10 years old there was a bomb threat at the local Jewish day school. When I was 13, a week after becoming a bat mitzvah, a man shot and killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, not so different from my own. I’ve seen vandalism and verbal assault in my newsfeed; I’ve heard dangerous tropes and pure vitriol from all walks of life, from acquaintances to elected leaders. As I watch the growing antisemitism in the United States and worldwide, I cannot turn away and pretend I’m not involved. I am duty bound to pay attention and engineered to respond.”
Improving Holocaust Education: The Australian government has committed $750,000 to help establish a Holocaust museum in Darwin, SBS News reports, an announcement that followed a report last week from the Gandel Foundation that found that almost one-quarter of Australian adults had little to no knowledge of the Holocaust, and more than 70% were not aware of any Australian connection. “It was the first national, large-scale survey of Holocaust knowledge and awareness, and prompted calls for more consistency in Holocaust education across the country… Among the researchers’ eight recommendations was the introduction of a consistent approach to Holocaust education across the country, along with proper and accredited teacher training, and the development of strategies to drive engagement with Holocaust museums.” [SBSNews]
The ‘Personal Best’ Approach: Adopting a “personal best” mindset — a strategy often used by athletes to motivate themselves toward more ambitious achievements — can benefit the world of business and philanthropy, Charlie Bresler writes in Fast Company. “Allowing our sales staff to set their own personal goals changed the mindset around our metrics. Whenever our salespeople met their goals, they were motivated to set new, more ambitious goals for themselves. If a salesperson didn’t meet a personal goal, a manager could be there to help identify and overcome specific obstacles. Since conversations around obstacles were centered around meeting personal goals rather than corporate benchmarks, they were more open and productive… Our ‘personal best’ strategy allows our supporters to start small — with modest effective giving goals which they can meet and gradually increase over time, and with a curated list of highly effective charities that they can research and support with just a few clicks of the mouse.” [FastCompany]
Word on the Street
An Orthodox community in Hertfordshire, England, appointed Miriam Lorie, who is studying for ordination at New York’s Yeshivat Maharat, to a rabbinic leadership role. She is the first woman in the U.K. to hold such a position…
The U.K. Charity Commission has confirmed it opened ongoing cases against two trustees of the JNF UK organization – both in relation to their conduct…
Melinda French Gates is no longer planning to distribute the bulk of her wealth through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and instead will be shifting donations to other philanthropic organizations…
Rihanna has pledged $15 million to initiatives combating climate change through her Clara Lionel Foundation, with an emphasis on climate as a social justice issue…
McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, received a gift of $25.1 million USD from Marnix Heersink, an Alabama physician and entrepreneur…
Emory University in Atlanta has been gifted $100 million, the largest donation in the school’s history, from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation to advance public health…
Avram Goldberg, who led the regional supermarket chain Stop & Shop, died at 92…
Pic of the Day
Team Israel participates in the 52nd Étoile de Bessèges – Tour du Gard 2022 bicycle race in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, France.
Singer-songwriter, best known for composing “From a Distance,” winner of the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1991, Julie Gold…
Longest-serving chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, now a senior adviser at the Carlyle Group and on the board of Bloomberg LP, Arthur Levitt Jr… Former president and CEO of clothing manufacturer Warnaco Group, Linda J. Wachner… Former chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. and former president of the Lillian Vernon Corporation, Fred Hochberg… Partner at Shipman & Goodwin and a former justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court, Joette Katz… Retired member of the Utah House of Representatives, Patrice M. Arent… Science advisor to President Biden and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Eric Steven Lander… Former CEO of the Chicago Sun-Times, he was previously an alderman of the 43rd Ward in Chicago, Edwin Eisendrath… Steven F. Schlafer… Member of the Knesset for the Blue and White alliance, Michael Biton… Deputy commissioner and general counsel for the NYC Department of Finance, Diana Hartstein Beinart… French actor with 50 film credits and a number television shows, Vincent Elbaz… Founder of Fourth Factor Consulting, Joel Mowbray… Australian actress and author, Isla Fisher… Record producer and music critic, known by her nickname Ultragrrrl, Sarah Lewitinn… Director of policy and programs at the GeoEconomics Center of the Atlantic Council, Josh Lipsky… Manager of the synagogue leadership initiative at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Joshua Keyak… One of Israel’s most popular singers, Ishay Ribo… Executive at NYC’s Brunswick Group, Noam Safier…
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