The Conspiracy

2012’s Jewish Headlines and Their Ramifications for Jews on Campus

Aly Raisman, in case you missed it, is quite good at gymnastics. She will be in many Jewish Years-in-Review. I promise.
Credit: haaretz.com

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. School is off, joy is in the air, and the NFL playoffs are about to start. Christmas and Chanukah? Well…they’re done, and with them the holiday season is now reduced to the solar New Year.

But we all know what that means. It’s the time of year where every website, magazine, and newspaper bands together to create the traditional late-December tradition we like to call the Year-In-Review. Looking for this year’s biggest celebrity feuds? No need to fear…that list exists. Searching for a review with an especially corny name? Feel free to check out PBS’s The Year of You. Feeling selfish? Just log into Facebook and there’s an application to create your own personalized year-in-review that will cover the most interesting development in the world: Your life.

Because I’m a shameless conformist, and because these years-in-review make me giddy, I’ve decided that New Voices needs a similar year in review. It has been an eventful year for Jewish college students, and a few storylines have the potential to drastically affect the landscape of Jewish life on campus as we head into 2013 and beyond. Here are five stories from 2012 that might be worth remembering as we look to the future.

1. Rick Jacobs commences his term as President of the Union for Reform Judaism.

For two organizations, this year was a year of profound change. At the Union of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester, New York started as President, promising profound changes from the leadership style of Eric Yoffe, whose administration Jacobs had criticized harshly while serving as a congregational Rabbi. Officially taking the helm in July, in Jacobs’s first few months, he demonstrated an interest in campus Jewish life, spending his High Holy Days on a college campus (Brown University) and attending Hillel Institute, Hillel’s annual leadership-training conference in St. Louis, which served almost 1,000 Hillel staff and student leaders.

2. Wayne Firestone steps down as CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life

Simultaneously, Hillel commenced a change of its own. Wayne Firestone, CEO of Hillel, announced in September that he will be stepping aside, and that a new head of Hillel will commence his or her term in June of 2013. Firestone will be remembered largely for implementing landmark programs such as Ask Big Questions and the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, examples of his push for increased peer-to-peer engagement. While it is unclear who might be Firestone’s successor, the person in that role will have perhaps the most pivotal leadership role for Jewish students on college campuses all around the world.

3. Turmoil at the University of Pennsylvania

While 2012’s Israel Apartheid Week provoked less controversy than years past, the Jewish community had its focus squarely on Israel-Palestine issues at the University of Pennsylvania this February. There, a conference in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement took place, and it was one of the larger organized events devoted to BDS advocacy in recent memory. A variety of pro-Israel organizations and individuals, including the always-polarizing Alan Dershowitz, responded to the conference by showing up in Philadelphia themselves and offering up their own opinions about the situation in the Middle East.

4. Hillel’s Partnership Guidelines Provoke Controversy

A Hillel policy, introduced by Wayne Firestone a few years ago, barred chapters of Hillel from any partnership with groups that advocate for BDS or who exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior. Student-run newspapers at Tufts, Harvard, and Binghamton all published articles questioning this policy within the last two months, and in certain cases flat-out stating their belief that the policy closes Hillel’s door to Jewish students whose views about Israel fall outside the realm of the traditional pro-Israel camp. To what extent this sentiment is shared by students around the country is not yet clear, but any change in this policy would have a profound effect on many college campuses.

5. Koach’s Roller-Coaster Ride

Koach, the campus arm of Conservative Judaism, had an incredibly eventful year. In June, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism announced that they were cutting all funding for Koach, ending entirely their operations on college campuses. When students successfully rallied to create a Save Koach campaign, however, the decision was altered. In July, the USCJ announced that they would provide $100,000 of funding for Koach, assuming they would be able to raise $130,000 of their own by the end of the year. Considering the Reform Movement’s decision to cut Kesher, their campus arm, in 2010, an elimination of Koach would create a situation where the two largest denominations of American Judaism would have no organized University presence at all.

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