Archive | April 2016

Israeli ministers are not “Smelly,” and Fighting the Good Fight Against Jew Hatred on Campus


It is not easy to be Jewish or pro-Israel on today’s North American college campus. This misleading, hate-filled sign put up by student activists who aim to do nothing more than demonize and delegitimize Israel’s very existence has become a cancer on the collegiate scene.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the news this week of a bus bombing in Jerusalem is Harvard Law School’s efforts to protect the privacy of third-year student Husam El-Qoulaq. He is the head of the Harvard Chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, and at a recent guest talk featuring Israeli dignitary Tzipi Livni, he asked the profound question of why she is so smelly.

This hiding and protecting the student from any future shame as he goes off into the world looking for a job can be seen in the linked article from the Harvard Law Record, where they do not list Husam El-Qoulaq’s name. 

Political correctness and tolerating the intolerant is not going to make this growing storm of Jew hatred go away any time soon. Remember, the Nazi party began when it gained strength within Germany’s college campuses. 

It’s a good thing there are a lot of good Jewish lawyers.

One of them is my dear friend Joanna Abramson. Here is a Detroit Jewish News article from this week’s issue about her fight, written by Senior Copy Editor David Sachs. 

Attorneys who want to help fight antiSemitism on campus can contact Joanna Abramson at (248) 706-1700 or joanna@

In post-World War I Germany, Joanna Abramson’s grandfather Ernest Gans suffered intense anti-Semitism while attending law school at the University of Munich.

He ultimately fled Germany a month before the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. Gans’ granddaughter Joanna, now a West Bloomfield attorney, in sharp contrast, experienced no anti-Semitism whatsoever as a proudly pro-Israel student at the University of Michigan in the 1970s.

But when her son arrived for orientation at the University of Michigan in 2004, new freshmen were met by protestors with signs and chants calling Israel an apartheid state and equating Israel with Nazism.

“It was a completely different University of Michigan than I experienced,” said Abramson. “It was more like the University of Munich that my grandfather experienced. “This is the experience occurring all over the United States today. As attorneys, we can’t sit by and watch this happen.”

Abramson, a board member of the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM), organized a conference of local attorneys with featured speaker Yael Mazar, the director of legal affairs at the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs (SWU). She addressed about 50 lawyers April 7 at the Max M. Fisher Federation Building in Bloomfield Township.

Abramson seeks to inspire attorneys to join the fight against anti-Semitism on campus. She got a positive response from attorneys attending the conference. Mazar, a Los Angeles native who is currently living in Israel, conducts legal workshops and advises students on confronting extremist activity. Before joining StandWithUs, she specialized in civil rights and hate crimes law with the Anti-Defamation League. She sought to educate the attorneys attending the conference about anti-Semitism on campus and discuss what they could do to combat it.

Providing the student point of view was SWU-Michigan’s campus liaison Andrew Moss, a junior at U-M in Ann Arbor. Moss works with college and high school students across the state to plan and implement pro-Israel programming.


Mazar described how easily anti-Israel rhetoric and demonstrations can morph into antiSemitism, giving the specific definition of anti-Semitism promulgated by the U.S. State Department. In addition, she spoke about the staged disruptions by anti-Israel factions when proIsrael speakers seek to speak on campus — which violate the speakers’ First Amendment right to speak and the audiences’ First Amendment right to listen.

She also told of harassment of Jewish students across the country, including, for instance, fake “Israelistyle” eviction notices in college dormitories or bogus student government allegations like those brought up and dismissed recently against U-M student Jesse Arm. Regarding anti-Semitism, Mazar said that absurd charges of the mass killing of Palestinian children were like the age-old blood libel of Jews killing Christian children to make Passover matzah.

She stated the three criteria of how antiIsrael antagonists cross the line into antiSemitism, as laid out by the State Department in its Fact Sheet “Defining Anti-Semitism”: • Demonizing Israel: Using the images of anti-Semitism to characterize Israel, comparing Israel to the Nazis or blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions. • Double Standard for Israel: Requiring of Israel a behavior not expected of any other democratic nation and focusing only on Israel for human rights investigations. • Delegitimizing Israel: Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination and denying Israel its right to exist. However, the State Department adds, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.


The University of California (UC) regents have recently had to confront rampant antiSemitism on their campuses. Mazar gave the example of swastika graffiti and vandalism aimed at a Jewish fraternity at UC-Davis. She pointed out the case at UCLA in Los Angeles where Rachel Beyda was at first summarily rejected for a student government position because questions were raised that her Jewish faith would affect her impartiality. Also, at UC-Santa Cruz, an anti-Israel faction tried to prevent student representative Daniel Bernstein from voting on a pro-BDS resolution before the student government because he was Jewish. Mazar also discussed the case of U-M student Jesse Arm, a student government representative who was charged with ethics violations for peacefully disagreeing with the builders of an “Israel Apartheid Wall” on campus.

Arm was denied the opportunity to be represented by counsel at a student government hearing but received legal advice in advance from the SWU and West Bloomfield attorney Lawrence Katz. The student government wound up dismissing all allegations against him. SWU has prepared a pamphlet “Know Your Rights!” for Jewish students affected by anti-Semitic intimidation by anti-Israel factions. Included are issues of suppression of pro-Israel speech, challenging hostile professors, hate speech, anti-Semitism and harassment.

Students are given a hotline to get free legal help by filing an incident report through the website or by calling (844) END-BDS7. Mazar says SWU has a pro bono legal team that will assist students facing antiSemitism with legal tools to utilize. She invited Detroit-area attorneys to get involved through Abramson’s efforts. SWU’s partners in the “Know Your Rights!” project are the American Center for Law and Justice, the Lawfare Project, the Louis D. Brandeis Center and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).


Mazar said one tactic SWU has used against pro-BDS resolutions has been to examine the bylaws of the resolving organization to see if it exceeded its authority by taking action on inappropriate issues.

This succeeded in an instance at UC-Davis. Lawyers can be helpful in advising students about rules and bylaws. Mazar cautioned that even though proBDS resolutions don’t always pass, the torrent of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric could still influence the beliefs of future leaders who are subjected to unsuccessful BDS efforts.

When anti-Israel demonstrators prevent pro-Israel speakers from having their say, Mazar said that the protestors should be arrested and prosecuted. For instance, 10 such demonstrators at UC-Irvine were convicted of disrupting a 2010 speech by then Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren.

Another weapon against anti-Semitism is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federal funding to institutions that discriminate. In cases in 2004 and 2010, Title VI was applied to protect Jews. In 2013, the ZOA filed a Title VI action against Brooklyn College when the college did nothing when four non-disruptive Jewish students were ejected from a pro-Palestinian event. In light of the action, the college apologized to the students and implemented policies to prevent future similar discrimination from occurring.


Moss, a junior at U-M majoring in political science and international studies, represents SWU-MI and works to fight anti-Semitism and BDS. “I built this position,” he explained, telling how he assists and educates students across the state. He was trained in pro-Israel activity by SWU prior to starting college in its MZ teen intern program. Moss told the lawyers they should “let the students know the community is behind them” regarding anti-Semitism on campus. He said students are fighting for the ability to present the pro-Israel side. Larry Katz, the West Bloomfield attorney who volunteered his advice to U-M student Jesse Arm prior to his successful hearing before a student government board, attended the attorneys’ meeting and said, “This meeting is the first step in the creation of a community of lawyers concerned about the BDS movement and growing anti-Semitism, particularly on college campuses. “We want to make sure Jewish students and faculty know their rights and have the resources to counter this propaganda.”

Attorneys who want to help fight antiSemitism on campus can contact Joanna Abramson at (248) 706-1700 or joanna@ Local attorneys are especially needed to serve on the legal help hotline. Their services will be available to people and organizations fighting anti-Semitism.

Leading a Seder? Tips for a kvetch-free evening

If you are a seder leader, you work a tough crowd.

Just as the Children of Israel complained in the desert to Moses, all gathered at the seder table will level their pre-meal kvetching at you.

Fear not. The Passover seder is the ultimate multi-sensory teaching tool that asks each of us to think of ourselves as going on a journey and leaving Egypt and slavery behind for freedom in the Promised Land. Long before any educational theorist came up with the idea of teaching to multiple intelligences, the Hagaddah text clearly states that all who participate in a seder must feel as they themselves experienced the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of redemption.

“From sports to music fans, you’ve got to know your audience,” said Jeff Lasday, director of Alliance for Jewish Education. Lasday has led family seders for the past 30 years. When Passover falls during the annual NCAA basketball tournament, Lasday emails his family in advance a Jewish-themed “bracket” of favorite Passover foods, Jewish traditions and Jewish heroes. Before the seder, he compiles the results and intersperses reports between different parts of the Hagaddah.


In the 2005 Passover comedy, When Do We Eat?, a dysfunctional Jewish family celebrates Passover in a Bedouin tent pitched on a suburbanite Long Island lawn. Though it is not necessary to go through such lengths, setting the stage visually will get your seder guests in the right frame of mind for the evening. At the beginning of the seder, don’t even bother with the table. For one seder, I brought the whole family into the tiny front storage area of my parent’s basement. This subterranean start symbolized that we were about to go on a journey and the dark basement represented just how low we felt during slavery and how we were about to rise to freedom. Amy Newman, director of leadership development for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, suggests hanging blue cellophane from doorways to simulate the parting of the Red Sea. She also recommends giving permission for kids to draw on the dining room walls — covered carefully with butcher paper — to depict scenes from the Haggadah. “The more experiential you can make your seder, the more meaning it will have for your guests, no matter their age,” Newman said.


Nibbling is permitted during the first half of the seder after reciting the blessing for karpas (green vegetable, often parsley). Pass around bowls of dried fruits and nuts, even crudites with guacamole to stave off hunger during the seder.

Prior to the seder, get them invested by asking them to think about their own interpretation of slavery, freedom or plagues. Newman also suggests providing older kids and young adults with a lunch bag filled with different items to be used during the Maggid section of the Haggadah to tell the Passover story. From food insecurity to the environment to human trafficking, teens and young adults are passionate about causes. The internet provides great supplementary Haggadah readings that can spark conversations on all of these topics to bring the messages of the holiday into a contemporary light. When it comes to including a discussion about Israel, organizations from AIPAC to J Street publish Haggadah supplements. For example, last year, a friend of my niece joined the IDF as a Lone Soldier. I was able to find a Hagaddah reading online that offered short profiles of Lone Soldiers and what it meant to them to serve in the Israeli army.


My earliest Passover memories are steeped in song. Growing up at my no-nonsense Hebrew school, teachers taught us how to lead the seder by singing our way through the Haggadah. The more singing and music you add to your seder, the more enjoyable it will be for all guests. My husband’s own “Passover Rappin” YouTube video has not gone viral like those of the Maccabeats, but in our family, it has become a seder standard. If you are fortunate to have Jewish preschoolers coming to your seder, your evening will ring with the wonderful songs they learn. For older guests, if you want to divert a bit from the traditional Haggadah text but still stay on topic, Newman suggests having a sing-down. How many songs can those around the table think of about slavery, freedom, spring or redemption?


My grandmother used to tell me stories of being shushed at the seder table as a child while a bearded elder quickly mumbled through the whole Haggadah. As time went on, American Jews started to read from the Maxwell House Haggadah in a round-robin fashion, but they were still bored with the formal English and cumbersome sentences. One year, my brother-in-law proclaimed, “This is awful. Why do we use the same boring Haggadah with these ‘thines and thous’ year after year?” Before the next Passover came around, I researched and found other Haggadot, such as A Family Haggadah (Kar Ben Copies) and A Different Night by Noam Zion. Do not be afraid to cull different passages from different Haggadot. But when all is said and done, don’t permanently retire your Maxwell House Haggadot. As corny as it is, my kids and their cousins still love to use them to read Hallel: “Thine yea thine, thine only thine” … verse after verse late into the night. There are many new traditions to enhance your seder, but sometimes the old standbys are the ones that truly create family seder memories.*

Wedding Tip: Personalize your Wedding Canopy

As they exchange their vows and listen to the reading of a ketubah, sheltering them above their heads are customized canopies woven together from heirloom wedding gowns, a greatgrandfather’s tallit or even the cloth napkin from the restaurant where the proposal took place. Understanding the significance and holiness of this moment as the beginning of a new marriage and family, today’s couples seek to bring more personalization into the design of their one-of-a-kind chuppot.

%d bloggers like this: