OC Jewish Experience

The official blog of Jewish Orange County

Jerusalem Post Reports on the Olive Tree Initiative


Ben Hartman of the Jerusalem Post reported on the Olive Tree Initiative, the University of California, Irvine program that has drawn interest from pro-Israel student leaders at the University and controversy within the Jewish community. Student leaders was quoted in the article, along with Jewish Federation CEO Shalom Elcott and Rose Project Co-Chair Jeff Margolis.

Hartman correctly categorizes the initiative as a balanced and educational program without any specific ideological bent with this quote from Yerushalmi:

Almost half of the speakers are Zionist or pro-Israel, some are in the middle and are not affiliated with the Palestinian or Israeli side, [working] with non-partisan NGOs or organizations. It’s a very balanced itinerary, and we’ve always been open to hearing from people who have ideas and additional perspectives

Not included in the article is some excellent news about past Rose Project participants and members of the Olive Tree Initiative, who have just been accepted to several long-term Israel programs, including the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and Israel Government Fellows Program, Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), Hasbara Fellowships, MASA and more. We are very proud of our students, and they, like Isaac, are doing a service to the greater Orange County community, the Jewish people, and demonstrate the success of Rose-project supported programs.


June 22, 2011 Posted by | Community Events, Diaspora, Israel, Jewish Federation Orange County, Media, Rose Project, UC Irvine, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

UC Irvine students attend Hasbara Fellowships

FOR Immediate Release:

What: Hasbara Fellowships Israel Activism Training for College Students              

When: June 2011

Where: Israel

UC Irvine Students Chosen for Elite Israel Advocacy Training with Hasbara Fellowships

Students from UC Irvine are taking initiative this summer to get involved with Israel advocacy on their campuses. 4 student leaders from Irvine have been selected to participate in the elite Hasbara Fellowships activism training program in Israel this summer.

The 4 student leaders -Yekaterina Shutaya, Ryan Jenner, Ari Friedman, and David Gutkin of University of California, Irvine will be joining the Hasbara trip this June.

These outstanding students will be among 700 students, the largest contingency ever, from over 60 college campuses nationwide, that Hasbara will be training in Israel advocacy education this summer.

The Irvine students have all received generous sponsorship from the Rose Project in order to participate in the program.

Hasbara Fellowships was founded in 2001 as a partnership between the Foreign Ministry of Israel and Aish International. Ten years ago it became evident that anti-Israel propaganda on college campuses was a force to be reckoned with. Overt displays of anti-Israel sentiment grew into a burgeoning trend on campuses, and so, there was a need for students to stand up for Israel. Since it’s inception in 2001, over 2,000 students have participated in the Hasbara Fellowships Israel Activism Training Program.

Hasbara takes students on an intensive 2-week program with the goal of educating, training, and motivating students to become pro-Israel activists on their campuses as well as teaching the students to effectively combat wide-ranging anti-Israel propaganda.

Participants will hear from an array of historians, journalists, military personnel, politicians, and academics that will offer perspectives on various topics. Students will have the unique opportunity to go on strategic tours of Sderot, Hebron and Israeli borders of Syria and Lebanon.  This year, participants will also meet with multiple Israeli members of Knesset, receive top briefings at the Knesset, Israeli Foreign Ministry, and the Jerusalem Post, and visit high-tech start-up companies to learn about Israel’s advancements in alternative energy.

Students will learn how to communicate effectively for Israel, answer difficult questions, and run successful programming upon returning to campus. Participants will receive support from professional Hasbara staff to help facilitate pro-Israel programs. Hasbara Fellows become highly trained Israel activists leading pro-Israel activities back on campus.

Individual students are available for interviews upon request. Please direct all inquiries to Atara Jacobs, Community & Public Relations Coordinator at AJacobs@HasbaraFellowships.org or 201-951-3288

June 18, 2011 Posted by | Diaspora, Hillel, Israel, Jewish Federation Orange County, Media, Rose Project, UC Irvine | Leave a comment

Jonathan Adelman comes to UC Irvine

A new pro-Israel student group, SPME (Students for Peace in the Middle East), is having their second event of the quarter at the UCI. They will be hosting Professor Jonathan Adelman, a renowned scholar in the Middle East, Israel, and Global Economics. The Rose Project of the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County is happy to have provided funding for this new student-led and driven organization and program.

Jonathan Adelman at UC Irvine

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Community Events, Israel, Jewish Federation Orange County, Movement for Peace in the Middle East, Rose Project, UC Irvine, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2011 Israel Expo: A preview

The 2011 Israel Expo, the largest Jewish Community event held in Orange County each year, is in the advanced planning stages. The Expo committee for this year’s event created a unique save the date video and released it on YouTube this week. I have linked the video to the OC Jewish Community blog for your review.  You can file the video under things to do in Orange County for sure.

The Video was produced by Jewish Federation and Family Services, Orange County. You certainly do not have to be Jewish to attend this event, but it doesn’t hurt if you like falafel and other middle eastern food. There is always great music, booths, art Israeli dancing and camel rides for the kids.
Stay tuned — this year’s event is on Sunday, May 22nd.

For now however, enjoy the previews, playing on computer screens everywhere.


More about this year’s event

The Israel Expo is an exciting opportunity to explore and experience the diverse culture of Israel in the largest and most visible event of its kind in Orange County, drawing more than 6,000 attendees of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds, from all over southern California, every year. Participants will experience an afternoon of family-oriented music and great food; exquisite Israeli fine art and Judaica; extraordinary children’s activities and rides, and much more.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | Community Events, Israel, Jewish Federation Orange County | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


It has been a while since I’ve posted in this space and my return is timed with the following letter that was sent to me by email this today.  It is from Shalom Elcott, President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.

As we informed you last June, the UCI administration suspended the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and took disciplinary action against the students who participated in the organized disruption of Ambassador Oren’s talk at UCI in February 2010. At that time, we wrote that “we commend the University for this judicious decision in support of free speech and civil discourse…”

Last Friday, the Orange County District Attorney announced that the 11 students arrested at the Oren event were charged with conspiring to disrupt the speech.  The students will be arraigned on March 11th on several misdemeanor counts, and if convicted, could be subject to fines, probation through community service or a jail sentence.

“This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement. “These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution.”

So, are criminal charges excessive or warranted?

The disposition of this case is a matter outside of the authority of Jewish Federation & Family Services.   The UCI administration took action according to its charter and its regulations.  The Office of the DA has taken action according to its reading of the Constitution and the laws of the State of California.

We believe that the actions of both the UCI administration and the District Attorney send a strong message to this community — indeed to all communities — that civility must be safeguarded.   We recognize that colleges and universities have always been environments in which difficult (and sometimes confrontational) dialogues take place.  Yet we also believe that if planned, rogue disruptions are allowed to continue without consequences, we will have accomplished nothing despite our best efforts.

Consider this:  At no point in this year-long process has the MSU, its students, attorneys or representatives acknowledged any wrongdoing.  In fact, they have continued to deny it.  There have been no statements of apology or contrition.  Not once has there been an effort, on their part, to reach out and say “We’re sorry.  We blew it.  We’ll do it differently next time.  Let’s talk.”

Consider this as well:  What happened at UCI last February is happening around the country as part of an organized “BDS” (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement against the legitimacy of Israel and self-determination of the Jewish people.

We say: let this be a teachable moment for all of us!  While the legal process takes its course, let us think about how we can pursue actions for positive change and an improved campus climate.  How we can bring more partners together – both Jews and people of other faiths – to strengthen and improve the student experience at UCI?

The role we play, as community catalyst and convener, is that of bridge-builder.  We seek to build bridges of interfaith understanding, collaboration and respect, on campus and in the community.  Bridges are built when people of differing viewpoints come together in an atmosphere of mutual respect.  When civility is lacking on one side, the bridge crosses only half the river, and we remain apart.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shalom C. Elcott
President and Chief Executive Officer
Jewish Federation & Family Services

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Jewish Federation Orange County, Muslim Student Union, UC Irvine | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rose Project and Jewish Federation Look Ahead

The Rose Project of Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County, will continue to make decisions regarding support of university student-related initiatives such as the Olive Tree Initiative as The Rose leadership council deems appropriate.  In addition to gaining direct input from student leaders and executive leaders of Jewish Orange County campus organizations, programming decisions also include respectful consideration of constructive input from members of the Orange County and broader worldwide Jewish community.  We believe it is ineffective to engage in public debate via mass e-mailings as experience shows that these only serve to confuse or divide our community. We will post perspectives on important topics on the OC Jewish Experience blog.

At present, we believe that building an effective student/community initiative to combat both the BDS movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel is more important than other topics.  That and continuing to help build a vibrant Jewish life on the OC college campuses is where our efforts will be focused.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | Jewish Federation Orange County, Rose Project | , , , | 6 Comments

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

As Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Over the past week there has been inflammatory discourse in our community among Jews with a common purpose.  It became abundantly obvious over the past several days that this was due to several misunderstandings.  When the truth came to light we had reconciliation.  Once again we observe that accurate information is a powerful enemy of those who use bits and pieces to foment negative feelings and hate.

Monday night at a student/community meeting, the students reviewed their actions and made peace with one another.  They suggested a series of monthly meetings composed of students and community members to facilitate open communications and prevent the type of acrimony we saw over the past several days.  The Rose Council, Federation and Hillel have all agreed to help facilitate these meetings.

We wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and encourage everyone to reflect on all they have to be thankful for – including the energetic OC Jewish community in which we reside.


Shalom Elcott
President and CEO
Jewish Federation & Family Services
Orange County

Jordan Fruchtman
Executive Director
Hillel Foundation of Orange County

November 24, 2010 Posted by | Hillel, Jewish Federation Orange County, UC Irvine | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jewish Students Under Attack

Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine are under attack yet again — but this time, it is not by anti-Israel activists — it is by unhappy members of the Orange County Jewish community.

Last week, a small group of Jewish community members circulated an email calling for divestment and boycott of the primary backers of UCI’s Jewish students: Orange County’s Jewish Federation and Hillel. The call for boycott was on the basis of the organizations’ affiliation with the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI).

The Olive Tree Initiative is an organization founded by a number of Muslim, Christian, Arab, and Jewish students. We joined together because we felt that our campus lacked a socially-safe space for civil and constructive dialogue surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our unity came not through common ideology, but rather from a consensus on the indispensable value of understanding different narratives and opinions in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Being raised in an Iranian-Jewish household, I was always taught that inquiry and curiosity were core tenets of Judaism, and the essence of OTI seemed very much aligned with these two Jewish values.

In the early stages of founding the organization, I approached Jewish Federation & Family Services and Orange County Hillel to rally for their support, because I knew how important it was for them to improve the campus climate at UCI. They foresaw the positive impact of an initiative like this, and graciously offered their support.

As a recent alumnus, and as a veteran leader of UCI’s Jewish student community, I feel compelled today, to write in defense of Jewish students, whose voice has been smothered and ignored throughout this controversy, and in defense of Jewish Federation and Hillel, the two most significant organizations who have stood by the students’ side for years, through the tough times and the good, to keep our community alive and thriving.

As the past President of Anteaters for Israel (AFI), UCI’s pro-Israel student organization, I was active in leading the pro-Israel community at UCI for nearly half a decade, perhaps longer than any student leader in the history of UCI.  I attended the University at a unique period of time; I was one of the few individuals who witnessed a once loosely connected group of Jewish students transform into the vibrant community that exists today.

I was the guy on the front lines. Every time an anti-Israel speaker came to campus, I rallied students together, grabbed the markers and poster boards, made signs, and headed out to protest. I was the one on Ring Road, the main quad on campus, debating face to face with those who sought to delegitimize Israel, when no one else would. I was the one who voluntarily spent my Saturday nights planning Israel festivals and speaking engagements with Israel’s Consul General, when all my other friends were out having fun, enjoying their college years as they should be. And I did all of this because I love Israel.

I was also the guy who helped start the Olive Tree Initiative, a student organization which is one of the victims of this unfair slanderous campaign today, by members of our very own community. Why is the group under attack? Because OTI recently chose to invite a Palestinian speaker to campus, whose message certain community members disapprove of.

I co-founded OTI to promote dialogue and understanding about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through experiential learning. Sometimes, this means hearing from people who possess different or even controversial perspectives. In the past, the group has hosted a plethora of other speakers, including Avihu Cohen, an Israeli who lost his father to Palestinian terror, and even controversial figures such as Ron Nachman, the Mayor of Ariel and a leader of the Judea and Samaria settler movement.

I am not one to demand that every person agree or support OTI. But when any member of my community expresses doubt in the organization, I share with them this: OTI has managed to convince members of the Muslim Student Union, a group whose leaders traditionally advocate against any recognition of Israel, to visit Israel, to meet with bereaved Israeli families, government spokesmen, and Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, to experience Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, to speak with Holocaust survivors, and to understand and hear first hand why comparing Gaza to the Holocaust is not only offensive, but also inaccurate. It’s managed to convince my Lebanese friend, a young Druze girl who lost innocent members of her family in the 2006 Lebanon war, and who once was okay with the idea of Israel not existing, that the Jewish people need a state. What more could we ask for? Arab students to sing the HaTikvah?

OTI students with Israeli Minister of Knesset Orit Zuaretz (Kadima)

It goes both ways. The initiative has also helped Jewish students develop a greater understanding of the challenges and hardships faced by the Palestinians, and this carries great value in itself.

OTI is remarkable because it has been the only successful attempt in developing relationships between members of Anteaters for Israel and the Muslim Student Union.

I personally have found the Olive Tree Initiative to be one of the most exceptional educational initiatives available to UCI students today. My experience with OTI is what inspired me to complete my graduate studies in Israel, and to dedicate my life in service to the Jewish people.

To be honest, I am embarrassed that members of the Jewish community would speak so negatively about an organization which encourages dialogue and conversation between Jewish and Muslim students. Rightfully so, these community members, along with most of us, are unhappy with many of the actions and speakers hosted by UCI’s Muslim Student Union. Yet they speak negatively about the efforts of Jewish students to befriend and engage Muslim students in an attempt to create change, and they are demanding that funding be cut off from the rest of Jewish students who are not even remotely involved in this situation. Does this sound rational to you?

For those in the community who initiated or support this boycott, I plea to you: take some time to speak to the Jewish student leaders at UCI. Ask them questions. See what they think about this boycott. If you are unable to ask the students these questions…then ask yourself a question: Do you truly have the students interests at heart?

A call to boycott and divest from the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Hillel would greatly impair Jewish student life on the campus, and is entirely contrary to the community’s needs.

The Jewish Federation and Hillel of Orange County are the organizations that continue to help the students create and grow the thriving community they enjoy today. Despite the demands of a small number of community members, and perhaps at times even some national groups, these two organizations have always stood by the side of students. They have been there for UCI’s Jewish community through the good times and the bad. I hope our Jewish students can continue to count on you for your support.

The writer has asked to remain anonymous.

This post is also listed at http://israelforliberals.com/uci-jewish-students-under-attack/

November 23, 2010 Posted by | Jewish Federation Orange County, UC Irvine, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Will the Real George Rishmawi Please Stand Up

There has been some confusion over which George Rishmawi is coming to speak at UCI on Monday.  The following letter, just issued by Shalom Elcott at the Jewish Federation & Family Services, appears to clear up the confusion.  This was just sent out by the Federation to the Orange County Jewish Community.


Dear Friends:

An email is being circulated in our community that derisively criticizes Jewish Federation & Family Services and Hillel Foundation with respect to a program of UCI’s Olive Tree Initiative (OTI). The email being circulated incorrectly identifies the speaker coming to UCI. The speaker is George S. Rishmawi. However, the person being described in the letter being circulated is George N. Rishmawi.

While the names are only separated by a middle initial, these are two different people with two different points of view. George S., who is coming to campus, has met with Jewish students on previous OTI trips and is not, to our knowledge, a member of the International Solidarity Movement (a well-documented anti-Israel enterprise), having cut his ties to ISM in 2004. By contrast, his cousin, George N., is the despicable character being described in the circulated email.

As importantly, however, the writers of this email call for removal of funding from the only Jewish and pro-Israel groups on campus, a suggestion that could not be more absurdly misguided. And worse yet, they engage in personal attacks on professional staff, attacks that could warrant legal action based on their erroneous statements.

In the event you have received or may receive that email, I wanted to share some important facts with you. There is a genuine difference between promoting dialogue and promoting hate. We will not stand on the sidelines as some attempt to push aside an honest agenda for true dialogue.

We understand that there are members of our community who have zero tolerance for anything hateful against Israel or Jews being said. We, too, share those feelings. What we do not share is the viewpoint that every distasteful occurrence at UCI provides grounds for a chancellor to be dismissed, for an administration making effective progress to be sanctioned, and for contributions in support of our Jewish students to be withheld.

Whether they realize it or not, the circulators of the email are engaging in the same tactics of delegitimization used by the anti-Israel people they condemn. Here are the facts that we know:

Fact #1: Jewish life on campus is thriving and the pro-Israel voice at UCI is the strongest that it has ever been. That’s not our statement, that’s what the Jewish students at UCI are saying.

Fact #2: The Rose Project has, in the past, provided scholarship funds for knowledgeable Jewish students to participate in OTI’s annual trip to the Middle East, in the company of students of other faiths.

We have never sponsored, funded or promoted OTI’s speaker series at UCI. While we do not control who gets invited to the campus, we do help facilitate OTI’s invitation of pro- Israel speakers. A case in point is the December OTI program that features David Makovsky of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy and Gaith Al- Omari, Advocacy Director at the American Task Force on Palestine. These two gentlemen are on a joint speaking tour regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Rose Project of JFFS has also sponsored speakers at UCI such as Alan Dershowitz and Ambassador Michael Oren.

*** Everyone in the Jewish community has a voice, and we respect every voice. We respect more the voices that are for something constructive, than the voices shouting in opposition to our direct communication with, and support of, Jewish students. We will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Real progress has been made for Jewish students at UCI. We believe that the development of intelligent, capable, self-sufficient Jewish leaders means that, occasionally, students may have to be exposed to some distasteful things during their development. Therefore, we ask that you disregard the call, by a few in our Jewish community, to abandon the students and the institutions that support them. Jews should not be fighting other Jews. That is precisely what the delegitimizers of Israel and anti-Semites would like to occur. Rather, we should work together to fight delegitimization tactics aimed at Israel and the Jewish community.


Shalom C. Elcott

President and CEO

Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Jewish Federation Orange County, Rose Project, UC Irvine | , , , | 6 Comments

Vacation is Officially Over: We Are Back

Summer is a terrific opportunity to get away from it all, but as school resumes this morning, it is time for us to get back in the saddle and to start updating this blog on a more regular basis.

Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are all around the corner.  UCI students will be coming back to campus soon enough and there will certainly be more events planned in and around the OC Jewish Community.

Since we last spoke, there has been a change or two in the community and the Jewish Federation of Orange County is now known as Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County (JFFS-OC). The new name represents  a strategic alliance of Jewish Federation Orange County and Jewish Family Service of Orange County. The alliance was forged by the boards of both organizations to allow each team to focus on its core competencies to better serve our community.

This groundbreaking alliance will provide more services to more people, more efficiently.

You can still get all the Federation information by going to www.jewishorangecounty.org

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Jewish Federation Orange County | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment