Tufts Alums Riled Over National SJP Conference

MEDFORD — When Nanette Fridman of Newton received an email from Tufts University Hillel in early October, she was alarmed by the news it contained. Her alma mater would host the fourth annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference October 24-26.

The group is known for its anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian college student activism.

Since June 2014, SJP has formed 28 new chapters, according to Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), bringing the nationwide total to 157. The 2014 three-day conference at Tufts drew over 500 participants, including 50 from the Tufts community.

Fridman’s first reaction was concern for Tufts students. “I had read and heard about stories of harassment, intimidation and physical violence on other campuses. Northeastern even suspended SJP because its members regularly and persistently engaged in anti-Semitic harassment of their fellow students.”

Her second reaction turned to action. Fridman, founder of Fridman Strategies, a firm specializing in strategic planning for nonprofits, emailed a few friends, including Baer, to share her concern and together they drafted a letter to Tufts President Anthony Monaco. “The goal was never stopping the conference or preventing anyone from speaking,” Fridman said.

“We believe in free speech. The best thing is for the SJP/ BDS movement folks to say the things they believe publicly so people can hear for themselves the philosophy of hate and irrationality underlying it.”

On its website tuftssjp.com, the Tufts SJP chapter identifies itself with three slogans: “Peace through justice. Equality through resistance. Humanity through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).” As a group recognized by the Tufts student government, SJP was eligible to apply to the student-run senate for permission to host the national conference and for funds to do it. They received both.

Fellow alumna Simi Kaplin Baer, a real estate lawyer from Philadelphia, said she was “worried that there would be a formal call for divestment by the University,” referring to the SJP’s support of the movement.

Their letter asked Monaco to issue a formal statement that Tufts does not support divestment from Israel, nor sanctions or boycotts against Israel. It was sent on October 16 with 143 alumni signatures.

Monaco’s October 21 response fell short of the group’s goal. He replied that while he hoped the student groups at Tufts that hold differing ideas about the Middle East would have a constructive dialogue, it was important for him as President to refrain from taking sides in this debate.

Michael J. Granoff, Tufts ’91, lives in Ra’anana, Israel, where he manages investments in alternative energy. He was disappointed by Monaco’s reply. “The right, moral thing to do would have been to state unequivocally that SJP espouses values contrary to those on which Tufts is based,” he said, explaining, “Hamas’s charter calls clearly for the destruction of Israel and genocide of Jews. SJP supports Hamas. SJP does not condemn violence. SJP does not support two states for two peoples; they support the eradication of the Jewish state.”

Fridman, too, said that the letter was not what she had hoped for. “A stronger response would have been to issue a public release making clear Tufts’s rejection of BDS and that hate speech is not welcome on the Tufts campus in any circumstance.”

Titled “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the U.S. to Palestine,” the weekend featured many workshops promoting “direct action,” defined by one workshop as “a last resort tactic that maximizes student pressure and demands attention from all stakeholders.”

Other workshops were “Israeli Apartheid: Reality on the Ground After the Protective Edge Massacre and Ending Genocide in Gaza” and “Bursting the Campus Bubble: Learning from Campaigns Beyond Campus Divestment Resolutions,” where students were taught to expand SJP’s anti-Israel strategy to offcampus activities. “False Claims of Anti-Semitism: How to Effectively Respond,” addressed whether it is okay to distribute flyers to a dorm room in a mock eviction action and how free speech rights apply to campus activism and civil disobedience.

All workshops were closed to non-registered attendees. Only SJP students, alumni and students from selected allied groups could register. At least one Jewish journalist, Daniel Mael, a senior at Brandeis who has written about the SJP for thetower. org (“On Many Campuses, Hate Is Spelled SJP”), was denied press credentials.

“NSJP does not care about human rights or the future of the Jewish people and does not tolerate dissenting opinions. Therefore, they found my presence unfit for their conference,” Mael said.

According to the ADL’s website, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a leading organization providing anti-Zionist training and education to students and Muslim community organizations, has placed heavy emphasis on supporting and helping coordinate the activity of SJP.

One Tufts SJP member, senior Hani Azzam, wrote on the news website, Mondoweiss.net that hosting the national SJP conference was a dream come true. “When I was a freshman, we dreamed of holding an Israeli Apartheid Week… Although our ultimate dream of a liberated Palestine remains on the horizon, our accomplishments these past four years… fuel the resilience and progression of our entire movement.”

Another attendee, Ofek Ravid, a U.S. citizen from Israel, described his experience in less glowing terms in the tuftsdaily. com. After making a point during a workshop Q&A that the BDS movement may be harming rather than helping Palestinians, he was booed and hissed at and asked to leave the building by an SJP representative. “I came to the conference with an open mind in an attempt to learn about the Palestinian struggle from activists… This movement restricts freedom of speech and undermines the Palestinian cause instead of supporting it,” he wrote.

In his letter to the alumni, Monaco made clear that Tufts is committed to providing a “range of thoughtful opportunities for our students to gain an understanding of challenging issues and develop the listening skills essential for resolving conflict.” He did not address divestment.

Two such opportunities this fall are an eight-week series of discussions sponsored by the University Chaplaincy called, “Restoring Dignity in the Israel-Palestine Conversation” and a range of Israel programming and initiatives sponsored by Tufts Hillel, including “Advocacy Training” and “Fostering Civil Campus Dialogue,” spearheaded by Rabbi Jeffrey Summit.

“Power in People” from Students for Justice in Palestine’s facebook page

No time was lost putting some of the “direct action” tactics taught at the October 24-26 conference into practice. On October 30, ICC reported that Ohio State University was the first school of the 2014 academic year where mock eviction notices were sent to Jewish students. Megan Marzec, of Ohio State University, was one of the SJP workshop presenters on October 26. Last year, 14 schools, including Rutgers and Northeastern, were targeted.

Baer is worried about the future. “I am concerned that anti-Semitic and hateful rhetoric against Israel and Jews that would not be considered ‘free speech’ were it directed at any other group is tolerated at Tufts,” she said.

Fridman is already thinking about the future with her and many of the signatories’ spring 2015 Tufts University reunion on the horizon. “We got 143 signatories over a few days just by emailing our letter to friends whose addresses we had. I know if we used a petition website or social media, we could get thousands and thousands of alumni who feel similar to us.” She received many more emails from concerned alumni since their letter was submitted.

She paused and added, “We are closely watching events on campus, and we are monitoring the Administration’s response.”

Supporting Our Children

Our college students are under pressures most of us did not encounter when we were their age. In addition to the expected stresses of academic and social adjustments, they are part of a generation that must struggle with financial anxieties over how they will bear their share of the exorbitant cost of their education and whether they will find a job in this very competitive market when they graduate. This fall, they must also contend with the burden of what it means to be a Jewish student on an American campus. The summer’s war in Gaza has led to an increase in global anti-Semitism, including pro-Palestinian protests and activism on campuses throughout the country. Some of the rallies, meetings and letter-writing campaigns have been organized by groups expressing reasoned criticism of Israel in respectful ways. Some of the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist demonstrations, however, are hateful attacks against Jews and the Jewish State that embrace Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic slogans. Most of our children have never encountered such openly hostile and aggressive targeting during their lives.

Many campus Hillel organizations have recognized the problem and are offering additional support and resources. For example, at Tufts University, where the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will hold its national conference October 24-26, Israel educational programming and advocacy training are available for all interested students. Nonetheless, the presence of so many students, academics and activists who sponsor “Israel Apartheid Week” and promote the movement that advocates boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel will be unnerving.

And what about our students who do support a two state peaceful and just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Where can they find a safe place for thoughtful, nuanced civil dialogue in the current polarized environment where even some of their parents have drawn bright lines between what it means to be pro-Israel and what it means to be anti-Israel?

We need to make the time to talk to our young adult children and support them as thinkers in their own right.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on October 23, 2014.

Dual Paths for Dual Hands

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Monique Illona was shaped by her parents’ pain and anguish. “My parents were traumatized and their experiences traumatized me and my siblings,” Illona said. “They didn’t have the opportunity or resources to learn how to deal with their problems.”

She, however, did. Her recently published book, “A Dual Path: Sacred Practices and Bodywork,” describes her path from pain, bitterness and anger, “the energetic matrix I inherited from my parents,” to an awakened life of transformation and sacredness.

She also offers a blueprint for how the integration of bodywork (massage) and spiritual practices can help one achieve a life that cultivates inner stability, connection and strength.

Monique Illona

Illona’s parents met in Paris after World War II. Her French mother had survived the war by hiding in Paris and her Czechoslavakian father had survived Auschwitz. They first lived in Paris, but her father could not get a work permit. They applied for visas in three countries, America, Australia and England. The visa to Australia came through first. Her two brothers were born there, but the family eventually settled in England where Illona was born in 1960.

Judaism was a foundation for her growing up. She and her brothers attended weekly Hebrew school, but her parents were conflicted about how to integrate Judaism with raising a family. “My father came out of the Holocaust believing there wasn’t really a God,” she said. One of her brothers wanted to have a traditional Jewish family life, which caused huge arguments at home. “My brother kind of won and we did do Passover and Shabbat and always went to synagogue for the High Holidays,” she said. Her brothers still lead actively Jewish lives.

When Illona was 12, her father discovered that his sister had survived the war and lived in Israel. She accompanied her parents on their first trip there and fell in love with the country. She went back every year from the age of 13 during summer vacations to volunteer at various kibbutzim or to do work study programs.

“A Dual Path” enables others to shorten their own paths from a painful to a more vibrant and meaningful existence.

Once she finished school, she joined an ulpan on a kibbutz to learn the language. She ended up staying, joining the Israeli Defense Forces and becoming a member of a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. “My connection to Israel became stronger than my connection to Judasim,” she said.

She married in Israel and she and her American husband lived in a kibbutz made up of three or four “garinim” (groups of people who serve in the army together and then go to the same community to help build and establish it). Her husband fought in the 1982 Lebanon War in Beirut; many of their fellow kibbutz members died in that war. She and her husband, who are now divorced, decided to leave Israel and give it a go in the U.S.

She completed a B.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York and earned a Masters degree at Lesley University in Expressive Therapies. It was during this program that she began to examine herself and to understand the connection between the legacy she had inherited and the life she had been leading.

She started learning things her parents never had the chance to. “There was something in me that was strong, clear and focused. I realized I could go forward in a whole different direction,” she said, adding, “It was like giving up caffeine. I rejected who I had been until that time.”

Illona was also a self-defense instructor and an inductee into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. She met her soulmate and professional partner Blane Allen in 1990 when his martial arts school moved into the building where she lived and worked as a sculptor. They have offered professional massage bodywork since 1991, and created “Hand in Hand Massage” in Marblehead.

At their teaching facility, The Dual Path Institute™, located next door to Hand in Hand, they offer events, programs and workshops for massage professionals and the general public for personal transformation and professional growth. They also travel the country and the globe with their trainings and public speaking.

Illona wanted to write “A Dual Path” to enable others to shorten their own paths from a painful to a more vibrant and meaningful existence. “Once you have enough strength, it’s so much easier. I really feel we have that choice every day in every moment.”

Visit handinhandmassage. com and adualpathpath.com or call 781-639-4380.

The Sacredness of Sukkot

After the ten-day period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot is a literal breath of fresh air. Our focus turns from the internal world of selfassessment, forgiveness and atonement to the external gift of the earth in its autumnal glory.

Sukkot’s historical significance commemorates the forty-year period when the children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in fragile, temporary huts. Its agricultural significance celebrates the fall harvest, honoring the relationship between human and earth. We are commanded to build a small, simple shelter (sukkah) with a roof of vegetation through which we can see the stars, and to live in it for seven days. It is an opportunity to leave our partisan, self-centered, materialistic lives and reconnect with the sacredness of family and land.

Although Sukkot is a festive and joyous holiday, it imparts many serious lessons. Unlike the High Holidays, the bulk of its rituals and celebrations occur in the home. This time we spend in a basic, small space with family and friends reminds us how important and valuable communication, community and sharing are. The temporary nature of the sukkah reminds us that, outside Israel, we remain wanderers and that our existence on earth is transitory. The fragility of the structure reminds us that we are fortunate to have a roof over our heads and food on our tables when so many have neither. We learn to appreciate more and take less for granted.

Most critically, however, Sukkot reminds us that our Torah commands us to recognize the holiness of the earth and the role we must play to nurture and protect it. All the holiday’s rituals reinforce our slowing down, simplifying and returning to the basics.

During the High Holidays, we are mindful of perfecting ourselves so we can repair and perfect the world through compassion, justice and peace. During Sukkot, we remember we must appreciate that world for what it is: God’s gift to us. It is our responsibility and within our ability to remain worthy of that trust.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on October 9, 2014.