I received the following email Friday from a person promoting a new OU initiative for – not by – students:
In response to your post about this topic- http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2011/02/the-jewish-communitys-continuing-blind-spot-not-listening-to-jewish-students-567.html - I invite you to read and repost the following press release. You made an excellent point and we are interested in facilitating Jewish student discussion. Hopefully you can aid us in recruiting them so that we can begin to hear and read their thoughts.
Hello. My name is Olivia Friedman and I am writing to inform you about an exciting new project entitled "The Megillah." "The Megillah" is an online collaboration and initiative to showcase student Jewish journalism sponsored by OU Alumni. While many of you write for your own student newspapers, we thought it was imperative to bring together Jewish voices, thoughts, beliefs, viewpoints and journalism in one online forum.
If you are currently enrolled in a college, graduate school, law school, medical school or any other university, you are considered a student and are eligible to write.
We are currently looking for writers to submit articles in the following categories:
-News and Features
-Modox Love (a riff on The New York Times' "Modern Love" section, which will cover Jewish love specifically - how you met your husband, broken engagements and broken hearts, your love for your newborn, relationships with parents etc)
-On My Campus (your perspective, coverage and/or response to events taking place on your campus specifically- they can have a Jewish theme, like your response to Brandeis' Israel Apartheid Week, or a more broad theme)
-Politics & Israel
-Religion & Spirituality
-Arts & Culture
We are also looking for people who write/draw comic strips (preferably Jewish-themed), are graphic designers and have other talents.
This is strictly a student newspaper and as such you will not be compensated/ paid for your submissions. However, as they will be published online, your name will be Google-searchable and you will be able to link to your articles as clips for any future journalistic endeavors.
Please submit articles yourselves and forward this email on to other interested parties.
The deadline for submissions is: March 17, 2011.
To learn more about The Megillah, please check out our Facebook page and Like it: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/The-Megillah/185864291451765 - please see the Frequently Asked Questions in the sidebar.
If you have more questions, please email me at TheMegillah@gmail.com.
Note the OU's reaction my post calling on Federations and Jewish community organization to stop their paternalism toward Jewish college students and to instead support students' own initiatives and listen to them resulted in…OU paternalism.
Here is what I actually wrote. Read it and you'll see how shameless the OU is:
…The Jewish community has been deaf to the opinions, needs and wants of its college and university students for at the very least the past 40 years.
In the early 1980s. when the North American Jewish Students Network, the North American section of the World Union of Jewish Students, had a convention we'd draw 400 to 600 students from across America and Canada. We had enough money to give full stipends to perhaps 5 of those students and partial stipends to another 10 or so. Our highest paid staff member (we had three in total, one a part time employee) could have made more money flipping burgers at McDonald's. Most of us worked long hours throughout the year as volunteers, spending our own money we earned doing things like flipping those fast food burgers to keep Network running. We were student run, student led. We were on the forefront of what were then controversial issues, and we accomplished more each year than most big name Jewish community organizations accomplished in decades. One of the things we helped create is the Jewish Student Press Service.
Contrast that to Hillel, which was run as a top down, non-student-directed community organization. It had buildings across North America, a huge national staff and then all the local staff at each location, and compared to us, a giant budget.
Hillel's national conventions were lucky to draw more than 150 students. And that's saying a lot because each Hillel had money to fully subsidize at least one and often more students, and those that did not make that cut still had access to large subsidies.
Hillel was woefully unsuccessful at most of its locations at doing anything of significance, or somethimes anything at all, and its attitude toward independent Jewish student groups was overtly hostile. It worked to block community funding to Network, it worked against many of the independent organizations students started, and it often took positions on key issues impacting Jewish university students that were counterproductive.
When Federation and UJA leaders wanted to know what was happening on college campuses, they asked the middle age staffers at Hillel – who invariably reported that campuses were calm and that students were happy. Hillel's programs were said to be well attended. Things were good. Just give us more money, Hillel would say, and we'll do even better for you.
The truth was that campuses were bleeding Jews. The assimilation rate was skyrocketing. So was antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
Student-led organizations, from Network to the Jewish Student Press Service, did most the successful work combating this. But we did it in poverty and without the ear of Jewish community leadership. (About the only time we could get Federation leadership to listen to us was when we staged a takeover of its General Assembly.)
The Jewish community eats it young. It is how it is.
The Jewish Student Press Service has to beg for an annual budget that is less than what many Federation staffers make individually. And the Federations will continue to expensive fund studies that try to determine why so few young Jews get involved with the community, and why even fewer give any money.
The Federations will fret about Jewish continuity. They'll keep funding asinine programs run by friends, cronies, and relatives. And they'll keep hunting for the next mega donor.
As they do all this the affiliated Jewish community will continue to grow smaller, and Federation leaders will wonder why.
Perhaps the Jewish Student Press Service, if it still exists, will publish an article containing the answer.
But Federation leaders will never see that answer because they don't read – let alone fund – the Jewish Student Press Service.
That post was written in response to a piece by the Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt reporting that the Jewish Student Press Service/New Voices, the student-founded, student-led, student-staffed national Jewish college student press organization that is now over thirty years old, had to beg to get funding.
Its yearly budget?
And what was the OU's response to the Jewish Student Press Service/New Voices budget crisis?
To try to poach the territory of Jewish Student Press Service/New Voices.
The organization that for thirty years covered up for sexual, emotional and physical child abuser Rabbi Baruch Lanner and then couldn't manage to fire or reprimand the dozens of OU employees, staffers and board members who participated in that cover-up; the organization that didn't notice Agriprocessors was using meat hooks to rip the throats out of live animals the OU labeled "glatt kosher;" the organization that punishes whistleblowers with ostracism, job loss and poverty; this organization now wants to horn in on an actual student-created, student-run, student-staffed organization when that student organization is in financial crisis.
The OU's books are closed.
It does not file IRS 990 forms because it hides behind the synagogue exemption in the tax code.
The OU grosses many hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to estimates I've heard.
The OU's known programs don't appear to use a significant percentage of that income.
So where does the money really go?
We don't know because the OU won't tell us.
Why didn't the uber rich OU give a donation to the Jewish Student Press Service to help it meet its meager budget?
You'd think that would be the mentchlikeit thing to do – especially for a religious organization that is 'Torah true.'
But think back to Postville in the late Fall of 2008. Hundreds of destitute Agriprocessors workers were hungry and about to be homeless. Postville's food pantry and other civic charities were stretched well beyong capacity. People were in danger of – literally – dying of exposure and even hunger.
The OU had been Agriprocessors' kosher supervisor for more than 20 years. It had made millions of dollars working in Postville.
What did the OU do to help?
It gave no money. It donated no food. It sent no help at all.
But what about the much smaller number of Jewish workers who also needed help? Their position was not as bad as the hundreds of destitute non-Jewish workers Agriprocessors had trucked in from across the US and then abandoned, but they still needed help.
What did the OU do?
Next to nothing.
If the Modern and Centrist Orthodox communities had balls, they would force the OU to appoint an outside independent auditor and have a complete forensic audit done of the OU covering at least the past ten years, and it would make the complete results of that forensic audit public for all to see.
Of course, this won't happen.
And the Jewish Student Press Service?
It will contine along, struggling financially, reporting the news as written by Jewish students – including Orthodox Jewish students – and for Jewish students – including Orthodox Jewish students.
And perhaps that – reporting the news – is what the OU fears most.