AIPAC Policy Conference 2015 In Review: One Student’s Perspective

This first week in March marked the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. This massive gathering in Washington D.C. brought together a vast array of individuals incorporating various religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The singular value they all shared was their support of the U.S-Israel relationship.

AIPAC prides itself on being bipartisan; its supporters’ range from Republicans Lindsay Graham and Eric Cantor to liberals such as Democratic Senators Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer. There were an astounding 3,000 pro-Israel students including myself that traveled to the conference of 16,000 overall participants.

Throughout the course of the event, students were granted opportunities to meet various players in politics and media revolving around Israel and the Middle East. Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel spoke in a breakout session as a panelist along with pro-Israel student activists. His insights fostered compelling dialogue that allowed for participants to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices.

In a widely publicized move, the Obama administration sent the United States permanent representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, to address the conference. She spoke about how constant resolutions condemning Israel, coupled with the Palestinian Authority’s premature bid for statehood have proven to be counterproductive in the peace process. It is clear, she said, that the only solution is bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. She also noted that the United Nations Security Council has failed to pass more multilateral sanctions on Iran, a step that is critical to ensure Iran’s nuclear program is dismantled. Power also spoke at length how her and her Israeli counterpart, Ron Prosor, are working to fight anti-Semitism across the globe. Power finished her speech by emphasizing that in this violence ravaged region there is one stable democratic nation that has consistently been not only an ally to the United States, but a vital asset in achieving security and peace in the Middle East.

The most notable speaker, however, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, delivered a passionate speech clearing the air for his congressional appearance. The Prime Minister emphasized his respect for President Obama, and made it clear that policy differences between the administrations would not undermine their close relationship. Netanyahu also made his desire to stay out of American politics clear. He remarked, “The last thing I want is for Israel to become a partisan Issue.”

The participants all came bringing unique perspectives and reasons of why they support the state of Israel. All 16,000 people walking the convention center halls carried interesting facts and talking points they have learned from their respective experiences that they share to amalgamate in to other participants’ personal ensemble of information. This created stronger understanding of the issues and ultimately created a better dialogue to bring home.

The students at policy conference embodied the bipartisan nature of the organization. The President of College Republicans as well as the President of College Democrats both support the state of Israel and are active AIPAC participants and leaders. In our increasingly polarized political climate, support for the state of Israel might be the only issue that the two major parties can agree on.

For students such as myself, home means my college campus. With anti-Israel sentiment growing in popularity, the conference served pro-Israel students like me looking for support from around the country. With the number of Jews on college campuses far outweighing that of detractor groups, it was made clear that the indifference of Jews to Israel and Judaism is the biggest threat to Israel and Judaism. The message I will take home from this policy conference is one of proactive participation through involvement and education.

By Jay Alpert

Ask a Chaplain – Fasting on Yom Kippur

Why Do You Fast?

The Jewish High Holy Days are almost here.  Jewish people, all over the world, will be engaged in religious services and reflection during the two holidays that mark the start of the new Jewish year: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The first of these holidays is Rosh Hashanah, a joyous celebration filled with sweet foods and gratitude for the previous year.  About a week later, the mood changes for Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement, marks a time when the Jewish people ask for forgiveness and repent for their sins.  It is customary for healthy members of the community to engage in a 25-hour fast for Yom Kippur.  During this time they are not allowed to consume food or water.  There are additional restrictions as well:

·         No wearing of leather shoes
·         No bathing or washing
·         No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions
·         No hanky panky
·         All of the usual Shabbat / holiday restrictions

Other religions and philosophies have similar rituals.  Muslims worldwide observe a month of fasting from sun-up to sun-down for Ramadan. This annual observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Fasting can be practiced by Buddhists during times of intensive meditation.  The Lenten, fast observed in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, is a forty-day partial fast to commemorate the fast observed by Christ during his temptation in the desert.

Why fast and participate in these difficult and challenging rules? I believe that the ancient Jews who developed these restrictions for Yom Kippur believed that the fast cleansed the soul.  Without food and water the body becomes weak but the mind gains focus from distractions and temptations.  When you cleanse your body of material things you are preparing your body for reflection.

These fasts also teach self-control.  All of the healthy adults I know, over the age of 13, without pre-existing medical conditions or health issues, can fast for 25 hours without incident on Yom Kippur.  Many, though, do not have the mental strength and self-control to follow through.  Our bodies and minds are not trained to ‘go without’ for even a single day.  Self-control is an important lesson to consider on Yom Kippur when we are repenting for our sins from the previous year.  If we all could learn a bit more self control perhaps we would need to ask for less forgiveness?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I believe that it levels the playing field in the community.  When we walk into services on Yom Kippur, the most important time to come together as Jewish people, everyone is equally stinky and disheveled.  Everyone, regardless of privilege and income, experiences the hunger that is associated with food insecurity (In 2012, 15 percent of households / 17.6 million households were food insecure), for instance.  Social class and status, to some degree, no longer matter as much.

Fasting is a personal choice.  I would never judgment those that cannot or do not choose to participate.  But, for those that do fast, I encourage you to think about your fasting ritual.  What does it mean for you?  How does it help you connect to your community?  Why do you choose to participate?


The Beautiful Captive

Prepare to be uncomfortable.  It’s another Brian Small D’var.

Today’s Parsha, Ki Teitzei, consists of 74 of the Torah’s 613 commandments.  By percentage, in case you are wondering, that means that means that we are covering 12% of the road map that G-d laid out for his chosen people.  These commandments include, but are not limited to:

·         The inheritance rights of the firstborn
·         The wayward and rebellious son
·         Burial and dignity of the dead
·         Returning a lost object
·         Sending away the mother bird before taking her young
·         The duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home

And much, much more.

In addition to these commandments, there rules for what is known as ‘the beautiful captive’.  These are essentially the opening lines of the Parsha.

If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives,
and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.
You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow.
And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you.
And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.

I had a tough time getting through these lines and focusing on the rest of the Parsha.  This disturbed me in a very meaningful way, especially given current events.  I was disturbed as a father of a daughter, a husband to a wife, a brother to a sister, and a son to a mother.

The Torah was written and given to the people of Israel at a different time in history and I certainly understand the importance of historical context.  But this section comes across as horribly misogynistic and perpetuates the treatment of women as property, or chattel, in a negative and degrading way.  Enemy of the state of Israel, or the Jewish people, or not, the modern interpretation of this section reveals and illustrates a horrible way to treat women.

Historical rabbinic commentary actually speaks to the civility of allowing for ‘the beautiful captive’ to weep and mourn her father and mother for an entire month before forcibly sexually assaulting her.  Additionally, if you lose your desire for ‘the beautiful captive’ it is consider merciful to not sell her into slavery or keep her as a servant.  These are considered virtues as other cultures at the time did not preclude such behavior with their own captives.

The worst part about this section of the Parsha is that this misogynist social mentality is still prevalent today.  Consider the recent story of [lots of air quotes coming] “leaked” pictures of naked celebrities.  When this story first hit the blogosphere and twitterverse, words like “leaked” and “hacked” were common when, in fact, we should have been using terms like “criminal”, “sexual assault”, or “sexual crimes”.  I will admit that there was a personal morbid curiosity to peek at pictures of Jennifer Laurence or Kate Upton when they were presented as “leaked” photos.  It seemed like these photos were leaked in the same way that a movie leaks pictures from the set to increase buzz or a sports team leaks rumors of a free agent signing to motivate ticket sales.  These cases do no harm to the parties involved and are often INTENDED, secretly, for distribution.  But now I feel ashamed for thinking this way.  Looking at these pictures would make me complicit to a sexual crime.  It perpetuates misogyny.

It doesn’t take much to understand why a hacker would commit this sort of criminal act.  The rush of exposing famous women, successfully infiltrating a complicated computer network, and the coverage that the act receives must surely be a rush.  But, socially, we have not advanced much since the days of the Torah.  The justification remains the same: it’s okay, if you are a man in a position of power and privilege, to marginalize a beautiful woman IF she is desirable.  Jennifer Laurence, and others implicated in the sexual crime, were treated in the same way as the ‘the beautiful captive’.  And that’s disgusting.  It’s not okay.

You cannot escape these issues on campus, as well.  A recently released study, conducted over a 20-year period, asked some 2,000 college-age men questions like the following:

“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?”


“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn’t cooperate?”

About 1 in 16 men answered “yes” to these or similar questions.  ‘The beautiful captive’ is yours, if you want her, by force, if necessary.

Particularly egregious, Cazenovia College, right down the road, where I used to work, reported 12.12 forcible sex offenses per 1,000 students.  This statistic includes offences against men, I believe, as well. Forcible sexual offences are the particularly violent and heinous sexual crimes that include rape and sodomy.  And, of course, these are only the ones that are reported and processed.  There are, no-doubt, countless un-processed similar offences.  Cazenovia College was the worst of the 590 New York colleges, universities and schools surveyed.  We are technically their Hillel also, in case you are wondering.

Syracuse University, in comparison, came in at about 1.28 forcible sex offences per 1,000 students.  This number may seem significantly better than Cazenovia’s number, but it is artificially low because of the higher number of non-traditional and commuting students at Syracuse that are not within the Cazenovia College demographics.

What’s typical?  The average rate among New York State’s 590 colleges, universities and schools was 0.36 offenses per 1,000 students, according to federal data.  We are well above the state average.

Side note: I would be more than happy to talk about the Advocacy Center issues on campus in another D’var or conversationally at dinner.  This story is deeper than you think it is… It’s a D’var for another time.

The Torah speaks to us in many ways.  Sometimes it speaks with a truth that resonates through the ages and through our people’s collective history.  This week, it spoke to me differently.  It identified a societal problem that was socially acceptable at the time of the Torah’s creation and outwardly criticized, but still socially prevalent today.

Will it always be this way?  Not if your generation takes a more active approach to dispelling the myths that surround sexual assault and violence.  You must call-out your peers for their actions.  We must stop blaming victims of sexual assault because of the way they dress.  Don’t look at pictures of Jennifer Laurence, Kate Upton, and others put online in a criminal act.  Victims must report their crimes even under the most difficult and terrible of circumstances.  You must be aware of and make OTHERS aware of the link between the irresponsible consumption of alcohol and drugs and the prevalence of sexual assaults.  Student athletes must be held to the same judicial standards as non-athletes.  You must have open discussions about the frequency of slut-shaming on social media.  Feminism should not be perceived as a four-letter word.  And much, much, more.

Until we take these steps, ‘the beautiful captive’ is alive and well and has a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted on campus before she graduates according to national statistics.

Shabbat Shalom


D’var Torah – Week of Friday, August 29th

“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your G-d, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.

“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your G-d, is giving you.”

These are the openining three verses of this week’s Parshah, Shoftim – Hebrew for Judges, and the first word of the Parshah, which serves to set up a basic social structure for the Israelites as they enter the Holy Land.

Some important, basic rules are laid out – judges and magistrates and prophets will be given the responsibility of handing down judgment, and a standard of two witnesses is explained as required in death-penalty cases. It even covers how to handle false testimony and incongruous witnesses

Overall, Shoftim establishes a pretty comprehensive framework for justice. However, in it’s basic premise, Shoftim establishes a kind of “fall-back” in the event of a hard to decide case: G-d. If all else failed, the Israelites were to take their case to the Holy Temple, and the priest or magistrate there would give G-d’s word as binding judgment.

So what about now, when the direct voice of G-d is no longer heard in our world? How can we pursue Justice?

In what is perhaps one of the most prominent cases in quite a while, America right now is grappling with the difficulty of the search for true justice in the case of Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown. If there is one thing we know about this case, it is that we don’t know enough. If this were biblical times, we could bring the case to the temple mount and a Kohein would pronounce G-d’s judgement, for G-d knows the truth. Now, we as a nation are struggling to heed the words of Shoftim. We pervert justice every time we riot instead of searching for the truth; we show favoritism every time we preventatively defend a cop as acting in the line of duty; Bribery blinds our wise eyes as external interests turn a difficult situation into a platform for politics.

How can we pursue justice when the truth is so hard to make clear, and without G-d to confirm for us what is just?

I honestly don’t have any answers for you tonight; I think I am here purely to remind you of our duty to bring justice to our land.

“Justice, Justice YOU shall pursue.”

The imperative is on us. With or without divine intervention, the pursuit of justice is our responsibility. We are the ones who bust seek it out, and we are the ones who now must find a way to the truth.

I leave you with a well-known quote from Rabbi Tarfon:

“It is not your responsibility to finish the work of the word, but you are not free to desist from it either”

It is not for us to finish the work of Justice, but we are certainly obligated to begin to illuminate for ourselves a path to the truth.


Zach Goldberg ( is the President of the Hillel Jewish Student Union and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.




FreshFest 2014 – A Fresh Perspective


Monday morning was an exciting day for over 100 new Syracuse students, including myself. We had all been looking forward to move in day all summer and for many much longer. We checked in at Hillel, where we were greeted by many friendly faces. Move in was fairly easy as we had the privilege to move in early, and the majority of people, including myself, spent the day simply doing some last minute shopping and having some final family time.

By Tuesday morning everyone was moved in, and the FreshFest festivities officially begun. We started the morning off with a breakfast, which was a great way to say goodbye to our parents but also meet new people. Hillel director Brian Small also spoke and issued a challenge to “find a mentor, befriend people, and try something new.”  This biblical quote sounded applicable at first, but only at the end of the program did everyone realize how true it rang.

After breakfast, we said our final goodbyes to our parents, and then were split into groups for ice breakers. Though at times silly, ice breakers were a great way to meet other students and facilitators and were only silly in the best way.

After ice breakers we had some informative q and a’s about Hillel and the services they offer, and then we broke up for a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was a great way to familiarize us with campus, and despite various facilitators insisting the hunt was not a competition, my team won.

Everyone was fairly wiped after the scavenger hunt, so we went back to Hillel and basically chilled which was, again, great just to meet people. We also had a great organized group discussion about the current Middle eastern situation, with the general goal of just making sure everyone is informed on the conflict. We continued to hang out and Once the group was recharged after some dinner, we loaded the buses to embark on some Cosmic bowling. The athletic ability of the FreshFest participants was, not surprisingly, somewhat underwhelming but everyone had a great time just hanging out and having some fun. Friends were made simply from the random seats we took on the bus to wherever lane we were bowling. We spent a solid 2 fun hours bowling and then everyone came back and got some much needed sleep.

On Wednesday everyone came back to Hillel ready to have some more fun. In the morning we broke up into 2 groups: one who did an activity fair and one who made challah, and then we switched. The activity fair was a great way to get a head start on all the opportunities for involvement on campus (such as the Hillel blog, for instance), and the challah making was just old fashion Judaic fun. After these activities, we had an open forum on Greek life on campus. I came to school with my mind made up to not rush, as I am from Atlanta and have only really been exposed to the overwhelming SEC Greek life. After the panel though, I am reconsidering potentially rushing as Greek life on Syracuse seems like a great way to make friends, but not really overwhelming in any way.

After the Greek panel, we had the classic Jewish deli lunch and then loaded the buses to spend the day at the Goliath that is the Destiny USA mall. At the mall we had a home base of Dave and busters where we had unlimited games, and we had the option to also play lazer tag, go on the ropes course, or go to a place called 5Wits which provided interactive adventures, so to speak. I decided to go with 5Wits where my group proceeded to save the world from nuclear destruction, which was a fun and mildly stressful endeavor. We also explored the gargantuan mall, which has hundreds of stores. After around 3 hours of Destiny USA fun, we headed back to Hillel while the group was collectively exhausted.

Once back at Hillel, we wrapped up FreshFest full circle by bringing up the biblical quote “Find a mentor, befriend people, and try something new,”  and I think it hit every participant that the group really checked all three boxes, finding friendship with each other and mentor ship with the facilitators, all without judging. We then walked into the sunset leaving FreshFest behind but looking forward to another 4 years of Hillel involvement. I personally had so much fun during FreshFest, and was honestly shocked I could make such genuine connections with both my peers and facilitators alike in such a short time. It was a great experience, and only left me more enthused to be a Jewish student of Syracuse University.


Erik M. Benjamin is a Freshman from Atlanta, GA who participated in the 2014 FreshFest Pre-orientation program.

Meet the Facilitators – Part Three

They say that the third time is the charm, so it’s time to meet the last round of facilitators this lovely #FreshfestFriday! #10days!!!!


Hi! My Name is Jackie Feitel, I am a sophomore here at SU and I’m from Long Island, New York. I am currently a psychology major in the College of arts and sciences. I am a member of the Continue reading

Meet the Facilitators – Part Two

Another Day, Another #FreshfestFriday!!!! We’re getting closer, so here is another look at some of this year’s Freshfest Facilitators! #17


My name is Cory Puchall and I am a communications and rhetorical studies and information management double major! I am going into my sophomore year and I am from Norwood, NJ. I am involved in Continue reading