UT Latin-Jewish seder shares exodus stories
By Tracy Frydberg
A mariachi band and enchiladas are not usual components of a seder, yet the Latino-Jewish seder that took place April 8 at Texas Hillel was no ordinary Passover feast.
Hosted by the Latino-Jewish Student Coalition (LJSC), 120 students, faculty and community members gathered together to celebrate Passover and its universal theme of freedom from oppression. The multicultural evening served to draw a parallel between the Jewish people’s slavery and ultimate redemption from Egypt with modern stories of oppression affecting people across Latin America
The event was also part of University of Texas at Austin White Rose Society’s Human Rights Symposium and was additionally co-sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Mexicanos en Exilio and the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies.
LJSC is an organization under Texas Hillel created last year to build a strong relationship between the Latino and Jewish communities on the UT campus. Its ultimate goal is to partner at UT and beyond as allies on educational initiatives, immigration reform, Latino education and support for Israel.
Modern stories of exodus and triumph were shared at the seder.
While Jews declare “next year in Jerusalem,” undocumented individuals across North America hope next year will bring their family safety and security in the United States. With more than 600 undocumented students at UT-Austin, the seder was an opportunity to highlight students who have their own stories of exodus.
Several undocumented UT students shared their “stories of self” with the crowd. These personal narratives portrayed the difficulties of life as an undocumented student in the United States and the necessity their families felt to leave their native homes in search of freedom and opportunity.
Incoming LJSC president Maria Rentaria said it was wonderful to see two beautiful cultures intertwine.
“The seder epitomized solidarity between two different yet similar cultural groups, it reflected collective action, which is the first step in fostering success,” she said. “The support of the Jewish community on Latino issues like immigration reform, the DREAM Act and raising awareness on the effects of the drug cartels in Latin America has empowered me to continue to advocate and act for these issues.”
The seder also provided an opportunity to engage Latino leaders and organizations on the shared values and goals of the Latino and Jewish communities.
“LULAC is always honored to help sponsor events like the seder hosted by the Latino-Jewish Coalition and Texas Hillel,” Christian Smith, LULAC’s campus relations director, said. “The Jewish seder embodies such a theme in perhaps some of the best ways. The prayers sung of the Hebrews’ journey to escape Pharaoh and the stories of modern men and women who had to leave their homelands to pursue a better life were both wonderfully paired.”
Tracy Frydberg is a University of Texas at Austin sophomore from San Antonio.
A&M Jewish Open House a success
Mother Nature provided magnificent weather for the second Aggie Jewish Open House Weekend, April 19-21 at Texas A&M University in College Station.
The event is geared toward high school students interested in A&M and their families. Guests came from Dallas, Houston and Austin.
Activities included Shabbat services, ice-breaker games, campus tours, community tours, question and answer sessions, meals sponsored by Hillel and Chabad, schmoozing time, Havdallah, a Jewish Greek life ice cream social sponsored by Sigma Alpha Mu and Zeta Beta Sigma and a good-bye breakfast on Sunday.
Next year’s Aggie Jewish Open House Weekend will take place Feb. 14-16.
Planned in conjunction with Aggieland Saturday, high school students can visit A&M colleges and departments of their choice, meet staff and professors, get specifics on those potential majors and learn in-depth facts and details on all things Texas A&M, with the Jewish component added in.
— Submitted by Aggie parent Trudi Herstein, a member of the Texas A&M Hillel corporate board
Brandeis BBYO helps by selling AZA Card
It’s in the cards for B’nai B’rith Youth Organization’s Louis Brandeis #932 chapter members to make a difference.
The 2013 AZA Card is on sale, with more than 70 local merchants providing varied discounts from May 10-27. Proceeds will support Brandeis chapter scholarships, the Human Rights Campaign and the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center.
“We hope to improve the lives of people in our community, and to connect with stores, restaurants and other merchants in the area, giving everyone who participates a chance to be associated with positive causes,” said Braden Fineberg, 16, a sophomore at Dallas Townview Magnet School, and Brandeis’ treasurer.
“We can’t thank those who have come on board enough, and the response has been incredible — by the businesses signing on and by the public as we’ve started selling the cards,” said Fineberg, who initiated the fundraiser, noting that BBYO and its chapters are registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. “This project has gone beyond our expectations and we look forward to a successful program.”
Brynn Ginsberg, an adviser with BBYO’s Fannie Sablosky chapter, heard about the project and immediately knew that the fundraiser was a fit for Zinga Frozen Yogurt, for which she works as marketing and events director.
“We are so proud to be supporting the AZA Card program,” Ginsburg said. “We see lots of BBYO kids here every Saturday night, and we’re proud to see that the community is important to them, that giving back is what is important to them.”
Brandeis president Jacob Herstein, a Yavneh Academy sophomore, spoke about how cancer has become a cause for the chapter.
“Part of BBYO is about standing up for what we believe in and the causes we are supporting, we definitely ‘stand up’ for completely,” Herstein said. “Pancreatic cancer has affected a number of boys in our chapter, and throughout our region and it has brought lots of pain. We want to be part of the cure, hoping no other teens experience the tragic losses that our friends have endured.”
He also spoke about the Human Rights Campaign.
“In supporting the Human Rights Campaign, we realize the difference we can make as young people speaking with respect, and by bettering ourselves and how we treat everyone,” Herstein said. “We hope to set an example.”
Robb Puckett, co-chair of the local HRC Steering committee and a member of the National Board of Governors, is impressed.
“We are completely impressed with the thoughtfulness of these young men’s behavior,” Puckett said. “The road to equality can be slow, but as you change hearts and minds, the path is cleared. These boys see a problem and they want to be the change. It speaks much greatly to the character of the kids, their parents, and their community that they looked at how many young people speak, some of them included, and they wanted to change the behavior. We are honored to be chosen by the Brandeis boys as beneficiaries of the AZA Card program.”
Reaching out further to support those in the area, Brandeis members are hosting a toiletry drive to benefit those served by the Samaritan Inn Homeless Shelter in McKinney. Toiletries including hygiene and household cleaning supplies and household paper goods will be collected through Saturday, May 4.
“It’s easy to lose focus about what is important,” said Herstein. “When you give back, you get back to the basics of creating strong Jewish bonds, and strong Jewish values.”
To purchase an AZA Card, visit www.azacard.com. To make a donation to the Brandeis collection for the Samaritan Inn Homeless Shelter or for information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Submitted by Deb Silverthorn on behalf of the BBYO Louis Brandeis Chapter
UNT conference tackles Middle East
The Middle East was the focus of the University of North Texas’ second semi-annual peace conference in late March.
The two-day event presented 16 scholarly sessions, three keynote speakers, a cultural show and an art exhibit.
Richard Golden, director of the UNT Jewish studies program, chaired a session, “Israel in the Contemporary Middle East.” Speaking personally and as a historian, Golden spoke about weaknesses in the conference’s program, especially a refusal to hold sessions on the two greatest conflicts in the region — terrorism and Sunni-Shia violence.
Golden explained that the media fixation on Israel creates a distorted perception of the nation and is the result of multiple factors, the most important being the refusal of Arab nations to accept the existence of the nation state of the Jewish people.
That factor concerned David Patterson, Hillel Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies in the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. In “The Wall of Hatred: Hamas, Fatah and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he cited multiple examples of Islamist Jihad hatred of Jews around the world as the primary obstacle to authentic peace.
Patterson provided extensive evidence on pervasive Jew-hatred in speeches, religious texts, actions taken and charters of Islamist Jihad movements. He notes as examples the PLO goal, “the annihilation of the Zionist entity,” as stated in its charter, and the former grand mufti of Jerusalem, who said “He who kills a Jew is assured a place in the next world.” Patterson makes clear that Muslim Jew-hatred is not based on what Israel does.
Patterson concluded his lecture with a concern. “By refusing to refer to Islamic Jihadists as either Islamic or as Jihadists, we take a position that reflects an inexcusable, willful ignorance of the history, religion, culture, languages and everything else that goes into the making of Islamic Jihadism. There can be no moving forward until we recognize, behold and say what we are dealing with.”
Randall Geller, post-doctoral teaching fellow in Israel studies at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies of the University of Texas at Austin, spoke on “Dilemmas of Minority Recruitment and Conscription in Israel, Turkey, and India: a Comparative View.”
He discussed how the leadership of the Jewish majority in Israel has balanced its commitment to the state’s democratic ideals and the principle of equality on the one hand, and its commitment to creating a Jewish state and ensuring its security on the other.
Patterson explained the history of conscription policies of minorities (Muslim, Druze, Circassian, Orthodox) through the lens of the Israel Defense Forces and the contradiction between the assimilation of minorities in the IDF and the need to use the IDF as a tool of nation-building.
He compared IDF conscription with similar dilemmas of minority inclusion/exclusion shared by the democracies of Turkey and India. The three nations have adopted historically different solutions to the challenge of incorporating minorities in the military.
— Submitted by Katie Malone-Miller