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Jewish schools to colleges: Don’t recruit our students unless you can guarantee their safety

(JTA) — Any college or university that wants to recruit students from two Modern Orthodox schools in New Jersey will now have to prove it can keep Jewish students safe, according to announcements from the schools.

Torah Academy of Bergen County, a boys school in Teaneck, and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, located just blocks away, each told families on Friday that they were enacting new requirements for colleges that seek to meet with students on campus, a regular component of the college search process.

A third school in the area told families on Monday that it was “reevaluating our relationships with college admissions officers” but had not yet settled on any policy changes.

The announcements offer a concrete indication that antisemitic incidents on U.S. campuses following Hamas’ attack on Israel Oct. 7 and Israel’s military response could affect how some Jewish students decide where to go to college.

The incidents are unfolding at precisely the time that high school seniors must complete their college applications, and they add to a preexisting sense of unease among some U.S. Jews about the status of Jewish students on college campuses.

“We feel strongly that we cannot continue to invite college representatives to speak to our students as they have in the past,” TABC head of school Rabbi Shlomo Stochel and associate principal Rabbi Steven Finkelstein wrote in an email outlining new requirements for on-campus recruitment. “Your son’s physical and emotional welfare is too important to us.”

Going forward, the TABC and Ma’ayanot administrators wrote, recruiters and college representatives must now bring “a statement from their university leadership detailing their plans to protect and maintain the safety and security of our graduates on their campuses as Jews.”

The announcement comes in the wake of multiple antisemitic incidents on college campuses nationwide, including an eruption of violence at a pro-Palestinian rally at Tulane University; a situation where Jewish students were barricaded inside a library at Cooper Union during a pro-Palestinian protest; and most recently, where death threats were made against Jewish students at Cornell Sunday evening, specifically targeting the kosher dining hall.

Colleges and universities have also drawn criticism over their public statements about the violence in Israel, with prominent Jewish donors in a few cases vowing to cut off institutions that they said insufficiently condemned Hamas or allowed antisemitic sentiment to flourish.

The climate has so alarmed the Biden administration that the U.S. Education Department has given itself two weeks to create and present a plan to combat the wartime spike in campus antisemitism.

The goal of high schools’ policy change is to increase pressure on the universities to act, the TABC letter says.

“It is our hope that our collective stance in prioritizing the safety of our students will compel universities to address the severity of the current situation,” it says. “Those who cannot or will not accede to our valid and just request will not be welcome here.”

The moment coincides with when high school seniors must make decisions about where to apply to college. Many universities use Nov. 1 — Wednesday — as an early decision deadline, meaning that students who apply by that date and are accepted are obligated to attend.

The New Jersey schools chose to send the emails ahead of that deadline, according to Rabbi Josh Kahn, the rosh yeshiva of TABC. Almost all of the school’s graduates head to Israel for a year and then to Yeshiva University, the Modern Orthodox flagship in Manhattan, though others enroll at other colleges with large Jewish populations including New York University and the University of Maryland.

Kahn said his school isn’t trying to close its doors to college recruiters.

“Our goal actually really is for our students to be able to go to college. The entire Jewish community’s goal is that our students should be able to go to the university campus and feel safe. That’s all we want,” he said. “We’re not looking to not allow colleges on to recruit from our campus. So we would like to do everything we can to help colleges ensure that our students will be safe.”

Ma’ayanot said that in addition to asking college representatives to provide assurances about students’ safety, it would also work with its own students to factor the campus climate about Israel into their post-graduation plans.

“We are working to educate our students about the Israel climate on various campuses,” said the school’s letter, signed by four administrators including Head of School CB Neugroschl. “Just as a thriving observant Jewish community is a vital factor, it is crucial to make sure that a college is a safe place for Jewish and pro-Israel students. It is our hope that our collective efforts will help students make wise and informed choices about their future.”

Paul Bernstein, the CEO of Prizmah, the North American network for Jewish day schools, said the school’s demands are appropriate.

“Safety for Jewish college students is paramount, and colleges should be able to demonstrate how they would enable students to live a full and active Jewish life on their campus, without fear or threat,” Bernstein said. “Jewish day school alumni are proud leaders in Hillel and other programs on campus, in support of positive Jewish living and Israel. We expect college administrations to ensure that is true not only at a time of war, but in years to come for future students.”

Other Orthodox high schools in a broader network are still discussing how to approach the college admissions process, according to Kahn, who said a meeting is planned on the topic.

Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Modern Orthodox schools also in Bergen County, told families on Monday that they were rethinking admissions practices as application deadlines neared.

Head of School Eliezer Rubin said in a letter to families he believed that “universities have allowed a toxic ideology to fester, and that ideology manifests as raging, aggressive and overt anti-Semitism.” He named four schools — Cornell, Cooper Union, Tulane and Columbia — where recent incidents had induced fear for students’ safety.

“They believe that they could take our families for granted. … We need to dissuade them from the notion that they are entitled to our children by mere virtue of the fact that they are prestigious institutions,” Eliezer Rubin wrote. “The privilege is for these universities to educate our students, not the other way around. It is just that: a privilege. Not a right.”

Rubin concluded, “Put simply: If a university cannot keep our students safe, we cannot in good conscience send them there.”

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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”


For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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