With all the hand-wringing about the fate of Jewish young people and the rise of anti-Jewish sentiments on campus, it is our happy duty to report that a spirit of activism is alive and well. Young Conservative college-age students took to their social networks this month to rally behind Koach, the Conservative movement’s campus organization. Meeting in Detroit this past weekend, leaders of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism voted to reduce funding for Koach, and challenged supporters of the organization and campus life in general to make up the expected shortfall. The board also will work to develop a three- to five-year business plan for the organization, according to JTA.
Only the USCJ can determine what is in its own best interest, and its leaders made a common-sense case that, facing a budget squeeze, an underfunded and perhaps underperforming organization is not the best use of limited dollars. However, college is an important time for engaging young Jews, who are simultaneously yearning for new identities and drifting away from their old ones. The best way to defend Israel, campus professionals have found, is to strengthen the Jewish identities of college students, to give them tools to argue Israel’s case, and to instill the pride that will motivate them to do so. Campus Jewish groups that do this — no matter the denomination or movement — deserve to be a priority among Jewish organizations and philanthropies.
The Conservative students who lit up Facebook and signed a petition at savekoach.org (spearheaded by Cranford resident and Pace University junior Douglas Kandl) demonstrated that students aren’t going down without a fight. Rutgers Hillel also responded creatively, with a plan to raise money for a campus professional who will perform outreach among Conservative students. The model was pioneered at Rutgers, where a Reform rabbi represents his movement thanks to a challenge grant from NJ philanthropists and the national Reform movement.
Necessity is the mother of such invention, and in this era, support for our Jewish students is a necessity. This is not just a fight for one movement and its youth. It is a task that none of us can afford to shirk.