The Los Angeles Jewish community has long been one of the most ardent supporters of the One-Year Program at Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Rothberg International School. With registration down more than 50 percent from last year due to the rising tensions in Israel, the university is targeting Los Angeles in its national effort.
Eliyahu Honig, associate vice president of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, came last month to Los Angeles from Israel to seek support for the school, encouraging students to go despite the difficulties. Not only has Los Angeles been the biggest financial contributor to the school in recent years, he said, but "the West Coast constitutes about one-third of the students at the Rothberg School." The drop-off in attendance has been almost exclusively from American Jewry. Students from Canada, China and even Jordan have remained constant.
Prominent Los Angeles philanthropist Richard Ziman and his wife, activist Daphne Edwards Ziman, have emerged as leaders in the effort to reverse the enrollment drop-off.
"There is no better time than now for the participants in the Maccabiah games to go. Right now more than ever, Israel needs to know that we're not turning our backs on them," Daphne Ziman said.
Richard Ziman was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his work on behalf of the Jewish people, joining a long list of renowned past recipients that includes Elie Wiesel and Henry Kissinger. Daphne Ziman is the founder and president of Children Uniting Nations, a proactive organization created to elevate child welfare around the world.
Tourism in Israel has dropped precipitously, taking an economic and psychological toll that has been well-documented. "Among Israelis there is a growing feeling of abandonment," Richard Ziman asserts. Dispelling this rift is in the hands of Diaspora Jews, and the Zimans believe it is critical that the Los Angeles community rises to the call by traveling in the country and encouraging students to attend the Rothberg school.
the Zimans went forward with their plans to hold their daughter's bat mitzvah at the Western Wall on June 1. Despite the Tel Aviv disco bombing, which took place during their trip, they held to their itinerary, even though there were violent clashes in Ramallah between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces.
"It was a powerful experience for us and for our daughter," Richard Ziman said. "This time when we were in Israel was the first time I had ever seen the Israelis so happy that we were there. Everywhere we went Israelis were saying thank you," he said.
The Zimans have given talks about their experience in Israel at the University of Judaism, International Friends of Hebrew University, a recent fundraiser for the governor and the Moriah Society, a real estate industry support group. For Daphne Ziman, it is a matter of defiance. "The Jewish people have historically been apathetic at times when it was the greatest moment to take action. To be timid at this time hurts ourselves and the Palestinians because we are letting them know that violence works."
Part of the message that the Zimans, Honig and others are trying to get out is that the constant media focus on clashes distorts the reality in Israel. "I never was in any dangerous situation," says Yehuda Cover, a recent Rothberg school attendee. "But that element is part of life over there, and that's part of the learning experience."
Richard Ziman concluded: "Visiting Israel now is not just a message that the Rothberg school wants to get out. It's a message that the entire country wants to get out. Israelis want the Diaspora Jews to come."