JFEDLA empowers Jewish students to combat campus hate

At a time when campus antisemitism is at unprecedented levels, Jewish Federation Los Angeles is investing tremendous resources to keep education free of hate and to protect Jewish students. The Federation’s multi-pronged approach focuses both on educating university administrators and empowering Jewish students to combat antisemitism and stand up proudly for Israel. 

Leading this strategy is SVP of Community Engagement Joanna Mendelson, who believes that education is the antidote to antisemitism. Just a few weeks after the October 7 massacres, JFEDLA brought together more than 250 provosts, deans, university presidents and DEI officials from colleges across the West Coast for a conference to address antisemitism, which was hosted at USC together with USC Hillel and Hillel International. Students, professors, and policy makers shared their personal experiences with antisemitism on campus and urged that reforms be made to ensure the safety of Jewish students. 

This was followed by JFEDLA’s inaugural Education Leaders Summit: Understanding, Embracing, and Including Jewish Students in Your School Community that convened 125 school district superintendents, heads of schools, DEI directors, and other educational leaders from public and private schools throughout Los Angeles County to help education leaders ensure that Jewish students feel safe, included, and heard in their school communities. Participants learned about Jewish history, Israel, and antisemitism, and received resources to make their school environments more hospitable for Jewish students. 

JFEDLA’s premier program to support Jewish college students is its Campus Impact Network (CIN), which seeks to empower Jewish students throughout the greater Los Angeles area to effect positive change on their campuses by cultivating a network of informed and empowered student leaders. Among its activities, CIN works together with Hillels to train students to build campus allies, to advocate for Israel and build a thriving Jewish campus life, as well as to be effective community organizers. CIN also serves as a resource for students on the frontlines facing campus antisemitism. 

One of JFEDLA’s recent campus successes was the statewide effort it led in convening California’s Jewish organizational leaders to collectively engage the University of California (UC) Regents following a series of alarming incidents of antisemitism incidents at UC schools. The Federation sent a letter to the UC Regents, signed by 38 organizations, calling for immediate action to protect Jewish students and detailing twelve steps that the body should take to proactively tackle antisemitism, promote a safe and inclusive environment for Jewish students, and foster a thriving Jewish campus life. That same month, CIN mobilized and mentored Jewish student leaders to testify before the University of California Regents and provided them with guidance and training to effectively communicate their concerns and demands. 

Following JFEDLA’s mobilization and advocacy, the President of University of California, Dr. Michael Drake, announced that all ten UC schools would participate in Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative to gather data incidents of Jewish hate on these campuses and to train college and university administrators to counter antisemitism. 

Looking ahead, JFEDLA is launching its first Campus Impact Network Fellowship in the fall for a select group of exemplary students. CIN Fellows will develop their leadership and advocacy skills, receive professional development opportunities, develop a network of like-minded peers, and hear from leading experts in antisemitism and Israel advocacy.   

“It’s about Jewish joy and Jewish pride,” Mendelson said. She credits the leadership of JFEDLA’s President and CEO Rabbi Noah Farkas for setting combating campus antisemitism as a major priority for The Federation, even before October 7. “Rabbi Noah’s vision has always been, underscoring the belief that we must not let antisemitism define us. We want to create Jewish joy, which is a principle of our faith, but has been an obstacle on campus. Our vision is that students should be able to thrive, and when they cannot, we will take the necessary steps to change that reality.”