U. of Judaism scholars to address Israel, Jewish values

In honor of Israel's 55th anniversary, a team of Jewish organizations is throwing a celebration Sunday with plenty of food for thought.

The San Francisco event features talks by a contingent of scholars from Los Angeles' University of Judaism, who will explore Jewish values and current issues affecting Israel.

Speakers will address the war in Iraq, terrorism in Israel, the media's portrayal of the Jewish state and other current events through a lens of Jewish texts and perspectives.

"This is an intellectual and educational undertaking that I think rounds out our community's celebration of a very significant event," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, a co-sponsor of the symposium.

The Bay Area Jewish community also is observing the anniversary on Sunday, June 1 with its annual "Israel in the Gardens" festival of entertainment, arts and food in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens.

The event this coming Sunday afternoon features a line-up of experts that includes University of Judaism President Robert Wexler; Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of the university's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies; and David Landau, editor of the English edition of Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.

Geared for a lay audience, the five-hour symposium is expected to draw some 250 participants. It will be held at Congregation Beth Israel-Judea and neighboring Brandeis Hillel Day School.

The day begins with a panel discussion on "How the Current Conflict Challenges Us." It will be followed by separate talks on Jerusalem, conflict and dissension in Jewish life, coping with terrorism, current alternatives facing Israel and the Jewish perspective on "justified war."

Wexler, who will use Jewish texts to address the subject of war, said his aim is "not to tell people [or] make a judgment itself on war in Iraq or Israel's involvement in the West Bank."

Instead, he hopes to refer to Jewish sources to stimulate discussion and help participants work through their own views on military engagement.

"People really do want the input; they want to hear and want to know what Jewish texts have to say," Wexler said.

Jewish texts, for instance, include the commandment to "take up arms to defend yourself," Wexler noted. "The evaluating question becomes how do you know when you're in that situation or not in that situation."

Along with the afternoon's obvious focus on Israel and the Middle East, organizers hope the event will display the scholarship taking place at the University of Judaism.

While individual instructors visit the Bay Area regularly for lectures and other presentations, it's been several years since the university has presented an entire educational program here, according to Wexler.

"We would like to do more with adult education," he said. "The Bay Area was a good place to start because we already have deep roots there."

Sandy Leib, the university's Bay Area development director, noted that "the subject of outreach and showcasing the scholarship of the University of Judaism" has been a topic of discussion between the institution and its local donors.

JCRC's Kahn said his agency was planning a major community event for Israel's anniversary when it learned that University of Judaism was organizing a symposium here.

The groups decided to team up for Sunday's program. Additional sponsors include the Consulate General of Israel and the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

"It's a remarkable array of truly gifted speakers and thinkers," said Kahn.

Along with a hope that the program stimulates participants intellectually, Kahn wants to motivate attendees "to maintain active [in their] involvement in and commitment in Israel."