Rutgers ‘moving in right direction’ on study in Israel

Rutgers ‘moving in right direction’ on study in Israel

Backing up its statement that it wants to continue sending students to study in Israel – despite its decision to suspend its spring semester there because of the Gaza conflict in January – Rutgers University is sending a representative to its Israeli partner schools this month.

Jacob Toporek

In a letter to a Study Abroad financial supporter that was made available to The Jewish Standard, Rutgers Study Abroad Dean Stephen Reinert wrote that regional coordinator Christopher Lytle, who will be advising students on the Israel programs, is scheduled to visit Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion in Beersheba, and the University of Haifa to “attain a first-hand knowledge of our partner schools, including the ways in which they oversee security issues for all the students.”

Reinert wrote that he is also planning a fall trip to Israel to strengthen Rutgers’ ties with the three universities.

This is a welcome development in the flap caused by Rutgers’ cancellation of the spring semester abroad, said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations.

“Things are moving in the right direction, and we are pleased,” said Toporek.

He added that Rutgers President Richard McCormick gave him a “serious commitment” to consider participating in Project Interchange next summer, a program that brings university presidents to Israel.

In a Jan. 8 letter, almost two weeks after the start of the war in Gaza, Barry Qualls, Rutgers’ vice president for undergraduate education, wrote to the eight potential participants that “instability in the Gaza area, now compounded by the missiles coming into northern Israel from Lebanon, indicate that the safety of our students cannot be reasonably assured.”

The cancellation was met with dismay not only by the students but also by the wider Jewish community. In response to e-mails criticizing the decision made by a crisis management team at Rutgers, Qualls had told this newspaper that the decision “was only about security; our commitment to studying Jewish life, culture, and history and to studying modern Israel should never be in doubt-never.”

Qualls and McCormick met on Jan. 26 with Toporek as well as with Roy Tanzman and Herbert Klein, respectively president and vice president of the New Jersey Jewish federations’ association. In a statement afterward, Toporek acknowledged Rutgers’ commitment to giving academic credits and scholarship funding to the students who traveled to Israel for that semester on their own, and McCormick’s commitment to continue the Study in Israel program in the future.

The meeting also resulted in an understanding that in similar future situations, the university’s crisis management team would consult with students and the families involved, in addition to leaders of the affected communities, prior to making an official announcement of cancellation.

This week, Toporek said he had been pleased to receive a note from Qualls “indicating that they are advertising and accepting applications for the Study Abroad Program for this summer and for the fall 2009 term.”

He also welcomed Reinert’s letter to the donor, in which the associate history professor wrote that “we are not sending enough students to these fine programs in Israel. We very much want to increase the enrollments.”

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