Rabbi Aaron Receives International Award

On Thursday, December 12, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, Hillel at UCLA’s Executive Director, was awarded the prestigious Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award by Hillel International.  Under his leadership, Rabbi Aaron has driven the engagement of more than 3,000 students and community members at UCLA Hillel. During his tenure, Hillel has expanded annual fundraising to more than $2.5 million to support exponential growth in Jewish identity and pro-Israel programming. 

Rachael Petru, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships and Adam Lehman, Interim President and CEO, present Rabbi Aaron with his award.

To present the award, Rachael Petru, UCLA Hillel Director of Philanthropic Partnerships shared these insights about Rabbi Aaron's achievements:

-Rabbi Aaron has emerged as a fresh, new flavor of leadership and his humble, kind, clear direction has made an indelible impression on Jewish life at UCLA.  

-Brought into this position with resounding support and adoration by students, lay leaders and staff alike, students consistently report a sense that Hillel is their home - a place to connect, where their voice matters.

-He maintains a perception of neutrality and openness, promoting core values such as respecting others, embracing challenges and fostering transparency all in the spirit of upholding pluralism.  

-Rabbi Aaron goes out of his way to connect community stakeholders to the students, emboldening students to build relationships with influential donors and community leaders which benefits the students now and as they ascend to new roles after college.  

-He is a dedicated fundraising partner.  He effortlessly weaves concise, compelling stories about our students and the strength of our program, while also navigating the unsavory presence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on campus.

-Aaron has made it a priority to improve the Jewish community’s position in progressive, activist campus spaces and, in partnership with students, has fashioned Hillel as a valuable partner in the interfaith campus landscape.  He brokered the transition of the University Religious Conference to become a grant-making body supporting interfaith campus programs and he currently serves as the President of the Council of Chaplains at UCLA. He has the attention of top UCLA administrators and leverages these relationships for the benefit of the students.  

-In the spirit of loosening the grips of divisive proxy-war-type conflicts at UCLA, Rabbi Aaron played a key role in developing and implementing UCLA’s first Fact Finding Journey, a program that brings predominantly non-Jewish campus influencers to Israel and the Palestinian territories.  This trip has since been scaled nation-wide - perhaps your campus even leads such a trip.

-His Rabbinate is empowerment - his eagerness to empower students to hold the reigns of their community is well-known and he would never make a student-facing hire without getting input from students.  

-Last year, after 20+ years of effort, he successfully closed an agreement with the University which allows students to use their meal plan cards at our in-house Kosher restaurant, broadening accessibility to Kosher food and more fully realizing our vision of pluralistic inclusion.  

-Rabbi Aaron walks the walk!  He has fostered a flexible work environment, demonstrating his belief that his team will do what it takes to get the job done.  He is a true feminist - an eager advocate and ally to women in the workplace - definitely not the type of person who would ever sit on an all male-panel!

-On behalf of your team, Aaron, we thank you for your role modeling, mentorship, vision and dedication.  Rabbi Chaim said it best - you’re a mensch.

Named for the extraordinary man who led Hillel as president from 1989-2003, The Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award is presented to those Hillel professionals who demonstrate a solid commitment to Jewish campus life with proven success of their dedication to Hillel International's mission of enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.

Hillel at UCLA is a Next Stage grant recipient!


We are thrilled to announce that Hillel at UCLA was recently awarded a prestigious Next Stage Grant by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. HERE is the official press release.

"Hillel at UCLA's role in ensuring Jewish continuity and pro-Israel programming on campus has never been more important. We have grown exponentially in recent years, and this grant will help secure our ongoing ability to offer effective programs, leverage data, and expand the number of students and community members we reach. We are grateful to be recognized by the Jewish Community Foundation as a leader both here in Los Angeles and nationally as we scale projects throughout the Jewish world."
- Rabbi Aaron Lerner, Executive Director Hillel at UCLA

Anyone and everyone who has an interest in sustaining Jewish campus life at UCLA and in ensuring the future Jewish leadership of our city can join us in celebrating this generous investment from the Jewish Community Foundation. Please feel free to forward this email far and wide. We can’t wait to keep you apprised of our progress as we move ahead! 

Here's to Hillel - FOREVER.

A Teaching: Connect to Community

In preparation for the High Holy Days, we have a teaching from Sharona Kaplan, who is beginning her 16th year as the Campus Director for OU-JLIC at Hillel at UCLA.

Years ago, a Rabbi offered me his secret to ensuring a successful High Holiday season. Curious about the magical formula and eager for my prayers to be received, I prepared to commit his answer to memory. Decades later, I annually revisit his (surprisingly accessible) advice.

Connect to Community.

On Rosh Hashonah we are, indeed, examined as individuals with our merits and demerits pitted against each other to determine our deserved fate. Yet, the Rabbis teach, we are also evaluated as part of a larger whole and the impact of our fate is considered within the broader affect it will have on all of those connected to us. Those with strong familial bonds, connections to community and institutional investments are force multipliers, with their personal health, wealth and success strengthening the broader community. By virtue of their communal connections, their blessings are investments that are exponentially magnified as they benefit the masses, almost incentivizing positive judgement even in a situation where an individual may be less worthy. Conversely, a connected individual could avoid a potentially negative verdict after appreciating how dramatically his new personal reality would challenge those connected to him, rendering the judgement too severe.

This refreshing bit of real advice can offer a tangible way to help engage a season set apart by its spiritual significance. It’s a reminder that the people whose lives we impact ultimately impact ours. Like the Hebrew word for giving, ‘Natan’, which is notably a palindrome, implies, those we service in turn service us, intangibly giving our lives definition and blessings.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you, the extended Hillel at UCLA family, for your connections to our student community. Together we enrich the lives of so many remarkable individuals and, through our relationship, strengthen the bonds of Jewish students on campus. May you and your families be blessed with a sweet new year and may the blessings overflow to enrich all of those around you.

Shana Tova!

Sharon Kaplan


Learn More About High Holy Days at Hillel

A Teaching: Dip the Apple in the Honey

In preparation for the High Holy Days, we have a sweet teaching from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, who leads the orthodox services at Hillel at UCLA!

The familiar words from the popular children’s song herald the coming of the New Year in many homes. As one of the holiday’s most popular icons, the apple and honey have become symbolic of Rosh Hashonah and our personal and communal aspirations for a sweet new year.

The Talmud, in two different places (Horayos 12A and Kerisos 6A) records the custom of eating or seeing special foods to leverage blessing for the coming year. The Shulchan Orech (OH583) quotes this custom as normative and the Ramah specifically mentions the custom of eating an apple and honey.

Rationally, the notion of foods affecting the outcome of someone’s year is perplexing.  Could it be that acquiring a sweet new year is as simple as indulging in sweet foods on Rosh Hashonah? In fact, this custom might be less than benign, as it seems similar to a prohibition listed in the Gemara that warns people against forecasting the future based on superficial indicators they encounter.  For example, it would be prohibited to say “so and so's bread has fallen out of his hand; his staff has fallen out of his hand; his son called after him; a raven screamed after him, a deer has crossed his path; a serpent came at his right hand or a fox at his left; do not commence with me.” (Sanhedrin 65B) Wouldn’t eating an apple and honey as a predictor for a sweet new year fall into the same prohibition?

Clearly, simply eating sweet foods does not automatically generate a sweet year.  It is using the items as triggers to inspire prayer that makes them impactful.  Each special food generates a specific Tefilah that beseeches Hashem to shower Bracha upon us.  The food in and of itself has no impact, but it is the qualities of the food that leverage a specific prayer, and motivates the individual to articulate his aspirations for the coming year, that has value.

It is our hope that the table laden with pomegranates, apples, honey, fish heads, beets, carrots, dates and a host of other Rosh Hashonah symbols, should serve as a welcome invitation to realize all that there is to pray for and engage the family and community around meaningful Tefilot for a year full of wonderful things.  

Shana Tova!

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan is beginning his 16th year as the Ou-JLIC Rabbi in the Hillel at UCLA.

Learn More About High Holy Days at Hillel

Learn a New Tune and Welcome Reform Rabbi Alex Kress!

Hillel at UCLA is excited to share that Rabbi Alex Kress has joined our team as the inaugural Reform Senior Jewish Educator. His entrepreneurial spirit and deep desire to connect with students have already been great additions to UCLA's Jewish life.

YOU have the chance to meet Rabbi Alex in action when he leads Reform services at Hillel during the High Holy Days! Check out the short video below to learn a new tune (niggun) for Reform services at Hillel during the Holy Days!


Learn More About High Holy Days at Hillel


More About Hillel's Expanding Reform Presence On-Campus

This brand new Reform Senior Educator position at Hillel is made possible by a generous grant from Central Synagogue, which partners with Hillel International and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to strengthen Reform Jewish life on college campuses. We are also grateful for the support of local LA clergy and lay leadership who have agreed to help us raise the matching funds required for this grant!Together, all of our partners are helping us expand Jewish life at UCLA and build the Jewish future.

The Hillel Movement is recognized as one of the most successful and authentic pluralistic platforms for Jewish life, including Jewish students from every denomination, as well as the unaffiliated. Each and every Friday night at Hillel, you will find a pluralistic prayer space on the first floor, an orthodox minyan on the second floor, and dozens of tables set for Shabbat dinner, serving 150-200+ students ranging the spectrum of Jewish observance. Every Jewish student is welcomed regardless of where they are on their Jewish journey and finds a home at Hillel to explore and expand their Jewish identity.





Support Expanding The Reform Presence at Hillel

In Beloved Memory of Rabbi Richard Levy z"l

Richard inspired generations of students, faculty and community with his poetic soul, compassionate heart and keen mind. A social activist who counseled conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War he also taught students that spirituality and religiosity were not incompatible with modernity and personal autonomy. He pursued justice and he loved both God and his fellow humans very deeply. A gentle man, he always displayed care and concern. He was a uniquely gifted Reform rabbi who embraced tradition. And Richard was a major force in the emergence of Jewish Renewal in the 1970’s. Many of his innovative initiatives later became Hillel staples. We were all his students and grew personally and professionally due to his mentorship. He was a rabbi’s rabbi and a humble servant.

There were none like Richard Levy.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Shiva will take place at Leo Baeck Temple on Tuesday, June 25, Wednesday the 26th, and Thursday the 27th at 7:30 pm.

The UC Regents affirmed this in 2016 by adopting the Principles Against Intolerance, which specifically prohibit “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism”.

Yet over the past few weeks, we continue to see examples of targeting Jews and Israel in ways that our university community would never allow against other minority communities.

For instance, last night, UCLA’s newly elected USAC (undergrad student gov’t) condemned Chancellor Block, claiming that he was “without evidence” when he expressed concern that last year’s anti-Israel conference here would engage in anti-Semitism.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence linking SJP to hate, including their inflammatory use of a kite in the conference logo. Dressing a wolf in sheep’s clothing doesn’t change it’s predatory nature.

Also on campus this past week, a notorious guest lecturer from San Francisco State equated Zionism with White Supremacy. Not only is this defamatory, it willfully conflates victim with villain. This is particularly offensive in close proximity to the recent murder of an UCLA alumna and mother of a current student, Lori Gilbert-Kaye who was gunned down at a Poway Chabad by a White Supremacist.

Incidentally, Daily Bruin coverage of the tragedy in Poway excluded the words “Jew,” “Jewish,” “anti-Semitism,” and “white supremacist” – a decision by Daily Bruin’s Editorial Board that was called out by Ha’am in an op-ed.

I am generally the opposite of alarmist, having argued numerous times that episodes of anti-Jewish bigotry are the exception to the rule. However, there is an undeniable pattern emerging from marginal yet influential faculty and student leaders who are blind to Jew hatred. We must call attention to it and combat it so as to prevent the potential of mainstream acceptance.

We are working diligently with a coalition of more than 25 campus and community partners to address this phenomenon on campus. Official complaints have been filed with the university, and students are being advised of their rights.

While there is no panacea, we can and will hold bigots accountable. We can and will combat falsity. And we can and will educate, build relationships, engage in year long pro-Israel programming, and take student leaders to Israel to experience it for themselves.

You can support these efforts directly by giving to the Bruins for Israel programming fund by clicking here.

Furthermore, you can demand that UCLA provide an update on their plan to implement the UC Regents Principles Against Intolerance and hold faculty responsible for violations of viewpoint neutrality, academic intimidation, and other university policies.

We must all increase our efforts to build bridges with other communities. We empower our students to listen and ask more than they talk. To fight injustice wherever it exists – from Pittsburgh, to New Zealand, to Sri Lanka. And to lead with their Jewish values in all spaces – Jewish and otherwise.

This is a communal problem that can only be resolved with everyone taking action.  

Thank you for your alliance with and support of our Jewish Bruin community and Jewish life at UCLA.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner

Executive Director, Hillel at UCLA


Giving Tuesday 11.27.18

It's the most heartfelt philanthropic day of the year: #GivingTuesday November 27, 2018!


Hillel at UCLA's Got Heart and we know you do too! 
Once a year, Hillel supporters wear their heart on their sleeve by donating and sharing their 
Jewish Bruin pride on social media/email!
This Hillel love-fest amplifies each and every donor's impact by inspiring more givers to Hillel. 
So get ready to give, share, and inspire your community to show their Hillel heart.


Bring a Gift and a Smile to Children in Need this Holiday Season
Feel free to drop off Toys and Books at Hillel for Federation's Drive. 
We have a collection box in our lobby!

Supporting Israel & Condemning Hate @ UCLA

“Zionism is ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and death.”
-Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)

This Friday, National Students for Justice in Palestine will teach its members that the only Jewish state should “be destroyed, broken down, and dismantled.”

Their conference at UCLA will feature a logo of our cherished mascot flying a Hamas kite. Their leadership will promote dangerous “disruption” tactics which will continue to try to force a wedge between Jewish students and other campus communities based on the false claims about Jewish power and privilege.

In short, this conference continues to feel much more like an anti-Semitic hate fest than it does a human rights advocacy effort to help Palestinians.

At Hillel, we have approached this conference with a sophisticated, proven strategy: work directly with students. There are no more powerful, eloquent, and effective actors on a college campus than the student leaders themselves.

Hillel actively coordinates with 25+ pro-Israel organizations, serving as the hub for all off-campus partners who want to empower students to expose and combat hate and offer a productive alternative to the whole campus community.

* Exposing and combatting is being done by courageous Bruins for Israel (BFI) and Students Supporting Israel (SSI) student leaders who speak at UC Regent and Student Government meetings, file diversity complaints with UCLA’s administration, write in the DailyBruin, speak with friends and allied communities, and work with elected officials

* Better alternative programming efforts feature actual Palestinians and Israelis who are working towards a better future. We have hosted Israeli-Arab leader Mohamed Darawashe from Givat Haviva, an Imam from Hartman’s Muslim Leadership Initiative, and West Bank peace activists from the Roots project, all of whom represent NGO efforts by people living on the ground who are working towards peace together.

You can make NSJP pay a price for choosing UCLA. Support student-led programming by clicking HERE to provide students the support they need to enact 30+ programs and interventions at UCLA over six months, touching more than 10,000 students, faculty, and administrators.

Click Here to Support Our Students

These programs, in addition to UCLA specific efforts like #WeTheZionists, #ChooseLove, and Bruins for Israel Public Affairs Committee’s dinners with members of Congress, are educating the entire campus community about what Zionism really is, why students love and support Israel, why the US government has a strong strategic relationship with the Jewish homeland, and how the future can be brighter for both Israelis and Palestinians.

That’s why our students won the 2018 AIPAC Campus of the Year Award last year. It’s why 80 campuses nationally are adopting our Fact Finding trip to Israel and the PA. And it’s why students around the country are launching variations of our Israel social media campaigns.

We need your help to raise $100,000 of emergency funding to provide for additional programming and support to our students. Hillel is bearing these costs with full faith in our community that you will help us!

This is our home. That’s why we’re working so hard to keep students safe before, during, and after the conference. SJP choses to spew hate. But ultimately, that’s a losing message on a campus whose motto is about bringing more light and optimism into the world.

Thank you in advance,

Michael Farahnik
Board Chair, Hillel at UCLA

P.S.  In addition to your gift, you can get the word out among your community by sharing the following:

1)  Join the Bruin community on Sunday, November 18 for an Israel celebration on Wilson plaza, 11:00 am - 2:00 pm!

2) Encourage high schoolers to visit, and apply to UCLA and other UC schools. Like every other top university, campus climate issues do flare up from time to time here. Nevertheless, students report feeling very safe overall (ask them!).

UCLA in particular is a great place to be a Jewish student. #1 on the West Coast and #3 in the country.

3) Jewish students are a part of a robust coalition network comprised of 25+ national pro-Israel groups, elected officials, major donors, pro-bono attorneys, and strategists who stand in solidarity with nearly 3,000 pro-Israel Bruins.

4) We worked together with StandWithUs to create this petition. Please sign it!

5) Contact UCLA administrators directly with your concerns. Some talking points:

  • * Explicitly address SJP's role in creating a hostile campus climate for Jewish students and address SJP's conference materials which violate the State Department's "3D's" definition of anti-semitism: demonization of Israel, delegitimization of Israel, and applying double standards to Israel.
  • * Demand monitoring of the conference, specifically for trainings designed to teach SJP members to take illegal actions or violate university policy.
  • * Investigate ways to force SJP to open its registration to non-SJP members.
  • * Thank them for issuing an immediate cease and desist letter related to the appropriation of Joe Bruin by SJP and thank the Chancellor specifically for his OpEd in the LA Times which confirms his opposition to BDS and support for robust University partnership with Israel.

6) While SJP is loud and caustic, that actually works against them. They are viewed by the majority of students with suspicion, and are perceived as angry and directionless. Discourage your pro-Israel friends from acting the same way. It backfires when anger turns into Islamophobia or compels groups to come to campus to yell at people. Let students do their job. They understand the culture and have crafted effective strategies. Let’s lift them up rather than undermine them.

7) Students have organized a 33-point action plan which entails extra programming occurring before, during, and after the conference (September - March). Encourage your friends to give generously to support our work!

Anti-Zionist Conference at UCLA

My name is Darion Ouliguian, and it is my honor to serve as this year’s Bruins for Israel (BFI) President.

I know many of you are concerned about a national anti-Israel conference coming to campus in November, led by a group which espouses the delegitimization of Israel and seeks to dismantle it through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). I am joined by the leaders of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and many other groups here at UCLA in saying that we fundamentally reject this hateful attack on the Jewish homeland.

Over the past several months, we have been working closely with Hillel, UCLA administrators, and a group of 20+ national pro-Israel partners to ensure both the safety and security of students here on campus. We have also already begun to execute a comprehensive action plan which you can support by clicking here.

Our strategy is designed to address the broadest audience possible. Rather than interfering with their right to assemble, we will instead be organizing a series of events before, during and after the conference which will educate and empower students. Our programs will showcase the nature of Israel and her supporters and their desire for peace and co-existence.

Photo by Joyce Chang

We will not be defined by their agenda. Rather, we will continue to engage with thousands of students at UCLA through positive and proactive messaging and programming. We will bring real Israelis and Palestinians to campus who are working together towards peace and co-existence.

Our programming is not intended to “combat” or “debate” the anti-Zionists. They don’t deserve that legitimization. They offer no path forward, no vision for a future that reconciles the reality on the ground. Their efforts are focused solely on demonization and disruption, and we will not dignify their rejectionism.

Our series of events and programs began on Oct 15th and will extend into January. It has already included Israeli Arabs and Muslim students and clerics. Our program appreciates intellectual and cultural diversity, and dovetails with a photography-driven social media campaign, an intercultural Shabbat dinner at Hillel, Zionist art campaigns, and more than six campus-wide events from a wide-range of Israeli and pro-Israel figures.

This is not the first time we have seen their hate, and it will not be the last. But, we have a strong community which outnumbers, out-messages, and outlasts their small-but-loud attempt to garner attention.

Additional details and invites to community-wide programs will be shared as they come to light.

In solidarity,

Darion Ouliguian '20
President, Bruins for Israel

Here are a few additional FAQs for those of you still reading!

When is the conference?

* Friday, November 16th through Sunday, November 18th. It is entirely over the weekend, when students do not actively frequent the conference areas of campus.

Is the conference public?

* No, it’s a private event, which mean that visitibility to the average UCLA students will be minimal to none. There will be no student-sponsored public demonstrations, which would only serve to draw attention to them and their messages.

Why would UCLA allow this event to happen on campus? Does it endorse their message or behavior?

* Due to First Amendment protections, UCLA’s legal advisors have determined that it must allow these students to assemble on campus. This is indeed in spite of the ongoing UCPD investigation regarding their behavior during SSI’s Indigenous Peoples Unite event this past May.

* UCLA Administration has made it clear that it unequivocally rejects their anti-Zionist message, and its behavior. For example, UCLA officially states: “UCLA and the University of California Regents continue to firmly oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel…”

How can I help?

* As I mentioned, we will be carrying out much more programming this year which necessitates additional funding. You can support directly in doing so by clicking here.

* We have worked together with StandWithUs to create this petition, please sign it!

* If you would like to address your own letter to the administration, please feel free to do so.

* We invite you join us on Tuesday, October 23rd, 7-9 PM for an Artist Talk with renowned photographer and peace activist Saskia Keeley who will discuss her exhibit: Roots Non-Violence. This event is free and open to the public.To RSVP or for more information, click here.

* We have also been working closely with Alumni for Campus Fairness, click here to join.

* Share positive information with your friends and family about UCLA. We LOVE being at UCLA. It is an amazing campus with great Jewish life and a strong pro-Israel community!

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