Opinions & Commentary

The Jews still need Brandeis

Nihad Awad Nihad Awad The current imbroglio surrounding Brandeis University’s commissioning and then canceling a new play about free speech pioneer Lenny Bruce underscores the importance of that educational institution to the U.S. Jewish community. Last year, Brandeis touted the founding of a Lenny Bruce archive on campus; in January 2018, the school will honor renowned playwright Michael Weller, an alumnus.

To celebrate the award, Weller wrote “Buyer Beware,” about a performance of Bruce’s comedy in today’s politically correct environment, which was to be produced by Brandeis’ theater department. Predictably, politically correct students on campus protested the play’s insensitivity to minority groups. Decision-makers at Brandeis caved to the pressure and canceled the production mid-rehearsal.

That a play about the censorship of free speech should be objected to and censored speaks to the superficial understanding of history of the protesting students. If, as the university administration suggests, theater department faculty elected to cancel the play, then they are doubly culpable: for educating their students so poorly, and for forgetting the function of art is to expose, not squash, the truth.

Lenny Bruce Lenny Bruce That Brandeis, an eminently liberal and inclusive institution, struggles with issues of political correctness is somewhat absurd. What gives those struggles significance, however, is the embracing by nearby Harvard University of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment. Amid the “Buyer Beware” fiasco, Harvard’s largest student organization brought to campus and honored Nihad Awad, a former PLO official, a co-founder and the leader of CAIR, and a financier of Hamas, according to the FBI.

Characteristically tone deaf, the previous week Harvard feted Harvard Hillel and “Jewish life on campus.” In its announcement of the event, Harvard noted the first Jew to receive a degree was Judah Monis in 1720. Harvard then “induced” Monis to convert to Christianity as a condition of his joining the faculty as an instructor of Hebrew.

Two centuries later, Harvard Hillel was founded, continued the official history.

Let none of us forget that the Jewish community created Brandeis University as an alternative to Ivy League institutions, specifically Harvard, which either maintained quotas on or denied admission outright to potential Jewish students. This blatant anti- Semitism currently manifests as the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students and those who express pro-Israel sentiment. In other words, Jews can attend Harvard, so long as they downplay their Jewishness.

Given the situation at Harvard and elsewhere, we encourage the university administration to embrace Brandeis’ founding principle and its inherent Jewish character. We still need you to be a place where a Jew can be a Jew.


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