I Am Returning My Sherut L’Am Award to the HUC

I have been a member of the Jewish Communal Service since 1972; a product of two Schools of Jewish Communal Service (HUC-JIR and Hornstein/Brandeis) led by Jerry Bubis z’l and Bernie Reisman z’l.

One of the proudest days of my professional career was when the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) awarded me the Sherut L’Am Award (see citation below), nominated by Jerry Bubis z’l and presented by Rabbi David Ellenson, on May, 15, 2006.

Therefore, it is with a mixture of anger, disappointment and sadness that I have decided to return this Sherut L’am award to the HUC-JIR.

My anger at the Reform movement has been growing for a few years.

Their leadership’s ongoing and public criticism of Israel is pure chutzpadik. They want to influence Israeli decisions on issues of security yet are not willing to make aliyah, pay Israeli taxes, or serve in the IDF.

Their membership and leadership’s support for JStreet has done nothing but strengthen those who wish to destroy Israel.

And, now, the HUC-JIR (LA campus) invites an anti-Israel author to speak at its graduation.

The JTA story makes one want to scream. The headline: Michael Chabon attacks Jewish inmarriage and Israel’s occupation in speech to new rabbis. What were those who chose Chabon thinking?

One of the graduates, Morin Zaray, penned a heartbreaking piece, How My Graduation Was Ambushed.

HUC Interim President and Chancellor Emeritus Rabbi David Ellenson, and Joshua Holo, Dean of the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, co-authored a defensive piece that was very disappointing (to say the least): Why we invite political debate over Israel at a Jewish university.

We can differ on this concept (to me, it is pure chutzpadik for American Jews to debate issues of Israeli security). However, this was, for sure,  not the time nor the place to have such a debate, this was a graduation ceremony speech. Again, what were the leaders of HUC thinking?

Considering the challenges Israel is currently facing, having Chabon as a graduation speaker is just beyond the pale. It is the breaking point – I just cannot, in good conscience, hold on to an award presented by an institution and a movement that has moved so far away from being under the tent of the pro-Israel community.

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2006 Sherut L’Am Award – Paul Jeser – May 15, 2006

Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav defined wise leadership as one who is primarily committed to the act of caring.

In the selection of this year’s 2006 Sherut La’am recipient, such a standard has been achieved. The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion is pleased today to recognize Paul Jeser. A distinguished communal leader, whose 35 years of service to the Jewish people, warrants such consideration.

Paul has demonstrated throughout his significant career a profound commitment to Klal Yisrael, serving as a federation executive in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, and in Orlando, Florida, as the executive vice president of CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, as the national campaign director for the Jewish National Fund and the American Friends of the Hebrew University, and currently as the West Coast Regional Director of the American Committee for the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Paul’s career has been marked by professional integrity, loyalty, and collegiality, organizational creativity and accountability, a lifelong commitment to the State of Israel and to a wide array of Jewish communal causes. One of his professional colleagues noted that once you have become connected to Paul Jeser you are forever apart of his world. Another suggested that his record professionalism reflected his unwavering love for the Jewish people and a standard of excellence in communal practice.

But it is Paul’s special commitment to the College-Institute, and more directly its School of Jewish Communal Service, that prompts this tribute. While as a student here in the summer of 1974, Paul built a bond of friendship with the founding director of the School, Gerald Bubis that has lasted a lifetime. While he was unable to complete his own studies during those early years, Paul has shown a special love and loyalty for this program, contributing of his own resources in establishing a special family gift, while also encouraging many of his own donors, personal friends and colleagues to support the School’s scholarship program. But his personal interest in the well-being of the Communal Service Program extends beyond this level of material participation. With Paul’s encouragement we had the opportunity to formally train and graduate his son Michael who received his communal service degree from HUC in 2004, marking the only time that the School of Jewish Communal Service has had the opportunity to train from the same family two generations of communal professionals.

To his dear wife Faye and to the entire Jeser family, we extend our congratulations on this special honor. At this time we are pleased to bestow upon Paul, the Sherut La’am Award.

About the Author
Paul Jeser born in the Bronx in 1945 has been a member of the Jewish Communal Service and a Jewish fundraising professional since 1972. Although not an ordained Rabbi, he organized and ran a Jewish Chaplaincy program in the United States Army in Augsburg, Germany (1969-71). Jeser was an officer with a drug rehabilitation center in Vietnam (1971-72) during which time he was awarded a Bronze Star. In May, 2006, the Hebrew Union College, Institute of Jewish Religion, presented Mr. Jeser the Sherut L’Am award in recognition of his decades of service to the Jewish People.
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