College Hillel Israel Jewish Michigan MSU

Michigan State hires chair of Israel Studies

When I attended Michigan State University from 1994-98, I certainly would not have believed that the university would soon hire an Israel Studies chair and a Jewish Studies professor who specialized in Jewish studies. In addition to concentrating in International Relations at James Madison College, a liberal arts residential college at MSU, I also specialized in the Jewish Studies Program.

In the past couple weeks the Religious Studies department has announced that Prof. Benjamin Pollock will be the full time assistant professor teaching Modern Jewish Thought and a course on Judaism. (I taught these courses this past year as a visiting professor)

Additionally, Yael Aronoff, a senior associate at Columbia University’s Institute of War and Peace Studies, has been named the first Michael and Elaine Serling and Friends Israel Studies Chair at Michigan State University.

The Serling chair is a core position in MSU’s Jewish Studies Program, which is administered by the College of Arts and Letters. Aronoff will become a faculty member in James Madison College, the university’s prestigious residential college in the area of public affairs.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Israel Jewish Politics

Stuart Rabner to become "Ethical Bodyguard" to Governor Jon Corzine

Rabbi Jason Miller and Senator Jon CorzineA couple weeks ago, my friend Stuart Rabner was tapped by New Jersey Governor-elect Jon Corzine (that’s him with me in the photo on the right) to serve as his chief counsel. I didn’t realize what this meant until I read in the New Jersey Star Ledger article that “One source close to the governor-elect’s decision said Rabner would act as Corzine’s ‘ethical bodyguard,’ helping him navigate the dirty waters of New Jersey politics.”

Well, if the new Governor of New Jersey (who by the way used to be the Senator of New Jersey) is in need of an ethical bodyguard, I can tell you from experience that Stu Rabner is your man! Stu is a friend from my days in Caldwell, New Jersey where we lived for three years and I served as Rabbinic Intern at the Conservative synagogue Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex. Stu was a great shul President at Agudath who took the job very seriously.

In the same article, William Megary, former special agent in charge of the FBI in Newark, said Rabner often soothed natural tensions between the agencies.

“He’s got a very calm demeanor and he’s just a very gracious person,” Megary said. “He is as effective as any mad dog prosecutor, but he does it as a gentleman.”
Rabner drives a five-year-old Dodge Intrepid, sings at his synagogue and enjoys doing yard work in Caldwell, where he lives with his wife, Deborah, a dermatologist, and their three children. He doesn’t dispute his low-key image.

“I don’t think raising the volume is going to get you to a better result. My approach is to get more bees with honey,” he said.
Rabner first met Corzine when they both volunteered at a Newark soup kitchen four years ago. They didn’t meet again until Corzine addressed Rabner’s synagogue earlier this year about his efforts in the U.S. Senate to end the genocide in Darfur.
“That resonated with me,” Rabner said. Months later, when Corzine offered him a job, Rabner said, “I knew that I would be very comfortable working with somebody of his character.”

In the New Jersey Jewish News article, the columnist noted that in the NJ section of the Dec. 18 New York Times, columnist David Kocieniewski described Rabner’s credentials as “downright fearsome” because of his lengthy experience prosecuting purveyors of political corruption.

“You’ll have to ask him what he meant,” said Rabner. “My children certainly don’t think of me as fearsome.”

Stuart Rabner and Rabbi Jason MillerStu Rabner is certainly not a fearful guy outside of the courtroom, but he is a mentsch. If anyone can bring some mentschlichkeit to New Jersey politics, it’s Stu. So, mazel tov to him and Debbie, and to their great kids.

[Photo: Congregation Agudath Israel President Stuart Rabner presents Rabbi Jason Miller with the State of Israel Bonds’ Lion of Judah award, 2004]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
College Israel Jewish Judaism and Technology Technology

God bless the Bedouin People

Ten-and-a-half years ago I came to Mamshit Camel Ranch, a Bedouin Village, close to Demona in the Negev desert in Israel. I was a participant on USY Israel Pilgrimage (Group 3) and celebrated my 18th birthday in the Bedouin tent. To my young eyes it appeared to be a fairly realistic Bedouin experience complete with Bedouin food, sleeping in a tent, and camel rides. I wasn’t naive — of course I knew that the Bedouins who worked at Mamshit lived in the nice homes nearby and didn’t live as the Bedouins of ages past.

Now, as a staff member on a birthright israel trip with University of Michigan and Harvard students, I am sitting in the main office of Mamshit (Israeli owned) checking my e-mail and posting to my Blog on a high-speed DSL connection.

I’d write more but there’s a camel-riding Bedouin waiting to check his stock portfolio online!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |