The presidents of Columbia University and Barnard College are publicly opposing a faculty-sponsored campaign calling for their institutions to divest from Israel.
Lee Bollinger of Columbia and Judith Shapiro of Barnard issued written statements last week as a group of faculty and staff members prepared to lobby Columbia's Board of Trustees to endorse their divestment petition this week.
The poster advertising the first Palestinian film festival at Columbia University seemed innocuous: a map of Israel with four white doves perched on tree branches and the numbers 1-9-4-8 running the length of the map.
But in the Middle East, and on college campuses these days, little is simple or innocuous, least of all a map.
On closer inspection, the map promoting last week's festival, called "Dreams of a Nation," was in the colors of the Palestinian flag: red, black and green. And there was no West Bank: all of Israel was symbolically Palestinian.
Columbia University is the latest battleground in a national drive to persuade universities to stop investing in Israel because of its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
Dueling petitions are circulating on the Internet this week on both sides of the divestiture issue.
A group of faculty members from Columbia and Barnard College launched a petition Oct. 26 calling on Columbia to use its “political and financial influence to encourage the United States to suspend military aid and arms sales to Israel.”
Rabbi Charles Sheer doesn't recall many details about a program sponsored by a Jewish organization that he attended at Columbia University about 20 years ago: its date or location or theme. But he remembers that Edward Said was one of the panelists.
"He said that after the Holocaust, Jews didn't have a place to go to other than their [spiritual] homeland," Rabbi Sheer recalled. "He said he understood the need for a homeland."
During 31 years at Columbia University, Rabbi Charles Sheer has seen a succession of political movements wax and wane: anti-war at the beginning, then feminist issues, and gay rights in recent years.
But the rabbi's most poignant memories at the university are about small classes, not sweeping events.
Since becoming the school's Jewish chaplain in 1969, two years after he was ordained by Yeshiva University, Rabbi Sheer has taught classes every semester, usually in Chumash (Torah) or Gemara (Talmud).
During a trip in Poland in the mid-1920s, Jacob Kret, a teenage yeshiva student from the northeast part of the country, found himself in the town of Radin, home of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, an aged Talmudic authority who was known as the Chofetz Chaim and was regarded as the Torah leader of his generation.
Unable to get home in time for Shabbat, the young man stayed in the home of the Chofetz Chaim, sleeping on a straw bed, eating and praying and discussing religious topics with the sage.