This week’s Historical Ha’Am article holds a special place in our hearts because it discusses the struggle to found Ha’Am and the benefits that Ha’Am brought to the UCLA Jewish community. We are excited to share the details of our founding with you, our readers, and we recognize the importance of saving articles such as these that are so integral to our newspaper’s history. With that being said, please read on to hear from one of Ha’Am’s founding students, Zev Yaroslavsky, in May 2003.
“More than 30 years ago, a group of Jewish students at UCLA mounted a campaign to win approval from the University’s Communications Board to launch the publication of a Jewish newspaper on campus. After a bitter battle, the Communications Board approved the request, and Ha’Am became a reality.
The late 1960’s[sic] were tumultuous times on campuses across the nation. The Vietnam War was raging. Student activism at UCLA was at an all-time high. Within the Jewish community on campus, the struggle for the freedom of Soviet Jews was peaking. Ethnic pride on campus was palpable. African-American and Latino/a students had secured the right to publish newspapers — Nommo and La Gente — serving their communities. I was part of a group of Jewish students, representing all points of view on the diverse Jewish spectrum, who banded together to try and convince the university to approve Ha’Am’s publication so that we, too, could have a voice of our own.
While we had the support of most of the non-Jews on the Board, our biggest hurdle was convincing the several Jews on the Board to vote with us. It was one of the first times, but certainly not the last, when I sadly realized that sometimes our most formidable adversaries are found within our very own community, that they are afraid to express or show pride in who we are and what we stand for, that they fear the potential repercussions from an uncomprehending or even hostile non-Jewish world. Non-Jews, paradoxically, seemed perfectly comfortable with what we were proposing and were happy to support and even fight for us when some of our own people would not.
If memory serves me correctly, there were two votes on Ha’Am’s formation at the Communications Board. The first vote fell short of approval. We were outraged. Many students, who up until then had ignored the issue, were galvanized into action. At the very next meeting of the Board, the votes miraculously came together, and the rest is history.
There were three primary benefits to the struggle for Ha’Am. First, the newspaper gave a forum for the expression of views important to the Jewish student community. The Jewish perspective on the Vietnam War, the Israeli/Arab conflict and the Soviety Jewry movement could be expressed, explored and fiercely debated on the pages of Ha’Am. We hoped that not only Jewish students but non-Jews as well would read the articles and opinions contained therein. There was a great diversity of opinion in the paper, and all of us who founded it believed that to be its greatest strength.
Second, Ha’Am was not a publication of any single Jewish organization. It was not controlled in any way by what we called “the Jewish establishment.” Points of view that would never see the light of day in the Anglo-Jewish newspapers of the day could find a home on the pages of Ha’Am. Frustration with the level of activism on behalf of Soviet Jews, disagreement with Isareli policies (either from the right or from the left) and criticism over the amount of investment of Jewish charitable dollars serving the human needs of the poor and elderly of the Jewish community found refuge in this publication. In that regard, Ha’Am performed a service to the general Jewish community, not just the students.
Finally, the battle for Ha’Am brought the activist Jewish student community on campus together in common cause, whether it was “leftist” students represented by the Jewish Radical Community or students of the “right” represented by Betar or Soviet Jewry activists like me. We became like knights at the roundtable. We all laid aside our ideological swords in order to work together on behalf of a cause greater than any one of us. And we prevailed. Reflecting back on those heady times, I often wish that attitude was in greater evidence within our community today.
I couldn’t be happier knowing that Ha’Am is back in the news racks at UCLA. A bunch of us fought hard in the early 1970’s[sic] to make it possible, and each generation of students that followed us had the right and responsibility to carry on the legacy. I am delighted and gratified to offer my warmest congratulations to those today who have picked up the torch and now proudly carry it forward.”
-Zev Yaroslavsky, (then) Los Angeles County Supervisor, May 2003