An ‘Open Letter” to Wellesley College President Dr. Paula A. Johnson

By alumnus Gina Raphael

Wellesley’s motto, Non Ministrari sed Ministrare, means giving back, being a good citizen of the world, and deciding ways in which the knowledge that you have and the work that you do can affect a community that needs support. My years at Wellesley translated the motto into a call for leadership and making a difference in the world. 

Non Ministrari sed Ministrare is the philosophy and guiding light that sets the tone of a Wellesley education, ranking Wellesley as the leading college for women in the United States. Wellesley has been educating leaders since 1875 including such notable alumnae as Hilary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Diane Sawyer, Nora Ephron, Katherine Lee Bates and Pamela Melroy.

While the President of Wellesley College, Paula Johnson, should be commended for taking a courageous path of calling out The Wellesley News  (the student run newspaper) for supporting The Mapping Project (which targets individuals and organizations that support Jewish life)  for promoting antisemitism, she does not go far enough to address the  antisemitism laden in the Wellesley News article, the history of antisemitism at Wellesley, nor does she lead the way to set a brighter future and a resurgence of Jewish life on campus.

The President of Wellesley College, Paula Johnson

Consistent with elite east coast Colleges of the time, Wellesley had an official or unofficial quota of about 10% of Jewish students in the 1930s and 1940s. For decades following, Wellesley prohibited Jewish professors from teaching courses on the New Testament. It took until 1981 for a Jewish professor to receive tenure in the Religion department, only after engaging a lawyer who went about documenting the history of discrimination against Jews at the college.

In the 1990s, Africana studies professor Tony Martin assigned his students a Nation of Islam tract that inaccurately depicted Jews as the foremost figures in the African slave trade. When challenged by historians and others, he lashed out with an antisemitic book of his own, “The Jewish Onslaught”. Then Wellesley president, Diana Chapman Walsh, denounced Martin’s book as divisive and offensive but like this incident mentioned, the Wellesley News of September 2022, President Johnson did not call out the paper for antisemitic behavior.

Diana Chapman Walsh former President of Wellesley College (1993 to 2007)

The article calls “for the Liberation of Palestine” and for the boycott, divestment & sanction (BDS) of the State of Israel. BDS is used to isolate the State of Israel and is included in the definition of antisemitism by IHRA, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The article takes biased positions about the conflict in the Middle East and does not address terrorism and corruption associated with the Palestinian Authority. In avoiding these substantive parts of the article, President Johnson fails to adhere to Wellesley’s motto of Non Ministrari sed Ministrare.

Non Ministrari sed Ministrare on campus should include the following:

Participation in Faculty Fellowships, a Jewish National Fund USA program that brings academicians from the USA to Israel. Now in its 15th year of operation, the fully subsidized program has brought over six hundred faculty across 130 institutions to Israel. Opening Israel to academics from all disciplines, inspires a more open-minded dialogue on campus.

Participate in Caravan for Democracy, a Jewish National Fund program for a decade, bringing more than five hundred non-Jewish American college student leaders from student government, ethnic, and minority groups, LGBT groups and women’s groups to experience Israel first hand. This effort creates constructive dialogue about Israel and the Middle East on college campuses across America.

Welcoming Progressive Voices – bringing speakers such as author, actress and Israeli antisemitism envoy Noa Tishby, author of “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth” to speak on Campus to share how Israel is portrayed incorrectly on the world stage; inviting writer, feminist and activist Eve Barlow and other speakers on why she stands strong as a Zionist and against antisemitism.

Building partnerships and exchanges from campus to Israel and across the region with Jews, Arabs, Christians, Druze and Bedouins, leading the way for Wellesley women to empower women to build alliances and learn new perspectives of collaboration and understanding to campus and the world.

When I had the honor to serve years ago as the Chair of the Wellesley Jewish Alumnae Association, President Johnson and the administration refused to engage in these topics of conversation. My calls to President Johnson to create a stronger Jewish Alumnae presence went unanswered after our first conversation.

The writer on graduation day in 1986 at Wellesley College

While Wellesley has fallen in the trap set by the BDS movement spreading across the country, it does have a history of moments of strong Jewish life and acceptance which existed shortly before I started at at the college. In 1976, Wellesley College granted Golda Meir, the fourth female leader of a country in the world and Israel’s first and only female Prime Minister, an honorary degree. I was privileged to serve as head of the Wellesley Jewish Students Association during my years at Wellesley. While not a significant group on campus, opportunities to pray, celebrate and flourish were widely available and accepted on campus. Wellesley went out of its way to create a small Hebrew class to encourage learning of the language. As a Political Science major, Wellesley arranged an expert at MIT in an exchange program to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With one amazing middle school daughter remaining, I hope that Wellesley leadership strives to create a vibrant place of learning that embraces Jewish life and acceptance on campus that befits her motto that has served her well and all her alumnae for 150 years.

About the writer:

Gina Raphael and husband Jeffrey Gross at Mickey Fine, a pharmacy with a soda fountain (JNF Impact – May 2016)

A mother of three daughters adopted from China, Gina Raphael is a businesswoman who owns & leads Mickey Fine Pharmacy & Grill, the leading independent pharmacy chain in Los Angeles. With WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) being the largest social services provider in Israel outside of the government helping women & children, Gina is enormously proud to Chair the WIZO branch in California. A 1986 graduate of Wellesley College, Gina has prioritized throughout her career the mentorship, empowerment, and advancement of women.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 18 October 2022

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).