By Jeff Rubin
Hillel Director of Communications
News of the sudden, premature death of ADL Director of Campus and Higher Education Affairs Jeffrey Ross, 55, shocked Hillel professionals across North America. Jeff was liked and respected by Hillel staff for his reliability, his professorial mien and his innate understanding of students and the campus environment.
A Ph.D. in political science, Jeff gained an understanding of the university setting as a faculty member at Hamilton College, Syracuse University and Queens College (CUNY). Jeff spent 19 years with the ADL as a campus fire-jumper, stepping in whenever incidents of anti-Semitism flared. He had an encyclopedic understanding of Hillels, campus administrators, and school newspapers on the one hand, and of the many groups promoting anti-Semitism on the other. His experience enabled him to put each incident into its proper perspective, reacting appropriately and offering just the right counsel. He was always careful to distinguish between valid political speech and Jew hatred. In situations when others might have over-reacted, Jeff provided a calming influence, responding professionally and effectively.
Jeff believed that the campus should be a place where all students and faculty can pursue knowledge free of fear and intimidation. He undertook programs that promoted tolerance and fostered understanding among campus groups. He brought campus newspaper editors to Israel and Poland each year. He brought Jewish and African-American students together for dialogue. He convened college administrators and student newspaper editors at The New York Times to discuss Holocaust denial and extremist ads in school newspapers. He contributed to an understanding of Israel on campus through the Israel on Campus Coalition.
To watch Jeff interact with students was a joy. He spoke in great detail and depth but, like any empathetic educator, he listened to students just as intently.
An alumnus of Binghamton University, Jeff was deeply involved with his alma mater and helped the university deal with issues of anti-Semitism, bigotry, and diversity. He advised the newly created Hillel at Binghamton in September 2001 soon after the campus was shaken by anti-Semitic incidents. Binghamton Hillel looked forward to working with him this fall in a new educational initiative, "Confronting Anti-Semitism on College and University Campuses: A Train the Trainer Program." For his continuing contribution to Binghamton, Jeff was awarded the school's 2004 Edward Weisband Distinguished Alumnus/a Award for Public Service or Contributions to Public Affairs.
I was one of many Hillel professionals who came to rely on Jeff's wisdom and partnership. We often strategized about the best way to confront incidents of hatred on campus. We worked together at conferences to train students and professionals in media relations, crisis management, combating anti-Semitism and the First Amendment. During our last conversation a few weeks ago, we discussed a brilliant article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the how the First Amendment is understood and misunderstood on college campuses. Although numbers quickly escape me, constant use has etched his telephone number in my memory.
I learned about Jeff's passing as I was about to meet with colleagues to discuss a joint Hillel-ADL project in which he played an integral role: a nationwide effort to alert campus newspaper editors to the dangers of anti-Semitic extremists. The project will move forward in his memory.
Jews have been fighting anti-Semitism since Biblical times. Jeff didn't tire of this constant battle nor did he become hardened by it. He remained a compassionate warrior to the end. The campuses are better for his work.
Jeff is survived by his wife Marjorie and four children. Messages of condolence may be sent to the family care of Webmaster@adl.org.