The following is the second and last of a series of articles by the Jewish member of a good-will trio who toured the country recently and were awarded the Gottheil Medal for distinguished service to Jewry.
It would, of course, be stupid and futile to infer that I believe all Jewish students should act as one in social and political matters on the campus. Jewish politics on the campus are just as deplorable as Jewish politics in civil life and also it must be admitted that the same social groupings that divide Christians from Jews divide Jews from Jews. These groupings are to be expected. They are natural. However, there is no excuse for Jewish fraternity students to adopt an attitude of snobbishness toward their fellow Jewish students in the belief that by cutting themselves off from association with their fellow Jewish students they will be free from the burden of anti-Jewish prejudice.
What I have said thus far is chiefly by way of analysis. I would like, before I close, to suggest a number of “don’ts” and “do’s” which might be of some practical help to our Jewish students in their campus relations. These suggestions are neither startling nor new. It might be well to state them, however, for they summarize many chats I have had with both Jewish and Christian students and represent what is going on in the student mind.
1. Don’t hold in light esteem that thing which is characteristic of the American campus–”college spirit.” Granted that there is a great deal to be said as to the puerility of many expressions of “college sprit,” it is a mistake, I believe, to assume an air of superiority and aloofness. There are some students who hold themselves aloof from campus activities, walking in high disdain in a sort of rarified atmosphere as if they would have nothing to do with these petty things. With all of its shortcomings, this thing called “college spirit” has something to give to each student. After all, the college is a real world and the same effort at integration is necessary in this small world of the campus that is necessary in the larger world of life. Let the student make an effort to identify himself with the life and the movements of the college, never permitting these things, however, to dominate him but realizing that they make for the enrichment and development of his character.
2. Don’t ignore sports or extra-curricula activities and don’t think that you can save the world–or even the college campus, for that matter–by sponsoring all sorts of activities.
I would be the last one to deny the Jewish student, or any student, for that matter, a genuine interest in the radical movements of the time. Change is in the air. There is a way, however, in which interest in these things should be manifested. The intensity of the Jewish character, the emotional passion which the Jew usually throws into all causes, often breed an impatience which is calculated not only to do the particular cause more harm than good but also the Jewish cause. Fundamentally it is a question of good sportsmanship. Let me ilustrate. I know of one university where a certain problem of student council finances was brought to the floor of the college assembly. A real issue was involved. There was a definite question as to how those finances were handled. The student body was entitled to some statement of facts. The facts were demanded but never were they presented. It was an irritating, nasty situation. Now a situation of this sort can be handled in two ways: one is a quiet, insistent analysis of the situation; the other is fiery denunciation, indulgence in personalities in unrestrained, heated language. Which way do you think would be the wiser way to handle such a college problem? What happened was this: Some of the Jewish students adopted the second method. They not only prejudiced their cause and hurt themselves, but they also fed whatever of latent anti-Jewish feeling there was on the campus. Again let me repeat: It is not so much question of not taking the leadership in radical activities as it is gentlemanliness and good sportsmanship in the approach to college problems.
3. Don’t try to be too friendly with Christian students. Be your self. Be natural. Don’t be apologetic for other Jews with the implication, sometimes even expressed, “Of course, you know he is a different sort of breed than I am.” Stand on your own. Meet the Christian fellows naturally. There is a great deal of human friendliness that is waiting for the Jewish student of which he often deprives himself by over-anxiety. Restraint will bring the offer of friendship where over-anxiety shuts it off. This cultivation of reserve is a lesson that many of our Jewish students have to learn. On the other hand, don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder. Presume a certain amount of friendliness on the part of the Christian student.
WHAT TO DO
And now for two definite “do’s.”
1. When you have established friendships with Christians, talk things over. Be frank. The wonder of a friend is that we can think aloud before him. Be explanatory; don’t be apologetic. I have found that frank discussions between Jewish and Christian students and the intimacies of “bull sessions” have a therapeutic value. It is a salutary procedure to “talk things over.” Differences, of course, are revealed. We should not attempt to minimize differences where differences obtain, but at the same time there are clear and challenging issues that all students meet as human beings, and not as Jews or Christians.
2. Do something for your college, but also do something for your people. It would seem to me that one of the most helpful things that the Jewish fraternities could do would be to subscribe to a number of Jewish magazines for the university library. Put into the library the weekly bulletin of the Jewish Statistical Bureau, or The Menorah Journal, or the Jewish Daily Bulletin, or the weekly edition of the Jewish Daily Bulletin. At the present time, when there is so much Nazi propaganda, when German exchange students take their orders from the Minister of Propaganda in Berlin and spew into our country their poisonous hate, it is essential that on the campus there be available sources of information which present the Jewish, the American and the humanitarian points of view. Let the fraternities present to the library such books as Mowrer’s “Germany Turns the Clock Back” or “The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror,” and similar revelations of the terror of Nazism.
The chief problem that confronts our American democracy is the problem of mutual appreciation. Attitudes of appreciation are much more difficult to achieve today by reason of the tensions brought about by the depression. Yet it is fundamentally true that no group will ride out of this depression on the backs of any other group. I speak primarily as an American and not as a Jew when I say that we do not want to develop in this country the same prejudices and hates which have laid Europe low; for hate does something to a man. The victim of hate is a pathetic figure, but the one who hates is a tragic figure. the personality and destroy the heart which gives them hospice.
The Jewish students faces the job of integrating himself in the life of the campus. But the Christion student faces the same job. Only the Jew belongs to a minority group; a group against which there is a recognized prejudice. When the Jewish student understands that his integration can be achieved more easily and more happily by being himself, by loyalty to the best traditions of his Jewish heritage and when he practices that loyalty, he will cease to conceive of himself as a problem. He does not have to relinquish–indeed, he cannot relinquish–his Jewish background and inheritance.
Finally, it is well for Jews to realize that while anti-Semitism today is more organized, more powerful, more utterly ruthless than ever before in Jewish history, never before have Christians risen in such number, so nobly and so powerfully to our defense. We make a mistake if we underestimate the number and power of our friends.