Many Students in South Africa Found Indifferent to Jewishness

Sentiments prevailing among Jewish youth in South Africa were established here by a survey conducted by Rabbi L. Milgrom, director of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at the University of Minnesota, who was invited by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to advise it on how to secure active participation of Jewish students in Jewish communal and cultural life.

Rabbi Milgrom found that while Jewish home life in South Africa is at present far stronger than in the average American home, a large number of Jewish students in South Africa are alienated or indifferent, and the remainder are often confused and “insecure” in their Jewishness.

The American Jewish educator based his analyses on replies received to a questionnaire consisting of 35 questions mailed to approximately 2,400 students. Only 508 replied. However, these replies are regarded by Rabbi Milgrom as “a reliable cross-section” of student opinion generally.

Rabbi Milgrom believes that however critical or apathetic some of them may appear, there is a “very strong identity” with Jews and the Jewish community on the part of almost all students. The average home, he says, has still a positive relationship to the Jewish religion and culture and maintains certain observances, and most young people move in a Jewish environment with Jewish friends.

Most of the students are only superficially indifferent or alienated, Rabbi Milgrom is inclined to believe. He states: “They are seriously in need of individual counselling, following which they can, without too much trouble, be brought into leadership roles in Jewish activities. To win students of this calibre back to the Jewish community should be a ‘must’ in the agenda of any youth program. To ignore them would mean to write off part of the best potential for future leadership. “On the other hand, he records many opinions by students themselves and others associated with them, which called into question this view that the “apathetic” student can be reclaimed through the “proper approach.”

Rabbi Milgrom sums up: “The questionnaire in general and these comments in particular reveal a large number of students who are highly emotional and irrational about major issues in South Africa. An even larger number are woefully confused about Judaism, the Jewish community, and about themselves as Jews.”

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