Youth Conference Appeals for Strengthening American Jewish Life

An appeal for renewed dedication by American Jewish youth “towards the goal of the creation of a rich Jewish life which was given a new purpose by the creation of Israel,” was issued here today by representatives of 19 major Zionist and non-Zionist youth organizations participating in the Conference of Jewish Youth Organizations in the United States and Canada.

In suggestions formulated for consideration by the individual organizations, the 100 delegates urged Jewish youth to accept the responsibility of bringing closer to the American Jewish community “the ideals and principles upon which the creative Jewish society of Israel was founded.” In a recommendation on Jewish education, the delegates described the Jewish all-day school as “the ideal means for a proper integration of Jewish and American culture.”

Dr. Benzion Benshalom, director general of the Youth and Hechalutz department of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, urged the participants to work towards the convening of a conference of Jewish youth patterned along the lines of the conference held in Jerusalem in 1958. In an address at the closing session, Dr. Benshalom suggested that the participating groups form a joint committee in connection with the world conference and establish a youth council “to foster closer association among the youth,” and to assist in the execution of a suitable youth program.

Among the projects suggested by Dr. Benshalom for inclusion in such a program were: Efforts to increase the memberships of the participating youth organizations, promotion of the study of Hebrew, and a strengthening of ties with Israel through pilgrimages and exchange programs. He announced that two other regional youth conferences would be convened next year–one in Latin America and one in Europe–before the projected world youth convention in 1962.

DECLINING INTEREST IN JEWISH CULTURE STRESSED BY SPEAKERS

Rabbi Irving Miller, chairman of the American Zionist Council, warned the delegates that only the increasing influence of Israel on the American Jewish community could serve to stem the tide of assimilation. Noting that there was “little opportunity for creative Jewish living” in countries such as the United States, Rabbi Miller declared that “if the Jew is to enjoy the benefits of creativity, he will only enjoy it via Israel.”

Just as the Diaspora is in need of Israel, Rabbi Miller said, Israel needs the Diaspora. Without the Diaspora, he declared, “Israel was in danger of becoming merely a Levantine state.”

Avnaham Shenker, head of the Youth and Hechalutz Department of the Jewish Agency in New York, warned the delegates that they must play their own distinct role in strengthening the American Jewish community and that they not rely solely on the activities of their parents. “You must recognize the fact that you are the carriers of Jewish continuity.” he declared.

Dr. Judah J. Shapiro, president of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service and secretary of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, appealed to the delegates to reverse the current trend of a declining interest in Jewish culture. Urging the youth leaders to do something about the cultural lag. Dr. Shapiro said that the situation offered them unusual opportunities. He noticed a dire need in Jewish communities throughout the country for qualified personnel in various academic and professional fields who are also competent in Jewish cultural affairs.

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