NEW YORK (Nov. 18)
Leading Jewish educators from various parts of the country today expressed divergent views on the future scope of Hebrew education and culture in this country. They spoke at the conclusion of a two-day conference under the auspices of the Tarbuth Foundation for the Advancement of Hebrew Culture, where Dr. Emanuel Neumann, president of the Foundation, and Israel’s Minister of Education Abba Eban had urged that the study of Hebrew be given the highest priority in the United States.
While some of today’s speakers voiced pessimism as to the degree of progress that can be achieved in promoting Hebrew education to the extent that Hebrew become “a second language” for American Jewry, it was the consensus of the leading educators that a bold and all-encompassing program be launched embracing a nationwide survey of colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning, with a view to the introduction of undergraduate and graduate departments in the field of Hebrew and cognate Semitic studies.
At last night’s opening dinner session, Dr. Neumann declared that there is “urgent need” for the provision of opportunities for Hebrew studies in colleges and universities throughout the United States “not only for Jewish students, but for the cultural enrichment of American life in general.” Mr. Eban warned of the danger of “estrangement and alienation between American Jewry and the people of Israel” unless Jewries in both countries embrace the Hebrew language as a common tongue.” The very unity and integrity of the Jewish people,” he said, “depends on whether Hebrew culture will have a strong position in American Jewry.”
Their statements were made before 700 educators and Jewish communal leaders. The conference, presided over by Dr. Neumann, was sponsored by 25 Jewish organizations. The Tarbuth Foundation, launched recently with initial gifts by Abraham and Jacob Goodman, of this city, has already allocated more than $100, 000 for the launching of four educational and cultural projects.
Another speaker at the dinner was Pierre E. Gilbert, former French ambassador to Israel, a Catholic educated in a Jesuit school, who had taught himself Hebrew and urged Jewish youth all over the world to study Hebrew instead of other ancient tongues like Greek or Latin. Special citations in the form of scrolls were presented to Professor Harry Austryn Wolfson, of Harvard, on his 75th anniversary, and to Philip W. Lown, president of the American Association for Jewish Education.
PRIME OBJECTIVES OF FOUNDATION OUTLINED; ENDOWMENT, GOVT, AID URGED
Dr. Neumann, outlining the prime objective of the Foundation, said these are: 1. “To establish for the Hebrew language and Hebraic culture a position of high priority within the consensus of the American Jewish community and its accepted table of priorities,” and 2. “To encourage and promote in a practical way programs and activities designed to spread the knowledge of Hebrew and the cultivation of Hebrew letters, especially among the rising generation of American Jews.”
Dr. Neumann, a world Zionist leader and member of the Jewish Agency executive, pointed our that “there are more than 200, 000 Jewish students in American colleges and universities, the vast majority of whom have little or no knowledge of the language of their Bible and the growing store of modern Hebrew literature.” He emphasized that “there is urgent need for providing greater opportunities for Hebrew studies in institutions of higher learning throughout the land–not only for Jewish students but for the cultural enrichment of American life in general.”
Dr. Neumann made a strong appeal for the “establishment, wherever possible, of chairs and courses of Hebraic studies by private endowments, governmental agencies and the universities themselves.” “As the People of the Book, with a great spiritual and intellectual tradition, we pray for the day when the present growing concentration on the physical sciences–a concentration stimulated by military consideration–may be tempered and balanced by a return to the humanities and an ever-growing appreciation of cultural values,” he emphasized.
Mr. Eban asserted that “the crucial question in modern Jewish life is whether Israelis and Jews in other lands will continue to feel the bond of a common memory and a common aspiration.” He cautioned that “the answer cannot be taken for granted and emphasized: it is seriously possible that our children and yours will be foreign to each other, sharing no memories, cherishing no common dreams.”
Mr. Eban further stressed that “If they do not possess a common language infused with Jewish associations, it is difficult to know how this alienation can be avoided,” adding that “it is not too much to say that the unity and integrity of the Jewish people depends on whether Hebrew culture will have a strong position in American Jewry.”