WASHINGTON (Dec. 21)
Stronger action by the American Jewish Community to develop a more mature understanding of Judaism among its youth was urged today by the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations at the annual meeting of the Hillel National Commission. The need for Jewish educational institutions to relate their teaching content to contemporary events and issues was stressed in several reports and addresses.
A study conducted among Hillel Foundation directors at 59 major American universities disclosed that undergraduates today show “far more concern” for social and political problems than did the campus group of a decade ago, but not many associate Jewish values with these interests, it was reported at the meeting.
A biennial census released at the meeting showed that three-fourths of the nation’s Jewish youth of college age–18 to 24–is enrolled in schools of higher learning. The census, supervised by Rabbi Oscar Groner, assistant national director of Hillel Foundations, showed a 10.9 percent increase in Jewish enrollments over 1952 and a Jewish student body of 305,000 in American and Canadian colleges at the start of the present semester.
Philip W. Lown, treasurer of the Hillel Foundations, reported that the $2,202,000 budget for the agency in 1965 was only two-thirds of its actual need based on the continued rise in Jewish college enrollments. He called on the Jewish community, through local federations and welfare funds, “to begin to share adequately and proportionately in the maintenance and expansion of the Hillel program.” The Commission re–elected Dr. Louis Gottschalk, professor of history at the University of Chicago, to a one-year term as its chairman.
The fact that few college students consciously find any religious motivation for their involvement in social action issues was viewed by Joseph L. Paradise, of New York, vice-chairman of the Commission, as “a serious failing on the part of religious institutions.” He said that civil rights activists and youth working against poverty and illiteracy have yet to learn that they are fulfilling the Jewish tradition.
Dr. Alfred Jospe, director of programs and resources for the Hillel Foundations, declared that the Jewish community, in its religious and educational institutions, “has not succeeded in creating in the minds of young Jews the image of a Judaism that has something important to contribute to their search for spiritual dignity and moral significance.”
President Label A. Katz of B’nai B’rith warned against “looking into the wrong end of the telescope and assuming that the problem of relating religious relevance to contemporary problems can begin at the college level. He said that “a sophisticated awareness of Judaism needs to be initiated through more intensive Jewish education in the early formative years of Jewish youth.”
COMPETITION OF JEWISH DENOMINATIONS ON CAMPUSES CRITICIZED
Rabbi Benjamin M. Kahn, national director of B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations, said that a “denominational competitiveness” which has been intensifying religious differences in the adult Jewish community, is now threatening to move on the college campus. He criticized the “growing efforts to fragmentize” the Jewish campus community.
He called the “intrusions” on the campus “a divisive approach that tends to dilute not strengthen, the students’ ties to Jewish people hood.” He said that the Hillel Foundations welcomed the efforts of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform elements in Judaism to establish denominational student groups “within the framework of the total Jewish campus community, which a Hillel Foundation seeks to serve.” The concept of religious pluralism is valid and traditional in Jewish life, he declared. But the “ideals of pluralism,” he added, are lost when oppressive denominationalism seeks to “separate and compartmentalize” the college group.
“The basic problem,” Rabbi Kahn asserted, “is not the preservation of denominational structures, but to help reconcile for students a seeming conflict between the contemporary culture they understand and traditional religious values which escape them.” Hillel directors and lay leaders here were equally critical of denominationalism. Their consensus was that, in most cases, it represented.” competition for loyalty to a religious institution rather than loyalty to Judaism itself.”
“Too many Jewish youth, in their religious upbringing, are exposed to only one view of Jewish life and fail to understand or accept the meaning of a pluralistic approach to Judaism,” Rabbi Kahn said. “The separatist trend has also created the paradox of weakening intra-Jewish relationships at a time when “genuine approaches to mutual understanding are developing between Christian and Jewish campus institutions.”