Menu JTA Search

Hillel Leader Debunks Blame of College Environment for Intermarriage

The B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation’s annual national commissioners’ meeting today heard a report disputing contentions that a college environment creates a predisposition to intermarriage among Jews.

A Hillel analysis said: “The Jewish community deceives itself if it singles out the college campus as the focus of the problem.” The analysis questioned conclusions on the extent of intermarriage among college-educated Jews reported in recent studies. Dr. Alfred Jospe, Hillel’s director of program and resources, debunked studies which alleged that college attendance tended to raise levels of intermarriage.

Dr. Jospe said that “the process of a Jewish youth’s retention or alienation from his faith starts long before he is ready for college — in the home, in school, in synagogue, in the presence or absence of a meaningful Jewish experience in the milieu from which he emerges. The college experience may fortify or modify a young person’s attitudes in this regard, but it doesn’t create them.”

“All that can be reasonably said,” Rabbi Jospe declared, “is that, inasmuch as 80 percent of the third generation of Jews are college students, it is inevitable that a high proportion are found amount the 17.9 percent of the third generation who are intermarried.”

Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, former national Hillel director, said a “disproportionately high” number of Jewish students is engaged in civil rights and other social action movements, but most are unaffiliated with synagogues or institutional Jewish life, He said they are motivated by Jewish values of compassion and commitment to freedom, although they are more often unaware of the Jewish component in their own actions.

He said many such Jewish youth “are scornful of the innocuous and vapid institutionalism they knew in their home communities. The tragedy is sharpened by the fact that they are among our most precious young people, sensitive to human values.”

The rabbi stressed that “when they do encounter a Jewish institution actively engaged in the battle for human rights or national integrity, they are heartened and sometimes move to reexamine their preconceptions about Jewish life.”

NEXT STORY