Urbont Charges Loss of Jewish Orientation in Jewish Community Centers

The charge that “complacency” has “weakened” the Jewish orientation of Jewish community centers in the United States made by Dr. Carl Urbont, executive director of the 92nd Street YM and YWHA, is the leading article in the 68th annual edition of the American Jewish Year Book published today.

Dr. Urbont wrote that, after the tragedy of the Nazi era, the American Jewish public had “felt a deep sense of responsibility for the perpetuation of Jewish life. In recent years, however, a complacency has weakened the Jewish orientation of the Jewish community centers.” He urged the centers to “attack boldly the problem of Jewish group survival in a free society,” and declared that “they must decide whether to continue their generalized approach or adopt a more definitive Jewish program.”

The current edition of the Year Book is a 603-page compendium of events and trends in Jewish life, including articles on Jewish communal services in the U.S., civil and political issues, and Jewish affairs throughout the world. It was prepared by the American Jewish Committee and published jointly by the Committee and the Jewish Publication Society of America. It is edited by Morris Fine and Milton Himmelfarb, with Martha Jelenko serving as associate editor.

Dr. Urbont’s article, based upon a doctoral dissertation, points out that “with more than 700,000 members in approximately 300 centers throughout the country, with an annual budget of $32.5 million in 1965, the undeniable absence of clear direction of community center purpose in its work is disquieting to many of its leaders,”

Dr. Urbont reported he had found in a study that the “overwhelming majority of community center directors who participated in the study felt their chief aim was to provide recreation for the members. There was also emphasis on the need for good intra-group relations among different Jewish groups but, within and outside the center, many Jews today are alienated, lacking Jewish sentiments, knowledge, a sense of tradition or Jewish aspirations.”

Among other observations, Dr. Urbont found that the centers do not actively aim “to provide opportunities for in group marriage,” and were actually not succeeding in promoting closer ties with the State of Israel.

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