ATLANTA (Nov. 14)
A leading American Jewish educator asserted here today that the “failure” of the American Jewish community to regard Jewish education as a “significant investment” was leading to the result that “the commitment of the young to Jewish survival is rapidly attenuating, the Jewish past is increasingly irrelevant to the young and that, therefore, the Jewish future cannot safely be entrusted to their keeping.”
Dr. Leonard J. Fein, director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also accused the American Jewish community of “well-intentioned bumbling” and “flabby ineffectually” in dealing with Jewish education. He presented the Herbert R. Abeles Memorial Address at the opening session here today of the 37th general assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. More than 1,500 delegates and observers from the 222 member organizations of the CJFWF have assembled for the four day conclave.
Louis J. Fox of Baltimore, CJFWF president, told the session that “our first major concern is an understanding of the needs of our American Jewish community and what kind of a community we want it to be.” He added “we must give a priority to consideration of the problems of a generation to which we have almost closed our eyes, to the problems of our own college youth and faculty.” He warned that for most young American Jews, “the college years represent four to six or eight years of isolation from Jewish life,” and that in the critical years when youth shape their interests, “we have been neglecting and losing them.” He said many of them had been left “rudderless, confused and drifting” as Jews and that this applied to Jewish faculty members on American campuses who now number nearly 30,000 Jews.
APPEAL MADE FOR ACTION ON URBAN CRISIS, NEEDS OF OVERSEAS JEWRIES
He also cited the need for Federations to Join in efforts to get Federal, state and local legislation and Government funding for priority programs for the inner cities of urban communities because “our American cities” are in “the deepest trouble.” He also appealed for concern over the “disorders around the world which have aggravated the conditions of our fellow Jews.” He said that such problems would be sharpened in 1969 “as never before by the continuing crisis in the Middle East.” Noting that American Jews had “poured $175 million into Israel to take care of its human needs” last year, he said that for 1968 “we raised $90 million for the continuing crisis in Israel,” that in 1969 the needs would be “far greater” and that “we will be reaching out for the $200 million needed by the Israel Emergency Fund on top of the increases for our regular fund and local needs.”
Dr. Fein emphasized that in his critique he was net saying that “the managers of Jewish public life are consciously opposed to Jewish education” but he warned that “the Inertial direction of our communal institutions is simply not responsive to the repeated warnings of disaster and urgings toward reform.” Adding that “no one Is culpable” and that “there is only well-intentioned bumbling, flabby ineffectuality,” he asserted that even if the American Jewish community doubled the $70 million a year now spent on Jewish education, more money was not the total answer. The answer, he said, “lies In the direction of supporting experimentation, of using Federation dollars as seed money, in a conscious effort to break through to new educational patterns.” He called for “explicit subsidies for those who dare to re-think our educational assumptions, incentive payments for those who demonstrate continued excellence, the purchases of expert consultation time, rewards for innovation.”
PROBLEMS OF JEWISH YOUTH DOMINATE EARLY SESSION AND WORKSHOPS
The Jewish community’s overriding concern with the estrangement of Jewish youth was reflected in the attention devoted to the problem at the General Assembly and the interest Shown in all workshops on problems of Jewish youth. Addressing an institute on Jewish college youth, Dr. Leon A. Jick of Brandeis University said the Jewish community must be open to new initiatives and to new methods of cooperation in dealing with the campus community. He warned that the problem of the Jewish college student was “far more serious than antagonism. Its name is apathy.”
Dr. Jick said that “a survey of Jewish communal and philanthropic concerns from their Inception down to this decade reveals a pervasive disregard for the Jewish college student and almost total absence of concern for his Jewishness.” If something is not done to change “the temper of Jewish college youth,” he said, American Jewry faced a crisis of continuity. He urged a unified national effort Involving a greatly enlarged program of support for Jewish scholarship on the campus, community encouragement of creation of Judaic studies departments in more universities and strengthening of the Jewish communal presence on the campus through the Hillel Foundation. He warned against the temptation for some Jewish organizations “to plunge into campus work and to transfer to the campus the competitiveness and fragmentation of the larger community” because the objective must be “to strengthen, not to compete.”
Plans to meet the “staggering needs of Israel in the decade of the 70s” will be the main purpose of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s Conference on Human Needs in Israel which will bring American Jewish communal leaders to Jerusalem next June to confer with Israel’s top leadership, the Assembly was told tonight. Sidney Z. Vincent, executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, who recently spent several months in Israel as a consultant for the projected conference, then listed three major questions to be discussed there. These, he said, involved determination of still unmet needs after 20 years of “unprecedented giving” to Israel, plans to meet absorption needs for the coming decade and the role of American Jewry in these efforts. He said that the Conference planners consider the major problems for Israel in the next decade to be housing, education, social welfare, agriculture development, development towns and western immigration.
Mr. Vincent said that “the problem of producing a thoroughly literate population” in Israel “may quite literally be a decision involving the life or death of the nation.” In Israel, as in the United States, the pre-requisite for success, both for individuals and for the nation “lies in a body of educated people capable of industrial discipline.” He cited one specific problem in higher education in Israel as that of providing capital funds for its universities.
He said that while Israel has hospitals, old age homes and recreational facilities, the “general level” of social welfare must be improved. A top place on the agenda of the Prime Minister’s Conference, he added, was the problem of social welfare, “human security.” Development towns, where much American philanthropic money has been spent in recent years, must be further developed, he said, adding that in the two dozen towns and 200 villages “is the heaviest concentration of both the triumphs and the tragedies of the work of rescue and rehabilitation.” He also said farm settlements must be made more attractive as a step toward boosting above the present eight percent of the population those Israelis now living in rural areas.