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Hillel Director Warns on ‘confused Judgments’ About Jews in New Left

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The Jewish community was cautioned today against “confused judgments about Jewish college youth active in New Left campus movements.” Rabbi Benjamin Kahn, national director of B’nai B’rith Hillel foundations, discussing the issue at Hillel’s annual directors conference here, said recent expressions by many community leaders reflect an “excessive pre-occupation with the characteristics and proportion of Jewish youth engaged in political and social radicalism on the campus. This has been compounded by their inadequate understanding of the attitudes and convictions of Jewish youth in the New Left,” Rabbi Kahn declared. He said “confused critics of campus trends lose sight of two salient facts: Not much more than five percent of the estimated 350,000 Jewish student enrollment is engaged in New Left interests; affiliation with the New Left does not necessarily mean a rejection of Judaism and Jewish identity.” For every Jewish New Leftist, “there are dozens of other students equally committed to social concerns and change who have a positive response and loyalty to Judaism,” Rabbi Kahn said.

The experiences of Hillel directors recounted in conference workshop sessions indicated that the sentiments toward Judaism of radical Jewish students are “more an attitude of indifference, not rejection.” Because they are a group of “talent and leadership potential, the Jewish community cannot afford to lose them,” Rabbi Kahn emphasized. “They can ultimately constitute a force in adult Jewish life to counteract the status quo and institutional conservatism.” Hillel surveys show that much of the leadership and perhaps one-third of the ranks of the campus New Left are Jewish students. Many directors cited incidents of Jewish students in radical movements also campaigning on campus for credit courses in Jewish studies, support of Soviet Jewry and resistance to the anti-Israel stance adopted by some New Left elements. “The approach to students today,” Rabbi Kahn said, “must be on multiple levels to meet the differing interests and concerns of both the accessible mass of Jewish students in the political center and to attract the radical minority without sensationalizing them or our efforts to retain their loyalties to Jewishness.”

The 89 Hillel directors attending also endorsed a proposal presented by Dr. Alfred Jospe, Hillel’s director of program and resources, to establish a special department for Israel programming and service. “In the light of heightened student and faculty interest and involvement in Israel-centered projects and activities since the Six-Day War,” Dr. Jospe said, “there is need for a…coordinated effort on the college level to pull together the multiplicity of programs, strengthen and develop new projects, and receive and provide scholarships and educational resources to stimulate more effectively the continuing interest in Israel among Jewish students and faculty.”

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