WASHINGTON (Mar. 4)
Jewish college youth and representatives of the organized American Jewish “Establishment” will attempt to bridge the generation gap at a three-day National Conference on Jewish College Youth, sponsored by the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, which opens here March 8. The meeting will bring together about 65 student leaders representing small colleges and major universities and representatives of more than 20 Jewish organizations for what the sponsors said would be a “free-wheeling exchange of opinions.”
According to Rabbi Benjamin M. Kahn, national director of the Hillel Foundation, the conference stems from widespread student dissatisfaction with the adult power structure and a concomitant concern among adults that Jewish students are rejecting Judaism. Rabbi Kahn said that the students attending the conference will represent not only supporters of the New Left but members of traditional and religion-centered college youth movements who are nevertheless often critical of the established community. Rabbi Kahn said that more than 350,000 Jewish youth–over 80 percent of the college-age Jewish population–are enrolled in institutions of higher learning. He said that Jewish students, many of them in leadership positions, comprise about one-third of the campus activist groups. However, less than five percent of a school’s enrollment is directly involved in campus uprisings, though generally a third of the student body sympathizes with their aims.
Rabbi Kahn noted that many Jewish religious and secular leaders regard the campus as a “disaster area” as far as Jewish consciousness is concerned and are calling for emergency measures. He warned, however, that critics “excessively pre-occupied” with Jewish participation in the New Left have failed to recognize that “for every Jewish student identified with the New Left, there are dozens of others, equally committed to social concerns and change, who have a positive attitude toward Judaism.”
According to Rabbi Kahn, the real problem “is not rejection of but an indifference toward Judaism.” He said this was borne out by the way in which Jewish students “matter-of-factly” identify themselves as Jews but reject participation in the synagogue, secular organizations, community center or other institutions of Jewish life as being irrelevant to the social problems of contemporary society. Some of the organizations apart from B’nai B’rith participating in the conference will be the American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, National Jewish Welfare Board, United Jewish Appeal, Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, Farband, the American Association for Jewish Education and national lay and rabbinical organizations.