Menu JTA Search

Students Decry ‘establishment’ As Lacking Involvement in Important Social Issues

The organized Jewish community was attacked by its college generation today for being more involved with institutional structure and ritualistic Judaism than in adopting militant action on ethical issues confronting society. In a confrontation between leaders of 27 Jewish secular and religious organizations, 66 Jewish student leaders from 34 colleges attacked the Jewish “Establishment” and even the conference itself. The students ranging from New Leftists to supporters of traditional campus movements made the point that they wanted to structure their own programs and were “turned off” by the Jewish community of their parents’ generation. The students and community leaders together with 20 Jewish academicians were brought together for the three-day conference by the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation.

Some of the students rejected the premise that the Jewish student is alienated from Judaism and that the campus has become a “disaster area” for Jewish community life. It was organized Judaism in America, they maintained, that needed to be reconstructed and was in greater need of reform. Campus protests against the military draft, Vietnam war, poverty, racial discrimination and the “dehumanized society,” and demands for revolutionary change in social mores, was more in keeping with prophetic Judaism than the activities of the Jewish “Establishment,” students said.

Students charged that the quality and contents of pre-college Jewish education were dull and unimaginative and that the “Establishment” placed too much stress on budgets and money spent on religious buildings and not enough on education. The students demanded and were given a voice in making up the agenda of the conference. They had charged that the Jewish “Establishment” was trying to impose its views on participants. They were rebutted by organizational leaders who said they were anxious to hear what students had to say but urged them not to generalize falsely about the Jewish community and assume that it and the students were on opposing sides. Students attacked the Jewish pulpit for failing to take greater leadership on social action. They claimed that the campus was the most disenfranchised group in the Jewish community. It was asserted that the Jewish community would not be permitted by students to dictate the “Establishment” concept of Judaism to the campus community.

Their sharp attacks notwithstanding, the students welcomed the chance for the exchange with a broad representation of Jewish leadership, the first such national dialogue between the two groups ever held, A number of community leaders deplored the communication gap between the community and the campus. They reminded the students that they were not on opposing sides in many of the issues of mutual concern.

NEXT STORY