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Jewish Students at Nyu Plan Campaign to Close School on High Holy Days

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A group of Jewish students at New York University, the nation’s largest private university, disclosed plans today for an intensive pressure campaign to obtain closing of the school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur after three fruitless meetings with President James Hester and other university officials for that objective. Denise Baker, a senior who is a member of the Jewish Culture Foundation, a campus group, and a member of the editorial board of Te-Chiyat Hanefesh, an independent activist publication at NYU, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she and other students had sought talks with the university officials in the belief they would be “open” to a peaceful presentation of the views of many of the thousands of Jewish students, as well as of many of its Jewish faculty members, on the school’s two campuses. A student delegation met with Dr. Hester and the university’s attorney last fall and presented the case for closing the university where a majority of the students and possibly of the faculty members are believed to be Jewish.

The students pointed out that throughout the metropolitan area, the move to close public schools, colleges and businesses on the first day of the Jewish New Year and on Yom Kippur has been growing steadily in recent years. Miss Baker said Dr. Hester replied that the university was entirely nonsectarian and that closing it on the Jewish holy days would be a breach of the church-state separation principle. She said the students met with Dr. Hester again on May 11 and received the same arguments. At a meeting of the University Senate on May 13, the Jewish students presented petitions for a closing bearing 2,500 signatures. The matter was turned over to the education policy committee and the calendar committee, which, Miss Baker said, the students later learned was a routine procedure by which the university administration “buried” proposals it opposed. The group, thereupon, demanded the return of the petitions but was told they were now university property and would not be returned. The Jewish students have decided that “rational dialogue” with the university administration is futile but they remain committed to a non-violent strategy, Miss Baker said.

Planning will proceed during the summer on a campaign to enlist alumni support for pressure on the administration, including withholding of contributions to the school, to bring the university administration stand before the general public and to seek the help of Jewish organizations to change that stand. Asked why the Jewish students had undertaken their effort without seeking backing from Jewish organizations, Miss Baker said the students had believed sincerely that the university administration would yield to “rational appeals” and that they had no idea the administration would be “totally” unresponsive. She said the student leaders hoped to organize a major pressure campaign this summer to be ready to launch when classes are resumed next September. She said a very large number of Jewish students observe the High Holy Days and do not attend school. This has resulted in hardships since those days normally come at the start of the school year when class schedules and other essential programs are arranged. She added that many Jewish faculty members also do not attend, forcing cancellation of their classes. None of these arguments affected the university officials, she added.

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