WASHINGTON (Jun. 7)
A four-day conference sponsored by the American Association for Jewish Education closed here Sunday with the endorsement of a long-term experimental program aimed at educating Jewish families to prevent their isolation from Jewish institutions and Judaism itself and thereby to preserve the Jewish identity of the younger generation.
The Conference on Jewish Family Education, the first of its kind since 1970, drew some 300 delegates from 56 communities in the United States and Canada. The participants included representatives of 18 national and local Jewish bodies, including federations, social service agencies and bureaus of Jewish education. It was chaired by Arthur Brody, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Metropolitan New Jersey.
The problem was stated at the opening session Thursday by Dr. Daniel Thursz, executive vice-president of B’nai B’rith, who warned that exhorting Jewish parents from the pulpit or other community forums “to do what they have no skills or knowledge to accomplish is a destructive approach.
On the other hand, he emphasized the “crucial importance” of family life in preserving Jewish identification. He cited the findings of a study conducted by Dr. Fred Mazaryk, a sociologist and Dr. Max F. Bear, director of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) which disclosed that parents and grandparents were the most dominant factors influencing the Jewish attitudes of youth while rabbis and religious school teachers were “the least influential.”
Thursz added, however, that “Rabbis and teachers need not be defensive since it is not their professional competence nor style that is the basis for failures in the present system of Jewish education but rather the structure and timing.”
‘MIDDLE CLASS ILLS’
Rabbi Harold Schulweis, of Los Angeles, warned that any program of education directed towards the Jewish family “must pay attention to the nature of the discontent of the Jewish middle class” which “these days seeks to find answers in encounter movements.” Schulweis said that the problem was not that Jews oppose religiosity or assimilate but one of middle class reaction to a “psychological revolution” that has affected the American middle class, including Jews.
Beyond the “public agenda” directed toward the quality of Jewish communal life, the Jewish community must now contend with a “hidden, private agenda” in which the individual’s concerns for personal satisfaction are influencing his lifestyle, Schulweis said.
“Jews are suffering from middle class ills,” he added. “They say: ‘Do not tell me what I can do for Judaism, tell me what Judaism can do for me–and I mean for me, not as a member of the community,'” he said. According to Schulweis, unless the community’s efforts respond to such private needs “we will not be able to enter the home and the family to accomplish our purpose.”
The conference adopted a program presented by Isaac Toubin, executive vice-president of the AAJE. One aspect directed the AAJE to establish a national commission to help initiate and evaluate special local educational efforts directed toward the Jewish family and to raise funds toward subsidizing the programs. Toubin anticipated that the experimental program would be tested in two metropolitan size cities, two medium size cities of about 25,000 Jewish population and two smaller communities of fewer than 10,000 Jews. The delegates recommended a three-year test period to be followed by evaluation studies and possibly a follow-up national conference.
Cleveland, whose community leaders have indicated strong interest, was likely to be the site of the first experimental programs, Toubin said. He said “The success of the program depends heavily on a pooling of inter-agency resources, utilizing all of the needed disciplines–social workers, theologians, sociologists, educators and similar expertise in an integrated way.”