The modern problem of leisure started with the advent of the machine age. Unemployment as a result of technical progress is one of the outstanding social problems of the day. Also the decrease in working time, and the resulting problem of the utilization of additional leisure time, forms a part of the much larger problem. The question is not only an industrial one. It touches the fundamentals of education, morals and religion as well as those of economics and civic life. Forethought and guidance are required if an undue amount of anti-social behavior, such as crime and corrosive laziness, is to be averted.
Many groups are now working on this problem, notably the adult education organizations, and plans and projects appear almost daily. Even if the solution for the burning unemployment question is found by means of short working hours and high wages, a new social problem arises. People, then, have to be taught to use their extra hours of leisure without injury to themselves and others.
TASKS FOR JEWISH CENTERS
Among the Jewish communal workers the new problem has been formulated thus: What are the leisure time needs which the Jewish community must meet and what program can best subserve these needs? What part has the leisure program to play in meeting individual and communal needs?
The growing appreciation of the significance of leisure-time activities, as reflected in the cultural and recreational function of the Jewish Centres, has been in recent years one of the most hopeful trends in American Jewish life.
Of course, the question has to be discussed from a still higher point of view. What, for instance, should be the objectives and nature of the leisure time program financed from purely Jewish resources at a time when Federal, state and city governments also take up measures toward the solution of the leisure problem? Duplication of effort is to be avoided and the maximum results in terms of personality growth and development are to be attained.
In a nutshell, the Jewish aspect of the problem under discussion runs along these lines: What are the special needs of the child, the adolescent, the adult, the family and the community at large from the points of view of personality and group development, adjustment and integration?
TRAINING FOR LEISURE
Various categories of Jewish life are affected by the new problem. In the field of recreation, for instance, in addition to Jewish Centers, several types of institutions, such as synagogues, schools, and social work organizations, may be able to become more effective than they are at present. Jewish cultural labor organizations will have to expand their adult education programs. Again, special problems are created by the new leisure-time situation for the Jewish woman.
Schools will play a major part in solving the problem of leisure-time utilization, and more provisions will have to be made for adults. Better and fuller use of the school plant will have to result from additional leisure. Opportunities for trained teachers in the fields of particular interest for adults appear on the horizon of the vocations of tomorrow.
At present, leisure-time guidance is rather an avocation than a profession. Non-professional workers think it fashionable to render service in a field of great social fruitfulness. But in five or ten years the work of leisure guidance, just as vocational guidance and social work in our time, will have to be done by professionally trained workers.
For hundreds of years people were told what they must not do with their leisure, particularly that they must refrain from indulging in certain amusements. The new training for leisure, however, should be positive, not negative. In the first place, the increased leisure should lead people to a better health education, by making them more intimately familiar with the principles of hygiene and disease prevention. Active participation in wholesome sports, instead of the passive part of mere onlookers, should be furthered among all age groups. Tendencies of this kind were always at work. There are more persons interested in hunting and fishing in the United States than in all other sports combined.
Enriching and strengthening our personalities through stimulative and vital knowledge is, needless to say, a most desirable utilization of leisure. Last but not least, cultivating hobbies as one of the leisure time activities is also highly important for the sake of mental hygiene and social reconstruction. In an age so complex and many-sided as this, time occupied pleasantly and interestingly helps more than any other psychological factor to eliminate crime and degeneracy.
INTEREST IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Some of our leisure must be devoted to public affairs. Larger social affairs and politics have been left to those who cared to dabble in them, while for a majority of people politics was a “dirty mess.” We speak proudly about democratic government, but have forgotten that if democracy is to succeed, the politician is the most important person in the community.
Now we have seen that, though we liked to mind our own business first, foremost and at all times, our business may be very much involved in public affairs. We can no longer live to ourselves, both as Jews and as citizens of this great nation. We are forced to find our own affairs entangled with the affairs of the community, the nation, our ethic-cultural group, and the world.
Leisure gives us the first real opportunity to make contributions to communal and national welfare. If democracy is to be saved from failure, if Judaism is to survive as a vital force, each individual should gladly contribute of his time and thought and energy to the benefit of the whole group.