Project to Rediscover Jewish Values Launched by Students at State University of N.Y.
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Project to Rediscover Jewish Values Launched by Students at State University of N.Y.

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A group of students at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA) is planning to launch a “Jewish Rediscovery Project” on the campus next fall. Its motivation is “a common desire to rediscover Jewish values relevant to current problems and to act upon such problems as a Jewish group,” according to a prospectus released here. The youngsters are working with Rabbi Leonard M. Kaplan of Congregation Obav Sholom, the Jewish religious advisor at SUNYA. They estimate the Jewish student population at 2,370 or 19.5 percent of the 12,125 total, and the Jewish faculty at 200 members, 9.2 percent of the total. According to Rabbi Kaplan, Jewish student activists are already largely responsible for the creation of the first full Judaica department in the entire New York State University system, which will open in September under the chairmanship of Prof. Jerome Eckstein. They are also responsible for a Free University of Judaica, offering courses that would not normally come under the Judaica Department; a kosher food plan provided by the University, and a special Passover food plan administered by the University, Rabbi Kaplan reported.

“The Jewish Rediscovery Project” is the tentative name for a series of programs expected to attract large numbers of students who find traditional Jewish organizational hierarchies and programs repellant and irrelevant to their interests and their intellectual and spiritual needs. The series eschews formal leadership structure in favor of what the students call sub-cooperatives without chairman and officers, in which leadership is expected to rise spontaneously according to the project’s needs. The student most responsible for the program, according to Rabbi Kaplan, is Tobi Goldstein a sophomore. The prospectus calls for four sub-cooperatives–a Study Cooperative, an Information Cooperative, an Action Cooperative and a Religion Cooperative. In the latter, students will explore Hassidism as an avenue to mystical experience. “Many college students turn to drugs and the Eastern religions searching for a mystic and deeply spiritual experience,” the prospectus said. “Most of these are not at all aware of Judaism’s great mystic and spiritual tradition. Especially relevant to this quest is Hassidism, which stands unique as the world’s only popular mystic movement.”

According to the prospectus, “Many Jewish activists claim that they are not working as Jews when pursuing goals of peace and social justice, not realizing the very deep commitment of Judaism to these goals.” The proposed Study Cooperative would include in its curriculum Jewish pacifism; environment; Jewish attitudes toward women; Jews and blacks as oppressed peoples; Zionism and Jews, and revolution. The program of the Action Cooperative lists liaison between Jews and blacks, liaison with Black Panthers, activism for Jewish needs on campus, civil liberties activism and drug counseling program. “We hope to demonstrate that a group organized along the above-mentioned lines with the aforementioned goals would indeed be a viable and successful Jewish group,” the prospectus said. “We also feel that the loose structure and built-in flexibility will lead to many new areas of meaningful Jewish activity, and furnish new insight into the needs of the Jewish campus community.”

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