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Threat to Israel, Fear of Anti-semitism, Factors for Renaissance Among Jewish Youth

June 7, 1971
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Disillusionment with American life, the threat to Israel’s survival, the plight of Soviet Jews and a fear of future anti-Semitism in this country are factors currently contributing to a renaissance of Jewish identity among American Jews. This assessment was presented by Brandeis University Prof. Leonard J. Fein, in a speech he delivered several days ago at a Theodor Herzl Institute Conference on “Social Psychology and Jewish Life.” Discussing the “Socio-psychological structure of the American Jewish community,” Prof Fein said that a study he recently conducted of Jews in Boston, as well as other observations he has made, indicates that the character of the American Jewish experience may be changing sharply. He said that those affected will be American Jews who might otherwise have remained “inertial ethnics…who lumber along through life and through Judaism without much consciousness of self.” The appeal of modernity in general and of contemporary American secularism in particular is declining, Prof. Fein said. This “has forced people to begin to examine other alternatives.” The most important alternative, he added, “has been offered by the revolution of black consciousness.” Older Jews have been surprised by the active Jewish identification of younger Jews.

“The present generation of young activist Jews was not supposed to have been possible,” Prof, Fein said. He noted that as American Jews. “we are learning that the legitimate interests of others may be in conflict and… we may have to engage in tough bargaining to protect ourselves and our position.” “Not so long ago,” he said, “it appeared that Judaism in America was oriented merely around nostalgia, that Jewish history had for all practical purposes come to an end… But the continuing peril of Israel and the miraculous resurgence of Soviet Jewry, and perhaps even, though less dramatically, the apparent” re-awakening of anti-Semitism in the United States “have once again made it both interesting to be a Jew and somewhat dishonorable not to be.” The Brandeis professor said “there is more consensus around the statement that anti-Semitism may emerge as a problem for American Jews than any other single statement of Jewish American conviction.” Prof. Fein, who teaches politics and social policy, concluded that a community which seeks to “face its tensions rather than…flee from them” will have to devise a mode of conduct and a system of Jewish education that will seek to promote and encourage the emergence of a new and more confident Jew.”

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