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November 08, 1991 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-11-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

▪ •

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Jewish students is more
vocal and organized than its
parents.
Yet this activism has ge-
nerated another observa-
tion: Some say that Jewish
students have rallied around
issues of survival —the
Holocaust, Israel — while
ignoring the essence of Jew-
ish life — Jewish learning,
raising a Jewish family and
the rise of assimilation.
"People don't see them-
selves as Jewish until
they're attacked," said Lisa
Bean, a U-M senior.
Ms. Bean, an English
major, said strong opposition
to the ad in the Michigan
Daily was admirable, but it
also illustrated a point about
Jewish students: They iden-
tify with Judaism only in
negative situations.
"They're allowing (anti-
Semitism) to form their Jew-
ish identity," said Ms. Bean,
who co-edits Prospect, a Jew-
ish campus quarterly.
Joseph Cohane, director of
U-M's Hillel, disagreed.
"Just because people
aren't leading Jewish lives
— on the surface —there is a
much more subtle reality go-
ing on inside," he said.
Jewish activism against
anti-Semitism is not
necessarily devoid of spiri-
tuality, he added. "We can't
make too narrow a definition
of spirituality."
That philosophy has guid-
ed U-M's Hillel towards pro-
gramming that is deliberate-
ly pluralistic.
Besides offering three, and
sometimes four, prayer
groups, Hillel sponsors a
film series, several student-
run publications and a non-
credit educational program.
The programming has, in
fact, created a problem for
Hillel. It is facing a $200,000
shortfall in its $600,000
budget.
Executive director Michael
Brooks said the wide selec-
tion of activities, whether
political, cultural or educa-
tional, encourages different
kinds of contact with
Judaism and Jewish culture.
"The people who we're see-
ing active in our Hillel are
not the kind of people who
you'd see come through the
doors of most other Hillels,"
he said.
Notwithstanding the
success of Hillel and the ral-
ly, critics still charge that
social action is replacing
spirituality on the campus.
"We have created a certain
impoverished kind of Jewish
life that does not respond to
the riches of the Jewish tra-
dition," said Rabbi Daniel
Polish of Temple Beth El in
Bloomfield Township.

"We can weep for the
Holocaust but can't sing the
songs of Jewish joy," he said.
One of the indicators of
Jewish student interest in
Jewish culture, as opposed to
brute survival, is the
classroom. There are 450
enrollments in the Univer-
sity of Michigan Judaic
Studies program's class
offerings right now. But, a
class on the Holocaust at-
tracts three times as many
students than do classes on
Hebrew literature or
medieval Jewish history.
Next semester's Holocaust
class will be limited to 300
students.
What's worse, Rabbi
Polish added, a Judaism
organized around self-
defense is often reflective of
a problem within the larger
Jewish community. The
students are imitating their
parents, a process, he said,
which does not benefit
either.
At other Michigan cam-
puses, the pattern is similar.
Michigan State's Hillel di-
rector, Mark Finkelstein,
says he tries to bring
students into the fold by
whatever means possible. If
the lure is social action, said
Mr. Finkelstein, so be it.
But, he admits, social action
can sometimes be a "short-
term fix" for spiritual con-
tent.
"We try to broaden their
interests," said Mr. Finkels-
tein.
Brad Keywell, a first year
U-M law student and a U-M
Hillel board member, said
the reaction to the Daily ad
was troubling in other ways.
Some Jewish students
disputed the First Amend-
ment defense of printing the
ad. Others virulently ques-
tioned the ad's content. Still
others used the ad to bash
the Daily, which tradi-
tionally has maintained a
left-to-liberal editorial
policy.
Very few students
understood that the ad ques-
tioned the Jewish commun-
ity's right to memory, he
said.
But, Mr. Keywell said, the
incident proved that
students recognize anti-
Semitism and are capable of
defending themselves.
Besides, reaction to
anything anti-Semitic may
be part of human nature, he
said.
"Why does war bind the
nation? What does it say
about human nature? When
there's not as much a threat,
there's not the same out-
pouring of support," he
said. 0

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