Black-Jewish Campus Dialogue

Face to Face

The scene is a dormitory lounge at a prestigious New Eng land university. Almost a hundred Black and Jewish students have filed in dripping wet from a spring rain for the fourth in a series of dialogues... A young Jewish woman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, tells of the impact of her parents wartime experiences. A Black man talks about the time just a few years ago when his high school basketball team's bus was overturned by the opposing team in order to keep him, the lone black player, out of the game... Although the words are painful, when the session is over there is buoyancy and hope in this room a sense of growing solidarity and trust between two groups who have discovered common ground.

Continuing our Black History Month series, today we excerpt Face to Face: Black-Jewish Dialogues on Campus, by Cherie Brown, for the AJC.

Blacks and Jews pair up with members of their own groups. Each member of a pair takes a turn repeating the word Jew (for the Blacks) or Black (for the Jews) while the other person shares with as little censorship as possible the first thought that comes to mind at each repetition of the term. This is a way of bringing to the surface attitudes and misinformation--ethnic slurs and stereotypes--the students have absorbed from their environment but know better than to say out loud or believe...

[S]tudents divide into separate Black and Jewish caucuses where each shares what has been good and what has been difficult about belng Black or Jewish... When the caucuses return individual students share their stories with the entire workshop. The others listen carefully without interruption, discussion or questions The stories are often accompanied by tears, shaking and expressions of anger. For many students this is the most moving and transforming part of the workshop...

Every workshop needs to include some time for students to translate what they've learned into concrete goals and programs to effect change on their campus. Toward the end of their time together students brainstorm all the possible programs that might be implemented on their campus to continue the work begun in the dialogue...

The rest of the document includes quotes from participants in these programs, and further guidelines for organizers.

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To read more publications at intersections of Black and Jewish history, see this special Bookshelf for Black History Month.

(Remember, if you're a registered user [it's free], you can create bookshelves like this one to save sets of BJPA documents for later. Keep them private, or publish them to the web to share with colleagues. Sort manually, or automatically by date or title. View or print the lists, or export to MS Word for easy bibliographies.)

A Census of Jewish College Students

BJPA's next newsletter (coming soon) will feature a BJPA Readers Guide on the topic of Jewish college students. In this installment of our J-Vault series, we share a special preview of one of the items to be featured in that Guide.

J-Vault logo

From the J-Vault: The Jewish Student in America (1937)

This study, undertaken by the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations Commission, is divided into eight chapters:

  1. Jewish Students in the Past
  2. Method of the Present Study
  3. A Census of Jewish Students
  4. Special Aspects of the Census
  5. Jewish Student Organizations
  6. The Jew in Professional Studies
  7. Home Residence of Jewish Students
  8. Summary and Recommendations

The study provides many fascinating details. For example:

  • In 1935-6, there were 105,000 Jewish students in America and Canada, comprising 9.13% of the student population (2.5 times higher than the general Jewish population).
  • There were already 38 national Jewish student organizations with 555 local chapters.
  • Jews made up 16.5% of the medical student population, and were also overrepresented in engineering, architecture, and social work.

Read more...

J-Vault logo

New Canadian Rabbinical School Opens, Proclaims Itself Pre-Denominational

Read all about it at the JTA.

Rabbi Roy Tanenbaum, president of the yeshiva and rabbinical school, told the National Post newspaper that the definition follows the European Judaism of the 1700s in which denominational differences were absent.

"We don't think the struggle between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox is a good thing for Jewish life. We believe that it is destructive," he said. "There's reasons why during the Enlightenment these groups began, but it is important to go back to when Jews were just Jews."

That sounds nice in theory... In fact, however, all varieties of trans-denominationalism (or, as in this case, pre-denominationalism) basically amount to heroic and well-meaning forms of self-deception.

The school will not ordain women, though they will be able to attend and receive a degree in Jewish theology.

See? No denominationalism there.

The Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School has an About page that compares itself to segments of the Orthodox and Conservative worlds. (A ctrl+F search shows that the words "Reform," "Liberal" and "Progressive" literally do not appear on the page.) "We, however," the page hastens to add, "do not see ourselves as some kind of 'Conservadox,' as that would imply a mixture of the two, which we are not. Rather, we hark back to the ever-lasting pre-denominational Classic Judaism from which both derive."

Of course this is all anything but non- or trans- or pre- or post-denominational. This is denominational, in that it takes a stand on a number of critical issues which define many denominational boundaries. Does this new vision correspond to any one existing denomination? Well, perhaps. It bears a striking resemblance to an existing (if small) denomination. But perhaps not. Either way, it makes choices which have denominational valence.

I could see my way to agreeing that this vision of Classic Judaism is multi-denominational, embracing segments of Modern Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism. But pre-denominational? You can't put the toothpaste back in that tube. Lines have been drawn. Sides have been taken. Either you will ordain women or (as in this case) you won't. Either (as in this case) you will embrace halakhah as a binding obligation or (as in the cases of Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Secular Humanist Judaism) you won't. There is no splitting this baby. There is no Schrodinger's Denomination.

At least, there isn't for rabbinical schools. Many individual Jews have paradoxical views and denominational identities, but rabbinical schools don't exist on the same plane as individual Jews. Once a school ordains a female rabbi, or refuses to do so, it has taken a side in one of the major denominational battles of our time. An individual Jew in the pews can be of two minds on the subject, but an institution must choose one action or the other.

This critique, of course, applies just as much to liberal schools which pretend trans-denominationalism as it does to the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School. Hebrew College Rabbinical School, the Academy for Jewish Religion, and other such supposedly trans- or non-denominational institutions really represent a range of denominations -- the range which is not Orthodox. Even if one or two self-defined Orthodox students are ordained at such places, they must still certainly be considered as representing the range of denominations which is not Haredi -- unless Haredi Jews somehow don't count in the grand unity we all seem to envision.

I don't mean to cast aspersions on the new Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School. I congratulate them on their opening, and I wish them all success. Indeed, my personal religious ideology accords rather well with the vision laid out on the CYRS website. Sign me up for Classic Judaism! Just don't sign me up for pretending my chosen position isn't an ideological stance in an ongoing normative argument over what Judaism ought to be -- a stance which holds its own accepted range of views to be right and various other ranges of views to be wrong -- in other words, a distinct denominational position, whether singular or multiple.

David Elcott on Faith in Academia

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses the place of religion in an academic setting.

Signs of Civilization: Graduate Jewish Studies at NYU

Portal

One marvelous thing about New York University is that it's really big. This is good, because the University has quite a lot to offer.

One terrible thing about New York University is that it's really big. This is bad, because navigating the world of the University can be like wilderness exploration.

So what if you're interested in graduate study at NYU, in the realm of Jewish studies? Until mere hours ago, you and whatever makeshift compass you could piece together out of chewing gum and hairpins were on your own. However:

There is now a portal page for graduate degree programs and academic resources in Jewish studies at NYU.

Go there to learn about six single-degree and three dual-degree graduate degree programs in Jewish subjects, plus other academic centers and resources. (Including us, but you already know about us.)

At last, signs of civilization.

Jewish Nonprofit Management > Jewish Communal Service

Earlier today, the HUC-JIR school of Jewish Communal Service was relaunched as the School for Jewish Nonprofit Management. EJewish Philanthropy reports that

it is the only graduate program of its kind that is embedded within a Jewish institution of higher learning and enjoys a special partnership with its neighbor, the University of Southern California. Students at the SJNM receive a cutting-edge education in nonprofit management grounded in Jewish history and values, as well as the opportunity to earn one of five dual degrees at USC.

Earlier this year, HUC-JIR student Carly Brown submitted her thesis, "Informing a Branding Strategy: A Competitive Analysis for the School of Jewish Communal Service" in which she analyzed three other, competing, dual-degree Jewish studies nonprofit management studies programs (including our own here at NYU Wagner). Her study included a detailed consideration of the naming/branding issue.

SJCS needs to pay particular attention to how it markets and brands its new name to potential Social Work students so that they do not feel alienated by the term “management.” In speaking with current SJCS students, who were also enrolled in the dual degree Social Work program at USC, many of them felt that the term “management” did not encompass the skills that they were aiming to obtain in their graduate program.

In an earlier blog entry, I explored whether the Jewish fundraiser was the new Jewish social worker, in terms of the Jewish community's concern about educating and nurturing these communal professionals. The renaming of HUC-JIR's academic program for Jewish communal professionals certainly seems to support the idea that the Jewish community is moving from a social work focus to a management orientation.

Predictably, perhaps, Brown found that "Generally, students in favor of the name change were dual degree students at USC earning an MPA, while those who were more tentative about it were dual Master students at USC in the School of Social Work." In fact, some students expressed strong distaste for the language of 'service':

She was turned off by the use of “service” in the title of SJCS; she felt that it reminded her of “servitude” and made her think of “the Federation worker, but not so much the person who is going to run the institution.”... [A community influencer] further explained “the words themselves, [referring to the name SJCS] are seen as being a servant, or diminishing,” and that the new name would be great for the school if it was “truly indicative of a new focus” and not just a cosmetic change.

 Of course the Jewish community needs, and has always needed, managers and non-managers and HUC-JIR is continuing to offer the programs to train both.

Whether the new name is indicative of a new focus or a cosmetic change, is moving from the discourse of 'service' to 'management' good for the Jewish community? Is it actually a positive expression of Jewish values? Will it bring greater professionalism to Jewish communal organization, or just greater commercialization? If someone's working on a thesis on this question, please send it our way!

Fruits and Roots of Jewish Communal Service Scholarship

We were proud to announce in our June newsletter that we've just added 12 master's theses by HUC-JIR School of Jewish Communal Service students to our offerings. Education in Jewish communal service has come a long way - as it turns out, the history of Jewish communal service education is full of people worried about the efficacy of social work training and whether and how it can properly prepare Jewish students to serve the needs of Jewish communities - in some cases, even whether Jewish students can be enticed into training to serve Jewish communities. Now that we have successful, effective, and selective educational programs where students learn both clinical and research skills, it would be a shame for this work to go unread and unused. Titles include

Here are some of the steps along the way of how we got here:

In 1949, Walter Lurie surveyed the six national training programs in existence (Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, Dropsie College, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the Training Bureau for Jewish Communal Service) and wondered "what justification is there to speak of a "Jewish communal service" as a professional field of work? And second, what is the Jewish component in Jewish communal service?" (Present Programs of Training for Jewish Communal Service).

In the late 50s, they worried about how to persuade seduce college students out of the general social work field and into Jewish social work (Do It Yourself! -- The Challenge of Recruitment: A Responsibility and Opportunity for the Profession).

In 1972, Samuel Silberman again argued that Jewish communal work must better define itself as a field (Jewish Communal Service - The Shaping of a Profession). A 1975 article somewhat puzzlingly uses the word 'new' to describe this profession: "The Jewish B.A. Social Worker: A New Professional For Jewish Communal Services". It studies the demographics of Jewish social workers and bemoans how few of them actually have degrees. Education for Social Work Practice in Jewish Communal Service studied the question of how to formulate a proper post-secondary curriculum for Jewish social work.

And coming more or less full circle, a 1998 article looks back on the transformation and evolution of Jewish social work education (at one school) since 1969: The Transformation of Jewish Social Work: Bernard Reisman and the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University.

Jewish University Students in 1937

I'm sad to say that my 1937 Jewish counterparts fell behind the general population in the college attendance gender gap - only 33% of college students were women, versus %42 of the broader population. At least someone was counting though!

The B'nai Brith Hillel Foundation (that's what it was) commissioned a study of the American and Canadian Jewish student community in 1935, and counted 105,000 "Jews and Jewesses" in college, comprising 9% of the entire student community.

The report, titled The Jewish Student in America, goes into detail on where Jews are studying (overrepresented in Massachusetts, underrepresented in New York City), what they're studying (in professional school, largely dentistry, law, and pharmacy), and what Jewish organizations serve them.

For example, it finds that students are well served by social organizations like Jewish fraternities and sororities (1/6th of students belong to a social organization), likely because at the time, "Practically all national social fraternities and sororities of non-Jewish origin [did] not admit Jews as members." on the other hand, "facilities for religious and cultural activity among Jewish students are extremely defective," and the report recommends urgent work in expanding religious and cultural resources.