Trends 101: The New Jewish Life on Campus
Scholarship -- Learning for Jewish Living
On the academic front, too, students have more options than ever to deepen their Jewish knowledge.
In 1966, for example, approximately sixty universities offered Jewish studies classes. In 1992 (the last year for which statistics are available), more than 400 North American universities included Jewish studies-related courses in their curriculum. As Professor Sarna says, "There's hardly a significant college in America that doesn't offer [these] courses." Notably, the classes are not only attended by Jews. At Harlem's City College of New York, for example, approximately 95 percent of the students taking Jewish studies classes aren't Jewish.
There's also been an expansion of endowed chairs in Israel studies. Several universities, including Emory, New York University, and, most recently, Columbia, have established these chairs, partly to counter the anti-Israel bias of existing Middle Eastern Studies departments. The field of Israel studies is vital, writes Kenneth W. Stein, an Emory professor and director of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel. "Most Jewish students who arrive on campus know about holidays, traditions, customs, Bible and prayer, but...know little about the modern Israeli narrative. This presents a dangerous weakness, for if you do not know the story, you cannot tell it, and you certainly cannot defend it -- even if you disagree with parts of it."
From Greek and Hillel life to social action and Jewish studies, the Millennial generation is enjoying a more Jewishly rich campus life -- a legacy that is sure to shape their future.
This article was first published by Reform Judaism magazine, published by the Union for Reform Judaism, and is reprinted with permission.
Gabrielle Birkner is a writer in New York and the Web Editor for The Jewish Daily Forward.