By: Various Authors | Features  | 

From the Commie Archives: YU and Israel

Editor’s Note: Though YU today may be seen as proudly and loudly pro-Israel, this was not always the case. In this issue, The Commentator reprints several archives following a visit to YU by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, which received a reaction that many readers today would likely find surprising.


Title: From the Archives (February 15, 1968; Volume 33 Issue 7) — Eshkol Implores YU Students To Aid Israel Through Aliyah

Author: Commentator Staff

Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol concluded his tour of the United States with an address before a joint meeting of the Stern and Yeshiva College student bodies, January 9. Over 2,500 students heard the prime minister in Lamport Auditorium and on the closed-circuit TV in the Beit Hamedrash.

Speaking in Hebrew, Mr. Eshkol prefaced his remark by saying that Israel is grateful for the volunteers who came to aid it in its hour of need. However, unlike a factory that can be on work shifts, a country needs permanent workers. This need is greater today in light of the expanded borders which resulted from the Six-Day War. People, especially young people with initiative and leadership qualities, are needed as immigrants.


Title: From the Archives (February 15, 1968; Volume 33 Issue 7) — From The Editor’s Desk: “If I Forsake Thee, O Jerusalem”

Author: Gary Schiff (Commentator EIC 1967-68)

Twice in the last year Yeshiva University has gone through the motions of proper diplomatic protocol in welcoming distinguished Israeli statesmen: first, David Ben-Gurion and most recently Levi Eshkol. Yes, we thronged Lamport Auditorium; yes, we applauded every lofty sounding phrase; yes, Public Relations was happy with the press coverage; yes, the trustees were pleased with the praise heaped upon them for their contributions to the Israel Emergency Fund; yes, yes, and yes again.

To me it was all deja vu. All the actors played their parts adequately (even if they didn’t speak coherently). A good time was had by all.

Eshkol came to plead for aliyah to save the Israel we all profess to love. He was greeted by a close-minded crowd made up of individuals who frankly have no intention whatsoever of picking up and moving to Israel. Indeed, Dr. Belkin made it patently clear that he believes Israel needs YU as much as YU needs Israel; that we are all honorary alumni of Israel but that America is and always will be our home; and that YU is not about to dismantle its far-flung teaching centers and relocate in Israel. Poor Eshkol! If YU people, who are supposed to be the most Jewishly committed of American Jews, are cold to aliyah, what can he expect from the millions of our acculturated, assimilated, intermarried brethren?

The Eshkol affair is symptomatic of the lack of any official YU stance or policy towards Israel. One would expect that the greatest Jewish institution of learning in America would be a center of enthusiasm for, and involvement in, Israel.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. YU is ashamed to fly the Magen David alongside the Stars and Stripes and its own sovereign banner on the Main Center flagpoles (though it hypocritically does display the Israeli colors inside Lamport!) The YU mentality has begun to think of Yeshiva as a substitute for Israel, the Jerusalem of the New World. People here really think that Boro Park is to be equated with Jerusalem. This illusory view of YU’s historical importance in relation to Israel is widespread. I couldn’t help feeling that when our President greeted the Israeli Prime Minister it was on the level of equals, which is certainly not the case, let nobody be mistaken.

What connections does Yeshiva University have with Israel? Pitifully few. A handful of EMC students are sent to Machon Gold each year with the Jewish Agency, not YU, footing the bill. A larger number go to the Hebrew University for a year on their own steam, while some others attend various Israeli yeshivot, again without direct YU involvement. Our University has no exchange program of either students, faculty or ideas with any Israeli institution. Even Bar Ilan University, which was patterned after YU and built under the leadership of YU men, has no joint academic or other programs. The Israeli authorities even offered Yeshiva University its own building in Israel to establish a modest Israeli branch, but YU refused. Too expensive. How much does the Science Center cost?

Our Israel Institute consisted of a few courses in Bernard Revel Graduate School taught by the late Dr. Samuel Mirsky. Now that he is gone, the future of the Institute is bleak. A few little things like summer tours to Europe and Israel run by CSD for over-indulgent parents and over-sophisticated teenagers fill out the picture.

Oh, lest I forget, the level of Hebrew language arts at Yeshiva, as I have written a number of times to no avail, is appalling. I doubt whether more than a handful of the 2,000 spectators at the Eshkol extravaganza knew enough Hebrew to follow him well. Interestingly, there is a small organization of YU alumni in Israel. But they are the exceptions and are looked upon (if mentioned at all) as oddballs.

Finally, on the religious level, we find little or no thinking at Yeshiva on the religious significance of Israel and halachic imperative of living there. Certainly this issue is at least as central to Judaism as the content of matzah or homiletics on the weekly portion of the Law. If there is one issue that our indigenous gedolim have eschewed, it is that of Israel. Because of this cold shoulder YU extends to Israel, last Yom Ha’atzmaut went unmarked by our institution, save for a few spontaneous student demonstrations.

I am not naive enough to believe that the assimilationist trend among American Jews will reverse itself and that many of them will emigrate to Israel. YU is no exception. It is a prisoner of its social and cultural milieu. It, too, is assimilationist; only our type of assimilationist wears a yarmulke (hopefully) and lives in Monsey, not Bronxville. Is it really too much to expect YU to foster a little old-fashioned Zionism?


Title: From the Archives (February 29, 1968; Volume 33 Issue 8) — Letter to the Editor

Author: Shlomo Russ

To the Editor:

In his last column, Gary Schiff stated that “The Eshkol affair is symptomatic of the lack of any official YU stance or policy towards Israel.” While this indifference might be true pertaining to the State of Israel, there is clearly an actively negative attitude towards students who seek to further their education in Israel. I write this as a former YU student as well as one who studied in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel.

Owing to the fact that the noun Yeshiva appears in front of the title University, the administration gives sixteen credits for a year of study at Kerem B’Yavneh. This partial credit, however, is underscored by the fact that Queens College gives 32 credits for a year at Yavneh. One must come to the conclusion that YU actively discourages students from attending Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh where yishuv Eretz Yisrael is emphasized. Chas v’chalila if students do attend Yavneh they are subsequently discouraged or deterred from attending YU because of the limitation of credits.

Within the last year I know of at least five New York students who went to Yavneh who have rejected the idea of continuing their studies at YU. Four of them are attending or planning to attend Queens College.

It seems, therefore, that the administration of Yeshiva University is actively discouraging the rise of a subculture of students who believe that a commitment to Torah is a commitment to Israel.

Shlomo Russ


Photo Caption: The Commentator archives
Photo Credit: The Commentator