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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
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Journey Of An Academic Pariah

Jerold S. Auerbach

Jerold S. Auerbach

But an outspoken black nationalist was already entrenched in the African-American Studies department, recently established to testify to Wellesley’s commitment to “diversity.” He assigned to his students a racist tract claiming that Jews, aligned “in an unholy coalition of kidnappers and slave makers,” were guilty of “monumental culpability” in slavery and the slave trade – “the black holocaust.” The college administration, hiding behind the principle of “academic freedom” (to slander Jews?), capitulated to his historical subversion and anti-Semitic tirades.

Wellesley remained my academic base, but Israel had become my spiritual home. My scholarly work in American history, ironically, prompted an offer from the Hebrew University. But family circumstances – and my own uncertainty about relinquishing my role as a Jewish outsider at Wellesley to become an American outsider in Israel – kept me in galut.

A diaspora Jew I was, and knew that I would always remain.

But I never forgot an experience from my first Israel trip. On the way to meet with the Arab mayor of Hebron, our bus had passed Me’arat HaMachpelah. I knew nothing about the place of Hebron in Jewish history, or millennia of Jewish history in Hebron. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the looming Herodion walls, instantly evocative of the Western Wall, to want to return for answers.

* * * * * Eventually I did. A decade later in Kiryat Arba, overlooking Hebron, I met Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, one of the pioneers of the restored Jewish community. He was, I realized, my Jewish Other. While I was growing up as an assimilated Jew in Queens, he was an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn. While I played basketball at Horace Mann, he was studying in yeshiva. When I left New York for Boston, he made aliyah.

Rabbi Waldman sharply challenged my conventional liberal Jewish stereotypes. When I questioned him about the legality of Jewish settlements, he emphatically reminded me that the largest Jewish settlement in the Middle East was the state of Israel. I felt that we were struggling over my soul.

Over the years I visited an array of settlements: Gush Etzion, Ariel, Ofra, Kedumim, Itamar, and Bat Ayin among others. There, in biblical Judea and Samaria, I encountered the passionate renewal of Zionism, and its fusion with Judaism. At a time when Tel Aviv and Los Angeles had become virtually indistinguishable, it was a source of Jewish inspiration.

To be in Hebron for Shabbat Chayei Sarah, participating in the ecstatic davening inside Machpelah, was the most inspiring Jewish experience of my life. A decade later, the family circle was closed when my son and I, as if atoning for our Yom Kippur indiscretion, were there together.

But twenty-five years after the United Nations declared that Zionism was racism, American colleges and universities were becoming festering swamps of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The world’s “longest hatred,” as Hebrew University historian Robert Wistrich has brilliantly described anti-Semitism in The Lethal Obsession, infested and polluted academe.

As Palestinian terror surged during the Second Intifada, claiming hundreds of Israeli lives, academic bedlam erupted over Israeli – not Palestinian – “atrocities” and “crimes.” Israel “apartheid weeks,” with demands for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against the Jewish state, gained widespread popularity.

Student activists in California universities build “apartheid walls” around their campuses. Episodes of anti-Semitic discrimination, vandalism, and intimidation erupted at Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz. Hillel students at San Francisco State University required a police escort to their building and a guard posted outside.

On the East Coast the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia displayed a conspicuous teaching bias against Israel while its faculty members intimidated pro-Israel students. The Zayed Center at Harvard, funded by the ruler of Abu Dhabi, promoted Holocaust denial; its director proclaimed that “Jews are the enemies of all nations.” At Yale, an interdisciplinary center for the study of anti-Semitism was recently closed for sponsoring a program on Muslim anti-Semitism.

About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.


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2 Responses to “Journey Of An Academic Pariah”

  1. Edward Alexander says:

    A fascinating snatch of autobiography by one of American Jewry’s most astute, lively, and original minds.

  2. My journey into Orthodoxy began in Forest Hills, at the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva High School on Kessel Street in 1960.

    And I strongly recommend Jerry’s book on Hebron, http://books.google.com/books/about/Hebron_Jews.html?id=PRLKrTtSWvEC

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During much of the 20th century, elite American colleges and universities carefully policed their admission gates to restrict the entry of Jews. Like its Big Brothers – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – Wellesley College, where I taught history between 1971 and 2010, designed admission policy to perpetuate a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.

Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers (Harper) explores the lives of seven Israeli paratroopers in the Six-Day War who, his subtitle suggests, “Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.” It offers a fascinating variation on the theme of Israel at a fateful crossroads, in search of itself, following the wondrously unifying moment at the Western Wall in June 1967 when Jewish national sovereignty in Jerusalem was restored for the first time in nineteen centuries.

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One of my searing early memories from Israel is a visit nearly four decades ago to the Ghetto Fighters Museum in the Beit Lohamei Hagetaot kibbutz. The world’s first Holocaust museum, it was built soon after the Independence War by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

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For anyone with historical memory the expulsion of Jews – by the Romans, English, French, Spaniards, Nazis, and Muslims – instantly evokes tragic episodes in Jewish history. Now the state of Israel expels Jews from their homes. Something is amiss in Zion.

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