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Journey Of An Academic Pariah

Jerold S. Auerbach

Jerold S. Auerbach

Academic freedom came to mean the right to delegitimize Israel. Legions of Jew haters, Holocaust deniers, and Israel bashers were joined, and at times led, by self-hating Jewish academics – Tony Judt, Noam Chomsky, and Norman Finkelstein conspicuous among them. The betrayal of Israel by Jewish intellectuals became one of the defining attributes of university culture.

Like other “politically correct” academic institutions, Wellesley embraced a redefinition of “minority” that excluded Jews. Consigned to the privileged white majority, they were stripped of their Jewish identity. In this enclave of anti-Semitic decorum, the “strong male voices” of a handful of Jews (as the Hillel director expressed her discomfort) were unwelcome. Our female Jewish colleagues remained conspicuously silent.

I spent many hours reassuring Jewish students that they were not to blame for Wellesley’s Jewish problem.

Sadly, they often internalized their hurt and berated themselves for Wellesley’s demure, yet destructive, anti-Semitism.

It pained them to respond because, as one Jewish student leader explained, “We wanted to be accepted by our peers.” Confronting persistent hostility in an institution that self-righteously touted its “multicultural” sensitivity, another student confided: “I’m scared and confused and wonder if maybe…I’m doing something wrong by being Jewish.”

My public condemnation of anti-Semitism at Wellesley, like my published defenses of Israel and Jewish settlers, made me an academic pariah. Indeed, after my public graduation protest over the praise heaped on a professor I considered anti-Semitic, my photograph appeared on a website captioned “Jew Klux Klan.”

* * * * * These days a right-wing Jewish professor belongs to an endangered species. But I wore it as a badge of honor. It was a small price to pay for my experiences with passionate religious Zionists whose courageous assertion of the Jewish imperative to settle the Land of Israel was inspirational.

My life turned out to be an unplanned journey from the wilderness of Jewish assimilation to the promised land of Jewish identity. As my experiences in Jerusalem and Hebron intersected with my forty years at Wellesley College, I became an academic pariah – and a proud Jew.

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.

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