Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Students' Movements, Jewish

In Central Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries most gentile students' societies did not accept Jews (see *Students' Associations, German). This experience, which continued also after World War I, except in the less numerous left-wing student associations, was one of the powerful motivations which led Jewish students to adhere to prevalent ideologies, whether revolutionary-internationalist or Zionist.

In eastern Europe, and particularly in the Russian Empire with its *numerus clausus, very few Jews could enter universities or even high schools. Many of them went to Swiss, German, or Austrian universities, and their associations and debating societies became nuclei of revolutionary and Zionist movements. In Poland between the two world wars Jewish students were often physically assailed by their antisemitic colleagues and sometimes even allotted segregated "ghetto" benches in the classrooms. As a result, many became either extreme revolutionaries (in practice, mostly members of illegal Communist cells), or Jewish nationalists, i.e., Zionists. Thus, Jewish students and students' societies played an important role at the inception of the Zionist movement, e.g., in Vienna (*Kadimah) and Prague (*Bar Kochba). Subsequently a number of other students' organizations and associations with cultural and literary aims played a significant part: in Berlin (e.g., the Russian Jewish Scientific Society), and in Russia and among Russian émigré students (e.g., *He-Ḥaver). In Germany the overall Jewish students' federation, *Kartell Juedischer Verbindungen (KJV), became Zionist, partly under the impact of the hostile "Aryan" ideology of their gentile colleagues. In the Baltic countries of the 1920s and 1930s *Revisionist students organized themselves in German-style "corporations" (such as "Hasmonaea" in Riga), including wearing "colors," collective beer drinking, fencing, etc., whereas Zionist and Labor Zionist students formed groups without these trappings (as He-Ḥaver and Ha-Shaḥar). Religious Zionist students formed the Yavneh society. After World War II no Jewish student groups were allowed to exist in Communist eastern Europe, except, for a short time, a semi-legal group in Poland in 1967–68, named after the Russian Jewish writer Isaac *Babel.

In Great Britain

Although Jews were admitted to British universities from the mid-19th century, their numbers did not at first encourage the establishment of Jewish student societies, and these were mainly inaugurated from the second decade of the 20th century. Immediately after World War I, in 1919, the Inter-University Jewish Federation (IUJF) was set up to coordinate the activities of Jewish student societies that had begun to spring up independently in London, Oxford, Cambridge, and the major provincial cities, such as Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester. The Federation's aim was to foster an interest among Jewish students in Judaism and Jewish history and culture, members being encouraged to involve themselves after graduation in the social and religious life of the Anglo-Jewish community. The University of London Jewish Union Society (ULJUS), an "umbrella" organization for the various student societies in the metropolitan area, was founded in 1922.

Student Zionist activity, which dates in Britain from the years immediately following the First Zionist Congress, met sufficient resistance in some Jewish students' societies to encourage the formation of separate Zionist associations and, from about 1924, the Universities' Zionist Federation (UZF) functioned alongside, and to some extent in competition with, the IUJF. During the 1930s the UZF amalgamated with the Association of Young Zionist Societies (mainly a non-student body), but organizational and other difficulties led to the old UZF's revival as the Universities' Zionist Council (UZC) shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Student Zionist activity intensified during the war years and the late 1940s. Both IUJF and UZC helped to organize cultural activities for their members. IUJF also published various periodicals, while UZC issued publications of its own. The two student organizations began to work in harmony after 1948, later operating together as IUJF-UZC, and finally merging in the 1960s when Zionism became part of the IUJF platform.

With the rapid increase in the number of Britain's "redbrick" universities after World War II, many more Jewish student societies were founded, in new areas. Major support was given to the Jewish students' organizations by the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation in London, which eventually set up Hillel Houses in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and other university towns. From the early 1960s a chaplaincy commission operated with varying degrees of success, mainly in Oxford, Cambridge, and the smaller university towns, where Jewish students felt themselves to be isolated from the main community.

A high proportion of Jews studying at British universities took no part in the activities of the organized Jewish student body. Semi-independent religious groups existed within the general Jewish student framework, such as Liberal and Reform associations and the Orthodox Yavneh movement. There were in 1971 over 10,000 Jewish students in the British Isles, some two-thirds of whom had no connection with IUJF or any other Jewish student group. About 80 Jewish student societies and Israel societies were affiliated to IUJF. Jewish students were prominent in protest movements such as CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in the 1960s and, later, in demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jewry. They were active in the World Union of Jewish Students (see below). In recent decades the Union of Jewish Students has had to deal with venomous anti-Zionism at some British campuses, especially during the period in the 1980s when the militant left controlled much of student life. Since about 1990, British campuses have been more quiescent, although demands to boycott Israeli universities and goods surfaced again during the 2002–05 period. Many Jews have found the anti-Zionism of extreme left-wing groups on British campuses little different from right-wing antisemitism. The British Union of Jewish Students was affiliated with the European Union of Jewish Students.