Harvard: Bad ideas were allowed to drive out the good.

By Dr Ruth Wisse,

For the past five years, I have been honored to speak at Tikvah’s annual Jewish Leadership Conference. But this year feels very different, at least for me.

The theme—“Will our children defend America, Israel, and Jewish civilization?”—is a question I would once have answered confidently: “Of course.” I had been brought up to take such national responsibility for granted. And I began my career teaching Jewish literature at a public university with the same assurance that Jewish learning can flourish in the general community of inquiry and knowledge. But the climate of ideas changed very quickly—and very dangerously. This question—about the defining spirit of young Jews—has now emerged as the great Jewish and American challenge of the hour.

Before joining Tikvah, I spent many years teaching at Harvard, where the civilizational problem we face became painfully clear. An elite institution has the privilege of teaching some of the country’s most intellectually gifted and often curious students the sources and precepts of their precious civilization. Yet rather than fulfill its mission, this great school (and so many others like it) did the very opposite. Bad ideas were allowed to drive out the good. With little respect for nationhood, patriotism, or good citizenship, the dominant voices in the academy began to belittle and attack the best in America, Israel, and the Jewish way of life. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism were the adjuncts of their anti-Americanism.

Yet this corruption of our culture does not have to be the final word. Tikvah knows that American democracy is not biologically transmitted and that Jewish values have to be patiently passed on by devoted parents, teachers, schools, and communities. Working with Tikvah—and Tikvah’s students—has bolstered my own faith and fighting spirit as it has all those in its orbit. My early Tikvah students are now teaching these ideas in seminars and schools across the country. In fortifying ourselves, we strengthen the faltering educational environment.

I believe that many young Jews today are searching for their own purpose—and that our most urgent cause is to provide them an education in our Jewish past that prepares them to be guardians of the Jewish future. That is why this year’s Jewish Leadership Conference is so important, gathering together so many creative minds and courageous builders in the Jewish and American world.

Tikvah is a brilliant light in the Jewish world today. The Tikvah generation of students will indeed defend America, Israel, and Jewish civilization. They will act, speak, and live with moral confidence in their own inheritance. And Tikvah’s work only endures because of the community of supporters that come together every year to think about the challenges ahead. That is why the 2023 Jewish Leadership Conference matters so much.

I will be there. I hope you will join me and help sponsor this effort.

August 7, 2023 | Comments »

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