Editors’ Introduction: Jewish Youth in the Global 1960s
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Editors’ Introduction
Jewish Youth in the Global 1960s

In December 2010 at the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference, the editors of this special issue convened a panel entitled, “Youth and the Reinvention of the Jewish Community: A Comparative Look at Argentine and American Jewry, 1960s–1970s.” Two of us—Adriana Brodsky and Beatrice Gurwitz—are experts in twentieth-century Argentine Jewish history, while Rachel Kranson is a scholar of postwar Jewish history in the United States. As such, the session offered us the all-too-rare opportunity to investigate generational conflict and youthful innovation across two distinct national settings. We wanted to broaden conversations about late-1960s Jewish youth that, until that time, generally explored the activities and impact of this group only within singular national contexts. In our panel, we considered not only national particularities but also commonalities that crossed borders.

The papers generated a robust discussion between the panelists and audience members. We were struck by how young Jews in Argentina and the United States struggled with many of the same frustrations, such as how to energize established Jewish institutions that, they charged, focused more on promoting integration and assimilation into their home countries than on advancing distinctly Jewish interests. At the same time, we collectively grappled with how particular local contexts shaped the sensibilities of Jewish youth. Some members of the audience were already familiar with—even participated in—the religious innovations of the Jewish counterculture in the United States, such as the Havurah movement that took Jewish prayer out of the synagogue and into the living rooms of young Jews. They were surprised to learn that generational conflict in Argentina centered less around religious practice and more around secular left-wing Zionist activism. Several members of the audience contributed provocative examples from other countries, including Poland, France, and Israel.

Participating in that lively conference session, and the important insights we gleaned from that initial discussion, convinced us that it would be worthwhile to continue examining the Jewish youth movements of the 1960s and 1970s not as discrete, nationally-bounded phenomena, but rather as a global trend. This special journal issue on Jewish youth in the late 1960s and 1970s has allowed us to put the work of various scholars, who study this period [End Page 1] in a variety of regional contexts, into conversation with one another. In the process, it has become clear that many young Jews of the period, whether they came of age in South America, North America, Israel, Western Europe, or Eastern Europe, found themselves influenced by common events and considerations. They grappled with particularly Jewish issues, such as the repercussions of the Holocaust, the status of Zionism among diasporic Jews, and the effects of the Six-Day War. At the same time, they also engaged in the cultural and political rebellions that animated so many others of their age group, joining in struggles against racism, the Vietnam War, sexism and imperialism, and the flouting of accepted tastes and conventions of the older generation.

Many young Jews of the late 1960s and 1970s responded to these circumstances in remarkably similar ways, considering their very different regional and national contexts. Throughout the essays in this issue, for instance, we see young Jews grappling with a sense of liminality. On the one hand, they often felt alienated from established Jewish institutions that did not embrace their radical political leanings or their aesthetic preferences. But on the other hand, many young Jews also felt frustrated by their non-Jewish peers, who often shared their radical politics and countercultural proclivities but seemed insensitive or even hostile to particularly Jewish concerns.

Another commonality that threads through these essays is our subjects’ willingness to create alternative communities in response to their dissatisfactions with both Jewish institutions and the New Left. Some, when faced with established Jewish institutions that did not meet their needs and sensibilities, created new Jewish collectives that better reflected their ideas and aesthetics. Others started their own political groups when they grew aggravated by the New Left’s general lack of concern over Jewish issues. Their critique of both Jewish institutions and the general...