Jewish Student Experience at UW–Madison

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to understand the different types and evolution of discrimination Jewish students experienced at UW–Madison.

Students will be able to understand how Jewish students form different organizations and clubs that lobbied for social, international, and political change.

Students will be able to understand the variety of experiences Jewish students had throughout their history at UW–Madison.

Sources and Readings

Recommended Primary Sources:

“Too Many Jews at Wisconsin University?” Article: Read Article Here

This article explores how Jewish students were barred from university housing and their attempts to combat these discriminatory practices. The article also highlights the increase of Jewish students at UW–Madison, anti-Semitic and discriminatory policies within the UW social scene, and the reemergence of anti-Semitic student organizations.

Flyer for Reuven Kaminer Lecture and “Violence erupts at Kahane Lecture” Article: View Reuven Kaminer Flyer Here and Read Violence erupts at Kahane Lecture Article Here.

These two sources are a flyer and article about lectures given by Reuven Kaminer and Rabbi Meir Kahane respectively. The flyer highlights the lecture given by Kaminer, who is and Israeli peace activists and became an attorney and author of the book Politics of Protest, which addressed the first Intifada. The article highlights the content and protest to a lecture delivered by right wing Meir Kahane, a staunch Zionist radical who was labeled as a “racist” and “fascist” in the article.

“A Surge of Anti-Semitic Crimes” New York Times Article: Read A Surge of Anti-Semitic Crimes Article Here

This is a New York Times article about a wave of anti-Semitic and anti-gay slurs and messages in Madison. In the article, the author explains how different members of the Jewish community expressed that anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon and part of a larger idea of “Jewish hate.” Jewish members of the community offered different reasons for why these anti-Semitic messages appeared, and explored the harm and impact it had on them as both students of UW and members of the Madison community.

Recommended Readings:

Chapters 2, 5, and 6 of Jonathan Pollack, Wisconsin, the New Home of the Jew 150 Years of Jewish Life at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Read Book Here

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article “UW-Madison denounces antisemitic chalk messages that appeared around campus on first day of classes,” By Kelly Meyerhofer. Read Article Here

Additional Primary Sources:

“Gettelman Plans Ban on UW Communists” Article: Read Article Here

This is an article describing the actions of Republican Senator Bernard Gettelman, who sought to pass legislation that barred “communist organizations” at UW–Madison. One of the organizations that Gettelman specifically mentioned was American Youth for Democracy, a Jewish communist student organization.

Landlord Tell of Inter-racial House Article: Read Article Here

This is a transcript of an interview with Robert Levine, who ran an integrating housing dormitory for Jewish students starting in the 1930s. Levine describes how he strove to have parity between Jewish and non-Jewish students at the house, to avoid the stigmatization of being labeled as a “Jewish” residence. While he claims that the house was never the pinnacle of equality, he mentioned that they “had something special there” and did not want to upset that balance.

Additional/Alternative Readings:

Alex Katz, “Jewish Students in American Higher Education.” Journal of Student Affairs, New York University 16 (2020): 106-111. Read Article Here

Barry Kosmin & Ariela Keysar, “National demographic survey of American Jewish college students 2014: Anti-Semitism report.” (2015). Read Report Here

Discussion and Questions

Primary Source Discussion Questions

“Too Many Jews at Wisconsin University” Article:

  • Why do you think Jewish women were barred from campus dormitories?
  • What was the so-called “gentile discrimination” and how did it affect Jewish students at UW–Madison?
  • How did Jewish students and organizations attempt to combat discrimination on and off campus?

“A Surge of Anti-Semitic Crimes” Article:

  • How are different ideas of anti-Semitism perpetuated in this article?
  • What are the different responses from community members and students to these anti-Semitic actions?
  • How is this history of discrimination still relevant in a “liberal haven” like Madison?

Reuven Kaminer Lecture Flyer and “Violence erupts at Kahane Lecture” Article:

  • What did these sources reveal about Jewish students, the Arab Israeli conflict, and Palestine more broadly?
  • How does the larger international political climate shape these different talks?
  • How did Jewish organizations respond to Rabbi Kahane’s lecture?

Reading Discussion Questions

  • How did Jewish students establish themselves in the early years at UW and what kinds of discrimination did they encounter?
  • How do Jewish students, faculty, and organizations contribute to the antiwar movement? What other political and social causes did Jewish organizations advocate for during the 1960s and 1970s?
  • What were some of the key changes for Jewish students from the 1970s to the early 2000s? Some topics to consider are discrimination, debates about Palestine, and the immersion of Jewish students and organizations into both the university and Madison community more broadly.
  • How has anti-Semitism, stereotyping, and Jewish discrimination evolved and remained similar at UW and in Madison?

Discussion Norms: These are based on Walter Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life, 138-9

  •       Do not raise hands
  •       Address one another, not the discussion leader
  •       Invite others into the conversation
  •       Cite and/or reference the texts to support your texts
  •       Base response in the reading/sources
  •       Listen to and build on others’ comments
  •       Critically Agree and Disagree

For more ideas about structuring discussion and asking good questions, see The Discussion Project