“Jewish U”: Not for You

Three negative reviews of a guide for Jewish college students

Rabbi Scott Aaron’s recently updated “Jewish U: A Contemporary Guide for the Jewish College Student,” professes to be just that: a book that can guide any Jewish college student through any campus’s Jewish life. Given the incredible diversity of Jewish college students and the wide range of Jewish campus communities, New Voices had three Jewish students from three very different colleges read the book and decide whether Aaron succeeds or fails at his ambitious task. Their unanimous verdict: Fail. 
Drew University’s David Wilensky, University of Wisconsin’s Levi Prombaum and University of Maryland’s Judah Gross all agree that Aaron seems out of touch with the lives of Jewish students. They all, however, highlight different reasons for the book’s inaccessibility. Read their reviews below to see what each of these students has to say about the latest attempt to survey Jewish college life. 
David Wilensky takes the author to task for focusing too much on Hillel and talking down to students.
Levi Prombaum says that with superficial advice and textbook-style instruction, “Jewish U” is irrelevant to Jewish college students.
Judah Gross criticizes the book for giving too specific advice to too broad a range of students and feels that the author is out of touch with today’s campus.


3 Older Responses to ““Jewish U”: Not for You”

  1. Scott Aaron
    August 17, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Thanks to Google Alerts I just had the painful experience of reading these three reviews. Fair enough. I’m not writing to refute or disagree with anything said because they are legitimate critiques. As the author reading such detailed reviews, they made me think about points I (and the panel of recent grads who looked it over) missed or could have done better. So while I doubt there will be a third edition in another ten years, I found these critques thoughtprovoking and valid.
    But they weren’t written for me. They were written for students who read the Jewish campus magazine New Voices, and I would venture a guess that all three reviewers are not part of the target audience by the very fact that they are involved enough in their own Jewish lives to write reviews for New Voices. The book was written for non-Orthodox high school juniors and seniors as it says in the first chapter, and yes, by extension their parents, in hopes of giving them their own resource to refer to about making Jewish decisions on campus if they are willing to think about it before the car ride to move-in day. The reality is that one enters the freshman year an adolescent wanting to be an adult, and leaves it having evolved out of that adolescence towards adulthood. By sophomore year, you have enough life experience to not need a resource like this one. You will investigate, accept, reject or ignore your Judaism on your own terms after that point. Before that stage though, at least this book gives you a place to start thinking about it so you have some Jewish food for thought if you need it.
    One other thought. I know reviewers have to prove their points with selective quotes and snarky slaps, but I noticed none of them mentioned or referred to the sections on mourning a death or having difficult conversations with your parents or treating an intimate relationship with respect. Holidays and casual sex got the most attention out of all the different subjects that a Jew on campus has to face their first year of school; that kind of reminds me why I wrote the book to start with.
    L’Shalom, Scott

  2. Aaron Weil
    August 17, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    The reviewers seem to miss the point of this book and their comments were akin to adults critiquing a children’s book for being too juvenile.
    In reading the material through their own eyes rather than the intended audience, they completely missed the point of the book and thus their conclusions were as erroneous as they were berift of meaning.
    While the book may not be an encyclopedia (though in its defence, it never claims to be), I believe it is an excellent product for high school students who clearly lack the framework and experiences that the reviewer’s supposedly possessed.
    I, along with many of my colleague came to quite a different conclusion, but then again, unlike the reviewers themselves, the author actually is completing his Phd on the topic he sought to address! 🙂

  3. David A.M. Wilensky
    August 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    Thanks for your response, guys. Here’s my response to your responses, at the New Voices blog: http://blog.newvoices.org/?p=3950

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