Reflections: Harry Zieve-Cohen ’15

Harry Zieve CohenBy Harry Zieve-Cohen '15

Is Jewishness at odds with the liberal arts? It might be: while the liberal arts college aspires to the enlightenment ideal of universal truth, Jewishness is defiantly parochial. Further, as Sartre and others have warned, political liberalism might be a great protector of the Jews, but it’s also a great threat to our future. Such a rationalist liberalism advocates tolerance by denying difference. To be an assimilated liberal (to be modern), one should intermarry and leave behind not just belief in God but Jewish identity altogether.

At a school that sometimes labels its students with oxymoronic terms like “global citizens,” the Hillel-supported effort to encourage us to value our particular heritage may seem particularly quixotic. Yet for some reason, it generally isn’t. Dozens of students attend Shabbos dinners, and many of us seem already to have befriended each other before prayers even begin. The rationalist in me wonders if it’s bad such a high percentage of my Middlebury friends are Jews. I also wonder, however, if maybe we liberals fail to give tribalism the credit it deserves. Maybe we need to confront not just our Jewishness, but our liberalism.

Harry Zieve-Cohen ’15 was affectionately known and respected as Hillel’s public intellectual for his many thoughtful and provocative op-ed pieces in the Campus.