The first time I became aware of leftist Jews was when, as a reporter for The Daily Cardinal, the student newspaper, at the University of Wisconsin, I was assigned to cover a meeting of the Committee Against the War in Vietnam. This was around 1965, just after the war started heating up. In my short career as a reporter I had also covered a meeting of the Young Republicans, and the contrast couldn’t have been more striking. The Young Republicans were all dressed up—men in suits and ties, women in dresses—and looked like they were attending a business meeting at the country club.
Even though the Young Republicans were all white and most of them came from Wisconsin, I can’t say that I related to them much. But I felt even more alien at the meeting of the antiwar committee. The attendees were dressed in a much more Bohemian style and there was a lot of intense talk about politics. And they were Jewish.I wasn’t the only one to notice the Jewish flavor of radical politics at Wisconsin. In their academic study of the New Left Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians and the Left, Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter quote an observer of the New Left scene at the University of Wisconsin: "I am struck by the lack of Wisconsin-born people and the massive preponderance of New York Jews. The situation at the University of Minnesota is similar." His correspondent replied: "As you perceived, the Madison left is built on New York Jews."
Rudd describes the SDS at Columbia during the late 1960s as a "Jewish fraternity." The Jewish radicals described by Rudd seem more like Harvey Goldberg than George Mosse. Their Jewish identification was never discussed among themselves: "I don’t remember one single conversation in which we discussed the fact that so many of us were Jewish." Rudd suggests that "by being radicals we thought we could escape our Jewishness."
"…most Jewish Communists wear their Jewishness very casually but experience it deeply. It is not a religious or even an institutional Jewishness for most; nevertheless, it is rooted in a subculture of identity, style, language, and social network. . . . In fact, this second-generation Jewishness was antiethnic and yet the height of ethnicity. The emperor believed that he was clothed in transethnic, American garb, but [non-Jews] saw the nuances and details of his naked ethnicity."It was the same with their chidren who became the Jewish New Left. The topic of why there were so many radical Jews was never discussed, at least around me. But the Jewishness of these radicals was obvious to non-Jews like me who were suddently exposed to a very different subculture. The ethnic networking among Jews was obvious, as were the East Coast accents with sprinklings of Yiddish.