Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 9.

However, what is remarkable about the early Jews at Williams (it would be too much to speak of “Jewish life” when only one, or two, or at most nine, Jews were present in a single entering class) is how loyal many remained to the college.

Furthermore the first Jewish “legacy families” donned purple during this period. One should not look for conflict between the Jewish identities of these students and their identities as Williams men, for many would not have experienced the unavoidable dissonance between those identities as an incompatibility. If they had, legacies would not have been the result.

Indeed. Perhaps the most interesting observation in the book — one that Wurgaft hints at only obliquely in passages like this — is how little antisemitism there was at Williams. Indeed, was any elite institution in the United States less antisemitic than Williams prior to 1960? Reader suggestions welcome. In many ways, this debate is similar to the one about how “racist” Williams is today. Of course, there are people at Williams today who say/believe racist things. (Let he who is without sin . . . .) But such claims are only intelligible in context. There are few places on Earth less marred by racism that Williams today, just as there were few places less marred by antisemitism than the Williams of 75 years ago.

Two years after Boas’ address, an increase in the number of Jewish students in the Williams freshman class (the Class of 1914), which included a few students of Eastern European background, would occasion one of America’s first student-led demonstrations against Jewish enrollment at a college or university. German Jews, present in small numbers, never received such a welcome. While no firsthand accounts of the demonstration have been found, President Harry Garfield described it, in a letter, in a secondhand fashion by saying that, afterward, he felt it necessary to take the pulpit in chapel to remonstrate with the students for their bad behavior.

Note the leap here. There is no real evidence for the claim that “America’s first student-led demonstrations against Jewish enrollment” happened at Williams. This is an attempt, I think, by Wurgaft to find more antisemitism than actually existed. (Note how he never found “firsthand accounts of the demonstration.”) Instead, there seems to have been a hazing-type tradition of an annual forced parade, featuring all the freshmen, which included heavy doses of upperclassmen mockery/”humor,” much of it involving ethnic/racial/religious themes. In 1910, this parade included antisemitic elements. Not very nice! But that is a far cry from a “demonstrations against Jewish enrollment.”

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