New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt looks back on the tumultuous spring of 1968 — from the vantage point of a not-too-radical student at a not-too-radical college campus. While his peers at Columbia were busy occupying buildings, Rosenblatt and his fellow Yeshiva University students were engaged in some mischievous — if decidedly less political — rebellion of their own:
Despite the fewer than 60 blocks that separated them, the Columbia and YU campuses were really light years apart. One was at the cutting edge of revolution; one was framed by Talmudic study steeped in disputes of centuries past.
So the edginess of the times, compounded by final exams, played out in a major water fight in the main dorm one spring night at YU, with scores of students in their swim trunks heaving large cans of water on each other, and sometimes out the window onto Amsterdam Avenue.
Soon, the fire department arrived, with firemen wading through the puddles in the dorm halls, axes at the ready, responding to calls from neighbors. Surveying the scene, though, they were good-natured about the mess and didn’t stay long.
Hours later, well after midnight, two student activists from Columbia’s SDS chapter appeared at my dorm room. SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) was the radical group behind the Columbia protests, and it seems they had received notice that, in their memorable words to my roommate and me, “Yeshiva was being liberated.”
They said they were there to help us plan a takeover of the president’s office.
Too embarrassed to explain that the commotion at YU was a water fight, not a student protest — and that any prospective rebellion at YU would have been quelled by a rabbinic scholar announcing that such acts were halachically not permissible, or just not right — we listened as they urged us to secure maps of the administrative buildings and fortify ourselves for a long stay.
We nodded, scribbled notes, thanked them for their advice, and finally were rid of them, raising our fists to meet theirs in solidarity.
Then we had a good laugh before going back to sleep in preparation for another day of Talmud study and exams.
But wild water fights weren’t the sum total of Rosenblatt’s youthful rebellion. He goes on to describe a guerrilla volleyball game with some female students from Stern College that drew a pretty stern police response.
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