NYU president: Grad students’ BDS resolution ‘contrary to our core principles’


The president of New York University said the school will not acquiesce to its graduate student union’s recent demand that the university cut its Israel ties.

“A boycott of Israeli academics and institutions is contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas and at odds with the University’s position on this matter, as well as the position of [the student group]’s parent union,” Andrew Hamilton said Monday in a statement.

“NYU will not be closing its academic program in Tel Aviv, and divestment from Israeli-related investments is not under consideration,” the statement continued. “And to be clear: whatever ‘pledges’ union members may or may not have taken does not free them from their responsibilities as employees of NYU, which rejects this boycott.”

The graduate student union approved a resolution Friday calling on NYU to close its program at Tel Aviv University, which it alleges violates the NYU anti-discrimination policy. The resolution also calls on the union’s parent union, the United Auto Workers, to divest from Israeli companies. Fifty-seven percent of the 600 union members voting Friday also took a personal pledge to boycott Israeli government and academic institutions.

The union represents more than 2,000 graduate students and research assistants at the private university; 600 people participated in Friday’s vote, with two-thirds in favor of the resolution. The vote occurred just hours before the start of Passover.

In a statement Tuesday, the Anti-Defamation League praised the university “for unequivocally denouncing” the union’s “ill-conceived resolution.”

“Other universities in New York facing similar resolutions should follow NYU’s appropriate condemnation by sending a strong message that BDS campaigns on campus hinder any productive dialogue regarding the highly complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and create unnecessary divisions among students,” the ADL statement said.

NYU graduate student union approves BDS resolution


The graduate student union at New York University voted to approve a motion to support a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution against Israel.

The resolution was approved by two-thirds of the 600 union members who voted on Friday, according to reports citing the Graduate Student Organizing Committee. The committee represents more than 2,000 graduate teaching and research assistants at the university.

The resolution called on the union and its parent union, the United Auto Workers, to divest from Israeli companies. It also calls on NYU to close its program at Tel Aviv University, which it alleges violates the NYU non-discrimination policy. Fifty-seven percent of the voting union members also took a personal pledge to boycott Israeli government and academic institutions.

The resolution calls for the boycott to remain in place “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall, recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

NYU spokesman John Beckman told Capital News New York that: “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.”

The United Auto Workers International in January struck down a boycott resolution against Israel passed by the University of California Student Workers Union, UAW Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the UC system.

Dear John Sexton: Condemn and block the ASA


To: John Sexton, Ph.D J. D.
President, New York University

Re. An Open Letter regarding NYU and ASA, via email, January 20, 2014.

Dear President Sexton,

I am writing to you as an alumnus of NYU-affiliated school who is deeply concerned with the recent boycott resolution by the American Studies Association (ASA) and its adverse impact on the reputation of NYU.

I received my PhD in 1965 from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, which last month became part of NYU. In November 2013, I was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award from NYU-Poly, an honor that made my association with NYU stronger and full of pride. I was disappointed therefore to learn that the leadership of the ASA, which pushed through a resolution that threatens the very fabric of academic life, is so intimately connected with NYU, both academically and administratively.

Four ASA National Council members (25%) are affiliated with NYU and vocally campaigned for the resolution. In particular, the ASA President Elect, Lisa Duggan, is NYU Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis. This means that in the next couple of years, NYU will become the semi-official host to most activities of this organization, and will be perceived as the academic lighthouse from which this group will be broadcasting its irresponsible, anti-coexistence and anti-academic ideology.

I represent a group of professors who are particularly affected by the ASA boycott resolution.  As part of my recent appointment to Visiting Professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, I am engaged in joint scientific projects with the Technion and its research staff. I also collaborate with Israeli universities on journalistic projects, named after my late son, Daniel Pearl, which aim at bringing Israeli and Palestinian journalists together.

I think you can appreciate how demoralizing the ASA action has been for me, as well as for other professors in my position. It is not that we view the ASA action as a danger to the continuation of our research projects — scientific collaboration has endured many hecklers in the past, much louder than the ASA drummers, and the latters are clearly more interested in defamation than in an actual boycott. What we do consider dangerous is the very attempt to contaminate our scientific explorations with a charge of criminality, and to bring that “criminality” for a so called “debate” in the public square, on our own campuses. We view this attempt as a new form of McCarthy'ism that is aimed at intimidating and silencing opposing voices, and thus threatens academic freedom and the fundamental principles of academic institutions.

When a group of self-appointed vigilantes empowers itself with a moral authority to incriminate the academic activities of their colleagues, we are seeing the end of academia and the end of the sacred academic principles that have been painstakingly developed over centuries.

It is for this reason that I was personally disappointed with your letter which, while expressing opposition to boycotts in general and the ASA resolution in particular, failed to identify the ASA action as an imminent threat to NYU's  reputation. Your letter did not state whether the ASA will be able to continue using NYU facilities and services as its de-facto national headquarter, and what action you plan to take to restrain its leaders from re-staining the name of NYU with similar actions in the future.

In the name of many NYU alumni who wish to remain proud of their Alma Mater, I strongly urge you to remove NYU's name from the ASA “institutional member” list (as other universities have done), and to voice a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the pro-boycott activities of the ASA leadership.

Sincerely,
Judea Pearl
UCLA

If boycott is anti-academic what do we call its leaders?


To: John Sexton, Ph.D J. D.
President, New York University

Re. An Open Letter regarding NYU and ASA, via email, January 20, 2014.

Dear President Sexton,

I am writing to you as an alumnus of NYU-affiliated school who is deeply concerned with the recent boycott resolution by the American Studies Association (ASA) and its adverse impact on the reputation of NYU.

I received my PhD in 1965 from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, which last month became part of NYU. In November 2013, I was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award from NYU-Poly, an honor that made my association with NYU stronger and full of pride. I was disappointed therefore to learn that the leadership of the ASA, which pushed through a resolution that threatens the very fabric of academic life, is so intimately connected with NYU, both academically and administratively.

Four ASA National Council members (25%) are affiliated with NYU and vocally campaigned for the resolution. In particular, the ASA President Elect, Lisa Duggan, is NYU Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis. This means that in the next couple of years, NYU will become the semi-official host to most activities of this organization, and will be perceived as the academic lighthouse from which this group will be broadcasting its irresponsible, anti-coexistence and anti-academic ideology.

I represent a group of professors who are particularly affected by the ASA boycott resolution.  As part of my recent appointment to Visiting Professor at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, I am engaged in joint scientific projects with the Technion and its research staff. I also collaborate with Israeli universities on journalistic projects, named after my late son, Daniel Pearl, which aim at bringing Israeli and Palestinian journalists together.

I think you can appreciate how demoralizing the ASA action has been for me, as well as for other professors in my position. It is not that we view the ASA action as a danger to the continuation of our research projects — scientific collaboration has endured many hecklers in the past, much louder than the ASA drummers, and the latters are clearly more interested in defamation than in an actual boycott. What we do consider dangerous is the very attempt to contaminate our scientific explorations with a charge of criminality, and to bring that “criminality” for a so called “debate” in the public square, on our own campuses. We view this attempt as a new form of McCarthy'ism that is aimed at intimidating and silencing opposing voices, and thus threatens academic freedom and the fundamental principles of academic institutions.

When a group of self-appointed vigilantes empowers itself with a moral authority to incriminate the academic activities of their colleagues, we are seeing the end of academia and the end of the sacred academic principles that have been painstakingly developed over centuries.

It is for this reason that I was personally disappointed with your letter which, while expressing opposition to boycotts in general and the ASA resolution in particular, failed to identify the ASA action as an imminent threat to NYU's  reputation. Your letter did not state whether the ASA will be able to continue using NYU facilities and services as its de-facto national headquarter, and what action you plan to take to restrain its leaders from re-staining the name of NYU with similar actions in the future.

In the name of many NYU alumni who wish to remain proud of their Alma Mater, I strongly urge you to remove NYU's name from the ASA “institutional member” list (as other universities have done), and to voice a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the pro-boycott activities of the ASA leadership.

Sincerely,
Judea Pearl
UCLA

Additional Remarks by J. Pearl.

———————-
This letter to President Sexton was written as
a reaction to a glaring contradiction between what
University administrators say about boycotts and
the way they tolerate, if not embrace boycott activists.
If boycott stands contrary to basic academic principles then,
surely, boycott advocates are undermining those principles
and should be exposed and treated as such.

Of course, no one expects university administrators to discipline
professors who violate academic principles; academic freedom demands
that its principles remain vulnerable to abuse, it is the
secret of their survival.
What one nevertheless expects campus leaders to do is to
DEFINE the norms of a desirable campus envionment, and
identify violators of those norms as a source of
embarrassment, whose actions are not conducive to the
kind of campus climate we wish to create.

Prenatal whole genome sequencing technology raises Jewish ethical questions


Expectant mothers long have faced the choice of finding out the gender of their child while still in the womb.

But what if parents could get a list of all the genes and chromosomes of their unborn children, forecasting everything from possible autism and future genetic diseases to intelligence level and eye color?

The technology to do just that — prenatal whole genome sequencing, which can detect all 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the genome from fetal blood present in the mother’s bloodstream — is already in laboratories. While not yet available in clinical settings because of the cost, once the price falls below $1,000 it is likely to become common, according to a report by the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institute.

With it will come a host of Jewish ethical dilemmas.

“We need a serious set of conversations about the implications of this new technology,” said Peter Knobel, a Reform rabbi who teaches bioethics at the Spertus Center in Chicago and is the senior rabbi at the city’s Temple Sholom.

How will parents react to a pregnancy destined to produce a child with an unwanted condition? What do parents do when genetic sequencing shows a predisposition for a deadly disease but not a certainty of it? What about diseases not curable now but which may be cured by the time the child reaches adulthood? When, if ever, is the right time to tell a child he or she has a genetic predisposition toward a particular disease?

It likely will be the most contentious social issue of the next decade, predicts Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

”Anyone who thinks that information that could lead to abortion isn’t going to be controversial has been asleep since Roe v. Wade,” Caplan said.

According to Orthodox Judaism's interpretations of Jewish law, abortion is permissible only when the mother’s health is at risk. The Conservative movement agrees, but its position includes other exceptions.

“Our real concern will be massive increases in the number of abortions,” said Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of bioethics at Yeshiva University. “You have a young couple, 22, 23, 24 years old, and they don’t plan to have more than two or three children. Why take a defective child? I call it the perfect baby syndrome. The perfect baby does not exist.”

Rabbi Avram Reisner, a bioethicist on the Conservative movement’s Committee of Law and Standards, says abortion by whim is clearly prohibited.

“Judaism is not pro-life,” said Reisner, the spiritual leader at Congregation Chevrei Tzedek in Baltimore. “Jewish law allows abortion. And it is not pro-choice. It is concerned with managing the health of the mother. It does not support abortion as a parental whim.”

The Reform movement, though adamantly pro-choice, has a similar position.

“Abortion should not take place for anything other than a serious reason,” said Knobel of the Spertus Institute, “hopefully in consultation with a religious or ethical adviser.”

As far as Jewish ethics are concerned, prenatal whole genome sequencing has some elements in common with current genetic testing.

Embryos of Ashkenazi Jews routinely are tested for such diseases as Tay-Sachs and the breast cancer genes BRCA — two illnesses disproportionately common among Ashkenazim.

In haredi Orthodox communities where arranged marriages are common, matchmakers routinely consult databases that hold genetic information anonymously to see whether a match would face a genetic obstacle. That practice, and genetic testing during pregnancy, has practically eliminated Tay-Sachs disease in the American Ashkenazi community, according to Michael Broyde, professor at the Emory University law school and a member of the Beth Din of America, an Orthodox rabbinical court.

The difference between prenatal sequencing and current genetic testing is the amount of information and its usefulness. Current tests look for specific genetic disorders. Prenatal sequencing is a fishing expedition, looking at everything.

At present, the information is of limited use. No one knows what 90 percent of genes do, and it usually takes more than one gene to do anything. Furthermore, genes are not destiny: Just because one has the genes for certain diseases, such as coronary heart disease, does not mean one will get it.

“All genetic stuff is probabilistic,” Caplan said.

Some say that raises the question of whether Jews should be undergoing genome sequencing at all.

“Just because you can get the whole genome, why do that?” asked Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chairman of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Law and Standards. “How much do you want to find out and how much do you want to share with the couple, and later with the child? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

The operative question, he notes, is whether it will cure or detect a serious disease.

“With all questions of this type, the law doesn’t ask how something is being done; it asks what we are accomplishing,” Broyde said. “If sequencing makes people healthier, it’s a good thing. If it’s going to make people ill, it’s sinning.”

Knobel says, “We need what I call an ethics of anticipation. We need a serious set of conversations about the implications of using the new technology, about how we can understand the values and ethics and come to grips with what it means in the long term.”

A dialogue on Jewish life in America today


Following the publication of the New York Jewish Population Study, Shmuel Rosner interviewed Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner. So, how many Jewish people are there exactly?

Dear Steven,

A couple of years ago, you made a name for yourself by provoking the Jewish world to consider the possibility of a growing divide between two kinds of Jewish people — the in-married and the intermarried. Of course, no consensus ever was reached on the matter — yet consensus is hardly a Jewish value. However, your description stuck and is still quoted in articles and discussions.

Enter the latest New York Jewish Population Study (which you authored, together with Jacob Ukeles and Ron Miller) with its many details, and it seems to me that a new Jewish divide should be considered.

On the one side — the progressive and secular Jewish world, with its many components: A community that isn’t always much connected to Jewish identity and practice, but is educated, affluent and quite successful, economically speaking. They have less by way of daily Jewish life, but more resources with which to make Judaism available for all.

On the other side — the Orthodox Jewish world: Fast-growing, vibrant and highly affiliated, Jewishly educated, well-connected to Israel, with a very low rate of assimilation and very high number of children. And it is relatively poor. The more they are affiliated, the less resources they have to support the high cost of Jewish life.

Can this divide be bridged? Can we find a way to somehow overcome the seeming contradiction between affiliation and financial resources?

I’m turning it over to you …

Dear Shmuel,

Your call to focus on the divide and differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is, indeed, well-placed. As our study amply demonstrates — and as your comment underscores — Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews differ on so many dimensions of Jewish engagement, demographic patterns and worldviews.

But I think it would be a mistake to ignore another critical divide (as maybe you are suggesting) among the non-Orthodox: That distinguishing the intermarried or the children of the intermarried from the majority of non-Orthodox Jews who are the children of two Jewish parents and are either non-married or in-married. In other words, rather than divide the world into two (either Orthodox/non-Orthodox or in-married/intermarried), I prefer to divide the world into three (Orthodox; in-married or unmixed ancestry non-Orthodox; intermarried and mixed ancestry). The differences across these boundaries are real, even as the groups do bleed into one another.

In fact, each camp I’m suggesting may itself be divided in two. Among the Orthodox, we found incredibly large differences between the Modern Orthodox and the Charedim, especially with respect to participating in the larger Jewish community. Among the in-married non-Orthodox, we found substantial differences between Conservative and Reform Jews, especially if affiliated, countering the widely held notion that the two venerable denominations are no longer meaningful. And among the intermarried population (be it by ancestry or current circumstance), Jews divide significantly between those who see Judaism as their religion and those who do not.

In short, Orthodox/non-Orthodox obscures and distorts reality too much. It leads you to obliquely characterize the non-Orthodox Jewish world as “progressive and secular” and to speak of the Jewish community within it in the following way: “A community that isn’t always much connected to Jewish identity and practice.” The data that Jack, Ron and I analyzed in depth say otherwise. The (non-Orthodox) Jewish community — those who are engaged in Jewish life but do not identify as Orthodox — is very much “connected to Jewish identity and practice,” sometimes “progressive,” and does not see itself very much as “secular.”

In short, the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide, when unqualified, leads even some very smart, sympathetic and experienced observers in Jewish life in the United States to a downwardly biased assessment of Jewish life and vitality among the non-Orthodox.

As much as I value the focus on the demographic issues of in-marriage and birthrates for analytic and policy purposes, I believe we need to see Jewish demography and Jewish communal vitality as related but with distinct dimensions. As important as is population growth/decline, it is not the total measure of cultural, communal, and spiritual success (or failure). From a policy point of view, we cannot assume that inspiring communities automatically promote in-marriage, high birthrates and Jews (or non-Jews) choosing Jewish engagement. Just as we need policies and practices that strengthen Jewish communities and life, so, too, do we need separate policies and practices that improve the likelihood of Jews marrying Jews, Jews parenting Jews, as well as Jews and non-Jews engaging in Jewish life.

In short, we need to think of at least three population segments, not two; and two sets of policies, not one. The Orthodox, in-married and intermarried merit our distinctive attention. So, too, does Jewish vitality and Jewish demography.

In a follow-up letter, Rosner asks Cohen: Do you have to have money to be Jewishly engaged?

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your response. I have many follow-up questions but will have to start with the question I’ve already asked. Interestingly, while my original question was a lot about the economics of the Jewish community, your response doesn’t at all deal with it — you highlight the differences among three groups but do not write about Orthodox financial constraints. I guess what I need to know first is if there really is such difference that is affiliation-based. And if there is such difference, what do we do about it?

Dear Shmuel,

In response to your question, “I guess what I need to know first is if there really is such difference that is affiliation-based. And if there is such difference — what do we do about it?”

I offer the following: Some indicators of Jewish engagement are sensitive to income (usually, the ones that cost money), and others are not.

Those measures that are at least moderately related to higher income are a collection of indicators, all reflecting institutional involvement:

  • Going to museums or Jewish cultural events.
  • Going to Jewish community center programs.
  • Attending Jewish educational programs.
  • Accessing Jewish Web sites.
  • Belonging to synagogues.
  • Belonging to Jewish organizations.
  • Giving to Jewish causes, both UJA-Federation and others.
  • Volunteering under Jewish auspices.
  • Celebrating Passover and Chanukah (family-oriented holidays).

Among the items not related to income are:

  • Shabbat-meal frequency.
  • Monthly service attendance.
  • Keeping kosher at home (higher among the poor).
  • Lighting Shabbat candles (higher among the poor).
  • Fasting on Yom Kippur.
  • Having close friends who are Jewish.
  • Feeling attached to Israel.
  • Feeling that being Jewish is very important.
  • Talking with friends about Jewish matters.

Not surprisingly, feelings of being part of a Jewish community in New York rise with household income, from 19 percent of the poor and near-poor who answer “a lot,” to 36 percent of the affluent group.

As compared with the affluent, low- and moderate-income Jewish New Yorkers feel just as Jewishly engaged and act just as Jewishly engaged in their private and social lives. However, financial and social barriers, if not the pressures of daily living, work to restrain and constrain the participation of the less-affluent in Jewish communal life, in matters ranging from belonging, to attending programs, to volunteering.

As to what can be done about financial barriers, a few ideas come to mind:

First, we need to recognize that more committed and connected Jews find more value in acts of Jewish engagement, even when they cost money. Hence, anything that can raise commitment and connection will tend to lower the perceived cost of Jewish involvement.

Second, volunteer efforts by committed Jews with high cultural capital can significantly trim costs. Some Jewish camps, schools, congregations and minyanim can operate with relatively lower budgets than conventional counterparts because they draw upon capable volunteers or semivolunteer low-paid professional staff. But that requires a pool of people with Jewish commitment and cultural capacity. Where such people are plentiful, the cost of Jewish involvement drops. Hence, the Jewish community has an interest in educating young people who, in some time, will go out and volunteer their talents to build and sustain Jewish institutions, especially those engaged in education or prayer.

Third, targeted scholarships and fee reductions can induce some families to engage in Jewish life in various ways. The generic problem with such policies is that, if not targeted, the costs will mount dramatically with little impact on increased participation. All such programs grapple with the question of how to target the funds without insulting or offending families who would otherwise participate in the particular activity or institution.

The darker side of college


CAUTION: This op-ed by a senior at a Los Angeles area school contains realistic and heartfelt language that some readers may find offensive. Note: some college names were changed to protect the innocent, or applicant.

With the coming of senior year comes a host of new opportunities: emotional, physical, and mental. But the biggest opportunity is obviously, college. As a senior, I have the chance to choose from many distinct colleges and decide which one I should go to. Being the person I am, I decided in 10th grade I was set on BU. So I applied there and that was great, go me. But one of the things I noticed in senior year is that any mention of college with an adult starts a whole dialogue about your future, and how you should look into, definitely look into, that one college. Here’s what every conversation goes like:

ME (at some function with old people): Hi person- who’s- name- I- forgot, haven’t seen you in ever. How’ve you been?

OLD PERSON: Great! Hey, I can’t relate to you in any other way because I’m so old, so what college are you going to apply to?

ME: Well, after hours of thought and work, preparation and meditation, I’ve narrowed down my list to BU. I think it really speaks to my personality, and such.

OLD PERSON: That’s fantastic. Great school. But you know what, here are another twenty other schools that I think are better than the shitty college you like, because I have successful friends who graduated from them.

ME: Go to hell.

So that’s basically how it goes. Note to all of you old people who made mistakes in your life, and are trying to communicate to me the importance of having options in choosing colleges, etc, etc: I get it. I know. I’m young, and you’re old, and so you’re naturally inclined to believe that I’m inexperienced and don’t know that much about making life decisions. And the truth is: you’re right. But I’m not going to get any better at making them if I don’t make any, right?

So keep your comments to yourselves. Yes, I’m sure University of New Hampshire is a great place. And OK, Swarthmore would fit my academic needs. But hey, if I wanted to go to fucking Swarthmore, I would’ve said so. So please, understand that I am more than just a stupid seventeen- year- old. OK, I am a stupid seventeen- year- old, but at the same time, I belong to the same generation that will run the world in forty years. And if you old people use all your time telling us how we should spend our lives, we won’t know how to run our own lives when it counts. And not to get personal, but you probably made the same mistake of listening to the old person of your generation, too. Otherwise you wouldn’t be wasting my time with your pointless comments forty years later.

Listen, old person, I’m not angry. Truly, I’m not. I’m annoyed. I want your trust, random old stranger, because I am a volatile fucking teenager, and I want the confidence to know that I’m making the right choice. The confidence that old fucks like you might be able to give me.

I guess you have taught me one thing, old person. When I’m an old person in your position, and a sleep- deprived high school senior starts talking to me about his first choice college, I’m not going to recommend to the kid a list of other colleges that are way better for that kid, or tell them about how much they will colossally fuck themselves by going to some other college. No. I’ll just pat that kid on the back, flash a smile to their face and tell them,

“You’re going to love it there.”

‘The First Basket’ depicts journey from Ellis Island to shooting hoops


It’s true that major league baseball has seen a renaissance of Jewish players during the past few years, but the historic American Jewish sport is surely basketball.

It makes sense if you think about it: Easy to play on the concrete surfaces that are ubiquitous in urban areas, basketball was the sport most accessible to the sons of the immigrants who had flocked to the United States between 1880 and 1920.

As David Vyorst makes clear in his comprehensive and entertaining documentary, “The First Basket,” those sons took to the game with fervor. Interview after interview with former players and coaches makes clear that basketball, not religious observance, was what mattered to this Americanizing generation.

“My father was busy trying to make a living. My mother was busy taking care of the household. And we were busy in the streets, and in the schoolyard, playing basketball and growing up,” Ralph Kaplowitz says in the film. Kaplowitz lived in the Bronx and later played two years for the New York Knicks.

Kaplowitz wasn’t alone in making a religion out of basketball: The Jewish kids who learned the game in the rough-and-tumble New York City neighborhoods of Brooklyn’s Brownsville and Williamsburg, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bronx’s Grand Concourse, later stocked the top collegiate teams and the early professional ranks.

The trailer

Indeed, the film’s name stems from the fact that in 1946, a Jewish player, Ossie Schectman, scored the first basket in the Basketball Association of America, the precursor to today’s National Basketball Association.

Considering the paucity of Jewish players in today’s NBA (there’s currently one, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jordan Farmar), it’s astonishing to remember that several members of Schechtman’s 1946-1947 Knicks team were Jewish, as were players on other teams. Some still affectionately refer to the game that they and top coaches such as Red Sarachek and Red Auerbach developed — emphasizing teamwork, crisp passing and defense — as “Jew ball.”

This style of play originated earlier in the 20th century, when Jewish players competed on both the amateur and semiprofessional levels. Teams were sponsored by settlement houses that wanted to Americanize immigrants, and by labor unions and Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring branches.

Players on the most famous of these teams, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, or SPHAs, wore Hebrew letters and Stars of David on their uniforms. What’s more, after many SPHAs games, the court was turned into a dance floor where young Jews could socialize and look for husbands and wives. Some of the figures mentioned in “The First Basket” — Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and current NBA Commissioner David Stern, both of whom were interviewed in the film — are well known.

Others are less familiar to casual fans. Barney Sedran, for instance, was an early 20th-century player who, at 5 feet 4 inches, is believed to be the shortest player in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During his heyday in the 1910s and ’20s, Sedran played in as many as three games a day, often for different teams.

The Jewish connection to basketball isn’t entirely rosy. “The First Basket” points out that the roots of the 1950s-era college basketball scandals rest in the Catskills summer resorts. The cooks apparently were the first to fix the games with college players, who were there for summer jobs and a bit of basketball.

In the Catskills, gamblers first made the connections that would eventually rock the college basketball world and lead to the suspensions of several City College of New York players, as well as players from other schools in New York City and around the United States. No longer would such New York City teams as CCNY, New York University and Long Island University dominate college hoops, as they did between 1935 and 1951. In a devastating archival clip that is part of the documentary, Nat Holman, the legendary CCNY coach, admits that he never got over his players’ participation in gambling.

The Catskills gambling story could be a nice segue into some of the pitfalls of Americanization: Do any of the players interviewed for the documentary have regrets about their rebellion against their parents’ religiosity? Did they maintain their Jewishness, and did they pass it on to their children and grandchildren? An exploration of these questions would have added another layer of complexity to the film.

Also, the final section of “The First Basket” feels a bit disjointed. Sure, Holman helped bring the game to Israel, contributing to basketball’s globalization. But the link between Maccabi Tel Aviv’s stirring victory in the 1977 European Cup semifinals against a Soviet team and the acculturation of American Jews through basketball, which is the film’s focus, feels tenuous.

To its credit, however, “The First Basket” is a rare documentary that not only provides context (thanks to interviews with scholars of Jewish history), but also is fun to watch. The film’s story, while covered in such works as Peter Levine’s 1992 book “Ellis Island to Ebbets Field” (Oxford University Press), has not been put on celluloid in such detail.

Vyorst’s interviews allow for a glimpse into a generation of Jews who shaped basketball – and who are proud of their accomplishments and their toughness. As Jack “Dutch” Garfinkel, who played for the Boston Celtics from 1946 to 1949, remembers with a smile: “I’m the first man who used the look-away pass in basketball. My passes were very tough. I broke a lot of fingers.”

“The First Basket” opens in Los Angeles on November 14. For more information, visit www.thefirstbasket.com.