Oy, vey. As a society, we’d like to think we’ve become more accepting of people and their religions, cultures, languages, and sexual orientations – the very things that make us unique. We fool ourselves into believing we’ve embraced our differences, and that intolerant, hatred-filled beliefs like antisemitism ended with the Holocaust. It’s the twenty-first century – we’ve come such a long way, right?
Apparently not. All signs indicate that antisemitism is on the rise – even on college campuses. A 2021 survey conducted for the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International found that one in three Jewish college students experienced antisemitism in the 2020-2021 school year. Most students say they didn’t report the incidents, so antisemitism in college may be even more prevalent.
Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner who specializes in helping students find their best-fit colleges, says that some Jewish students get an unfortunate rude awakening when they arrive on campus.
“Children who grew up in Jewish neighborhoods with supportive family and friends often aren’t aware of the growing antisemitism on campuses until they experience or witness it firsthand,” she said. “Fortunately, there are a variety of resources that can help Jewish students combat antisemitism, embrace their heritage, and enjoy a safe and enriching campus life.”
A Sense of Community
As a parent, it’s never easy to let go and encourage your kids to fly free. Knowing they may encounter obstacles like racism, antisemitism, or any form of prejudice can make it even more difficult. Although you can’t always be there to protect your kids, you can help by directing your Jewish student to helpful on-campus resources that will help him or her thrive on campus and feel a sense of belonging and community.
Hillel International is the largest and most well-known on-campus Jewish organization, with chapters at more than 550 colleges. Hillel connects students to Jewish life and hosts a variety of social, educational, political, and religious activities. Typical on-campus events include Friday Shabbat dinners, Passover Seders, campus-wide “Bagel and Schmear” brunches, and welcome events where Jewish upperclassmen provide insights and advice to new students. Hillel welcomes students of all religions and encourages unity and acceptance. Many on-campus chapters even deliver free matzo ball soup to students who don’t feel well.
Hillel also works to combat antisemitism. For example, the University of Florida’s Hillel chapter recently collected more than 1,500 signatures as part of their annual ‘Spread Cream Cheese, Not Hate” awareness campaign. Students lined up for bagels and cream cheese and pledged, “I commit to combat antisemitism and all forms of hate. I will join with fellow Gators to ensure UF and my community is a welcoming and safe place for all.”
Hillel’s Guide to Jewish Life at Colleges and Universities is a helpful resource that includes the top 60 colleges by Jewish population and other pertinent information. Here are a variety of additional resources – largely compiled by Independent Educational Consultant Alison Merzel – that can help your Jewish student feel at home on campus:
AJC Campus Library
The American Jewish Committee Campus Library provides resources to help students become strong advocates for Israel and the Jewish community.
“AMCHA Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America.” The site contains a database documenting incidents of antisemitism in colleges, identifies the presence of Anti-Zionist chapters on campuses, and highlights additional relevant information.
The Anti-Defamation League is an anti-hate organization determined to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Their Hate/Uncycled cross-campus program helps create a more inclusive college campus, and Words to Action empowers students to respond to antisemitism.
In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International partnered with the Secure Community Network to create ReportCampusHate.Org, an online community where individuals can report and receive support for antisemitism on college campuses. Students have the option to report incidents anonymously.
Being Jewish in College Video Series
Independent Educational Consultant Dana Ponsky assembled and posted these 10-minute “Being Jewish in College” videos highlighting ways to create an enriching Jewish experience on various college campuses.
Birthright Israel is a non-profit organization that sends approximately 50,000 Jewish young adults on a free 10-day trip to Israel each year. Its mission is to offer “the gift of an educational and experiential trip to Israel in order to help build connections to Israel, nurture strong and proud Jewish identities, and strengthen the Jewish future.” Trips are available through Birthright Israel programs on college campuses throughout the country.
Chabad on Campus International
“Fast Friends. Life Lessons. A Joyful Jewish Home.
Chabad has chapters on more than 260 college campuses. “Our Chabad Houses kindle the hearts and minds of Jewish students at colleges around the world. They are hubs outside of the classroom where old friends and new friends become family. Each on-campus house is genuinely home to a rabbi, a rebbetzin, and their children. To you, it’s a home away from home, whether you’re non-practicing, somewhat observant, or totally traditional.”
Jewish Heritage Programs
Jewish Heritage Programs is a peer mentoring and outreach program that “inspires college students to participate in activities that celebrate Jewish pride and tradition…and helps each individual understand their own ability to have an impact in making the world a better place.”
Historically Jewish Fraternities and Sororities
Some students may be interested in joining a Jewish sorority or fraternity, such as Alpha Epsilon Pi. Even if Greek life isn’t your student’s cup of tea, the presence of Jewish fraternities and sororities typically indicates that there’s a Jewish student population on campus.
Stand With Us
StandWithUs helps college students confront antisemitism, and its mission is to make students “feel supported and inspired to share Israel with the diverse communities on their campuses.” The organization provides students with “the tools, resources, and support they need to be strong leaders within their communities.”
Joining a synagogue near campus can be a great way for Jewish students to connect with their heritage and find fellowship. Research synagogues near your prospective colleges to find a congregation that’s right for you.
- Reform congregations
- Conservative congregations
- World Union for Progressive Judaism - Reform and Reconstructionist/Liberal congregations)
TribeTalk provides webinars, podcasts, student stories, and other resources to help prospective students research and compare Jewish life on college campuses across the country.
World Union of Jewish Students
The World Union of Jewish Students is a student-led leadership organization created to foster “the unity of Jewish students worldwide” and “empower and strengthen student leadership, ensure the Jewish student voice is heard, and fight for the rights of all Jewish students to be represented.”
Inclusion – Not Exclusion
Although students who take advantage of resources like these can enjoy an enriching, inclusive campus life at a traditional college, some students might feel more comfortable at a Jewish university. Students don’t have to be Jewish to attend, but historically Jewish universities typically reflect Jewish values. Yeshiva University, for example, offers a dual curriculum that combines academically rigorous liberal arts and sciences courses with Jewish studies. Brandeis University proudly promotes its Jewish roots and values.
If you’d prefer a traditional college, consider factors like the number of Jewish students enrolled, the number of Jewish clubs and organizations, the availability of kosher food on campus, and the reported number of antisemitic incidents. However, there are many things to things to think about when choosing a college, and the decision shouldn’t be based on religion alone. If you and your student are having difficulty choosing a college, consider working with an independent educational consultant who specializes in helping students find their best-fit colleges.
And finding the right fit – where your child feels accepted and at home – is key, according to Robinovitz. She says that although being Jewish on campus can make a student feel like a small fish in a big pond, these resources can help make that pond feel smaller and more inviting.
“Whether your child decides to attend a Jewish university or a traditional college, the goal should be an inclusive environment with faculty and students from all backgrounds, cultures, and religions,” she said. “Meanwhile, it’s comforting to know that our kids can use the available tools and resources to connect with like-minded students, become part of a welcoming on-campus Jewish community, and stand strong together to help combat antisemitism on campus.”
So don’t worry, mom and dad. Your ‘baby’ is going to college! Your entire family has prepared for this journey, and your teen is ready to leave the nest and embrace the joys and challenges ahead. Mazel tov!