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A letter to my Jewish peers on university campuses abroad

While you face immense pressure as Jews on campus, I study at Hebrew University, where I’ve never stood out for being Jewish
Courtesy of Talia Agam
Courtesy of Talia Agam

Dear college friends and peers abroad,

Since university classes resumed in Israel, I have been struck by the stark difference between my campus life experience and yours, especially given the relentless antisemitism, anti-Israel demonstrations, and lack of action on the part of your university administrators.

For me, studying in Israel was more of a given than for most. I made aliyah four years ago with Garin Tzabar, and I enlisted in the IDF’s Cooperation Division, so I was already here. I loved my army service and was inspired to study international relations in Israel. The decision to study in Jerusalem was an easy one – it runs in my family. My parents met and earned their master’s degrees at Hebrew University. My older siblings continued the tradition with semesters abroad. To me, Hebrew University represents a home filled with history, diversity, and opportunity.

My reasoning aside, today, as a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I am really taken aback by the contrast between our respective lives on campus. I live in the Middle East. During a war.

Meanwhile, you are facing so much overseas: Rising antisemitism, the fear of being Jewish on campus, and an unrelenting fight for Jewish identity. My experience here in Jerusalem is so different. My university is a place that embraces our identity as Jews, where I’ve never stood out for being Jewish. That part of my identity is only one aspect – not the whole – of how I show up on campus.

I empathize with you for the immense pressure you face as a Jew on campus. You might think that over here we are immersed daily in “the Middle East conflict.” But the feeling of studying together with a strong Jewish population and with professors more concerned with teaching than using their platform for hate creates a highly supportive community. Other factors, such as small classes, make it easy to form relationships with students and professors invested in helping us succeed. Don’t get me wrong; I study with a diverse group of students. There are plenty of people native to Jerusalem and from around the world who come here to study who aren’t Jewish. Yet there is a mutual understanding here, and supportive and accommodating staff of religion and of different views.

It may sound strange, but even with a war going on, I can’t imagine studying anywhere else. I have immense pride as a Hebrew University student at this time. That’s because I’ve witnessed firsthand the resilience of the people of Israel. I am constantly inspired by the volunteering, support for our soldiers, and incredible acts of generosity. The campus community has accommodated students and staff serving in the IDF or struggling due to the situation. The administration, faculty, and students have rallied together for the betterment of each of us, individually and collectively.

My own experience here makes me wonder why more Jewish college students, especially those in the application process, aren’t seriously considering studying in Israel. There is a place where you can enjoy diversity on campus, get a high-ranking, international-level education, AND stand up proudly as a Jew without fear.

Moreover, Hebrew University just opened up a new international Bachelor of Arts program offered fully in English starting this fall. It’s different (I say better) than simply spending a semester abroad. At the top of the list of benefits is definitely studying and living in Jerusalem, a vibrant, interesting, diverse, and exciting city. There is an option of living in a secure student village, just a ten-minute walk from campus, and the campus is just 15 minutes from Ben Yehuda, the Shuk, and the rest of downtown Jerusalem.

You can earn your BA in just three years, which is standard in Israel for most undergraduate programs. Tuition here is also significantly lower than at comparable elite universities in America (and Hebrew University is ranked among the world’s top 100 universities!) In fact, the entire BA program costs less than a year’s tuition at most American universities. The high level of education, coupled with many opportunities to gain work experience, ensures that Hebrew University graduates are well-equipped for the global job market.

Lower tuition, great city, internships, and a high ranking for the school are all pluses. But at the end of the day, isn’t knowing you can be a proud Jew, an active Jew, a supporter of Israel without any fear something every one of us should just be able to expect?

To all my friends and peers who are risking your physical safety and psychological well-being simply for being Jewish, I strongly encourage you to consider joining me here. Studying in Israel is an investment in yourself. You will be able to thrive on a campus that is focused on academics, not advocacy. It may be an academic choice, but it’s also a life-changing decision that will allow you, as a Jewish university student, just to be a student.

Courtesy of Talia Agam
About the Author
Talia Agam, originally from Portland, Oregon, made aliyah and served in the IDF Cooperation (International) Division. She is studying international relations and business management at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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