As a Jew on campus, it’s almost never about how you define yourself but how others define you.
Regardless of an individual’s personal religious, spiritual, political views, or background, Jewish students on campus often become seen by non-Jews as ambassadors for the Jewish People and even Israel. Parents have a vital role to play helping their Jewish children prepare to succeed at college.
If your son or daughter is heading to or is already on a college campus where anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities are present, here are some important steps for safety and success.
Parents & Students:
Connect and Communicate
Jewish students will often have many options for connecting with other Jews on campus through religious, social, fraternal, and political groups.
Before reaching college (or shortly after arriving), do the homework together and help your teenager decide how they’ll connect with Jewish life on campus. Regularly encourage and support those connections. Along with registering for classes and confirming housing, your teenager making time to connect with one or more well-established local Jewish groups should be a top priority.
Your teenager should reach out to the leadership of the groups they’re interested in and introduce themselves, where they’re from, their interests, and how they might like to participate. If your son or daughter has Jewish friends going to the same college, encourage them to participate together.
Compare and Consider
Once you’re actually at college, give yourself multiple opportunities to compare various opportunities to engage in Jewish life on campus. Consider where you feel most comfortable (e.g. at a synagogue, charitable program, social group, fraternity or sorority, political organization, or multiple options), which groups are responsive to you, offer opportunities that best align with your values, interests, and priorities, and choose just one or two groups where you can truly invest yourself by consistently and actively participating.
Contribute, Cooperate, and Collaborate
As a participant, make a point of finding a project or activity where you can meaningfully contribute, cooperate, and collaborate with others. That’s an important opportunity to develop friendships and demonstrate that you’re much more than simply a bystander.
Champion, Campaign, or Create
Every organization will have events to plan, promote, organize or advocate, from weekly services to charitable, social and political events, and much more. Become a champion for one or more events that are meaningful to you. Work with other members to bring projects to life and campaign to help them succeed. If there’s not a project or campaign that fits for you, develop your idea for your own campaign, recruit others to join you, and get support from the group’s leadership to invest time and resources in your campaign.
Chip In, Counsel, and Congratulate
Depending on your resources, be sure you’re regularly chipping in money, time, energy or all of the above to help your group succeed. Regularly offer your perspective and good counsel about the activities you participate in and be sure to congratulate other members of the group for their great work and contributions too.
Remember, Jewish Life should always be a place where you feel inspired, inspiring, and lift each other up to greater heights.
When Facing Anti-Semitic, anti-Israel Activities
When you face anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities on campus, don’t approach or engage with them on your own. Join with your group leadership and members to consider the most effective opportunities to correct falsehoods, engage with local media, build coalitions with other student organizations, and organize or support events that powerfully convey the miraculous story of modern-day Israel and the Jewish People.
If you ever feel threatened, scared, or intimidated on campus, call 911 and the school police immediately. Law enforcement has an obligation to make sure all students are safe on college campuses. It’s important to give them the opportunity to promptly do that when occasions arise. Involve parents in conversations with law enforcement or school administrators when that can potentially be helpful. If you’re not satisfied with a response from local law enforcement, work with your parents to communicate your concerns to higher levels.
When it comes to being a Jew on an American college campus, always keep the lines of communication with you own parents open and updated.
College should be some of the happiest years of your entire life. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or upsets; there will be. When it comes to facing challenges that are unique to our Jewish ancestry, identity, and values, there’s greater safety and wisdom in numbers. Becoming an active part of Jewish life on campus will help ensure the best possible university experience, meaningful friendships, memories that will last a lifetime, and the best opportunity to help others known the very real modern-day miracles that are Israel and the Jewish People.
Author’s note: Do you have other ideas for helping Jewish students succeed at campuses with active anti-Semitic and anti-Israel campaigns? If so, please be in touch to share your ideas which may be incorporated into an expanded upcoming monograph/handbook.