Attending college is supposed to be an enriching educational experience. It is an opportunity to meet new people and expose oneself to new ideas. For many students, heading off to college represents their first taste of freedom away from parental rules and supervision. Sadly, what ought to be an exciting new chapter of life has become a subject of concern for many Jewish students and parents. Antisemitism is on the rise across the United States, and college campuses are no exception. Students now regularly deal with extreme anti-Israel professors, student groups that actively promote antisemitism, and even physically violent hate crimes.
What is a Jewish parent to do? There is no easy answer, but there are two things we cannot shy away from. We need to have adult conversations with our kids about the hate that awaits them on campus. And we need to encourage them to never forget who they are.
Students at the University of Michigan found the words “Fuck Israel” painted over a rock that is usually decorated in support for various student organizations. A fire at the University of Delaware Chabad’s Center for Jewish Life was ruled to be an act of arson and an antisemitic hate crime. University of Illinois student Jeremy Zelner found that the Israeli flag hanging outside on his balcony had been egged. Zelner stood up against the hateful act. He said, “We are not the type of people to be scared. We’re not the type of people that would be silenced. We’re not the type of people to back down from what we believe in.” The actions he took to stand up to hate led the university to take steps to ensure the campus was a safer environment for Jewish students.
Many of the professors tasked with educating the next generation are shamefully spreading anti-Zionist hate in their classrooms. The University of Michigan had to discipline a tenured professor for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study in Israel. A UC Merced chemical engineering professor was not allowed to teach the next semester after his antisemitic tweets were discovered. However, university officials would not confirm his employment status or whether he would ever teach at the university again.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks to impose a commercial boycott of Jewish businesses for their supposed collective guilt, has been inexplicably endorsed by student governments at various campuses. A prominent BDS supporter was the keynote speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ graduation ceremony. The Graduate Student Union at the University of Toronto opposed an effort to make kosher food available on campus because doing so would be “pro-Israel.”
These stories can be extremely discouraging. As parents, we always want to do what we can to shelter our children from harm. But we cannot let these stories, upsetting as they are, blind us to our responsibilities as Jewish parents. It’s important to have “the talk” with your children before they leave for campus. And it’s just as critical to make sure they don’t hide their Jewish identity as a result. Taking off our kippahs or Magen David necklaces is not the answer. We cannot allow antisemites to scare us into hiding who we are. Students must feel empowered like Jeremy Zelner to speak out against hate and advocate for positive change. It’s up to us to make sure they have all the resources and support they need.