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Safe on Campus? -- CHRONICLE Online/The WORD 05/02/24

Weekly On-line Rabbi's D'var-Torah


May 02, 2024

24 Nisan 5784

Achrei Mot

When I arrived on the campus of the University of Michigan in the fall of 1987, there was already an anti-apartheid shanty on the Diag (the central pedestrian walkway and hangout space of the campus). It eventually came down when the university agreed to divest from South Africa.  

Within a few months of my arrival, the first Intifada started in Israel. Shortly thereafter, an anti-Israel shanty appeared on the Diag. It was clearly an attempt to emulate the success of the anti-apartheid movement and force the university to divest from Israel. That effort was unsuccessful. However, one could argue that Palestinian activism on college campuses was born in Ann Arbor in the late 1980’s.  

Unfortunately, that pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism has morphed into a completely different experience. I never felt unsafe on campus due to the protests of the Muslim Student Association or other groups. I never felt like there were parts of campus that I could not go because I was Jewish. Protesters never hid their faces in order to scream antisemitic slogans anonymously. The encampments that have been created on college campuses across the country this past week have taken things to a new level. Pro-Palestinian activism is one thing. Pro-terrorist antisemitism is quite another.

Although I’ve already sent three kids off to college, I feel like things are completely different as we prepare to go through the process a fourth time. As a community, we must work together to make sure that Jewish students are ready to be Jews on a college campus.

First of all, it’s more important than ever that we “arm” our students with knowledge. I don’t expect any of our kids to get into a full-throated debate with a protester on campus. However, I want our students to know enough that they will be able to resist and reject the misinformation that they are likely to hear on campus. Earlier this year, I gave a presentation to our Anafim teen students, and I will continue to talk to them about what’s going on Israel. We all need to have our facts straight.

Secondly, parents need to know what’s happening on the campuses that their kids are considering. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends can help as well! There are two excellent resources available to help in assessing the situation on college campuses. First, Hillel puts out an annual College Guide that tells how many Jewish students there are on campus, whether there is a Jewish studies department, and what kind of programming Hillel provides. In addition, this year for the first time, the ADL has put out a Report Card for colleges on how they are handling antisemitism this year. If a campus is not handling the situation well, then we should not entrust our children to them. There are plenty of good options out there.

Thirdly, those of us who have college degrees have to reach out to our alma maters and ask what they are doing to keep Jewish students safe. When they ask us for contributions, we have to ask what they are doing to combat antisemitism. If we are not happy with their answers, we should direct our funds to the on-campus organizations that are actually supporting Jewish students and keeping them safe. If they are doing things the right way, we should reward them with our donations.

Picking a college was hard enough before all of this started. Our kids certainly did not need any more stress. However, if we all work together to support them and put pressure on colleges to do better, we can make sure that all of our kids can have a great college experience on a safe campus.



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