As the product of opportunity-seizing, American dream-chasing immigrants, I, like thousands of American Jewish teenagers, never expected that the bigotry my great-grandparents worked so hard to escape would follow me today. But, as anti-Semitism on college campuses surges, so does the realization that neither America—the land of the supposed free—nor its students are immune to anti-Semitism. And frankly, this scares me.
It’s terrifying to think that one of our country’s main principles is freedom of religion, yet today it creates an environment conducive to targeted hate-crimes. It has become normal for American university student governments to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and freely refer to Zionism, and all who dare associate, with it as racist, violent and apartheid-enabling. These same people also ignore the fact that Israel is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, comprised of both Jews and non-Jews from more than 100 different countries. I worry that like my great-grandparents, misconceptions of my religion will hinder my academic aspirations. When Jewish students submit their applications to colleges beyond the Jewish bubble, they must do so with the realization of the fact that they become victim to their classmates’ harassment. However, Jewish students are just as privy to the First Amendment as those who use its security to spread the hate.
As a high school sophomore curious about college, I have asked and received the same aggravating response numerous times: You can’t go to a secular college, it isn’t safe. But, if this remains the response counselors tell Jewish high school students, the anti-Semitic situation on college campuses has no prospective improvement. Swastikas will not stop being graffitied on the doors of Jewish students without change.
As Bari Weiss, Op-Ed Staff Editor and Writer for The New York Times, explained at the 2019 Never Is Now Summit, we can’t always be on the defense. We can’t refrain from applying to a secular college due to fear. Yes, it’s important to feel comfortable with our surroundings, but in order to create a safe environment for Jews on campus, we need to normalize it; we must proactively do something about it. We can’t simply say “we hate hate,” Weiss said. It isn’t enough. To create a movement of acceptance and civility on college campuses, we must be present. In order to become comfortable in an environment in which we once thrived we must return stronger.
Mentally preparing for the backlash will not suffice. Regardless of how well we do research, no matter how secure we think our beliefs are, when asked to defend ourselves on a matter, a crowd is better than a single voice. This sounds like a cliché, but we are indeed better together. If I attend a secular college, I can’t be the only Jew. Rather, I can’t be the only proud Jew.
This is where the Anti-Defamation League and other resources come in. They provide programs to raise awareness and educate others against bias. Essentially, by simply contacting ADL regional offices, we can collectively take one step closer to creating the Jewish presence on American college campuses desperately needed today. We can’t just yell back anymore, creating a strong Jewish presence is the only way.