Being a Jew on Campus

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Photo by Perla Kaufman

Submitted by Rabbi Golomb

At its Shabbat program on December 20, the Temple featured four students – Rachel Plotkin, Marissa Gally, Ilana Wolf and Emily Brundage – who talked about what it meant to them to be Jewish college students. Although each of their experiences have their own distinct features, a number of common themes were brought up.

Being Jewish on campus is not daunting when one is at a school with a relatively large Jewish population. While many colleges have a Hillel or a Jewish Student Union and a Jewish Studies Program, these organizations supplement the more informal Jewish connections that are made as a part of campus life.

Yes, there are instants of anti-Jewish activity, particularly attacks on Israel, but they need to be taken in context of a mostly benign state of affairs. The incidents are relatively rare, have little enduring impact, and tend to be opposed by the college administration. While Vassar College, for instance, had some agitation for censuring Israel (the initiative is known as BDS – boycott, divest, sanction Israel) during the past academic year, the activity receded greatly this year, even after the summer’s operation in Gaza.

Jewish students generally wish to find their own way. The University is a universalizing experience, opening all of its students to a range of new ideas, life-styles and practices. Further, students are now on the first steps to independent adulthood, living away from home and with little supervision. Jewish students, like most others on campus, view their time in college as a process of self-discovery. Many are quite confident in their own Jewish identity, and therefore draw on the Jewish opportunities (Hillel, Jewish Studies, etc.) available to them, but at their own choosing.

Admittedly, the students who attended Vassar Temple’s Shabbat program were self-selected, but they probably reflect reasonably closely the attitude of most of the students from the congregation.

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