I remember a year ago, when my main stressors were wondering where my two boys would be in the fall of 2023. One was a high school senior applying to college, and the other was a college freshman wondering if he should transfer schools, and if so, whether it would work out. Both got into their “dream schools,” the Jewish mother in me is happy to report, and yet the world they find themselves in since October 7 is definitely closer to a nightmare.
One of my sons, attending college in New York, seems to live in the capital of hostage-poster-destruction. The other one, south of the Mason-Dixon line, has been on a quiet campus that only recently started erupting with protests full of not-so-thinly-veiled antisemitism, hate and threats of violence, including but not limited to social media bullying, screaming in the cafeteria and inflammatory posters and displays around campus.
Of course, what our college kids are going through these days is not in any way, shape or form comparable to what kids the same age are going through who are in Israel in the IDF, or being held hostage by Hamas in tunnels, or simply being Palestinian children in Gaza. Yes, of course it was worse to be brutally murdered, raped and assaulted at a music festival than it is to have to deal with uneducated peers shouting and posting hateful slogans they don’t even understand.
But as a Jewish parent who raised her American kids to be actively, deliberately, outwardly Jewish, it’s been a slap to the face that many institutions to which we coveted admission are at best places where bigotry eagerly takes advantage of ignorance, and at worst, cultivate hothouses of Jew hate. So on top of the grief for what happened in Israel on October 7 and the loss of life in the war since, our Jewish students will have daily confrontations with Jew hate.
Some parents of high school students have asked me, “Which schools do you think are safest for my Jewish kid?” And I answer the same way every time: None.
On October 7, we all learned, if we didn’t know already, that the world is not safe for Jews.
Now, colleges and universities in America have become places where our Jewish kids will have to learn much more important things than whatever they’re going to major in: For the first time, independent from their parents, they have to figure out who they are going to be as Jews. And I’m not just talking about whether or not they attend services at Hillel or Chabad — although we obviously want to make sure, as parents, that that remains a secure option for them (support your kids’ schools’ Hillels and Chabads!).
I’m talking about whether they speak to their new friend who lets slip an ignorant and prejudicial remark, or whether they let it lie in the optimistic hope that they didn’t mean it. I’m talking about whether they confront someone tearing down a hostage poster, or cross the street to avoid getting involved. I’m talking about what classes they sign up for, and whether they vet their professors beforehand to see whether they’ve proudly proclaimed Jew hatred or not.
Being a parent of a college kid always means learning a new delicate dance of how to step back. But these days, being a college kid — and especially a Jewish one — now, more than ever, means learning when it’s incumbent on you to step up. That’s a much harder thing to learn. There’s no prescribed coursework, no grades and no evaluations – other than how you get through every single day.