What Jewish Parents of College Kids Are Feeling Right Now – Kveller
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What Jewish Parents of College Kids Are Feeling Right Now

Parents from across the country, Canada, and even Australia shared their fears and challenges with us.

Commencement Ceremony Held At University Of Michigan Amid Ongoing Pro Palestinian Protests On Campus

via Nic Antaya/Getty Images

“I don’t know how to parent through this,” is what Torreh Pearl, a mother of three from suburban Los Angeles, wrote in Kveller’s recent survey of parents of Jewish kids attending college right now.

While our legal duties as parents may technically end at age 18, we all know that parenting is for life, and parenting kids through their college years comes with its known set of challenges: dealing with them leaving our home, supporting them through their first time living alone and helping them manage their financial and emotional well-being while also letting them be their own people and make their own choices.

But encampments on campus? Heightened police presence? Conflicts around Jewishness, antisemitism and Zionism? Those aren’t things most of us were prepared to deal with. And yet this year, they are part of the challenges many Jewish kids on campus are faced with — and thus, ones that many parents have to face, too.

The responses to our survey came from all across the country — New York, the Midwest, California, some even from Canada and one from far away Australia, too. Most of the parents who responded have multiple kids, and at least one or two kids currently on college campuses. Scary, terrifying, distressing, surreal — those were some of the words many used to describe how they felt right now.

For many of these kids, COVID already changed the reality of schooling, and this is another new, unexpected hurdle. Parents talked about their kids missing graduations and important milestones because of the pandemic, and how this is now another disruptor.

While plenty of parents talked about their kids experiencing distress, and even literally leaving their campuses, many talked about students keeping their heads up, trying to get through the school year, and quite a few said they were finding comfort within the Jewish community at their school. Some parents talked about counseling their kids to hide their Jewishness, while others talked about how the university’s responses to the protests have actually put their children in more danger.

Here are some notable perspectives from our survey:

“The amplified voices aren’t the full picture.”

“It feels like my kids have a better perspective than I do. They see the bigger picture of their school and I see shrill online fear-mongering,” writes Cheryl, a mother of two college-aged kids from Miami, Florida.

“I think we have every right to be concerned but, for example: One of my kids is at the University of Michigan. It is a massive campus geographically and in terms of number of students. The actual number being disruptive and hateful is small. I have to keep reminding myself of that,” she adds. “My daughter has been wearing her star [of David] all year. She went through sorority rush while wearing her star and joined a non-Jewish house. What I’m saying is that she is doing fine but the amplified voices, while concerning, are not the full picture.”

“Calling in the police to physically assault and arrest student protestors puts all students and all speech at risk.”

“My child is at greater risk with the unprovoked police violence on campus than they are the words of any protestors,” writes a parent of two from New York City. “Bringing armed officers to unleash violence on peaceful student protestors, regardless of what they stand for, is an absolutely horrifying precedent for all student movements to come. My daughter has always been very involved with social justice, but never before has she or I feared for her life because of her stance. She has regular panic attacks as police are sent to harass, threaten and physically assault her peers in the name of ‘order’ while her university (Barnard/Columbia) fails to apologize or acknowledge the trauma that administrators decision making have brought on all students.”

“Calling in the police to physically assault and arrest students protestors put all students and all speech at risk,” they add. “I don’t necessarily agree with what these students stand for and how they are protesting, but bringing armed officers to confront literal children only puts all students in danger, regardless of their stance. Dialogue between students and administrators is critical at this time. Violent crackdowns in the name of ‘combatting antisemitism’ do nothing to address actual antisemitism, and centering the conversations solely on Jewish students ‘right to feel safe’ only overlooks the harm being done to other marginalized students. I am especially ashamed of Columbia at this moment.”

“We have had to talk many times about physical safety and the threat of her future,” they continued. “I have expressed my concerns that her participation in the encampment does more harm than good, but I also know that I raised her to stand up for the social causes she believes in. It’s terrifying to see that she is more physically unsafe by the university response to antisemitism than the antisemitic acts in question.”

“I worry for their safety in a way I never have.”

“It is gut-wrenching to have both of my children in college right now. I worry for their safety in a way I never have,” writes Jody Rabhan from Bethesda, Maryland. “One has been home taking a gap year and I could not be more grateful for the fact that he hasn’t had to experience the hate, vitriol, and chaos engulfing college campuses. We are seriously considering having him stay home another year. My older son is going to graduate early — in December — and could not be more eager for him to leave campus life as soon as possible. Both were so impacted by COVID and now this. It’s devastating as a parent to watch your kids first try to navigate a pandemic and now anti-Jewish hate. Can’t they just get the same experience as other kids with a high school graduation and four years of fun and education in college?”

Likewise, Kathy from Vancouver shares that the current situation feels “heartbreaking, the antisemitism is nothing I could have imagined my child having to face. I am angry and frustrated and struggle to find the right words when talking to my child about the situation. This is was not in my ‘parent handbook’ and all I want to do is wrap my arms around her and protect her.”

“He feels that he has to keep his opinions to himself.”

“My middle child is at Pace University. He’s a block away from World Trade and he sees marches all the time. One time, he texted his friends that another march was coming down the block, and HIS ROOMMATE replied, ‘YEAH, I’M IN IT!’ My son was shocked and suddenly felt very alone and uncomfortable to be in the same room with this kid. They talked to the RA, but things have never been the same. My son is very proud of who he is and wears a star [of David] every day. When things started getting out of control, he sheepishly admitted to hiding his star sometimes. He felt terrible about it, but I told him that hiding his star didn’t make him less Jewish or less proud to BE Jewish. It just made him more safe.” — a mother of three from New Jersey.

Rochelle Rozental from Melbourne, Australia shares that her child “feels that he has to keep his opinions to himself and he feels intimidated and triggered by the protests and posters.”

“My child felt unsafe to speak out since Oct 7 and withdrew from many social activities,” Torreh Pearl from LA told us. “He was subjected to biased lectures in class. There was an encampment below his dorm window and he spent a couple of nights at a hotel so he could get some sleep and study for finals. He feels very, very alone.”

A parent of two shared that her daughter who goes to college in New York “can hardly focus on her school work. This week she has been getting up early to get all of her errands done before protesters are out. She feels trapped in dorm room with little support from the school.”

“It has impacted her social life greatly. This has been her first year at University and in September she made what she thought were many new wonderful friends, but after Oct 7 those individuals started to post horrible things about Israel, Zionists and celebrated the resistance that took place,” Kathy from Vancouver also told us. “One of the murdered concert-goers was a classmate of my daughter which did compound the pain even more. She not only had all those relationships dissolve but had a couple of professors comment false information about Israel during lectures, which made going to class uncomfortable. What was supposed to be an exciting year of growing and learning became a year of not feeling support, lots of anger, frustration and sadness.”

“I despair at the student protests and the response of the Jewish community.”

A father of a 20-year-old student in New York shared that his daughter “wants to transfer. She is a Jewish leader on her very progressive campus. She is subject to daily abuse; all of the Jewish students have seen all of their non-Jewish friends ostracize them. They’ve been pushed out of clubs, teams and extracurriculars.”

“We talk daily or more. We try to get her to compartmentalize, but it is hard when they are chanting ‘Globalize the Intifada’ outside your window,” he adds.

“Civil disobedience is good. Protesting is good. Peace and security for all in the region is good. The harsh police crackdowns are terrible and counterproductive. Dead children — no matter the nationality — is horrific,” he shared with Kveller. “And in my opinion, the Israeli government and its response to 10/7 has been very, very bad. The hostages, the Israeli people and the Jewish people deserve better. And of course the people of Gaza do, too. I despair at the student protests and the response of the Jewish community.”

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