My oldest is going off to college in September after spending a year in seminary in Israel. She is going to a secular university, and every time I read about an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic incident on campus, my heart sinks. How do I prepare her for life on a campus where she will likely witness such incidents — or worse, have professors that espouse anti-Israel sentiments? Am I crazy to send her during such a turbulent time?
This is a tough one. Between Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) initiatives on campuses across the country (over 30 have passed resolutions to divest from companies affiliated with Israel), demonstrations by vocal pro-Palestinian groups on campus, blatantly anti-Israel professors (AMCHA reports more than 200 [!] across the U.S.), and some new U.S. Representatives in Congress who have made stunningly anti-Semitic remarks in the past few months (remember “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby”?), it can feel overwhelming.
But don’t fret. There is a lot of support and help for your daughter. Depending on the college she will be attending, there will likely be multiple organizations that will give her the information she will need to feel empowered against any anti-Israel sentiment that will likely encounter.
A quick Google search for “pro-Israel groups on campus” turns up many hits. There’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI), StandWithUs, the Israel on Campus Coalition, CAMERA, and more. And the campus Hillel and Chabad are great places to start if she doesn’t want to get super political right away. Finding these safe havens on campus will allow her to find other Jewish kids, political or not, and some grown-ups who can provide guidance on all kinds of issues that may arise.
Mom, this is where you come in. Do your research now and compile a list of resources for her. Better yet, have her make her own and then share your findings. Over the summer, I would encourage your daughter to reach out to some of the organizations she can see herself joining and make connections with students who are already active in them. She should find out as much as she can so she is prepared come September, when starting college can feel overwhelming for all kids, and she may not be proactive in joining pro-Israel groups when she is trying to figure out how to do her laundry and sign up for classes!
I would also strongly encourage your girl to find the group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) on Campus. In January, Kol HaBirah reported on a meeting at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington with some leaders from CUFI. At this meeting, the organization’s representatives noted that they had over 5 million members.
CUFI’s website says that as the largest grassroots pro-Israel organization, “CUFI strives to act as a defensive shield against anti-Israel lies, boycotts, bad theology, and political threats that seek to delegitimize Israel’s existence and weaken the close relationship between Israel and the United States.”
What I’m getting at is that there is strength in numbers and pro-Israel allies of all stripes can provide moral support for your daughter both on and off campus. She just needs to look.
Finally, we can all work on dedicating some spiritual energy to Israel. Chabad.org says, “When we pray or dedicate a good deed to our brothers and sisters in Israel, we create a spiritual defense shield for them that will help them through difficult and dangerous times.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory, suggested praying and doing mitzvos to help Israel; these include actions like lighting candles for women, laying tefillin for men, financially supporting Israel, and using and checking mezuzahs. And of course, don’t forget to daven for Israel’s safety each day.
Wendy, it’s scary sending our kids off into a treacherous and dangerous world. I commend you for sending your daughter off to Israel! It’s more than a little sad that it’s scarier to send them to college than to Israel, but such is the state of the world these days. I am coming upon the same thing in my life and I am glad you asked this question so I can refer back when the time comes. It’s not easy, but it’s vital to give our kids the tools they need to fight against the darkness.
May our kids be strong and safe in all their endeavors.
All the best,