Part 1 | Part 2
Since the academic year — and graduation season —are quickly approaching, I thought I’d address this important topic now, while Jewish moms and dads are stressing more than ever about their children’s transition into the future…and not only academically…
Congratulations in advance! Your Jewish child is about to graduate high school and is on the fast track for college or university, or so we hope. Or do we?
By way of introduction, this post is written more from a student’s point of view because I have some experience over a period of 27 years (though not continuously, thankfully), much of it salient to this post. My first three years of college were in the late 1970s, and my last year turned into six torturous years of holding down work and school at the same time in the late 1990s-early 2000s, making me one of the few returnees to college, aged 40 and over, who actually graduated. Politics regarding Jews have changed a great deal during these times, and have changed yet again now: In the 1970s, Jews were held in favor, as other students were, but the trend has been downward since then, at least in my experience and what I can manage to find out by other means.
I got a glimpse of the very beginnings of what we are seeing now back about 2001 or 2002, when I took an urban studies class with a professor who opened the course with a description turning the Exodus from Egypt around: Instead of describing how the ancient Hebrews were delivered from slavery, he did a very thorough job of dropping the Jewish People’s reputation through the crust of the earth, having us killing the entire Egyptian army on our way out (without mentioning any context — that we were slaves of Pharaoh or anything prior to that event) and in a class shortly thereafter outed himself as…a former Nazi; not merely a sympathizer, but the real thing, from Prussia in Germany (sorry — I didn’t have or use a tape recorder and never anticipated such a thing, or I’d have whatever recording I would have managed to sneak out digitized and posted somewhere long ago!).
I later confirmed this with a former professor of mine, who was then the head of the Holocaust Studies department, who has since passed on; I do not recall any suggestions she had for me as to what I should do; apparently the other teachers had not been able to get rid of him or were in favor of him staying on.
I was the only Jew in the class, to make matters worse, and the only commuter. I glared at him (he stood quite tall, well over 6 feet, I’m sure — an achievement considering he was just turning 80 if I recall correctly — so staring him down was impossible) throughout the entire 15 weeks of that course. I was very close to graduation at that point, so I didn’t drop the course – but I let him have my stare and I managed to also study and pass all my tests and earn an A. Fortunately, no more words about Jews were said after that intro. This educator was an outlier then; he is more like the norm now.
I admit to some shame that I did not find a way to somehow eradicate the evil this man represented; yet, I wonder how many others like him were scattered around the US and elsewhere, in academia and other professional environments. My final answer, of course, was to make aliyah to the land that the Nazis, ysh”v, sought to destroy, but were prevented from doing so by G-d Almighty. It was around this time that I realized that whatever I was doing to maintain my attachment to G-d (and connect Him with Judaism) wasn’t enough. I knew better than to argue with someone who would one-up me every time only because he had his talking points and I hadn’t done my homework. This experience was to herald a new chapter in my journey back.
If I had to do this again, I would not take the same path, but would try to find a skill or trade where the focus is the subject itself and the payoff in terms of professional/job opportunities just as great; and I would try to find a place to learn Torah in addition. Or better yet, Torah first and job skills second, something like Naaleh or Machon Meir in Jerusalem (but I would also need to learn from some Sephardic/Mizrahi Torah giants too. These folks concentrate mostly on the Ashkenazi ones.).
Now, about you, gentle reader. Whether you are hoping for a doctor, a lawyer, a rabbi, a teacher or a movie producer, or have realized that your child always had a penchant for taking things apart and putting them back together…and “has the knack”…or wants to break the stereotypical mold altogether — I’m sure you can think of many other lines of work or profession; I may not be quite caught up with the times and I am certainly unaware of your child’s talents and capabilities — the details don’t really matter as much as the environment you are sending your budding genius to. Will it be worth all the hard work and sacrifice you have put into the development of the precious creation with whom you as parents have partnered with HaShem to bring into the world and raise to this point?
Dilbert: He has the knack...
(If you want to watch the full episode that was on television: here!)
Anyway, chances are that s/he has already been introduced to anti-Semitism in grade and high school and is really fed up with it and wondering whether it will ever end. It hasn’t helped your young offspring’s self-esteem and love for his/her people, has it?
Alternatively, if the child has been sheltered all these years from that nasty element, college is the last place you want him or her to meet it. After all, college tuition is an investment in your child’s future ability to gain employment and maintain it. Other life lessons are, or should be, optional. Today’s college campuses have not been showing their appreciation for this effort on the part of Jewish parents (not to mention Jewish supporters of entire professions) to ensure the next generation’s future — and that of the rest of the students by their extracurricular contributions — as well as they used to. As late as 2003 colleges hadn’t heard of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement, and the annual Israel Apartheid Week that promotes it, hadn’t begun yet (the latter would, two years later, in Toronto.). Nowadays, however, debate as we know it isn’t popular; so, even if you think your child will get a chance to fight back with words in a civil manner, read this and think again. Also, Israelis have finally found out BDS’s terrorist ties. Can English-speaking countries be far behind?
Here is a link to many testimonies from current students at 82 US major campuses (at least one of them Ivy League) nationwide as to how disruptive campus life has become due to increasingly aggressive anti-Jew organizations who have been allowed by administrators to behave as they please, with few exceptions (so far, University of Pennsylvania is one of the exceptions according to one student in the link immediately above. And Ivy League. And has a kosher cafeteria! But very expensive. I didn't go there.). How do you feel about this coming from so many different campuses? And the US isn’t alone. Canadian and British students also suffer. Is it my imagination, or do other countries' academic institutions "offer" the same experience?
Here’s Jack Englehard, of Indecent Exposure fame who more recently wrote the controversial The Bathsheba Deadline, also wrote this and more for Arutz Sheva.
All this, in 11 short years.
If you feel I have spelled out the situation well (which largely depends on whether what I’m reading and hearing is correct), your hair must be going grey just reading this. I don’t blame you, and I empathize with you! You have some big decisions to make, and not much time to make them. This is why I’ve written this post before graduation: To at least start the conversation, even though I may not know everything about it. I hope you can summon some composure to consider a few ideas, and the willingness to think a bit outside the box, not only for the sake of your children, but also for the sake of their future children and beyond.
If your high-schooler still has a year or more to go, you can take a breather for now; however, you still might want to follow me here.