Four years away from home! For some, it's a dream come true.
For others, a frightening rite of passage. But for every young adult, it is
transformative. Because there is something about that first time a young adult
is away from home, at just the right age, in a diverse environment of the
highest level of thinking that makes the college years unlike any other. Perhaps
this is because there is no other period of time when one is immersed in so many
new ideas, experiences, and opinions. And once those thoughts take root, they
rarely change. For the path toward who we are, who we marry, who we vote for,
and what we are passionate about so often begins in college.
Jewish community and for the sake of our Jewish future, this means that we have
a short window of opportunity to ensure that our college students one day take
their place in our collective Jewish story. To us as educators and Jewish
leaders, the challenge of ensuring that our Jewish future is bright has perhaps
never been greater. On many of our nation's most prestigious campuses, our young
people face hostility against Israel, divestment campaigns, and Israel as an
apartheid debates, yet they are rarely equipped with answers. These are ideas
that so many of our Jewish youth, raised in the comfort of their suburban
communities, have never even considered. And yet, they are forced to answer on
behalf of the Jewish State, remain silent, or worse, oppose her.
even more, Jews on campus are also often left for the very first time to decide
for themselves whether or not they will observe the holidays (Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur are often in the first week of classes!), whether they will keep
kosher, observe Shabbat, or connect with a minyan (quorum of 10).
In my own Modern Orthodox Jewish day school, where I serve as dean, we strive
for four years (plus at least one additional intensive year of study in Israel)
to provide our students with the strongest possible background of Torah
knowledge. We dedicate each day to strengthening our students' love for Judaism,
commitment to community, and dedication to Israel. Our seniors spend a full
semester course learning to advocate for Israel on campus. And we organize
Israel programming, Shabbatonim, and experiential Jewish learning to light a
fire for Judaism in the hearts and souls of our students.
when our upperclassmen begin the college application process, we encourage them
to take four steps to prepare themselves for four years of Jewish growth and
commitment on campus. If all of our young Jewish people considered these four
steps, perhaps the challenges facing Jewish students on campus would not be
quite as great.
1. Choose a college with a thriving Jewish
campus life. For us, that means a campus with kosher food, daily
services, opportunities for Torah learning, and housing which encourage Sabbath
and holiday observance. To assist our students, we even rate schools not only by
their academic standing, but according to the quality of Jewish life on campus.
But for any Jewish student, it is important to choose a school with a
significant percentage of Jews on campus, Jewish activities, and holiday
services. Even if this isn't a priority at the time of applying, leave the
opportunity for Jewish connection open.
a Jewish mentor. Following the advice of our sages, who taught
"assay l'cha rav u'knay l'cha chaver" (establish for yourself a rabbi
and engage a friend), make sure that once on campus you seek out a Jewish
professional, professor, campus rabbi, or even an older student who can advise
you on Jewish matters. You'll stay more connected if someone is looking out for
you and have a sounding board for any matters that may arise regarding Israel
and Jewish life on campus. Or as this year's Israel Prize recipient (and former
ICJA student) Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein once told our parents-that the only way
he felt prepared to attend Harvard, where he received his Ph.D. in English
literature, was the fact that he was able to study on a regular basis with his
mentor, Rabbi Joseph
3. Get involved in Jewish cultural
opportunities. Every campus with a thriving Jewish life has Jewish
music, art, clubs, and trips galore-all accessible to Jewish students. No doubt
you'll experience hundreds of social and cultural experiences in four years of
college. Make sure to seek Jewish opportunities. Not only to stay connected with
Jewish students on campus, but to create the life-long Jewish friendships that
will define your life (and maybe even to meet your b'shert!).
4. Make sure to find the Hillel, the Chabad, or
whatever Jewish student organization is on campus. Because it's
important to "do Jewish" rather than just "be Jewish." So get involved and help.
Get involved and make a difference. Get involved and build community.
Rabbi Dr. Leonard A. Matanky is dean of Ida Crown Jewish Academy in
Chicago, rabbi of Congregation KINS, president of the Rabbinical Council of
America, and co-chair of JUF's Rabbinic Action Committee.