July 20, 2024
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July 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I seem to bring up the topic of college often, don’t I? I know I swore that I would try not to think about it, but it keeps popping up again and again. For instance, if you checked my inbox, between the daily emails from my grandfather and the hourly spam, you’d find a bunch of letters from colleges. The way they are sometimes phrased, you’d think college recruiters were waiting right outside my door, ready to pounce and enroll me as soon as I set foot on my porch.

“Oren, University of X is the right place for you. Just look at all of the amazing things…” “Oren, we know deciding on the right college is challenging and we want to help. Take this online survey to find the right place for you! Sincerely, Random University (we swear the survey isn’t biased towards us).” “Oren, we’ve been watching you and you’re such a great student that you’d love College Y!” (Disclaimer: The most these places have seen so far of me is my Biology SAT II score, which is how I ended up on their email lists, voluntarily, in the first place.)

But there’s been some more serious issues at some colleges lately that have bothered me far more than these form emails. Lately there’s been some terrifying news about antisemitic incidents at some colleges. For instance, in early October, a fraternity house at Emory University in Atlanta was painted with swastikas and other graffiti. Many colleges–probably set up by the students and not the administrations, but it’s still worrying–have an “Israel Apartheid Week” where lies and misinformation are spread about the state of Israel. And back in 2010, for instance, a student at Berkeley was struck with a shopping cart because she was holding a pro-Israel sign. These are only three examples, but even taken by themselves they show how terrible antisemitism at colleges can be. I’m not saying it happens everywhere or will happen where I choose to go, but it’s got to be something I think about in case I do come across it.

Let’s play a theoretical game where we pretend, for the purposes of this article, that I’m going to a secular college (e.g., Harvard, Rutgers, Michigan). I haven’t ruled out going to a Jewish college such as Yeshiva University or Brandeis, to be sure–I haven’t ruled anywhere out yet–but let’s say I go to a secular college where there is a very real chance of an antisemitic event occurring.

I mean, I certainly want to go to a college that has a decently sized Jewish community, whether with a Hillel or a Chabad or something similar. My Jewish identity is obviously not something I’ll be stripping away from myself. But I’m also going to want to meet new people, expand my circle, and not limit myself to just those who are like me. I’ve spoken about this before; I’ve mostly interacted with Jewish people throughout elementary and high school, but there’s a whole wider world out there of people to meet from other religions and beliefs. And college will be an important step in joining that world, in meeting and befriending tons of other people who connect to me, share common interests, and whom I can rely on–even when we don’t share the same religion.

But this feels like it could be a double-edged sword, especially in wake of what happened at Emory and elsewhere. Coming into contact with so many other types of people could also mean coming into contact with some who are antisemitic. How will I respond if someone hurls a slur my way? What should I do if I find people maliciously making fun of my beliefs (I do have a sense of humor, but say someone takes it too far)? And how do I react if I come across, for instance, a swastika painted on campus? (This is on top of everything else that seems nerve-wracking about college, keep in mind–but let’s stress out about one thing at a time!)

I mean, I’ll be a representative of the Jewish community on my college campus. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be myself or that I should censor my personality to appear a certain way, but it does mean I need to watch myself and how I interact with others to a certain degree–because through me someone could be judging all Jews. The danger of causing a Chilul Hashem, desecration of God’s name, is very pertinent. But on the other hand, should I let others insult my religion and my homeland without speaking out? I don’t want to be passive and let others hurl stuff at me like I and my people don’t matter.

I think that if I come across an antisemitic incident, it’ll be important to speak out, to show others, in a non-confrontational way, that these things are entirely, unmistakably wrong. I would not let it intimidate me. I want to show the bigots that I’m stronger than they are and I won’t stoop to their level, but can excel even if they try to stop me by targeting my religion. If it ever comes to that, God forbid, I know it won’t be easy to ignore them. I know it might be overwhelming, and that I’ll want to hide from it and not put myself out there. But I know I can’t do that. The best way to fight against college antisemitism, I feel, is to keep on being ourselves and showing that they can’t get us down.

First things first, though. I have a few new college emails to sort through. What’s this one? “Oren, University of Z loves your new hairdo and thinks that shirt you wore Monday was stunning!”

Just kidding. I mean, no college would be watching me that closely… right?

Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist. You can email him at [email protected].

By Oren Oppenheim

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