April 20, 2024
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Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl Helps Fortify Frisch Seniors for Life on Secular College Campuses

Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl, a Bergenfield, NJ, native and proud 1996 alumnus of Yeshivat Frisch, returned last week to speak to current seniors about life on college campuses and the opportunities to strengthen themselves and their religious identities to overcome the challenges to their faith, religious practice and moral character which they will likely encounter there.

To successfully conquer any challenge, you must first come adequately prepared to recognize and know how to combat it, Dr. Perl posited.

Dr. Perl is uniquely qualified to speak to students about these issues as the author of a well-regarded 2005 pamphlet, “A Parent’s Guide to Orthodox Assimilation on University Campuses,” which details the numerous challenges faced by Modern Orthodox students once they arrive on secular college campuses.

In his comprehensive presentation to students, Dr. Perl presented common case studies one would encounter on a typical college campus—the proud activist whose quest for social justice on racial and economic fronts eventually leads her to wonder at the legitimacy of Zionism, the tefillah devotee who slowly finds herself prioritizing other aspects of her life, and the pre-med student who searches for an “easy A course” and thinks he finds it in a class analyzing Bible but which instead plants seeds of doubt in his mind about his entire Jewish education. Dr. Perl also presented e-mails from former students of his who reported on college campus trends and attitudes, and blog posts from one former student that showed the declining connection to Judaism over time.

Dr. Perl researched and published the pamphlet while he was a graduate student at Harvard University, along with a friend and graduate student at MIT, Yaakov Weinstein. Though the pamphlet presented sobering findings about the challenges faced on campus, its conclusion was that it is not only possible to meet those challenges, but to surmount them and emerge from college as Jews with an even stronger connection to religion. In fact, Dr. Perl estimated that up to 25 percent of Orthodox students on secular college campuses will grow religiously during their university studies.

In his talk, Dr. Perl suggested that students who are leaders in the community tend to remain or even become more observant, and that the unstructured and voluntary nature of campus life means that it is rife with opportunities for pro-Israel advocacy and other avenues to make a kiddush Hashem. He also urged students to pinpoint now, while still in high school, what makes them excited about their Judaism and stokes their passion for yiddishkeit. “You can’t just go through the motions in college,” Dr. Perl explained to students. “The key is finding out now what speaks to you and gets you fired up about your Judaism, and then you will be able to be successful in college.”

“As my fellow classmates and I take our first steps into the adult world, it is important that we consider the issues that we will be faced with at college,” said Dov Greenwood ’17, who is headed for Harvard University after spending next year studying in Israel. “Dr. Perl has definitely inspired me to consider how I will continue to make Judaism a part of my life on campus.”

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