The moment of truth has arrived for many Jewish families whose children are applying to college now that Nov. 1, the deadline for early decision applications, is upon us.
I’m relieved my children have all moved past this stage, but I feel for those now pressed up against these deadlines. Will their students apply to the usual array of fancy schools promising a world-class education, or will they embrace the more modest goal of simply wanting to make sure that their children will have the opportunity to enroll in a school where Jewish students can walk around and learn and socialize unmolested by people who wish to scapegoat them for all the world’s ills?
Is getting into a top liberal-arts school worth having to barricade themselves inside the library when a raucous group of anti-Israel “protesters” bangs on the doors and denounces them, as students at Cooper Union recently had to do?
Is getting into Stanford worth being told to stand in the corner and get singled out by the professor who wants to use Jews in his classrooms to illustrate what a colonizer looks like?
Is getting into Drexel worth having the door to your dorm room torched and learning that the university has to investigate whether this was a “hate crime?”
Is getting into Columbia or Barnard worth not being able to attend a movie night, run by campus lesbians and open to 450 guests, because “Zionists aren’t invited”?
Is getting into Cornell worth having to walk by swastikas, tune out calls that sympathizers shoot up the kosher dining hall, or having to attend some classes and after-school activities in secret locations for your own safety?
Is getting into Harvard worth being told by your fellow students the very day that Hamas terrorists butchered 1,400 civilians in southern Israel and took hundreds more back to Gaza as captives that Israel was “entirely responsible” for this calamity?
The real dilemma for Jewish families in America is, what’s left? Anti-Semitism, an ancient scourge, is so all-consuming at the moment that it takes enormous effort to find a campus where such things are not happening, or at least being denounced by those in charge. At Emory, University President Gregory L. Fenves made it clear last week that the “antisemitic phrases and slogans” being used by speakers and chanted by the crowd at a protest “has no place at Emory. I am appalled by this behavior.”
So much depends on the convictions and courage of a university’s president and board of trustees, and too many deans and administrators are letting us down in the face of this challenge. Or the bravest among them have already been marginalized, making it hard for them to effect change on their own. (Consider the plaintive essay Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law, just published lamenting that “Nothing has prepared me for the anti-Semitism I see on college campuses now.” This, from the dean of the school.)
I keep thinking that outfits that rate colleges and graduate schools such as U.S. News & World Reports and the Wall Street Journal might do Jewish families a huge favor going forward by simplifying matters. Perhaps, they could rank schools by which ones are Jewish-friendly, marked by a Jewish star or a mezuzah (not that too many children attending fancy colleges next year will be affixing THOSE things upon their doorposts!), and which ones become hostile to Jews, and of course, Zionists.
That latter, quickly expanding group can be marked in the listings with the word, “Judenrein,” which the Nazis affixed on genteel signs all over Europe to signal when they had made a place “free” of Jews. The rankings could, of course, use variations in gradience for schools that were only partly there.
As absurd as that may sound, I can assure you that college counselors will be helping Jewish applicants curate their list of schools differently this year. Besides safety schools, applicants will be advised to add schools to their list that so far, anyway, seem hospitable to Jews. And if that list is hard to assemble by January, when the last of the applications are usually due, then perhaps, these families will have to consider sending their children to Israel for college. Yes, their children, too, will have 30 seconds to run for shelter each time the overhead sirens sound, whether the students were hunched mid-sentence over their computers in the library or in the middle of a shower, but they will not be alone in the stairwells and safe rooms. They will feel the warm embrace of all the other Israelis who get what they are feeling and want to make it right—Israelis who will not look away.
Crazy, right? Jewish children might be safer learning in Israel these days than they are here in the United States. But that is what it is coming to.
A few years ago, together with an Israeli friend, I edited and revised a breezy how-to guide he had been publishing for years called How to Survive Your Freshman Year. The book is full of helpful advice about how to get along with roommates, how to pick classes and how to navigate the social scene. Little did we imagine that Jewish students might need their own special chapter.