It’s no shock to anyone in the Jewish community that, in the last few years, antisemitism has hit an all-time high. However, in a place where young adults thought they might feel safe from the outside world and all of its negativity, college has also proven to be a place where Jewish students feel their identity is targeted and often threatened. Hillel of Greater MetroWest, led by me and our new Jewish Life Coordinator, Phoebe Ellman, works towards creating a safer, more welcoming and inclusive community on six college campuses in our area.
This year, we’re aiming to bring bigger, bolder, and more dynamic experiences to our students, whether they identify as Jewish or not. To combat the aforementioned antisemitism that is directly routed in anti-Israel rhetoric, we, along with Linda Scherzer, director of our Jewish Community Relations Council, are bringing ten students of mixed faith backgrounds to Israel for an eight-day trip to explore the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These selected individuals will meet with thought leaders, government officials, security analysts, journalists, and others in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The mission, subsidized by our Federation, will help students understand the history of the region, the 1967 Six Day War which led to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the development of the settler movement, the Oslo Peace Process, the Second Palestinian Uprising, and the dynamics that led to paralysis of the two-state solution.
Hillel of Greater MetroWest is also working with the President Jonathan Holloway of Rutgers University to improve the campus climate for Jewish students at Rutgers Newark. After a successful meeting with President Holloway and his staff over the summer, we believe that there is now a path to peaceful relations between student organizations on campus, and an administration that listens to and meets the needs of the Jewish community.
The Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) that Hillel has been offering students for the last few years will continue to run in the 2023-2024 school year. JLF provides students across all six campuses with an opportunity to learn through Jewish texts and other sources about their own Jewish identities and helps them discover answers to questions they may have about their place in the world. All students who participate receive a stipend at the end of the semester.
Finally, coming up in November, Hillel of Greater MetroWest will host Israel Unplugged, a conference focused on Israel and combatting antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus. In this weekend-long experience, 100 students from 14 campuses across New Jersey and New York will come together to hear from exciting speakers in the Israel space, such as Ashager Araro (@blackjewishmagic), Aravrit, and a special performance by Comedy for Peace. Students will welcome Shabbat together, learn from Israel campus organizations (StandWithUs, JNF, ICC, CAMERA, and more!), and participate in a Tel Aviv Silent Disco party.
So, what can we, as a Jewish community, do to support these Jewish students on campus? If you or someone you know is a part of or a friend of the Jewish community and works at any of the universities we serve (Montclair State, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers Newark, Kean, Seton Hall, and Fairleigh Dickinson University) have them reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have or know a Jewish student at one of these universities, make sure they know that Hillel is there for them in whatever capacity they need: a free kosher meal, advice, a community of like-minded people, access to Shabbat services, fun social events, and more. Be a supporter, whether that is through a gift to Hillel of Greater MetroWest, or showing up to one of our events open to the community, your time and resources mean the world to our students. Community support and knowing there are people standing behind and with them is the most effective way of making our Jewish students feel safe on their campuses.