A day school graduate reflects on her realization that Judaism won't be ever-present as she leaves her "Jewish bubble" for a small liberal arts college.
I grew up in a Jewish bubble.
I prayed at Lubavitch of Montgomery County and studied at Politz Hebrew Academy. From there, I went on to high school at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. In my junior year, I attended the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, where I traveled across the country to learn about its history.
Pro-Israel sentiment was a constant force throughout my education. Even when I sat down with my college adviser last year, she suggested I choose a school with a nice Hillel.
At first, I was ambivalent. Judaism was always ever-present and I never had to seek it out.
It didn't even occur to me that other people might challenge my belief in Israel's existence until I stumbled across a satiric blog that someone had posted on the Facebook page for Sarah Lawrence College, where I will start my freshman year this fall.
I absentmindedly clicked the link to 20 Ways To Be Popular at an Expensive Liberal Arts School, expecting a humorous read filled with stereotypes. The first tip said: “Despite your Jewish upbringing, support Palestine at all cost. Disregard any and all other atrocities happening across the globe. Palestine is fresh and hip. Not only do you seem engaged and political, you get to rock a Keffiyeh.”
I was shocked. Even though I knew the list was supposed to be funny, those stereotypes also didn't come out of nowhere. I had never heard of any pro-Palestine rallies at small schools, so I had just assumed that the students generally supported Israel.
Around that same time, a friend who will be entering a liberal arts school in upstate New York this fall recounted how she was handed a pamphlet about Palestine when she asked about study abroad programs in Israel. She told them they must have misunderstood, but they only replied that they did not have programs in Israel. This also didn't make sense. I had learned that the Israeli government is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East and its leaders advocate for human rights, respond to tragedies around the globe and encourage environmental sustainability. Why would a liberal arts college be opposed having a study abroad program there?
I listened closely when my school brought in speakers on the topic of anti-Israel protests on campuses. Then I went to the Aish Teen Israel Advocacy event on April 23, where I heard college students speak about their struggle and passion to raise public awareness of Israel. Any time I heard a story about anti-Israel comments, my heart leapt. It was an undeniable sensation that had lain dormant until then: I was wholly with Israel.
The day after the Aish program, I looked up the phone number for Hillels of Westchester, N.Y., the umbrella organization of the Hillel at Sarah Lawrence College.
As I dialed, I realized that I was calling the place that I had only a few months earlier ranked as "not very important" when talking to my college adviser. Now, it was crucial. Although I've always loved my Jewish community, I never appreciated the solidarity I found in it until I realized I could be going into a new environment without that support.
Fortunately, the staff member who picked up told me about Israel advocacy activities on campus and spoke of the open-mindedness of the students. I learned about the Hillel's charity works, Israel events and bi-weekly dinners. Then he passed along my information to the leaders of the Sarah Lawrence Hillel, who contacted me that same day. I felt that I had found a school I could really love, an institution that would encourage and support my Jewish and Zionistic ideals.
As someone who was raised in a protective Judaic atmosphere, learning that anti-Israel sentiment is on the rise on college campuses has been perturbing. From what I heard at information sessions, most students seem to be neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian. Instead, the majority are apathetic.
College is supposed to push and challenge students. That means we can't take a backseat when it comes to defending Israel. We need to learn how to be proactive and get in contact with organizations like Aish, AIPAC and Hillel. We must spread public awareness and be present in the pursuit of Israel’s existence, especially in this precarious time.
The entirety of my last year in high school made me see the importance of Jewish community. Whether Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or none of these denominations, Jewish students must take into consideration what they will do for Israel as they prepare to embark on a home away from home. If we do not raise a voice and make a stand, then who else will?
Andrea Cantor was a student speaker at her graduation from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy on June 6. She also worked as an intern at the Jewish Exponent.