Gloom and doom for the Jewish American college experience

Academia isn’t the land of the free and the home of the brave anymore (if it ever was). It’s the land of the radical Left and the home of the cowering middle class.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File] (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
Keven McDougal, Jimmy LaStella, Richie Hernandez and I munched popcorn and watched the World Series together. Football season followed and every Saturday we met at my house to watch college games. I remember that Mrs. Fitzgerald came into our 7th grade classroom crying in November and announced that JFK had been assassinated. We were all sent home from school, but most of us went to the playground for pick-up games. My Catholic and Protestant friends came to my bar mitzva at the local country club.
I played high school football and baseball with the Italian and Irish guys, and we watched and talked about the Beatles, the moon landing, Woodstock and prayed to our respective gods for a low selective service number so we wouldn’t end up like my brother, drafted into the army and serving in Vietnam. My parents let me know that if I could qualify, I could go to any college or university in the country.
My children have been raised with similar expectations. Suburban Americans who are socially integrated, they have the same economic, political and service opportunities that are available to their gentile neighbors. But something has changed. My kids are adults now, with their own children. When their children are ready to go to college, will they have the same choices? You’ve seen the videos. Pro-Israel speakers shouted down by pro-Palestinian student groups.
Jewish voices silenced in student government or in the classroom.
Academic boycotts of educational, cultural or economic programs with Israeli participation.
Jewish students routinely bullied on campus. And the Jewish reaction from our community and on-campus institutions is the same one we’ve been raised to believe is always most fitting: civility and deference. We play by the rules in a game in which the other side observes no rules. Our students don’t want this fight and neither do their parents. They are still living in the last generation, under the impression that the land of the free and the home of the brave still endows them with the same unalienable rights as their Protestant, Arab, black, Asian or Hispanic neighbors and classmates.
That ship has sailed. But, the American-Jewish parents of college- aged kids don’t seem to know it yet.
College counselors at Jewish high schools still work hard to get their students into the schools of their choice, with no attention paid to the campus environment into which that unsuspecting student will walk. Parents, students and their advisers proceed with blinders on. And when trouble strikes, the support and reaction are passive, not disruptive.
We can’t stop the protests. We can’t change the minds of those who hate us and what we represent.
The best we can do is to try to educate our own youth and give them an appreciation of their Jewishness. In doing so, we accept the fact that they will hide from us as well as from the rest of the student body in order to avoid confrontation.
More often than not, they will simply opt out of anything Jewish in order to try and capture the complete college experience.
Jewish religious and political ignorance remains pervasive.
Even those students arriving on campus from Jewish day schools are woefully unprepared for what they are about to experience at campuses with proud Jewish histories and prominent Jewish donors.
In a conversation with a member of the community who is intimately involved in the effort to educate Jewish campus youth, a very stark reality was addressed.
Can the problems that our college students now confront ever change? Can Jewish students “disrupt” the effort to demonize them along with the Jewish state? “A Jewish student is going to have to be beaten or killed for the response to change,” he told me. And even then, parents are unlikely to alter their hopes and dreams for their children’s educational ideal. And what moral suasion can force university administrators to apply the same rules to Palestinian sympathizers that are applied elsewhere? They are bound by the tenure system and the plague of political correctness. Every day another campus falls to the influence of leftist ideology that demonizes Israel, endangers every Jew and ultimately undermines the very American principles on which the American system of higher education stands.
Is this a wakeup call for American Jews – particularly for American- Jewish high school students, their parents and their schools? Academia isn’t the land of the free and the home of the brave anymore (if it ever was). It’s the land of the radical Left and the home of the cowering middle class.
As Americans we live in fear of terrorism. As American Jews, we think of that terrorism as far away.
No longer. It is taking place on that campus where you’ve sent your son or daughter with the hope that he can hide his Jewishness and survive four years unscathed. But the very effort to survive implies that he will absorb the ambient culture and philosophy. “Israel is an apartheid state, an illegitimate state, which has dispossessed the real owners of the land. And as a Jew, your son or daughter is complicit.”
Four years of survival effort will result in a permanently altered relationship with reality, his or her Jewish reality.
In 12 years, my granddaughter will want to matriculate at a major American university. And she may well have little difficulty blending in to campus life. Two decades or so thereafter, her children may be looking at a fine university education. Will their choices be limited to Yeshiva University and Touro College, assuming that both are still in business? Or will it be understood by then that what was once the model American-Jewish educational experience is nothing more than a memory.
Either we are going to have to send all of our students to a small group of campuses on which we can assure their safety, or we are going to have to prepare students and their parents to face a new reality – the reality that the golden age of the American-Jewish college experience is over and that direct campus confrontation and aliya are the only remaining choices.
The writer is the parent of four daughters who are products of Chicago- area day schools, Jewish overnight camps, Israeli seminaries and American universities. He is the grandfather of eight.