Top 8 Tips for Jewish College Students to Start the Year Off Right

jacob.jpg

This post was guest-written by Jacob Levkowicz, former David Project Campus Coordinator and eternal style icon. He is pictured at left with The David Project's Phil Brodsky, Alexie Lundeen, and Courtney Kravitz in Israel.

Headed to campus this fall? Good news – there has never been a better time to be a Jewish student on an American college campus! As you start packing for school, here are the top 8 tips to get the most out your college experience.

  1. Connect with Jewish life institutions, such as Hillel and Chabad. Today’s colleges and universities offer an endless array of Jewish extracurricular activities. A small sample of these opportunities include: Jewish life institutions such as Hillel and Chabad; pro-Israel clubs and dialogue circles; Jewish a capella groups; and Jewish fraternities and sororities. Talk to students and friends involved with different groups to get a sense of the ones that might interest you.

Having so many opportunities at your fingertips can be overwhelming at first. To help you make sense of things, most campuses hold an Activities Fair at the beginning of the year. This might be the best way to find out what different student groups offer and how to get involved in the ones that interest you. Hillel and Chabad also offer exciting welcome week activities for new students. Talk to staff to find out more.

2. Sign up for a Judaic or Middle East Studies class. At most colleges and universities you’ll find courses in Judaic and Middle East Studies, which have become hugely popular. Recently, a handful of schools have even taken the bold step of offering classes in a relatively new field – Israel Studies. These courses can be invaluable learning experiences. Taking a class in Jewish or Middle East history, for example, can help you better understand the context for today’s modern issues in the region.

3. Travel to Israel. More young diaspora Jews have been to Israel than at any other point in history because of Birthright. The free ten-day trip sends young Jews between the ages of 18-26 to explore Israel. In 15 years, over 400,000 have traveled to Israel on the program.

Birthright is a great way to connect with Israel and explore your Jewish identity. Hillel and Chabad organize Birthright trips with other students from your campus. Reach out to an Israel Fellow or staff to learn more.

Most colleges and universities also offer study abroad opportunities at major Israeli academic institutions. Keep in mind that many non-Jewish students will spend time in Israel on a variety of programs that bring campus leaders to Israel. A great way to follow up their visit is to invite them to a Shabbat dinner at Hillel to meet the Jewish community.

4. Find the pulse of campus. Read the student newspaper to get a sense of what’s happening on campus. Meet with student government officials to learn about the burning issues on campus. Hillel often offers an open Facebook group for new students to connect.

5. Meet as many of your peers as possible. Your peers are interested in hearing from you! Spend time getting to know other students and campus groups. Try inviting someone new each week from your dorm or a class to grab coffee. Be curious, authentic, and try to learn about what they care about.

6. Prepare to have your views challenged, and don’t be afraid to express yourself. Campus is a big space, and among your peers you’ll find a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. There are going to be students who you will agree with, and some who you will not agree with – on everyday issues large and small – and on hot topics such as Israel. Be prepared to have your views challenged many times over during your college experience.

Embrace this fact of college life by listening to what others have to say, and confidently expressing yourself. Israel will likely come up as a topic of conversation. Know that most of your peers are interested in having a meaningful and productive conversation, not an argument or debate.

7. Turn to Jewish life institutions for support. Jewish life institutions such as Hillel and Chabad are wonderfully supportive of Jewish students, especially in crisis situations. In recent years, a handful of campuses have experienced anti-Israel activity and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with increasing intensity. While this kind of activity is disconcerting, it is by no means representative of campus views on Israel and the Jewish people. Nevertheless, Jewish life institutions actively work with students to ensure that they feel safe and are able to express their views. Should you ever feel threatened or intimidated inside or outside the classroom, these institutions, as well as university administration, are great allies. Don’t hesitate to approach staff with your questions or concerns.

8. Plug into off-campus organizations.

Many off-campus organizations actively support Jewish life on campus. These include Israel advocacy organizations, social justice groups, and Jewish learning initiatives, among many others. These organizations provide resources, support, training, and funding to help support your work on campus. Do some research to find those that most closely match your interests.