The Algemeiner, a right-wing Jewish newspaper, recently released a list of the “40 Worst Colleges for Jewish Students.” Already students and Jewish professionals on these campuses are reacting to the list — some defending it, some arguing against its creation and others complaining that their university was not listed.
I do not go to any of the schools on the list, but I work with students across many of these campuses. I also attend a university that has in the past been the target of a campaign to paint it as an anti-Semitic place not fit for Jews. I saw the affect that this smear campaign had on my university and how it actually damaged Jewish life on campus.
Let me be clear: The Algemeiner should never have created this list in the first place. It serves no purpose but to spread fear, and it may contribute to a vicious cycle in which these campuses may very well one day no longer be centers of vibrant Jewish life.
The list uses instances of anti-Israel/anti-Semitic activity as the basis to judge universities. Admittedly, many of these campuses have unfortunately been hotspots of such activity, as well as many more that were not listed.
However, a school’s fitness as a place for Jews cannot and should not be determined by such limited metrics. The Jewish community is vibrant and diverse — and perhaps the only thing the entire community can agree upon is that nothing can be agreed upon. I will not deny that Israel is an important part of the Jewish story and a pillar of Jewish identity. But it takes more than one to hold up a structure — especially a truly open tent in the model of Abraham.
I have no interest in creating my own list of colleges that are truly the worst places to be a Jewish student, but I wouldn’t call it a stretch to put institutions like Brigham Young University, Liberty University or Laredo Community College on my list.
When Jewish students think about which college to attend and make that choice with their Jewish identity in mind, they often look at all kinds of aspects of Jewish life, aside from the level of Israel advocacy on campus. Other considerations include the availability of kosher food; the ability to miss class for the High Holy Days; the size of the Jewish population; the state of campus Jewish institutions like Hillel, Chabad or the Jewish Student Union; the pluralism of the community; and the strength of the Jewish Studies department.
Considering all of those factors, the inclusion of New York University and Columbia University on this list — among the top 10 worst, no less — is just laughable. Both universities have some of the most vibrant Jewish communities on any college campus that I have ever encountered. They are also both located in New York City, arguably the best city in the US to be a Jew.
When I was deciding on a university, lists played a powerful role in my decision-making process. I would constantly refer to the U.S. News and World Report or the Hillel College Guide to help me in my decision. I can only hope that parents and prospective students do not take the Algemeiner’s list seriously and search beneath the surface. Jewish students may spend the best four years of their lives at one of the “worst” schools for Jews.
This piece was first published by New Voices Magazine, a national magazine by and for Jewish college students.