| Second Thoughts |

Letter to an American Jewish College Student

There is one truly powerful response that is often overlooked: to become more Jewish


You were very excited about being admitted to a famous Ivy League university, and you eagerly looked forward to the coming intellectual journey.

And then, almost overnight, there was an explosion of anti-Semitism on your campus and on many other prestigious campuses. Ostensibly, this was in connection with Israel’s strong response to the October 7 massacre, in which Hamas Arabs murdered and mutilated 1,200 innocent Israelis in cold blood. When you read about the slaughter, you were horrified, as were most civilized people. Although you do not have a strong Jewish background, you were nevertheless proud that Israel responded forcefully to the horror.

But your pride turned into shock when, instead of condemning the October atrocities, many students demonstrated and chanted anti-Israel slogans. Your shock turned to fear as marauding gangs of students taunted you for being a Jew, drew swastikas on Jewish frat houses, called for an intifada against Jews, chanted the genocidal “from the river to the sea.” You actually were worried about your personal safety — especially when the university president refused to clearly condemn the racist behavior of the students.

What, you ask, should be your response?

The awful truth is that there is no lasting response to prejudice and hatred, and especially not to that disease called anti-Semitism. Whether you cite Biblical proof of Jewish rights to Israel or you appeal to morality or logic, it will have no long-term effect. When we abandoned our Judaism and assimilated, we were still rejected. When we maintained our distinctiveness and remained separate from the outside world, we were called clannish and holier-than-thou. We have been derided as communists and as capitalists, ridiculed for our intellectual bent and condemned for our fighting abilities, accused of manipulating the world’s finances on Wall Street even while we were making the desert bloom in the Negev.

I fear that anti-Semitism is a part of the DNA of the world, a pestilence for which there is no cure. Here and there we find some chassidei umos ha’olam, righteous Gentiles, who come to our defense, but for the masses, the disease is inborn. The most we can hope for is that this endemic anti-Semitism is limited to hate speech and slogans, and does not go beyond that — though history shows that it rarely stops at the mouth but proceeds to the fist and physical violence and even to murder. We can hope for periods of quiet when the hatred stays subsurface, we can pray for extensions of the quiet and continue kicking the can down the road, but Jew-hatred seems to be a fact of Jewish life.

Even before the contributions of billions of Arab petrodollars prostituted our finest universities, the hatred was present; how much more so today. Only a naïf would deny that the Arab billions came with a price tag: Islamic studies departments with anti-Israel agendas and kid-glove treatment of anti-Semitic pro-Hamas students.

Some Jewish thinkers suggest that, transcending all mundane theories about anti-Semitism, this is G-d’s mysterious way of reminding us who we really are. When we forget that we are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the heirs of Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabi Akiva and Rambam and the Gaon of Vilna (of whom some Jews have never even heard); when we dismiss the fact that we are Heaven’s deputies to remind mankind that there is a G-d Who demands morality and self-discipline and love for the neighbor — when we tend to abandon all this in order to assimilate into the outside world and become just like them, then perhaps G-d taps us on the shoulder and reminds us in His own hidden ways.

You ask what should be your response. My suggestion: Although campus counter-demonstrations are fine, and mass rallies in Washington are helpful, and contact with legislators is effective, there is one truly powerful response that is often overlooked: to become more Jewish. That does not mean to eat more gefilte fish or to tell Yiddish jokes. It does mean to defy the hatemongers by looking inward at oneself and to begin behaving more Jewishly. Which means, for example, to turn Friday night into Shabbat, with Kiddush, special meals, informal discussions, group singing, and no distracting smartphones. Or: to take five minutes every morning and don tefillin and read the first paragraph of the Shema in any language in the privacy of your own room. Or: do some reading on your own of any classic Jewish text. Or — and this will take some courage — to wear a kippah/yarmulke on campus as a sign of your Jewish pride and your defiance of the haters. (Of the thousands of Jewish students, are there ten young men who have the guts to do this?)

I am not suggesting that you suddenly become an Orthodox Jew. I am suggesting that in addition to the obvious steps against anti-Semitism, you and your Jewish friends take a step out of the box, do something different and heroic: Become a more Jewish Jew — even if this has not been your lifestyle. They wish to destroy all vestiges of Judaism; you don’t cringe, but stand tall as a member of our holy, eternal people.

And, by the way, who knows what the response from Heaven might be…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 992)

Oops! We could not locate your form.