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Back to school in troubling times

As the fighting in Israel and Gaza continues, college students from our community are sure to encounter heightened discourse and disagreements when they go back to school.  The anti-Israel environment on many campuses is of particular concern to our Federation and we are determined to help students support Israel in every way we can.

That’s why last Tuesday, August 19th, we held a workshop for incoming and returning college students and their parents at Milken High School to discuss how they can prepare for the extreme anti-Israel activities they may face this fall.  In an effort to address different needs, students and parents were split into two rooms where experienced panelists answered tough questions. The student panel included current and past student leaders who were eager to share their experiences and knowledge on the topic. The parents’ room hosted a different group of experienced professionals, including current Hillel Directors Bailey London (USC Hillel) and Rabbi Aaron Lerner (UCLA Hillel) as well as Federation staff. 

During the student panel, a variety of questions were asked, featuring such topics as the difference between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, and the best ways to engage friends in meaningful conversations. The panelists said that the most challenging place to have an argument about Israel is on the internet, instead advising students to have respectful conversations with friends in person. Judah Joseph, President of Trojans for Israel at USC, reassured students that anti-Israel sentiments and issues ebb and flow on campus and won’t be the entirety of their college experience. He also stressed that each student can be impactful in supporting Israel in any way that is meaningful to them, even if their focus is on Israeli culture and not politics. 

It was also stressed to both students and parents that, although sometimes the anti-Israel folks are the loudest, there are many more students who have no opinion on Israel and they are often the best people to talk with about current events. Avinoam Baral, Vice President of UCLA’s Student Government, advised his fellow students to be proactive, get involved in what interests them most, and see what’s available when they get to campus.    

All those who attended the workshop were advised to reach out to professionals when students are in need of help regarding Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic instances on campus. Whether they decide to contact their campus professionals, Jewish organization leaders, local rabbis, or student government during open forum meetings, their concerns should to be addressed in public, documented and never swept under the rug.

Overall, the evening provided useful tools to students and parents alike and left them with new insight into the campus climate as they prepare to return to school. Additional resources were distributed at the event, including an Israel and Jewish Life on Campus FAQ provided by our Federation, which includes information compiled from resources from the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel International, AIPAC, and the Israel Action Network, which recently released its own helpful fact sheet. If your child is off to college this fall, please complete this form and we will connect them to campus professionals and local organizations for support.

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