College Resources & Scholarships for Jewish Students
College students looking to find a robust Jewish community and other resources to practice their faith on campus have a lot of options at their disposal. From the number of active student groups to kosher dining options, there are also a number of factors to consider when choosing a school. This guide explores how to choose a college, locate social and community groups on campus, and find scholarships for Jewish students.
Choosing a College: Factors to Consider for Jewish Students
Depending on their religious or social needs, Jewish students may have different requirements than other students when it comes to choosing a college or university. Some may prefer student populations with a higher than average percentage of Jewish students. Others may be looking for campuses with a variety of religious and social resources. The following questions address issues prospective Jewish students may consider when choosing which college to attend.
What percentage of the student population is Jewish?
While students can check with the university website to find out the percentage of Jewish students, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman, a rabbi with extensive experience working with Jewish college students, believes the best way to evaluate a school is to visit in person.
“You can make an appointment with an admissions counselor, although they often rely on self-reporting found on student applications. Another great way to get a sense of the community is to pop in and speak to students on campus. Ask, ‘On Friday nights, how many people come to Shabbat dinner and services?’ Visit the Hillel and talk to a Rabbi or student who can give you an idea of the level of involvement.”
Does the campus have an active Hillel and/or Jewish student groups?
Hillel is an organization with the largest Jewish presence on campuses in North America, connecting with students at more than 550 post-secondary institutions worldwide. In fact, a recent study found 83% of students feel welcome at Hillel. Because each school’s Hillel program is different, students should contact Hillel staff to ask what services, activities and social events are offered.
Additionally, students can ask admissions counselors which other Jewish student groups, fraternities and sororities are active on campus. Students may also be able to find this info on the school’s website.
Will you be able to attend religious services on campus or in the community nearby?
Depending on the percentage of Jewish students enrolled, religious services may be offered on campus. For instance, because the University of Florida has the largest Jewish community of any school in the U.S., it offers students plenty of opportunities to attend religious services on campus.
The University of Florida Hillel offers weekly Shabbat services led by students followed by a free dinner. Students can also watch the Shabbat livestream on Facebook. In addition, Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat are held at the Chabad Jewish Student Center, a Jewish community center at the University of Florida.
Does the school provide Kosher meals?
Whether or not a school provides Kosher meals is contingent upon the college or university. Many schools have kosher kitchens or full kosher dining facilities. They may even offer kosher residences. However, even if there are no kosher kitchens on campus, the school may still have ways to make food preparation meet the dietary requirements of students who keep kosher.
Rabbi Bregman advises students to ask the university or Hillel if there is a required meal plan and if there are enough kosher options to make it financially feasible.
How does the school handle Jewish holidays?
In addition to weekly Shabbat services, many Jewish students celebrate the High Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Students should ask where local services are held and whether family and other guests can attend. The University of Miami Hillel, for example, offers a Family Shabbat service.
Does the school have a Jewish studies program or classes?
Many major universities, such as Princeton University, Harvard University and Brandeis University, have a Jewish or Judaic Studies department. Other schools may offer individual classes within a Religious Studies department. Students should ask the admissions office what programs are available to major in and whether individual classes are offered.In addition to weekly Shabbat services, many Jewish students celebrate the High Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Students should ask where local services are held and whether family and other guests can attend. The University of Miami Hillel, for example, offers a Family Shabbat service.
How to Find the Jewish Community on Campus
Groups and organizations of all kinds are represented on college campuses in the U.S. Most schools have at least a few groups and organizations that connect students with the Jewish community. Here are some suggestions for locating a Jewish community at a college or university.
See if your college has a local HillelIf your school doesn’t have a local Hillel, you can always start one. Hillel.org recommends researching the rules for student organizations at your school, which usually require registering and finding a faculty advisor. Requests should be submitted to Schusterman International Center and then someone will contact you to confirm your status.
Join the Jewish student unionThe Jewish Student Union (JSU) is a membership organization found on college campuses that provides cultural and ethnic experiences. They take different forms whether large umbrella organizations covering local groups at several universities or centered around a specific school.Membership is not limited to Jewish students. At Michigan State University the JSU and Hillel work together to create a thriving environment, offering activities such as Israel Fest and Welcome Week Events.
Look for Jewish Student groupsRabbi Bregman suggests other national organizations that appear on campuses. Some examples are Chabad on Campus, which enriches university life by offering Shabbat and holiday programs and classes, and MEOR, which provides Jewish education and outreach on 21 campuses. Students can also look for fraternities, sororities and Jewish Heritage Programs, which offers social events, community service and a professional mentoring program.
Join the local Jewish community“Sometimes a school is within or nearby a Jewish community,” explains Rabbi Bregman. “That proximity to a major Jewish community offers opportunities to get involved with a local Synagogue. A local Jewish community may be very interactive with students. For example, when I was at the University of Miami, the Coral Gables community hosted Jewish students regularly for Sabbath and Shabbat.”
Participate in Birthright IsraelAnother indicator of a strong Jewish community is whether there is a Birthright Israel program, according to Rabbi Bregman. “It is a free trip to Israel for Jewish college students and young professionals. Almost all campuses with a large Jewish population have a trip, often managed by a student organization and sometimes through Hillel.”
The University of Florida has a robust population of Jewish students and there are many programs and organizations on campus that connect members of the community. Shabbat services and a free kosher meal are offered by University of Florida Hillel and Jewish Student and Community Center each week and during Jewish holidays. They also offer the following:
The thriving Jewish community at Rutgers University includes free weekly Shabbat services and dinners, active fraternities and sororities (Sigma Alpha Mu, Zeta Beta Tau, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Sigma Epsilon Pi) and a host of community service, arts and travel groups for students, including:
Onward Israel internships
Masa Israel Journey
SHEM Theater Group
Koi Halayla A Cappella Group
“Days Without Hate” social environment program
Jewish Disaster Response Corps
Ezra Schwartz Memorial FIT 5K Run to Support Israel on Campus: raises funds for Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement (RHCIE)
With an active and committed Jewish community, University of Miami offers students community service opportunities, a Kosher Cafe, dorms with optional “Shabbat locks” and a Jewish Education major through the School of Education and Human Development. Students can participate in the following groups:
Students can apply for 11 scholarships under the umbrella of the Federation’s Scholarship program. Many (but not all) of the scholarships are awarded to applicants living in the Federation’s service area in California.
HIAS Chicago offers four separate types of scholarships to students in undergraduate and graduate school. Applicants must be Jewish and demonstrate financial need, academic excellence and community service.
A variety of grants and scholarships are available each academic year from University of Wisconsin Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies. The application deadline for all awards is October 13.
Anti-Semitism on Campus
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the number of anti-Semitic incidents on U.S. college campuses in 2015 increased to 90, up from 47 in the previous year. And all anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. both in and out of college jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017.
However, in September 2017, Stanford’s Research Group in Education and Jewish Studies released the results of interviews with 66 California students from five state campuses to determine the current landscape in terms of anti-Semitism. None of the students felt the atmosphere was anti-Semitic.
Rabbi Bregman agrees. “The average student does not have a problem with anti-Semitism,” he explains. “In general, not always, the Jewish student in the U.S. is not necessarily outwardly observant by dress and overwhelmingly has not experienced anti-Jewish sentiment.”
Of course, Rabbi Bregman explains, if a person dresses in a traditional Jewish way, such as by wearing a yarmulke, it may increase the chance of coming across someone with an anti-Semitic attitude. But, he adds, “The culture at universities is overwhelmingly liberal and tolerant and a safe space for all people.”
What should a student do if they are discriminated against or mistreated because of religious beliefs? Below, we will examine a student’s religious rights on campus and the procedure for reporting such incidents.
What to do if you experience anti-Semitism on campus
According to the ADL, it’s essential that schools have a zero-tolerance policy concerning anti-Semitism. Depending on the incident, it’s likely that it’s covered by the university’s Equal Opportunity policy. If an incident such as vandalism, graffiti, intimidation or harassment occurs, it’s important to check the student handbook to determine the policy for filing a report under the school’s Non-Discrimination policy. You can also report an incident directly to the U.S. Department of Education.
Students on college campuses, just as those anywhere else, have the right to free speech, free exercise of religion and freedom of association under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Religious groups have a right to exist on campus as well as a right to equal access to any resources available to other groups, including funding and facilities. Students are also allowed to wear religious clothing, head coverings and symbols at public colleges and universities.
Public colleges and universities also have a legal obligation to prevent students from being discriminated against for observing the High Holidays under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and various state laws. For instance, major assignments and tests should not be held during the High Holidays.
While private institutions do not have the same legal requirements to provide religious accommodations, there are local and state laws that apply instead. However, students are obligated to review and follow their school’s policy for requesting an accommodation for religious purposes, discussing it with professors or instructors in advance.
More Resources for Jewish Students
Hillel International: As the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, Hillel has locations at colleges and universities to inspire leadership and provide opportunities for social interaction.
Chabad on Campus International: This Jewish organization has 185 permanent branches on college campuses which work to bring people of the Jewish faith together.
MEOR National: Currently 21 universities have a MEOR branch that offers educational and career-oriented programs for students.
Birthright Israel: Birthright Israel sponsors free 10-day trips to Israel for people of Jewish heritage.
World Union of Jewish Students: An independent umbrella organization that supports national independent Jewish associations with locations on some college campuses.
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