Hillel’s Virtual College Prep Webinar Continues with a Deep Dive into Campus Antisemitism



April 4, 2024

Since the attack on Israel on October 7, antisemitism has risen to historically high levels in the U.S. and around the world, including on college campuses. 

In the second installment of Hillel’s Virtual College Prep Webinar series, Jewish college students and professional leaders led a session entitled “Careful Considerations: Antisemitism on Campus,” focusing on what  Jewish life on campus is truly like right now. 

“We’re sadly seeing not only one of the largest spikes in antisemitism around the world, but the highest levels of antisemitism on campus that we’ve ever recorded,” Adam Lehman, president and CEO of Hillel International, told a virtual audience of more than 630 people, including families of soon-to-be college students. 

Even before October 7, and with increasing urgency and impact in the months since, Hillel International has been combating campus antisemitism and working to make every college campus as safe and supportive an environment for Jewish students as possible. Hillel is investing in security and mental health and wellness initiatives, taking advantage of legal channels to hold universities accountable for addressing antisemitic incidents, partnering with school administrations through the Campus Climate Initiative to help improve their policies and ensure a supportive environment — and that’s just the beginning.

“We are blessed with 1,200 passionate professionals who care about Jewish life, who care about students, and create opportunities for Jewish students to engage in positive, joyful, and meaningful Jewish life on campus every day,” Lehman said. “That remains the heartbeat of our work.” 

Nevertheless, he referenced  a recent survey of parents of prospective college students that showed 87% of respondents see rising antisemitism as impacting the college selection process, and nearly two-thirds (64%) of Jewish high school families have eliminated colleges and universities from consideration due to antisemitism. The Hillel College Guide, one of Hillel’s most valuable resources for prospective students, has also been updated to include information about antisemitism and the climate on campus to help families and students make informed decisions. 

Rising Antisemitism on Campus – and What Families Should Ask Administrators

While many students and parents have become more aware of campus antisemitism in the months since October 7, the factors that have led to this current moment in academia go back decades. Dr. Rachel Fish, co-founder of Boundless Israel,  gave an overview of the factors that have led to rising antisemitism and anti-Israel politics on campus. 

“What’s happening on campuses and what’s been building on campuses didn’t start on October 8, we just weren’t paying as much attention to it,” she said. “Because it’s been percolating for decades, we can’t solve these problems overnight.”

Dr. Fish recommended some questions that students and parents can bring to college administrators that might help shed light on what the campus environment is really like. For example, she advised asking about university positions on BDS resolutions, whether or not the university has made public statements about Israel since October 7, how student newspapers cover issues related to Israel and Jewish students, and whether campus professionals are trained to effectively respond to antisemitic incidents on campus.

“Personally, I’m less interested in statements and more interested in the actions and concrete steps that are being taken to ensure that Jewish students and Zionist students are safe from discrimination,” she said. “Action is what actually matters.”

Supporting Students Physically and Emotionally on Campus

In the first of two panel discussions, Dr. Fish was joined by Hunter Gold, executive director of University of Central Florida Hillel, and Hagar Ben-Eliezar, mental health and wellness therapist at Berkeley Hillel. They discussed the ways in which Hillel International has been partnering with universities to ensure the physical safety of Jewish students, and to support them socially and emotionally. 

“The job is really about creating a safe place for students to come and speak their truth, even if it’s scary, and to be able to feel supported in that,” said Ben-Eliezar.

“We’re building resilience through the core work of building communities where students feel safe with one another, and the work of creating student leaders who are empowered to advocate for themselves and each other,” said Lehman, who was moderating the discussion.

Both also acknowledged the challenges that many parents are facing in trying to support their children, many of whom are navigating experiences that are completely unlike anything dealt with in their own college years. 

“Honesty is really important,” Ben-Eliezar said. “You don’t have to have an answer. I recommend that parents model the behavior of sitting with those uncomfortable emotions, and just saying, you know, ‘I feel this way too. It’s really hard.’”

She also recommended that parents be intentional about setting some time to connect with their children, whether through daily texts or weekly FaceTime dates. 

“Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s campus Hillel if you have a concern,” she added.

“We are here seven days a week for our students,” said Gold. “We’re tabling on campus, making sure we’re visible, bringing in speakers — just doing everything we can to make sure that we’re your Jewish home away from home. We want to make sure everyone knows that this is a place to be happy, to smile, and this is a safe space to be.”

That investment, Lehman said, is making a difference. This year, Hillel International is engaging more than 180,000 students — the biggest number to date. 

Students Weigh in on What Families Should Know

Jonathan Falk, VP of Israel Action and Addressing Antisemitism Program (IAP) at Hillel International, moderated a second discussion with two student leaders about the realities of student experiences on campus today. He was joined by Talia Segal (Georgia Institute of Technology), a member of the Israel Leadership Network, and Zachary Patterson (Duke University), a member of Hillel’s Student Leadership Council. They spoke about what’s made this year different from their previous years on campus, what they need from adult supporters on campus and off, and how their college selection process might have been different if they were searching today. 

Patterson and Segal discussed their experiences with antisemitism on campus, and highlighted the ways their Jewish communities have made them feel safe, noting that even across different Jewish organizations, there has been a significant effort to build bridges and connections.  

“Jewish students are really supporting each other on campus,” Patterson said.

Segal agreed. “We’ve seen amazing unity in our Jewish community — students are really coming together like never before,” she said.

When asked about how they might have changed their approach to choosing a school if they were prospective college students today, both students agreed that while they might have done more in-depth research and asked more probing questions about antisemitism, neither would choose not to attend a school because of a challenging environment.

“If antisemitic activities push us out of the spaces where we want to be, then they win,” Segal said firmly, adding, “I believe we need to be here on campus, come prepared with facts, hold true to our identities, and be secure that we have people behind us backing us up.”

Catch the full webinar recording, and join us on May 23 for the third and final installment of Hillel’s College Prep Webinar series, focusing on the exciting opportunities that Hillel has for incoming first-year students.