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Yeshivah high schools ask college recruiters to prove campuses are safe

“That these schools can’t call out evil and immorality, I just don’t understand,” one high school principal told JNS.

A video security camera mounted high on a college campus. Credit: Real Window Creative/Shutterstock.
A video security camera mounted high on a college campus. Credit: Real Window Creative/Shutterstock.

Universities have allowed a “toxic ideology to fester” that “manifests as aggressive and overt antisemitism,” more than 30 heads of yeshivah high schools wrote in a letter earlier this month. The leaders added that “sometimes even with outright and overt support of administrators and professors,” Jew-hatred is “ignored at best, and increasingly, as we’ve seen, openly cheered and promoted.”

In addition to committing themselves to further educating students and to lobbying local, state and federal officials, the leaders of schools in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and in Toronto, Canada, said that they would also push back against college recruiters.

“We will directly communicate with colleges or universities that seek to recruit at our schools and expect them to communicate their policies, training protocols and security commitments that will assure Jewish students’ safety and the support of a pro-Israel community on campus,” the school leaders wrote. They added that they would meet with college administrators to demand, among other things, for “anti-discrimination and diversity training for all students and faculty on campuses to include training on antisemitism.”

In so doing, Jewish day schools plan to take aggressive stances with the very institutions, particularly elite ones, which they have long touted as destinations for their alumni post-graduation.

Ari Levitt, an Orthodox rabbi and head of school at the Atlanta Jewish Academy, was one of the leaders to sign the letter.

“Just because free speech is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights does not mean you can yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” he told JNS. “It does not mean you can use it to intimidate or harass people on campus.”

‘Parents will have questions’

Mark Shpall, head of the de Toledo High School, a Jewish community school in West Hills, Calif., told JNS that alumni have told him that they don’t feel safe on college campuses and are scared to do anything or to wear anything identifiably Jewish.

“I’ve never heard a kid say this before. If it’s even one kid—and it’s way more than one kid—it’s upsetting,” he said. “That these schools can’t call out evil and immorality, I just don’t understand.”

None of the 90 seniors at the school has pulled an application due to the way that a college or university has handled antisemitism on campus, according to Shpall.

“I know it will be a very different conversation once students receive their admittance letters, and parents will have a lot of questions about whether a school is the right place to send their Jewish teenager,” he said.

He plans to release a letter from a range of Jewish day schools, which is similar to the one that 30 heads of Orthodox schools signed.

“It is important that our voice be heard and for everyone to know that we demand the same kind of protections for our students who may not be Orthodox, but who are Jewish on campus,” he said. “We are in a moment in time when you are judged by your words and your actions.”

The letter will impress upon people “that we will push our universities to protect our students against antisemitism and physical safety, which is not being protected on many campuses,” he said.

College campus. Credit: Pixabay.

‘Plans to protect and maintain safety’

Concerns about the safety of Jewish students on college campuses prompted the Talmudical Academy of Bergen County (TABC) in northern New Jersey to change its policies on having college representatives speak to students.

“We feel strongly that we cannot continue to invite college representatives to speak to our students as they have in the past. Your son’s physical and emotional welfare is too important to us,” the school wrote.

“Before college representatives can enter our building, they must bring a statement from their university leadership detailing their plans to protect and maintain the safety and security of our graduates on their campuses as Jews,” the school added. “Those who cannot or will not accede to our valid and just request will not be welcome here at TABC.”

In “unprecedented” circumstances, the future remains uncertain with respect to antisemitism on college campuses, according to Paul Bernstein, founding chief executive officer of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

It’s too soon to tell what the implications of antisemitism on campus—and pushback from Jewish day schools—will be for short- and long-term enrollments, Bernstein told JNS.

“We don’t know if there will be a shift in where Jewish students will go,” he said. “The good news is that there are some colleges that are doing a good job.” 

“Hopefully,” he said, “they’ll receive the interest that comes from it.”

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