The AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting, combating and providing education about anti-Semitism at higher education institutions in America, reports that in 2016, a total of 630 incidents took place at colleges and universities nationwide. In 2015, that number was 469, representing a shocking 34.3 percent increase. With rising anti-Semitism and an increase in BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, an anti-Israel movement with activity across U.S. college campuses), the question is, will our BCHSJS teens be able to effectively respond to affronts about Israel and criticism about being Jewish when they go off to school? BCHSJS is working hard to make sure that answer is a definite YES.
Our efforts include a mandatory senior seminar class that prepares students for issues they may face as Jews, including handling anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism challenges confidently and safely. We also have classes that cover current events related to this issue and we tackle provocative topics.
Throughout their time at BCHSJS, we expose students to issues surrounding anti-Semitism within a broad, objective context so that they can carry on an informed conversation and address potential challenges when they graduate. At the core of our strategy is the importance of seeking out objective facts, including both sides of any argument. We also stress that they should understand the broader context within which the discussion is taking place. We remind our students to listen; it’s easy to assume that someone is going to say something when in fact they may have a different point of view or argument to voice.
We also support and take advantage of programs outside our school itself. Recently, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey conducted the iCAN Answer Now Teen Conference to prepare Northern New Jersey high school juniors and seniors – including more than 30 from BCHSJS – to discuss Jewish-related issues and threats on campus. Several BCHSJS students served on the planning committee for the event and played a role in shaping its content and execution. Not only did the conference heighten awareness of what students might encounter when they go to college, it gave them knowledge about accessing resources and strategies for effective communication with those opposing Israel.
We recognize that some of our students may feel isolated and alone when they arrive at college. They may be assigned a roommate who has never before met someone who is Jewish. While this doesn’t have to be a problem, we encourage our students to seek out resources, like Hillel, that will make them feel part of a broader Jewish community and enable them to build the types of friendships and relationships that they’ve enjoyed at BCHSJS.
This all comes full circle to our BCHSJS mission, which is to help our students develop strong Jewish identities. In short, we make our students feel confident and proud of being Jewish, which is the most important thing we can do to prepare them for the future.