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Being Jewish In College. It’s More Complicated Than They Think.

architecture-1122359_1920The Forward recently published a survey that asked, “What makes a college ideal for the Jewish student? Is it the presence of pro-Israel clubs? Kosher food options? Jewish fraternities and sororities? Something else altogether?”

The question inspired a second glance, and then a more critical investigation. I asked a few of my friends what they feel has been most important to them as Jewish college students. A constant theme in their responses? Pro-Israel clubs, Kosher food options, or fraternities and sororities are not what they cite as defining forces in their religious lives.

I began to think about my own experience. I grew up in a largely Jewish community but for most of my life had put my faith on a back burner. Since coming to college I have become much more spiritual than I was before, finding new solace in the idea of God, but I still have not joined up with many Jewish student groups. I began to wonder—do I count as Jewish without being part of a community? And where do I belong amidst debates about Jewish identity?

I am sure I am not alone in my position on what feels like the fringes of the Jewish community. The only conclusion I can come to is that being the college experience is a complex experience for a Jewish student, one that refuses to yield easy answers. But this space of ambiguity can be a productive one, undoing stereotypes and producing questions that I believe can sometimes be more fruitful than answers.