It’s OK to be Uncomfortable on the College Campus

As we approach the end of another academic year, I find myself reflecting on the journey of Jewish identity within the context of college campuses. This reflection is particularly poignant for me as a parent, with one daughter just having graduated from college and another preparing to embark on her own collegiate adventure.

In recent years, the challenges facing Jewish students on college campuses in relation to Israel, have become increasingly apparent. These challenges, whether they stem from political tensions, ideological divides, or anti-Semitic rhetoric, can deeply impact the Jewish identity of our young adults. As a rabbi and a parent, I see providing support and guidance to my own children, our students and their families as essential in my rabbinate. Providing support doesn’t mean I can remove these challenging feelings of fear, frustration, lack of power, or instill great hope and ease. I can be present as a foundation of resources and as the embodiment of an open tent as they each chart their path.

In a recent opinion article in The New York Times, college president Michael Roth discusses the importance of being uncomfortable in the college experience. He writes, “Being uncomfortable is an essential part of my job, and I believe it’s an essential part of a college education, too.” This notion of discomfort as a catalyst for growth resonates deeply with me, both as a rabbi and as a mom.

As our students navigate the complexities of college life, including discussions surrounding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they may indeed find themselves in uncomfortable situations. However, it is precisely in these moments of discomfort that they have the opportunity to flex essential muscles of critical thinking, empathy, and resilience. As adults in the community and in their families, it can be challenging to witness our young adults grapple with difficult issues, but it is important to trust in their ability to navigate these complexities with grace and integrity and it is essential to be present for them to guide and educate them, to listen and bear witness.

For my graduating daughter, her college experience has been a journey of self-discovery and intellectual exploration. She has engaged in meaningful conversations about her Jewish identity, her connection to Israel, and her role in shaping a more just and equitable world. While these conversations have not always been easy, they have been instrumental in shaping her sense of self and her commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world. She began her college years with a “gap” year in Jerusalem at the Hartman Institute. North American students live, study, and experience Israel alongside their Israeli counterparts. They wrestle as a community with Jewish identity today, allowing Jewish Americans and Israelis to explore key issues that shape our collective narrative. She is ending her college years with the threat of protest about Gaza at her American college gradation. What bookends those two experiences represent.

As my younger daughter prepares to embark on her own college journey, I am reminded of the importance of providing her with the tools and support she needs to navigate the challenges ahead. While I cannot shield her from discomfort, I can offer her guidance, love, and a strong foundation rooted in our Jewish values our Jewish family and our Jewish community.

I urge our congregation to continue supporting our college students as they navigate the complexities of campus life. Let us embrace discomfort as an opportunity for growth and transformation, both for ourselves and for the next generation of Jewish leaders. Together, may we strive to build a world where all individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to live out their Jewish identity with pride and purpose.

Rabbi Jodie