I am a senior in high school. In the weeks before Oct. 7, 2023, I was finalizing my list of where I would apply to college. I had narrowed it down to 13 universities based on two main criteria. First, because I plan to become a nurse practitioner, I sought schools with a direct-entry nursing major. Second, because I’m an observant Jew, I sought schools that have a robust Jewish life. Prior to Oct. 7, this meant a school with Shabbat services and a Kosher meal plan. My list consisted of state schools, Ivy League and other private universities.
And then Oct. 7 happened. At first I didn’t understand the magnitude of what had occurred. Then, as I read the coverage and saw the horrifying pictures and videos, it began to sink in. I found out that a close family member who was in the IDF had been murdered by Hamas while rescuing civilians. He was just shy of his 23rd birthday and I had been in Israel a year before, celebrating his wedding. I felt numb and pulled to go to Israel, to take a stand against this evil. Instead I was at home in Los Angeles, a high school student who still had to apply to college.
I was also shocked to see that Jewish students on many of the college campuses I was applying to were scared to leave their dorms. They were afraid of people on campus knowing they were Jews, let alone that they supported Israel. Aggressive, often violent, pro-Hamas demonstrations were taking place on these campuses, and they seemed designed to make Jews feel threatened. Jewish students on these campuses feared for their safety, felt alone, and like no one on campus supported them or cared they were afraid.
A close family friend and recent graduate of my high school is now a freshman at an Ivy League college. She is Jewish, her parents are Israeli, and she has at times felt terrified on her campus since Oct. 7. She has two Muslim roommates who she thought were her friends. But when she checked their social media accounts, she saw that they were posting antisemitic and pro-Hamas sentiments. When she was walking on her campus wearing a Star of David necklace, someone tore the necklace off her neck and shoved her violently while shouting antisemitic insults in her face. I couldn’t believe that this was happening on college campuses in modern-day America and not 1930s Germany.
Being an open, proud Jew is a core part of my identity and I want to go to a university where I wouldn’t have to hide this part of myself in order to stay physically safe. Being Jewish is not a part of my identity that I’m willing to compromise.
After hearing these stories from friends and watching the testimony from university presidents in front of Congress, I began to worry about what it would be like to be a Jewish student at many of the colleges on my list. Being an open, proud Jew is a core part of my identity and I want to go to a university where I wouldn’t have to hide this part of myself in order to stay physically safe. Being Jewish is not a part of my identity that I’m willing to compromise.
Based on these realizations, I only ended up applying to six of the 13 schools on my original list; I purposefully did not apply to some of the schools currently making headlines for antisemitism. Given that nursing is a very selective major, I knew that applying to so few schools may mean that I wouldn’t get into university at all. My backup plan would be to attend university in Israel.
Fast forward a few months, and most of my peers still applied to schools based on prestige and not the reality of what it is like being Jewish on college campuses today. Now that my classmates and I have started receiving our college admission decisions, seeing my friends get into certain schools has felt complicated. While I am happy for them, I know that going to some of these universities means that while they will get the branding, they likely won’t have easy experiences as Jews. I hope that those of my friends going to these schools will be able to retain their proud Jewish identities and won’t compromise or hide in order to fit in with the new, anti-Semitic campus climate.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” I don’t know what the future holds for me or my peers. But it has led me to think: what are the values I and other members of my generation hold most dear? And as we go out into the world as adults for the first time, how will our lives reflect those values? I hope that the next four years for my friends do not look like the last few months on college campuses.
Maayan Mazar is a high school senior in Los Angeles.