For parents of graduating high school seniors, this can be an emotional and stressful time of year. While excited for their children, they are also faced with the realization that their kids will soon be leaving the nest to move on to college and the next phase of their lives.

Having made it through the college application process, the attention now shifts to finding a compatible roommate, attending college acceptance days, planning fall move-in and organizing college schedules. And, of course, parents need to find time to squeeze in important conversations concerning alcohol and drug abuse, college hazing, roommate conflicts, class attendance…basically all the wisdom and advice they can impart to ensure their child’s safety and happiness.

But today, for parents of Jewish students who have observed the rise of anti-Semitic incidents throughout our country and the world and watched the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement permeate college campuses, there is now a need to address these issues as well. According to a Brandeis University study, titled “Hotspots of AntiSemitism and Anti-Israel Sentiment on US Campuses,” overall, 15% of respondents agreed that there was a hostile environment toward Jews on their campus compared  to over a third who agreed that there was  a hostile environment toward Israel.

The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore works closely with local and international agencies and community partners to establish programs that keep teens safe whether on campus or at home. The Israel High Leadership Program, offered by The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE) and funded by The Associated, seeks to educate students about the complexities of Israel and provides a historical background as well as an understanding of current day issues. Facilitators recently held two parlor sessions with parents and teenagers alike to help students prepare for life on campus through a Jewish lens.

“CJE has curated and developed a range of resources to help prepare students for possible anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment on campus,” explains Sam Hopkins, Israel Program Coordinator at CJE. “We hope to empower our Baltimore students with the tools and knowledge so that they feel confident to engage in an intelligent, mature way when confronted with these issues in college.”

According to Hopkins, Israel High’s curriculum provides a starting point for thinking through real-world experiences on college campuses and an understanding of when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism.  The program is designed to give students the knowledge and confidence to talk about Israel.

Teenagers at Rosenthal JCC of Northern Westchester. (Handout photo)

“Many of our high school students, although aware of the upsurge in anti-Israel protests, simply are not used to being challenged on these topics in their day-to-day lives,” explains Liz Minkin-Friedman, Co-facilitator of Beth Am Congregation’s Time to Uproot program.

Minkin-Friedman, who hosted one of the Israel High sessions in her home, is also the parent of a high school senior. The Time to Uproot program closely explores the change in the parent-student relationship during the college transition time. Seeing that many parents and students had questions surrounding the climate around Israel and being a Jew on campus, Minkin-Friedman approached CJE to help facilitate this discussion.

“I really think the climate on campus is so different than when I was in school. We teach our children to love Israel and embrace their Jewish identity. It is important to me that my son chooses a college where he feels safe to explore his Judaism without feeling uncomfortable or endangered. Israel High is helping teach the proper language in which  to respond,” Minkin-Friedman adds.

In an effort to make the program content more relatable as well as provide an accurate perspective, CJE invited Lior Navon, Israel Fellow at Johns Hopkins Hillel, to share her perspective about what actually happens on college campuses.

“The climate on campus isn’t black and white when it comes to dealing with Israel conversations. In addition to having more Israel knowledge and master the facts, our students also receive the support when it comes to dealing with emotions and opinions of others and learn how to create a space for conversations of all kinds in a constructive way,’’ Navon explains.

CJE works closely with local educators and receives support and materials from international organizations such as Stand With Us, Makom, JerusalemU and Emory University’s Center for Israel Education.

“The truth is, it’s a complicated subject. It’s  a complicated world. We will continue to learn and explore the role that Israel plays as part of our students’ educational and personal growth and to provide families with the guidance they need to feel comfortable and well-supported living as Jews on campus,” Hopkins says.