The college hunt has officially been set in motion, and that means campus visits, open houses and enough college essays to keep this year’s batch of high school seniors overwhelmed, to say the least. One of the hardest parts of the process is deciding which schools are worth applying to, and which offer both an invigorating academic and Jewish experience.
What are students looking for?
Many high school seniors are looking for similar benefits when it comes to what sort of Jewish life schools have to offer, such as an opportunity to visit Israel, join Jewish clubs or meet new students at social events on campus. Although a significant percentage of students in our readership do continue their education at YU’s Yeshiva College or Stern College campuses, with its integrated Jewish and secular studies programs and Orthodox environment, a strong percentage will be looking outside of the YU system. This article is for those students seeking to go to college outside of YU.
Some students, such as Frisch student Shira Sedek, aren’t planning on living on campus, and aren’t as selective about choosing schools based on the Chabad or Hillel programs. Sedek, who wants to study business and education, is considering Touro College, which as a Jewish college provides neither Chabad nor Hillel for students. She is instead focused on deciding whether or not she still wants to juggle a dual curriculum, a feature of Touro’s all-female campus, but not its coed campus.
“I would want to teach Hebrew subjects so the dual curriculum might benefit me,” she said. “But at the same time it might be a lot when you’re in college and you need to include internships and other experiences into your schedule.”
Some students want Jewish life to be a recreational and academic experience, while others, such as Eastern Regional High School student Adam Hecht, would prefer to regularly attend Chabad and Hillel events but keep Judaic or political studies out of his class schedule.
“For me, being Jewish is about faith, morality and community,” Hecht said. “I wish for kosher food options, [religious] services and hopefully some fun experiences...but I would like to keep subjective-based politics out of my college education.”
While most schools offer chapters of Jewish/Israeli student unions and other similar clubs, participation is never mandatory, and students can decide how much they want to expose themselves to that aspect of Jewish campus life.
When it comes down to what Chabad and Hillel have to offer, most students are looking for an inclusive religious experience.
Shua Pariser, an MTA student, is considering attending community college after his gap year in Israel and would love to get involved in the school’s Jewish clubs, but only if they aid in enhancing a Modern Orthodox lifestyle.
“I’ve gotten emails from different organizations where they’re having a Purim celebration at a bar,” Pariser said. “If any of the Yomim Tovim or chagim are being spent at a bar the experience is being wasted.”
Students like Maya, a senior at SAR, want to use Chabad and Hillel as a time to socialize with her Jewish peers during Shabbat and the chagim.
“I want people there to be excited about Judaism and interested in celebrating Shabbat and different holidays,” Maya said.
She would also be open to taking Judaic studies classes that were open to all interested students.
“I would be interested in taking Judaic classes as a new way to view Judaism, and to see how people outside of Judaism look at the religion,” she said.
Overall, students want a well-rounded experience that allows them to expand their Jewsh networks, and having Judaism in common when meeting new people makes breaking the ice a little easier.
“Attending Jewish events can be a great opportunity to meet new people I wouldn’t have otherwise known,” Rachel Benji, a Frisch student, said. “It would be great to open up and connect with people in my community.”
A Brief Look
This quick guide gives a brief comparison of Jewish life at a few different campuses for those looking for a well-rounded college experience:
Students thinking about attending the New Brunswick campus do so with some idea of just how encompassing the Jewish life is. More than 5,000 undergraduate students there are Jewish, and for good reason. The New Brunswick campus was rated the No. 1 school for Jewish students in the country, according to edsmart.org. So, what benefits come with such a promising deal?
Chabad offers its own housing on campus, the Les Turchin Chabad House, that’s right near the library, the gym and most importantly the kosher dining hall. Rooms include private baths, heating, air-conditioning, private WiFi, student lounges and quiet study areas. There is also a workout gym and a laundry room, and campus and local bus service stop right by the front curb. First-time applicants should expect to fill out an application, put down a non-refundable $200 fee, and sit for an interview. (Men and women live separately.)
Students, commuters included, can sign up for a Chabad meal plan that offers a range of five to 18 meals per week. The food is prepared by Chabad family members, and includes pizza, falafel, pepper steak, soups, tacos, vegetables and much more. The food is served for free on Shabbat and is glatt kosher.
Chabad offers weekly Shabbat services and holiday (and High Holiday) services—think huge Chanukah and Simchat Torah parties. There are also a variety of recreational and volunteering events and courses for students interested in getting to know their Jewish peers.
There is also a vibrant Hillel community that serves Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews on campus. The Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) partners with Hillel and the OU to offer weekly shiurim, guest speakers and Shabbat and holiday services that include meals (including Pesach). The meals are hosted in the home of JLIC educators. Rutgers Mesorah, part of JLIC, hosts daily minyanim three times a day. JLIC educators will even provide students with proof of absence letters should any professor be concerned over a student’s absence during the holidays.
Hillel’s Conservative program, Koach, runs student-led Shabbat services every Friday night, and a couple of times a month on Shabbat morning. The Reform program offers Friday night student-led musical services, Havdalah services once or twice a month, and other social events such as hiking trips, Torah studies and more.
There is an eruv that surrounds the College Avenue Campus and sections of downtown New Brunswick, and connects to the Highland Park eruv.
Hillel also sponsors Birthright trips for students looking to take advantage of that experience, and its Center for Israel Engagement also hosts a variety of groups and opportunities for students such as tickets and travel to the yearly AIPAC lobby, and even internships in Israel.
For those interested, Hillel also offers a variety of Jewish Greek life organizations such as Sigma Alpha Mu, or Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternities, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Delta Tau sororities. All offer a variety of philanthropy opportunities and a large alumni network.
Rutgers provides a Jewish academic experience as well. Interested students can major or minor in Jewish studies. Courses include Jewish history and Hebrew classes.
While Rutgers offers a cozy home-away-from home vibe, at Touro College, all of New York City is your campus, which is good for students looking to gain some independence and street smarts. Students will have off for Jewish holidays and are surrounded by Jewish instructors who are also encouraged to avoid administering tests on minor fast days.
The school was rated No. 1 in Algemeiner’s second annual list of North America’s friendly Jewish campuses in 2017.
Touro has a number of different campuses. Its coed campuses, with locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, offer Judaic studies courses at an associate’s or bachelor’s level. There are kosher options on campus.
For students looking for a more immersive Jewish experience, Touro offers men’s and women’s campuses and housing (Landers College for Men and Women) located in Queens and Manhattan respectively.
Landers College for Men offers daily minyanim three times a day, a dual curriculum and semicha program with both a chinuch and rabbanut track. Students will also receive help when it comes time for internship placements in different schools and yeshivot.
Its Beit Medrash L’Talmud provides a morning and night seder for students to learn, participate in shiurim and different chavruta levels. There are also a variety of kosher dining options on campus. Some students also grocery shop and cook their own meals.
Housing for men is also in Queens. Its townhouses include kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms and balconies. Students host their own Shabbat meals with a kollel member or rosh yeshiva present, and once a month students stay on campus for an in-Shabbat with singing and shared meals.
The student government leaders are in charge of providing a more recreational Jewish experience. They host holiday celebrations (think Lag Ba’Omer barbecues and annual shabbatons) and sponsor mesibot, campus speakers, talent shows and Rosh Chodesh breakfasts and guest shiurim. There are also Jewish clubs on campus such as the Tefillah Club and the Ramban Club.
The women’s campus, which also implements a dual curriculum, has housing on the Upper West Side. The suites come with kitchens that have both meat and dairy ovens. Residence directors host weekly Shabbat meals in their homes complete with games, zemirot and divrei Torah. For women who want to attend Shabbat morning and afternoon services, they will have to find one in the area.
Touro encourages students to take advantage of the Jewish life that exists in the area. Students can visit The Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Center for Jewish History and much more—all of which are located in Manhattan.
Touro also has a campus division in Israel where students looking to study abroad can take a variety of courses that will transfer to their home campus.
As of 2015, Binghamton University was rated No. 12 on the top 60 public schools Jewish students choose, according to the Hillel college guide, and about 26% percent of the undergraduates there are Jewish.
Binghamton doesn’t hold classes on the High Holidays and the first two days of Pesach, and both Chabad and Hillel offer High Holiday services. There are also synagogues nearby where students are welcome to attend services, such as Temple Concord (Reform/liberal), Temple Israel (Conservative) and Beth David Synagogue (Orthodox).
The school also provides kosher food. The Kosher Korner section, which provides packaged sandwiches and other to-go foods, is located at every dining hall on campus, and the bigger Kosher Kitchen in the main dining hall provides dairy lunch and breakfast options and meat dinners (the kitchen closes on Shabbat). All can be purchased using the regular school meal plan. Chabad also offers its own kosher food different nights during the week such as its Chabad Cafe/Pizza Shop that’s open Mondays and Thursdays.
There is an eruv that spans the entire campus and off-campus housing communities.
For students looking for a Jewish academic experience, Binghamton offers a Judaic studies major and minor, and an Israel studies minor where students can study the history, politics, literature and culture of modern Israel. The school is also very flexible about deferring applications for students looking to spend a year in Israel, and will accept certain transfer credits depending on the yeshiva or seminary the student attended during a gap year.
There are also plenty of study-abroad programs in Israel, and students can transfer the credits from courses taken at some Israeli universities for their Judiac studies major or minor. For those interested in Birthright, Chabad offers a trip through its trip organizer, Mayanot. Hillel also hosts Birthright trips during winter and summer breaks.
For any interested singers, Binghamton is home to Kaskeset, a co-ed Jewish a capella group. For women looking to build a network of fellow Jews, Binghamton’s Jewish interest sorority, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, is one place to start.
Chabad is just a short walk from campus and has a lot to offer in addition to its weekly minyanim. Students can attend Friday evening, Shabbat morning and seudah shlishit services. Shabbat services are usually packed; expect anywhere around 300 students in attendance.
For those interested in joining a shiur, Chabad’s Torah Tent meets weekly and offers more flexible schedules for students who can’t make the weekly scheduled meetings.
There are an array of social and recreational events for students looking to meet their fellow Jews. The Chabad House comes with a game room and lounge area for students to relax. Chabad also organizes events and trips such as its winter ski trip, challah baking and “ashkefardic” night. Students looking to participate in community service can accompany Chabad’s visit to the elderly once a week and join other volunteering opportunities.
Chabad members will also help students find fellow Jewish roommates through an online interactive board, put up mezuzot on their doorways and kasher their kitchens should they need.
In addition to Chabad, students can join the campus Hillel community, whose headquarters are located right on campus and includes a beit midrash. Hillel welcomed its new JLIC coordinators this year, and interested students can take advantage of Hillel’s student-led Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Shabbat evening, morning and seudah shlishit services where about 200 students attend each week.
Hillel rated Queens College as one of the top 60 schools by Jewish population in 2017, and the school does have a lot to offer students.
Students have access to both dairy and meat kosher dining halls every weekday should they purchase a meal plan. They can also buy kosher on-the-go sandwiches at other cafes and eating areas around campus.
Students can attend daily Orthodox minyanim through either Chabad or Hillel, and Hillel’s beit midrash hosts both davening and a variety of shiurim. Chabad also hosts a weekly chavruta learning on Tuesday nights that includes dinner, and students can take an eight-week Tanya course and be eligible to receive a stipend by the end of the program.
Shabbat is also a crowded affair at Queens College. Students can expect anywhere up to 200 students at Hillel Friday night, and the Chabad family hosts interesting guest speakers and different themed Shabbat dinners (think Italian Shabbat, outer space Shabbat and more).
For students itching to study abroad, while Queens College doesn’t offer any study-abroad programs in Israel, students who want to go can register through another CUNY or SUNY school.
There are also a wide range of Jewish clubs on campus, such as the Israel Student Union at Queens College, and TAMID, for business students looking to learn more about the Israeli economy.
While there isn’t Jewish or Chabad housing, Chabad provides mezuzah loans and kitchen kashering for students who need it.
For more information about these or any other schools don’t hesitate to check out each school’s website or reach out to Chabad or Hillel representatives with any questions.