For those who choose to go, college should be one of the most exciting times of a person’s life. At the same time that you’re absorbing all kinds of new information and meeting new people, you’re also figuring out who you want to be and what you want to do with your life. On top of that, there are the readings, problem sets, screenings, papers and office hours to contend with — no pressure. Suffice to say, it’s not the best time for a big, life-altering historical event to occur.
Here at Hey Alma, we have an inkling of what that’s like. Associate editor Evelyn Frick and audience engagement associate Avital Dayanim were at school when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Some years earlier, editor and founder Molly Tolsky and deputy managing editor Vanessa Friedman were students during the 2008 global financial crisis.
But frankly, none of us can fully understand how Jewish college students must be feeling now, amidst the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza. So, once again, we turned to our readers, this time specifically reaching out to our 2023-2024 College Fellows and college students in our Instagram audience.
Here is some of what they shared with us about how it feels to be a Jewish college student right now. For any and all Jewish college students reading this now, we hope it makes you feel a little less alone.
How are you feeling right now? How have you been feeling since October 7?
I can’t stop thinking about the consequences of what’s happening for everybody involved and even those not as well. It’s very difficult to cope with the lack of humanity, respect and empathy that’s being shown in every aspect and on every side.
The past two weeks have felt like living in a different dimension from the rest of my peers. Everyone goes about their normal days like nothing out of the ordinary is happening and I feel like I’m the only one who’s being dragged down constantly by the weight of all this sadness and fear.
It’s been really really difficult to focus on school and being social while dealing with the fact that my close friends and family are in a war.
Oof. Bad and disoriented. I’ve never really had to bite my tongue as much as I have in the last couple weeks.
I’ve been feeling really lost.
I’m finding it harder to be confident in my Jewish identity.
It’s hard to deal with some of my closest friends sharing posts with antisemitic rhetoric. I don’t know how to get them to hear me. I also don’t want to lose these friendships but it is becoming difficult to ignore their ignorance.
The last two weeks have probably been some of the worst weeks of my life. I’ve cried more than I thought was possible.
I’m afraid that if I mention that I’m Jewish, everyone will attack me for “supporting Israel.” Yet, that isn’t true. While I do believe a Jewish state is important, I also believe that the Palestinians deserve human rights and shouldn’t be attacked. People treat the Israel-Palestine situation as a black or white solution, with no room for the gray. That’s not true. There is plenty of gray space. We just have to find it.
I’m exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually. I feel like I am drowning between midterms and schoolwork, friends and the events taking place in Israel. I feel like I’m constantly explaining the situation. Although I have very supportive Jewish and non-Jewish friends, it is draining to see this everywhere I look while the community and admin at my school says nothing.
I am hyper aware of my status as a Jewish woman.
I fear the antisemitism that I see growing, I am angry our people are hurting, I can’t shake the guilt because I feel so powerless.
I am exhausting myself begging people to understand nuance.
Bad! Scared! Terrible!
I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Any moment of joy I feel is overshadowed by fear, anger and guilt.
I feel so paralyzed and like I’m just supposed to pretend nothing happened/is happening. The only way to get through the day is to be numb because how else am I supposed to get my schoolwork done?
I’m incredibly confused and distressed. I just want peace and I want people on both sides to be empathetic.
I’m a grad student and I feel distant from everyone else.
These past two weeks have been awful for me and for a lot of Jewish students on campus. This situation is ruining relationships as well as motivation.
I haven’t been sleeping well. No matter how tired I am, my brain just won’t turn off until between 3am and 7am.
I feel betrayed.
I feel embarrassed.
I feel isolated.
Do you have Jewish community on your college campus?
Not really. I moved here a couple of months ago and I am really feeling the sharp contrast between my huge community at home and the loneliness of being by myself in a new city.
I’m not sure how to get involved.
I have a strong Hillel community on my campus, but I’m studying abroad. I’m worried for myself, but I’m also worried for my friends on campus. It’s hard to handle all of this alone in a foreign country.
There is one but I am not involved with it — after all of this, I don’t exactly feel comfortable having nuanced discussions with my classmates, so I am planning to become more involved with it. I don’t support Bibi’s government and I want a place to talk about it without finding out my non-Jewish friends and classmates believe that terror attacks against the Jewish people are a justified response.
My school has a huge Jewish community. It has been really inspiring that we have been able to come together over the last few weeks. Even people who don’t regularly attend Jewish programming have been showing up to events and it is great.
Nope, it’s difficult to engage with the Hillel at my school. But I have a neighbor down the hall and we’re being support systems to each other.
I am currently studying abroad and have never felt so lonely in my Judaism. I am a part of vibrant Jewish communities in my hometown and at my home university and being away from them now has been incredibly difficult… Still, I am grateful for the Jews here that I have met, all of whom have been very welcoming.
My brother and I are the only Jewish students at our historically Christian college, so outside of our local synagogue we are isolated.
I have a community of lefty Jewish organizers who have luckily been really supportive, but I’m having a harder time with large Jewish institutions.
I can’t be involved at the moment since everyone is supporting something I don’t agree with.
I am involved in both Hillel and Chabad which have been very supportive over the last two weeks. I am also in Alpha Epsilon Phi, which is a Jewish sorority.
My campus has a relatively small Jewish community; however, I have been leaning into them more than ever these past few weeks. I’ve found a sense of comfort in talking and connecting with other Jewish students on campus because of our immediate understanding of shared feelings and experiences.
What is the hardest thing about being a Jewish college student right now?
Participating in group discussions that inevitably bring up the conflict, and being unsure and highly anxious to contribute. Hanukkah also starts before I go home for the holidays, and so the decision over how to celebrate in a low-key way to avoid unwanted attention has been difficult.
I’ve lost a lot of friends and acquaintances and my study abroad feels really lonely. On top of that, I am now constantly on edge around the friends I do have left or the new people I meet, because I feel like I cannot trust them fully when anyone could randomly turn out to be super antisemitic.
It’s scary. Any meetings of the J Soc have security guards outside. I also feel weird vocalizing my negative feelings on Israel as I understand that others have more of a personal connection to the country.
Being confronted with hatred and antisemitism constantly.
There’s no community, I feel alone, and I can’t sit in class focusing on mundane activities.
Having to go about life like nothing has changed/getting little understanding/sympathy/empathy from professors and fellow students is really hard.
Antisemitism is being used in the name of social justice by people who have the privilege of not dealing with the consequences.
The hardest thing is feeling like I know way too much from studying this conflict since I was a kid and feeling like I don’t know enough to speak. Flipping through uneducated Instagram stories is it’s own form of torture.
The silence from all my non-Jewish friends, how for them it’s just been a normal couple of weeks, makes me feel like I’m living a different life.
My student government is experiencing a lot of infighting because of the conflict. It has gotten to the point where an executive member sent a call to violence/harassment to all the members of the government who said they hope there is peace on both sides. I worry about the Jewish students on the board.
Feeling like I have to hide a part of myself from my peers, because I know they will draw conclusions that aren’t necessarily true about me.
Right now my school is closed and has been postponed because of the war here in Israel. All I want to do is go to school and learn and this war with Hamas is preventing me from doing that.
I have not been given the time to grieve and to process.
For me, what’s hardest is seeing people dehumanize Jews.
Navigating friendships and trying to continue with my daily responsibilities is really hard.
Feeling alienated from my peers whose political opinions I normally agree with unfailingly has been the hardest part for me.
I’ve come to realize that antisemitism lives in people who don’t even realize they have it, and now I’m scared that the world will know I am Jewish.
Everybody seems to think they need to have an opinion, even if they don’t actually know anything and are so far removed they cannot show empathy.
No one has said anything in classes and I don’t know where I’m safe. I’ve started tucking in my Star again.
I don’t know how to keep myself safe or if my fear is even justified.
Having to pay attention in class and avoid distraction, while worrying about friends/family who are in danger.
I took on the role of DEI chair for my sorority and the recent events are making it hard for me to act in my position. I worked very hard to educate my sisters and the people in charge said it was better to not talk about it at all. They make it into politics and say “everyone is entitled to their own opinions” which just means keep them to yourself.
No one really understands the pain right now. Whenever I bring up hurting about what’s going on, they immediately make it about freeing Palestine. It’s like I’m not allowed to hurt or have my voice.
It’s hard that I can’t talk to other Jewish people about the situation because I don’t believe what Israel is doing is right. Strike that, I KNOW it’s not right. And my Jewish leaders currently can’t see that.
The fact that we are just expected to continue going about our lives is the hardest part. I felt that I had to “play pretend” in my classes and throughout the day. Somehow, I had to suppress my tears just to go to class and zone out because the only thing I could think about was how my friends are cowering in bomb shelters. It all seemed pointless.
The hardest part is being away from family during this difficult time.
I have never felt more unsafe or unsupported being Jewish, especially on my campus.
Are you struggling to keep up with your schoolwork?
Not particularly, but I am struggling to keep up with social activities or to act cheerful when I hang out with people.
Absolutely. I’m struggling to get to class and even look people on campus in the eye.
I’m worried I might fail some classes.
It’s really hard to focus on writing a paper when so many people you know or a friend knows are dying.
I had to skip a day of school because I couldn’t stop crying all day. I think I’m better now, but I still sometimes stay up way too late trying to really see what’s going on.
I was at first, but now I’m using school work as a welcome distraction.
I’ve had to ask for extensions. Long assignments like essays are especially hard.
Very much so. I emailed the director of my program and she told me to go easy on myself and know I’m doing my best.
School has been my only escape.
Yes. I didn’t go to classes for a full 10 days. I have a lot of school work to catch up on.
I’m staying on top of it somehow but barely hanging on by a thread.
Yes, I’m spending a lot of time trying to educate people and myself about the situation.
Yes, keeping up with my schoolwork has been a struggle for the past few weeks. It feels like there hasn’t been a moment where my mind has not been thinking about everything. I’ve been struggling with the limbo of processing these nightmarish events and offering support for my community, while keeping up with the demands of classes and responsibilities. Life just keeps on going around me but my head and heart are somewhere else.
What do you want your professors to know?
Take more consideration over leading discussions and understanding the emotional element behind the conflict to a greater degree.
The way you speak about this issue matters.
The work I’m doing right now is not my best work because it’s really hard to do school work when everything in my life feels so insignificant.
I would really appreciate it if they could think when delivering lectures about topics that could be triggering, and if they could acknowledge that this is a hard time for many rather than just carrying on as usual.
Silence is Loud.
We are aching but we are still here.
I promise I am trying, I am just so tired all the time and I don’t have as much emotional and mental energy as I typically have.
I would like them to show more empathy and encourage critical and nuanced thinking.
I am not okay.
I am so paralyzed with anxiety about the world that I can’t move.
My professors specifically are doing an amazing job being an active support system for all groups on campus.
I want my professors to understand the immense personal and emotional impacts that these events are having on their students.
How are you taking care of yourself at this time?
I’ve deleted Instagram and it’s worked wonders. I’m avoiding the news except for reading about the main events, but it’s especially important to me to avoid photos or videos of extreme violence.
Allowing myself space to feel whatever I am feeling even if it’s not convenient or if it doesn’t feel logical.
Matzah ball soup. Lots and lots of soup.
I went home for a weekend to be with my family which really really helped me.
I spend time with people I feel safe with. I indulge in comfort media. I block the people that make me feel unsafe — this was surprisingly cathartic.
I’m seeing a therapist.
I started saying the Shema every night which has really helped my spirit.
Sharing space with other Jewish students who are also grieving and scared.
I’m trying to cook comforting meals for myself.
I’m leaning into my Jewish community more than ever.
The best piece of advice I’ve received was from my mom — she said, “being sad is a valid opinion.” I’m allowing myself space to not be wise right now.
Talking to my Jewish friends and attending a lot of talks about the conflict.
Leaning into Jewish Joy.
I paint and pray and cook.
Making sure I listen to my soul.
Listening to Yiddish music from my childhood, praying before I leave my house, before I get out of my car, and trying to live in happy memories of times I was engulfed in Judaism and all of the love that comes with it,
I have been giving tzedakah and saying tehillim regularly.
I’m spending more time in nature.
I’ve started journaling my never-ending thoughts, which I have found to be a helpful way to clear my mind.