In last week’s letter to the editor, “Warning for Parents Researching Colleges” (October 24, 2019), Martin Polak argued that college students are incapable of coping with a secular college experience without completing falling off the religious wagon. Therefore, in order to protect our children and keep them on the path, he suggests that we bubble wrap them within the confines of Yeshiva University or other Jewish colleges such as Touro and Lander, where the homogeneous student body makeup will protect them from abandoning religious life.
While Mr. Polak’s concerns about Jewish youth abandoning practice may be legitimate, his arguments are faulty. He assumes that our years of nurturing our children in a Modern Orthodox setting, exposing them to the benefits of secular culture while retaining religious training and conviction, are likely to be lost upon their arrival on a secular college campus. The exposure to different people, experiences, cultures, philosophies and viewpoints would, in his view, be too overwhelming. The only way to stop it, according to Mr. Polak, would be to send our children to YU, Touro or Lander. Seemingly, he dismisses the value of experiencing other cultures and viewpoints and he does not believe that such an education can be achieved without completely deserting all religious training and practice. I am sure that there are instances where college students rebel against their parents and religion. However, I am also sure that there are instances where the exposure to Orthodox Jews on campus may light the fire and instill a curiosity and interest in those who had no prior religious practice. I have seen it in my experiences at a secular college years ago, as I knew many people who became my friends who had never experienced a Shabbat table before attending college and became more religiously oriented and committed.
Mr. Polak would have us believe that Touro and Lander are the only alternatives to Yeshiva University to provide our children with immersion in Torah classes, minyanim, socializing with other Jews and the like. I doubt he has stepped foot on the campuses he denigrated in his letter, but I can say one thing from experience, having a child at Rutgers and one attending next year. There is a vibrant and active Jewish life on secular campuses such as Rutgers. The JLIC-Mesorah and Chabad have minyanim daily, there are learning opportunities (including chaburah and chavruta based learning throughout the week), and there are daily/weekly social activities to interact with other Jewish students throughout the week. On a typical Shabbat on campus, hundreds of young Jewish students get together for Shabbat dinners either at Hillel, Chabad or both, and have the opportunity to meet friends (old and new). I have no doubt that attendees at the other campuses he lists have the same opportunities.Steven Gellerstein