September 11, 2019 — Washington, D.C.
This piece originally appeared in Washington Jewish Week.
By Madison Silver
Growing up Jewish in the suburbs of Washington, I spent my childhood and teenage years in an environment characterized by tolerance and acceptance of diversity. When gearing up for my first fall at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, I did not anticipate that being Jewish would pose an issue.
That first fall, I got involved in a predominantly non-Jewish sorority. I attended Hillel sporadically for Shabbat and on the High Holidays, but I did not have a close group of Jewish friends.
When a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign began on campus, I knew it was wrong and I wanted to stand up for what was right, but I did not have the tools or the confidence to fight back. I found it easier to be a bystander and read about what was going on.
Although the University of Michigan has a substantial Jewish population, I encountered acts of anti-Semitism: the university student government sanctioning divestment from companies that conduct business in Israel during my freshman year and, during my sophomore year, when two anti-Zionist professors refused to write letters of recommendation for Jewish students planning to study in Israel. Another professor compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler during a lesson called “Guilty Of Genocide.”
The University of Michigan is not unique. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric are spreading on campus. It’s everywhere. It is up to students like me to do something about it.
In the summer of 2018, I flew to Israel for Global Forum, the annual conference of the American Jewish Committee. I spent three days with hundreds of students from universities around the world. I returned from this experience hopeful and committed to becoming an effective Jewish leader on the University of Michigan’s campus.
Hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu speak, I learned to make my voice heard, invest in peace and build bridges with communities to share our Jewish values. Empowered and energized, I became more active in Hillel and added Jewish education classes to my schedule to augment my knowledge of Judaism and immerse myself more fully in the Jewish community. This was just the start of a rejuvenation journey for me.
Looking back, I regret not being more involved in Jewish life as my formal Jewish education ended after my bat mitzvah. If I had stayed involved, I might have been better prepared for what awaited me on campus. Reflecting on missed opportunities, I wish I could have been in a program designated to prepare Jewish high schoolers for college campuses. With those tools, I could have been better equipped during my first year on campus.
I’ve realized that I want to do something that will combine my business interests with my passion for Jewish values. This past summer, I worked at AJC as a Goldman Fellow focusing on growing the Leaders for Tomorrow program. LFT is AJC’s program for high school students that teaches them how to advocate on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel.
During my eight weeks in the D.C. office, I worked on curriculum for the 2019-2020 LFT program. Using my experience on campus, I created a seven-session program that teaches Jewish students everything I wish I had known entering the college campus atmosphere.
Although I will never be an LFT alumna, I learned how to be a Jewish campus leader and I am excited to bring these lessons with me to Ann Arbor.
It is our obligation to use leadership skills to counter this tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist sentiment and initiate change. Getting involved with the LFT program is a place for high school students to start. I only wish I had started sooner.
Madison Silver is a junior at the University of Michigan and a native of Chevy Chase.