Ronn Torossian
Ronn TorossianCourtesy

My oldest daughter recently enrolled in a major university on the East Coast. Day one, we went to a Hillel event with a few hundred families, where there was a lot of mention of multi-cultural issues, tikkun olam - and no kosher food served. Not a very welcoming environment for traditional Jews – although an umbrella which serves a purpose for some.

After that, at the (very warm) Chabad House, a Rabbi and Rebbetzin welcomed kids and explained there’s a group of perhaps 50 kids who attend events regularly. The Rabbi – who receives no funding from the University like nearly all Chabads on campus - is the only Orthodox or even traditional presence in this school which has a few thousand Jewish kids. The total number of attendees at various events throughout the year are a few hundred at best. Chabad builds a sukkah and provides Shabbat and holiday meals. That’s considered an active university for Jewish students.

Have a friend whose daughter attends a small liberal arts university also in the Northeast, where the Hillel is very liberal and woke and there’s no Chabad. On many campuses, a very active Chabad has a few hundred attendees to programs, and no funding from the University. Is it any wonder assimilation and intermarriage rates are soaring in the United States?

Despite the wonderful work of Chabad on campuses who operate independently, I'd venture there are less than 100 Universities in the United States where there’s a minyan for Shabbat. It’s sad – and likely won’t get better unless more Jewish kids have a Jewish education.

American college campuses are simply not places where traditional Jewish young adults can thrive. Dating Jewish is hard, keeping holidays is hard – and that’s against a backdrop with increased Anti-Semitism throughout the United States. Forget trying to be an outspoken Zionist. Jewish students nationwide often chose to not hang a mezuzah on their dormitory door or hang it on the inside. Students often don’t wear a Star of David outside their shirt to not attract attention.

Birthright Israel is a great program – even 10 days in Israel which amounts to 240 hours of traveling with other Jews, seeing and being in our homeland is very important.

Yet, a 2022 study from the Anti-Defamation League found that 43 percent of Jewish college students experienced and/or witnessed anti-Semitic activity within the last year.

Let me ask a tough question – for all this noise about anti-Semitism through the years, all the money (and noise) various Jewish organizations have made, has it made even one more Jew stay Jewish? With intermarriage and assimilation at record rates in the U.S., is fighting anti-Semitism likely to make more Jews Jewish?

Chabad on campus, with authentic warm Jewish values, is undoubtedly doing great work. They reach many Jewish youth of all denominations, but it's far from enough.

Count me among those Jews who are concerned about the future of American Jews not educated in Jewish day schools. How can one stay Jewish with all these challenges without a strong Jewish background?

Investing in Jewish day schools is likely to be the only path to keep more American Jewish youth Jewish. Even with a strong Jewish background it’s very hard in today’s university environment to remain very Jewish. Without it it’s next to impossible. Dating, holidays, all of it.

American Jews who want to make a difference need to invest more in Jewish day schools and Jewish education. This could be a generational/transformational change which could keep families and Jews Jewish.

I fear for the future of Jewish youth in America – more because of assimilation than anti-Semitism.

Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur. His company recently launched a digital marketing arm, The How Agency.