Hopkins, Towson Rank Among Nation’s Best for Jewish Students

Johns Hopkins
(Johns Hopkins University)

During a time when anti-Semitic incidents are rising across college campuses at unprecedented levels, two Baltimore-area universities have become models for promoting Jewish culture and life.

In its first survey of the 15 best college campuses for students in the United States and Canada, The Algemeiner ranked Johns Hopkins and Towson universities No. 10 and No. 13, respectively.

The Algemeiner, a New York-based weekly newspaper that covers American and International Jewish news, also released a list of the 40 worst college campuses for Jewish students, which no local schools made.

Dovid Efune, editor-in-chief of The Algemeiner, said it took more than four months of compressive research to compile the data for the list, which was released on Dec. 22.

The factors that were taken into account included anti-Semitic incidents on campus; the number of anti-Israel groups and how active they are; the Jewish student populations and percentages; the number of Jewish or pro-Israel groups and how active they are; the availability of Jewish resources on campus; the success or lack thereof of Israel boycott efforts; and the public positions of faculty members with respect to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“There’s no question that this is a hot topic, but it’s also an important topic,” Efune said. “With the rising hatred in any environment like this, it is of grave concern. I think that has been a burning issue for a quite bit of time. It seems it is continuing to get worse.”

Using those categories as the basis, a grade point system was then created to establish the final rankings.

The survey, Efune said, cited a pair of recent studies conducted at Brandeis University and Trinity College that found, respectively, 54 percent and 75 percent of Jewish students witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism on campus.

Hopkins and Towson, with strong Jewish presences on their respective campuses, bucked that trend with their diverse offerings to students.

“From what we gathered, Johns Hopkins and Towson stood out to us for a number of reasons,” Efune said. “In a general sense, those are schools that have very active and proud Jewish communities. They both also have great leadership.”

Hopkins has more than 600 Jewish students — 13 percent of the total undergraduate population. The school also offers a fully integrated kosher meal plan, and its Hillel chapter conducts Birthright trips in the winter and an annual Israel fair in the spring.

Rabbi Deborah Pine, longtime executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, said she feels a great sense of personal pride in helping Jewish students at the school enrich their religious beliefs and values.

“Hopkins students work really hard, and I’m very proud that Jewish students make time in their busy academic life to engage in Jewish life here,” Pine said. “Just as they take their academics very seriously, they care deeply about being Jewish.”

Towson, meanwhile, has roughly 2,000 Jewish students, making up roughly 10 percent of the total undergraduate population. Towson’s Chabad house, which also serves nearby Goucher College, is undergoing a $500,000 renovation to add two stories to its building to meet a growing demand in the services it offers.

(Towson University)

Noam Bentov, executive director of the Towson Hillel, said weekly Shabbat gatherings have long been a staple of the program. He also noted Tigers for Israel, a group that is countering the message of anti-Israel groups on campus, has engaged students on the importance of the Jewish homeland through academics, conversation and collaboration.

“We’re very user-centric. So what students want to see their community become, we are the vehicle at the Towson Hillel that makes things happen,” Bentov said.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, 25, who graduated from Towson in 2013 and served as the university’s Hillel president his senior year, said becoming active in Jewish causes on campus was a life-changing experience.

“As someone who isn’t particularly religious, finding a campus that was a good Jewish campus wasn’t important to me.  But it definitely ended up being a big part of my college experience,” Rosenbaum said. “Hillel made Towson feel like home. You could just be yourself there.”

Hopkins and Towson were not alone in that assessment.

Leading as the best schools were Yeshiva University (No. 1), Touro College (No. 2), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 3), Brandeis University (No. 4) and City University of New York, Baruch College (No. 5).

Conversely, Eufone said, the worst list garnered its share of criticism from “some Jewish groups that, to [The Algemeiner’s] regret, have seem to have taken it as indictment of them not doing enough.”

Ranking as the worst schools were Columbia University (No. 1), Vassar College (No. 2), University of Toronto (No. 3), McGill University (No. 4) and University of Chicago (No. 5).

Ultimately, Eufone hopes the list increases awareness for campuses to simply improve Jewish life for students, as well as prospective college students.

“On top of the good things that are happening on campuses, our job is to make sure that the negative things aren’t happening,” Eufone said. “That way, you won’t have the possibility that a Jewish student will be afraid and feel like they don’t have the freedom to express themselves and their Jewish identity.”


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