A recent article on the online news source The Forward reported that more and more Jewish college students are finding their “home away from home” in the South. “The amount of Jewish students attending southern colleges has been sharply on the rise. Pockets of the country that just years ago might have seemed off-limits to Jewish families are now hot in every sense of the word,” the article explains.
“…Southern colleges as a whole have also worked to meet the needs of the Jewish population and make their campuses more attractive to Jewish students. This attention to a strong Judaic infrastructure is no accident,” the article continued.
We certainly see that trend on Alabama’s college campuses. Birmingham-Southern College, which established a scholarship for Jewish students, is working to recruit more Jewish students to the school. Additionally, BSC is focusing on creating a strong Jewish student group that will be an affiliate of Hillel. The Birmingham Jewish Federation is working closely with BSC to get this group up and running.
The University of Alabama has done a magnificent job of dramatically increasing its Jewish student population over the past 10 years. Thanks to the hard work of Hillel, which is funded by both the Birmingham Jewish Federation and the Birmingham Jewish Foundation, Alabama’s Jewish student population is thriving. And Jews from all over the US are considering University of Alabama to be their home for the next four years of their lives.
And, as Birmingham Jewish Foundation Executive Director Sally Friedman pointed out in a recent Update story, Auburn’s Hillel is gaining traction and creating a multitude of different programs for Jewish students. The BJF and the Birmingham Jewish Foundation also help Auburn Hillel fund some of their projects and events.
As someone who was once a Jewish student at an Alabama college (Birmingham-Southern College, to be exact), I can say that while the Jewish student population may not be as large as some Northern counterparts, that doesn’t mean that the community created isn’t strong and powerful. The Forward elaborates on how many students strengthen their Jewish roots when they attend a southern school.
“For many students, attending college in the south is more than a chance to wear a ‘Shalom Y’all’ t-shirt. It’s a welcome respite from what they know. The teenage years are the sweet spot in terms of personal development and the concept of going to college in a place so culturally different is appealing. It also potentially has the reverse effect than a common parental worry that they will abandon of their roots. Many students report that their Jewish practice and values have been strengthened by virtue of being a true minority on campus,” the article explains.
So, while Jewish students may be small in numbers on southern college campuses, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a mighty feeling amongst those students. If you have any doubts, I encourage you to talk to a Jewish student on a southern campus. In fact, I bet some of our southern hospitality has rubbed off on them – they may even invite you for Shabbat dinner to see for yourself!