An Amazing Opportunity…To Help Jews On Campus

By Ben Clayman

A Little About Me: I am 20 years old, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and in the summer going into senior year of high school I went to Aish HaTorah quite randomly and came back frum. I now go back during my summer and winter breaks, by the way I am in university. Other interesting tidbits, I have a beard, sport curled peyos, and always can be seen with my tzizis out. Some would call me a flaming BT, I prefer “very enthusiastic”. I live in the Chabad House of the University of Chicago, am half Moroccan, went to Uman this Rosh HaShanah, am close to Chicago’s Ohr Somayach rabbis, and my Rebbe is Rav Noach Weinberg thus I follow Nusach Askenkaz of the Lithuanian Yeshivish flavor. At this point, you might be asking, “What is he getting at?” I am trying to hit home to encourage Ahavas Israel and give you a look at campus life for young Jews. We are rapidly growing bunch and we need your help…

Campus Life: Next order of business, let me first say unequivocally that sending your children to live on campus is dangerous, foolish, and near guaranteed to put them in an atmosphere that ranges from negative to hostile to a frum lifestyle. Not to say they won’t succeed, but it will leave scars. I have dozens of BT friends on campuses all around America. We have the following suggestions that would make our lives greatly improved.

1. Be Proactive. We have minyan 3x a day, only one person in our regular minyan has frum grandparents. I’ll let you infer as to what that means about the rest of the minyan. There are BTs out there on campus, if you live near one give a call to the Kiruv rabbi on campus, Chabad House, or Hillel and ask for their phone numbers and give them a call. Invite them over. If you are an alumnus, even if you don’t live near the school, giving a call to one can not only make your day, but could change the student’s life knowing that some random Jew loves them enough to call them and see how they are doing spiritually on campus.

2. ADOPT US! Don’t tell us “Give me a call for Shabbos” instead make us part of your family, We don’t have frum family, we don’t have ‘guaranteed’ Shabbos plans if things fall through with someone else, we don’t have a support network of Baal Baatim we can look up to as models living in both the Shul and workplace. We NEED you. After getting to know one of us, say to yourself, “I need to take responsibility for him” and sit him down and say, “You are permanently invited to our home, for meals, for a place to stay, for our Simchas, and for being an older brother/sister to our children for the next 4 years.” It will change their lives and yours.

3. Of course the professional Kiruv workers are doing amazing jobs, but for the already BT, life can be tough on campus. The battle for the hearts and minds of young Jews most often takes place on campus, speak to any Kiruv professional and they will tell you that most BTs come frum right after or during college. An age of change, open to new ideas, and outside their familiar environment, they explore their Judaism for the first time. When first coming to campus, nothing impressed me more then when a chair of a department invited me to his home for Shabbos. This chairman walks around campus with his untouched beard, black hat, and always a smile and time to say hello. A scientist in the medical school came to the student’s Mincha and invited us to learn Bava Kama with him during his lunch break. An alumnus invited us over on a permanent basis, he ‘adopted’ us while another alumnus made us feel part of the family by making sure we had Sedorim with their parents and a place to stay. A rebbe at a local high school said to us that if we ever needed a meal he would always be there for us. This is the kind of message that needs to be given to all BT students.

In Conclusion: Adopt a college student, don’t just speak about Ahavas Israel but live it through actions and be loud and proud, and if there are frum Yidden in the ultra-corrupting atmosphere of college campuses who can come out alright, we have nothing to fear. Additionally, I am starting a support group for college BTs to have an annual Shabbaton, share experiences, get mentors, and create a community that will bezras Hashem, will encourage others to do teshuvah.

Email me at if you have any names of BTs at universities or your yourself are one and want to get involved or give feedback. Together, we can bring home countless Yidden.

P.S. In the comments, post if you yourself did teshuvah in college or currently help out on campuses.

26 comments on “An Amazing Opportunity…To Help Jews On Campus

  1. Times change, for the good and for the bad. I don’t think that someone attending college in the past is analogous to someone attending college today.

  2. Regarding two of Charlie Hall’s comments

    “This is not a modern issue”

    “Yet I’ve never seen any writings by any of these individuals regarding the possible danger of the non-tzniut environment or the anti-torah philosophy to which Jews might be exposed”

    Perhaps the modern issue of behavior on campus and “extra-extra-curricular activity” was nowhere to be found in 14th Century Padua or 19th Century Germany.

    For example, were they Co-ed? Probably not. When did separate Harvard and Radcliffe merge? Maybe (only) 50 years ago?

  3. David,

    As someone who is not BT, but more observant than my parents, living on campus was terrific. It allowed me to keep shabbes and kashrut in a way that I couldn’t have at home. It allowed me to meet at 7am or 11pm with a chevrusa if I wanted. And if all the frum kids had chosen to live off-campus, I wouldn’t have met anyone who could “adopt” me for chagim or shabbesim where school wasn’t in session.


    my point is that while I agree with your thesis (support a frum kid at college, give them a safe space), I disagree with your reason. I think that even kids at places like YU or Touro could use a family-away-from-home. Your alarmist phrasing in the beginning is less about peyos and more about your unequivocal statement that “sending your children to live on campus is dangerous, foolish, and near guaranteed to put them in an atmosphere that ranges from negative to hostile to a frum lifestyle.”

  4. Re-reading the post, i noticed that Ben said “living on campus” was dangerous. He didn’t say college was dangerous. I’d be interested to hear Ben’s, Steg’s, Annie’s and Charlie’s (and anyoneelse’s, of course) viewpoints on that distinction.

  5. If one does not see Yetzer Hora standing over him with an axe… its a sign that the Yetzer Hora already cut his head off. (Rav Dessler in the name of his Rebbe).

    Some college students can see the Yetzer Hora, some do not. I already have a PhD, “academic independence” and work at a major univeristy. I can tell you that even with all these benefits, I still need people like Ben Clayman to avoid the axe of the Yetzer Hora… I need families that care about me. and I am not even a student… and I even have a family already…

    Anybody that forms a close relationship with a college student has the ability to save a life. Not everyone may have the resources and ability to forge such a relationship… but first somebody has to see there are people literally drowning. And if you see people drowning, you have to realize… These are Hashems children. These are your children too.

  6. Annie Steg and Chalie- I will said that you are losing the view of the forest and focusing solely on one tree.

    I am currently in university, I plan on going to get a MBA, I did not mean to pronounce “alarmist tones” on college life. But the fact remains, that it is dangerous for some people and very easy for new BTs to fall through the cracks without a support system. I think because I used the word peyos and college you got alarmed that this was an attempt to vilify university.

    To conclude, please step up and adopt a college student. Yael’s post was very helpful, showing what anyone who lives near a campus can do to change the lives of students.

  7. I think some of the discussion on the issue of the danger of secular campuses revolves around the definition of dangerous.

    I’m not sure that the fact that some people make it through their college experience with their Yiddishkeit unscathed means that it is not dangerous. It could be that this person navigated the dangerous waters successfully.

    Another issue is what types of mixed gender situations and secular influences a given person finds acceptable. If a person will ofttimes exposed to situations that they find unacceptable, then would it be wrong to label such an environment dangerous?

  8. Hey Ben,

    no, I think I got the point (as the first part of my earlier comment shows). I, like Steg, take some umbrage at the alarmist tone you used vis a vis secular colleges.

    I absolutely agree that families should get involved, and that being frum is easier with a support system, especially when you are far from home. I don’t agree that secular colleges are necessarily “dangerous.”

  9. This is not a modern issue. Observant Jews have been attending university for much longer than most realize. In addition to the many distinguished rabbis of the 20th century who earned university degrees (sometimes doctorates), Rabbis Israel Azriel Hildesheimer and Samson Raphael Hirsch attended university in Germany in the 19th century, Gershom Mendes Seixas was a founding trustee of Columbia, hundreds of Jews including many rabbis studied medicine and/or philosophy at the University of Padua starting in the 1400s, and Rambam is counted as an alumnus by the Al Karaouine University in Morocco. (I know more examples but this is a short comment.)

    Yet I’ve never seen any writings by any of these individuals regarding the possible danger of the non-tzniut environment or the anti-torah philosophy to which Jews might be exposed. (Contemporary accounts make the assumption that the environment was less full of tumah or that the curricula were less troublesome hundreds of years ago is highly questionable, to put is gently.) Is anyone aware of any such writing?

  10. While i agree with the advice that local Jewish communities should support the Jewish lives of their temporary students, i’m not a big fan of the alarmist tone. My college experience was not at all as described here, neither was the college experiences of most of my friends.

  11. The purpose of Akiva Society is a networking and leadership development group for top tier students, although every student is invited to join, it is geared to top tier schools.

    And to Avi- I was not the student nor did I hear about the incident. I asked about it in minyan and no one knew about it.

    Annie- I think you missed the point of the article, it wasn’t about haskafa on college education but on taking action.

    I’m Jewish- It is geared to college students the designer thought this was a good template. I will try to make it easier to read and more accessible. Thanks for the comments

  12. I got some great responses in email form. This purpose of this article was not an issue of being frum in college, but it was for Baal HaBatim to get involved in taking on one college student living near them or at the school they went to and make them part of the family.

  13. I think that this post and the articles, etc posted about FFB students in secular colleges and the attendant risks should be read anyone remotely involved in this issue.

  14. Wow, there are a lot of bells and whistles on your blog. If you don’t mind some constructive criticism, Ben, the little sparkles that you click on to get to Events, FAQ’s, etc. are hard to click on since they move, and there are some grammatical errors you may want to clean up on the first page.

    Why only top-tier schools?

  15. The Tribune mentioned that the individual questioned was an orthodox Jew attending the University of Chicago. That leaves only a few people as candidates.

    You are correct to a degree about blogs. You are the administrator, which gives you the right to censor anything and everything on your site, however, the general reason blogs were created was to create new outlets of individual expression. Individual expression is difficult to attain in a large newspaper, which has made blogs more popular. Also, what has really made blogging more popular is that many people have come to the realization that many papers are slanted and have been covering up facts for expediancy, i.e. CNN agreed not to mention things about Saddam if he allowed them into his country. This alarming reality has made people distrust traditional media to a degree and also seek out free speech in other outlets—such as blogs.

    So, yes, you do have the right to censor on your blog, but censoring on blogs is generally looked upon very condescendingly unless it is warrented by good reason.

    So far as I know, I have not insulted anyone or used any colorful metaphors.

    I do seek a connection with Hashem and my Judaism. Communal activities for celebrating our Yiddishkeit sounds like a wonderful idea.

  16. By the time I entered university, I was already shomer shabbos. For whatever reason, I didn’t click very well with most of the other shomer shabbos students. This was a severe impediment to growth since community is a critical aspect of yididhkeit and “going it alone” is dangerous. So, I couldn’t stress enough the importance of involving yourself in the community, both on and off campus.

    Also, for me, a daily learning schedule, whether over the phone or in person, was critical to my continued growth.

  17. Avi, the purpose of a blog is not free speech, who gave you that idea?

    This blog is for people who are looking to get closer to Hashem, if you fall into that category welcome aboard, but that still doesn’t mean you have the right to say anything you want.

    Why would you think the person davening on the El was anybody here?

  18. There was an article some weeks back about someone davening on the El, the train was stopped, and the police were called. Was that you or someone else?

    And please don’t delete my comments from your blog. That is the purpose of a blog after all, for free speech. Besides, I haven’t said anything offensive. I’m sure everyone wants to hear the other side of the story. The Tribune can be anti-semitic at times.

  19. When I was a college student, Rabbi Avi Zaitschek drove quite a distance to learn with me and a group of friends. Indeed, it was not necessarily the learning that brought myself as well my friends to strive towards to a higher level of observance… It was his personal concern for us, that every Jew who is capable of Ahavas Yisroel could have fulfilled.

    Ben provides us with an important avenue for Ahavas Yisroel. Calling up and insisting that a college student be YOUR shabbos guest is mamesh pikuah nefesh.

  20. Ben,

    while I agree that having a family-based support system at college can be a great help to an observant kid, I disagree that living on campus is always a negative experience for a frum kid. There are many universities with a larger frum community than University of Chicago, where a student can have their spiritual needs met, as well as gaining a valuable education.

    Where I went to college, I knew girls who didn’t speak to boys, I knew guys with beards and tzitzit. Not a huge number, but some. College isn’t right for everyone, but it isn’t an unmitigated evil, either.

  21. We just launched a website this morning for the group (had it rushed so not perfect but workable) at Check it out, send it to your friends or family at top tier schools.

    Yael- That is awesome, taking responsibility in place where no one else was. Which university are you at?

  22. Thank G-d for Chabad on Campus. It is only with the Rebbe’s blessing that they are able to live on campus and raise their children safely on the campus.

  23. Well, my family is putting our money where our mouth is. My husband (a new professor in a large midwestern university) and I will be running a outreach organization for that community.

    Since we became BTs (quite a while ago!), we have had an “open house” and worked with Chabad, Hillel, JAAM, and Aish campus professionals as well as approached by Torah u’Mesorah and Ohr Someach to work with them.

    This community has no other kiruv going on and has no Jewish community, but we are certain there are Jews who wish more from their lives, so off we go!! Yes, we have gotten da’as torah and blessings from rabbeim as well!

    Ben, anytime you want to take a drive to our campus, you are welcome!


    PS We are looking for interesting speakers for Shabbatonim next year. If you have suggestions, please email aldrich613 at hotmail dot com

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