There are several species of Jews to be found in secular college. I’ve been astonished and entertained as I stumbled across each variation in its turn, and I document them here for inspection.
Before my first major-studies class, I checked the roster and noticed a distinctly Jewish (and religious) male name. I was excited, because here would be someone else at my side in case we needed to negotiate holidays or similar matters. But after scouring the class for several periods, I sadly concluded that he must have dropped out.
He didn’t, but I wouldn’t have recognized him in a million years without a formal introduction. Forget the button-down shirt his name seemed to require, he didn’t bother with a yarmulke. I know that is quite common on the MO spectrum, but I had thought that all but the most borderline refrained from sinking their teeth into meat they know isn’t kosher. This fellow seems determined to have the best of both worlds. As such, he showed his first interest in kosher food when it was ordered specially for the religious students, but immediately abandoned it when he saw that it was not, in fact, better than the standard fare. He associates almost exclusively with non-Jews, preferring the sort of discourse men once held in reserve until after the women withdrew to the drawing room. He happily piggy-backs on any arrangements made for religious students, and, to my amusement, briefly sprouted a yarmulke when a young and unattached religious woman spoke on campus.
This Fence Straddler is not to be confused with the average modern orthodox student. These are, at first glance difficult to discern as Jewish, but they identify strongly as such. “Didn’t you realize I was Jewish?” asked one colleague, dressed in leggings and a cap-sleeve t-shirt, in complete surprise. Um, no. What was supposed to tip me off? The baseball cap that never left her boyfriend’s head was more of a hint. They do not go near the meat on any buffet, and seek out the company of other Jews. They frequently become involved in communal and humanitarian activities.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the Jewish Press Jew. The title says it all. Any conversation with this student is bound to end in one of two subjects: how Jews are God’s gift to humanity, or Israel. To the Jewish Press Jew, there is nothing else in the world aside from the Chosen Nation in general, and their Mediterranean state in particular. Did you read an article in the New York Times this morning? The JP Jew didn’t, because the NYT is anti-Israel. Are you going to a conference at the UN? The JP Jew wouldn’t; they’re just a glorified gang out to persecute Jews. Is a Nobel Prize winner coming to speak? He’s Jewish, you know, as are 33% of Nobel Prize winners. You studied three chapters for the test on November 27? The JP Jew was glued to the internet, waiting for updates on the status of the Holtzbergs. Is the test scheduled for the week before Pesach? This Jew will wrangle to have it moved because of pre-Pesach preparations.
The Jewish Press Jew needs to be differentiated from the standard-issue centrist/ultra orthodox student. These tend to be less concerned with Israeli politics and more concerned with simply getting their degree as quickly as possible, preferably with honors. They are often startled by how clueless the greater world is of Jewish religious requirements and customs and will make a stir if necessary, but otherwise keep it under their yarmulkes. They easily approach any other religious students for favors as if they’ve known them forever when they’ve never even spoken before. They befriend non-Jewish students on a superficial level, reserving their non-college life predominantly for their Jewish/religious friends.