Being 17 is tough. Aside from the dual and often contradictory pressures to maintain a high GPA and an active social life, there’s the whole issue of applying to college. And that, I’ve found, is a daunting task.
To me, applying to college is kind of like making yourself out to be the perfect boyfriend for someone you hardly know—and all in the time it would take to complete a speed dating session. And this says nothing of actually choosing which school(s) to apply to.
Plenty of American 17-year-olds are familiar with the typical questions surrounding college choices: Is it too far from—or too close to—home? I don’t want to be a plane ride away from my family, but I also don’t want to have to worry about running into them between classes or (gasp) while walking back from a party. I want to feel like I’m working hard, but I don’t want four more years of my junior year of high school, when every single letter grade carried with it the added weight of acceptance or rejection. Surely, these are enough to drive any teenager mad.
But the college query that plagues me the most has to do with Israel. Specifically, I’m looking to attend a place of higher education that supports Israel.
Now, look: I’m not asking for a school where Zionism is the only ideology allowed on campus. That would be both ridiculous and inimical to free speech. I simply do not want a school that is plagued by and swarming with rabid anti-Zionists. I’m not demanding Baruch College, but I won’t settle for Oberlin either. For me, Zionism means a state by and for Jews. Palestinians are welcome there, too, but the Jewish state is constructed with the main goal of accommodating Jews and exists alongside a separate Palestinian state, which also has a right to exist. My Zionism entails dignity and statehood for both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. That is my vision.
I’m not a crazily devout Jew. You could tell me that everything in the Torah never actually happened, and I would likely agree with you, for the most part. What I am is very culturally and politically Jewish. My parents are Zionists, just like my grandparents and their parents before them were. While none of my family was in the Holocaust or made Aliyah, they have all experienced enough anti-Semitism to convince them the Jews need a home, a state, a safe space. Whether it was the pogroms my great-grandparents escaped from, the anti-Semitism my grandpa endured in rural New Jersey during the Great Depression, or the people who would throw pennies at my mother when she would visit Jersey’s LBI beach as a child, my family has seen enough to believe that the diaspora has always been, and always will be, a place of only tenuous safety and belonging for the Jewish people.
I went to Israel with my family when I was in fifth grade. We did everything from visiting biblical sites to swimming in the Dead Sea to shooting Uzis on a kibbutz. I truly fell in love with the nation then and there. I even got into a screaming match with a girl in my class who made the IDF out to be a group of murderers. For as long as I can remember, whether it’s my family, their Israeli friends, or my rabbi, I’ve been taught that Israel is a necessity and that Hamas is a terrorist organization. I will never repudiate these teachings. And with anti-Semitism and populism on the rise in Europe and America, I absolutely see the need for a Jewish state in case something like the Holocaust were to happen again.
Needless to say, my Zionism is something I will take to college with me. But I don’t want that to be a constant and draining source of contention. I don’t know where I’ll go to college yet, but with my inner guidance and standards, it will hopefully be a place where I can comfortably exist, and grow.
Jonah Zinn is a senior at Montclair Kimberley Academy in Montclair, New Jersey. He is currently in the thick of the college application process.