Our View: How Many Jews on Campus?

Our View: How Many Jews on Campus?

A friendly dispute about the University of Florida is more than an academic debate.

A dispute has broken out at the University of Florida, and even if your devotion to the Dawgs makes you hate the Gators, you ought to take notice.

According to Hillel’s annual college guide, you won’t find more Jews on any public university campus in America than at Florida’s Gainesville home: 6,500 undergraduates, 19 percent of the student body.

But then Leonard Saxe and associates at Brandeis University decided to check the numbers using what is considered the demographic gold standard: a survey of a random sample of a university-supplied list of all undergraduates. They concluded that Florida had 2,300 Jewish undergrads this spring, 7 percent of the total and only 35 percent of Hillel’s estimate.

Saxe and team wrote in a column at eJewish Philanthropy that the Florida findings follow the pattern at four other universities studied: Harvard, Penn, Michigan and Brandeis.

“The Hillel Guide’s estimates are implausibly high across the board,” they wrote.

But Rabbi Adam Grossman, who heads Florida’s innovative Hillel, responded in his own eJewish Philanthropy column that 1,959 students visited Hillel at least three times this academic year — an unlikely 85 percent of the Saxe estimate for the UF Jewish student population. Hillel International spokesman Matthew Berger added in a separate response that nearly 2,000 Florida students went on Birthright over four years — far more than would be expected with 2,300 undergrads.

The uncertainty is not just academic. Hillel and other Jewish campus organizations can’t judge how effective their engagement efforts are if they have no idea how many Jewish students they’re trying to reach, and they might need to redouble efforts away from the traditional campuses.

From the student perspective, it’s worth looking beyond the numbers and focusing on the kind of Jewish services you want. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of Jews a school has if it’s not the right fit otherwise.

read more: