Skip To Content

Oberlin Is The Most Jewish Place I’ve Ever Lived

When choosing the right graduate school, I wanted to make sure that I found a school that had good academics and a good sense of community. As an upperclassman at a conservatory of music within a small liberal arts college, it was only natural that I’d look at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music, perhaps the most high-profile institution of its type.

Naturally, being Jewish, I read just about every article pumped out by the Jewish media about Oberlin’s apparently anti-Semitic environment. I took a leap of faith that most of what I read was exaggerated and that even with the Joy Karega saga (and other incidents) unfolding, Oberlin would still be a worthwhile place to pursue my master’s. I would go on to find that while Karega has been dismissed and a professor’s house has been vandalized with a disturbingly anti-Semitic message since I’ve been at Oberlin, my own life has been untouched by anti-Semitism there.

Upon arriving, I’ve found that Oberlin has the most lively and positive Jewish community that I’ve ever had the pleasure to be part of. However, I have to admit that as a graduate student at a predominately undergraduate institution, I have an atypical view of Oberlin’s Jewish life. I don’t live on campus and I don’t know very many of my fellow Obies. That said, I have the rare opportunity to compare Oberlin’s supposedly toxic Jewish life to that of another school, a perspective I find useful.

I’m a graduate of The Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, a fantastic school that thoroughly prepared me for life after graduation. Lawrence is formatted similarly to Oberlin, but its Jewish life lacks many of the advantages of Oberlin’s. While Lawrence has a small, committed Hillel with a handful of dedicated student leaders who strive to make weekly Shabbat candle lighting happen, it was the only Jewish group on campus. This isn’t to take away from the importance of Lawrence’s Hillel, but rather to paint the picture of what Jewish life looks like at many other small liberal arts colleges –- one group that is almost completely student-run.

By comparison, Oberlin’s Jewish life has a Chabad House and a Hillel chapter (both with rabbis), a kosher dining hall, “Hebrew Heritage” House, a Jewish a Capella group, a Zionist student group, and a chapter of J Street U. I’ve had the same commitment in college and grad school of going to every Shabbat I can and celebrating whichever other holidays the community was observing. At Lawrence, that meant I was at almost every single Jewish event that was held in my time there. At Oberlin, it’s meant that I’ve almost exclusively attended Chabad and I haven’t even touched most of the wealth of Jewish life events that happen on a weekly, even daily basis.

Oberlin’s Jewishness isn’t just strong in comparison to my college experience; growing up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, and going to public school, I graduated as one of ten Jews in a class of 209 students. Now that I go to a school that is roughly one-third Jewish and has some kind of Jewish happening seemingly every day, I can safely say that Oberlin, Ohio, is the most vibrantly Jewish place I’ve ever lived.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.