Jewish Student Leaders: A Wake-Up Call
In the past few months, NYC has become increasingly dangerous for Jews. Antisemitism and Jewish hatred are on the rise. In May alone, there were a series of antisemitic attacks in the city, including a person being burned after being attacked with fireworks and another person being beaten in the streets by a mob of “anti-Israel” protestors. These trends have continued into June, with swastikas found on buildings in Battery Park and a Jewish man robbed and harassed in Brooklyn. The tides are rising and there is no indication that these trends are going to stop anytime soon.
Students at Columbia University recently stated on their Facebook page that “American Jews living 6,000 miles away from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict should not be held responsible for the many issues the region is currently facing. It is unacceptable for Jewish students to feel that they need to hide their ‘Jewishness’ in fear of getting attacked.” Students at Columbia reached out to different groups on campus to “recognize and condemn the current spike in antisemitism in the United States.” Although the President of the University published a statement online, an email was never sent out.
In NYC, universities have been struggling with waves of blatant, damaging, and targeted antisemitism against the Jewish communities. An anonymous student at NYU explains that “[b]eing Jewish on campus is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. When I first came to college I openly told everyone I was Jewish. Next semester, I’ll have to think twice before revealing that.” The student referenced a swastika drawn on one of the buildings at NYU this year, saying that they don’t think they’ll be “as openly Jewish as [they] [were] last year.” They added: “as soon as I say I’m Jewish my peers ask me about the Israeli Palestinian conflict.” Similarly, a student at Macaulay Honors College at CCNY says: “As a Jewish student, I am afraid to return to campus in the fall.” They are scared that their beliefs will be judged “in the most demeaning manner possible and then reveal itself in personal attacks.”
In some universities, the issues are more elusive but just as prominent. An anonymous student at Baruch College states that “antisemitism is often subtle but very much prevalent” They indicated that “students and faculty” have not made statements condemning antisemitism, even though there were various antisemitic remarks circulating, including “blam[ing] the Jews for Coronavirus in America.”
Eden Litvin, a co-founder of the Jewish Student Coalition NYC and a student at Pace University, explains that “Pace Student Government passed a resolution recognizing the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Jewish students have been calling upon the administration to recognize it as well. Yet, the administration has been ignoring [their] continuous attempts to reach out to them in this regard. Jewish students seek to safely explore their cultural and spiritual identities at Pace University. [They] believe that adopting the IHRA Working Definition at the administrative level will allow them to do so in an institution that is free from discrimination and hate. It will also provide the University with a practical tool to combat antisemitism.” Litvin sought to create a coalition in order to correct this exact type of environment that should be more open to accepting and helping Jewish students who are seeking protection.
Now is the time for Jewish student representatives from every University in NYC to unite to condemn antisemitism, not only to defend and protect but to prevent. In this critical time of rising antisemitism, as Jewish students, we need to combat division, bias, hatred, and discrimination and, ultimately, create a safer and better environment for Jewish students, and create our own solutions, guidelines, and rhetoric, taking ownership of who we are and how proud we are of our identities.
Romy Ronen is a senior at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is the President of two organizations on campus and is the co-founder of the Jewish Student Coalition NYC, a coalition of self-appointed Jewish student leaders within New York City campuses.