I walked up two flights of stairs, passed a handful of anxious pre-med majors, and headed straight to my Statistics class in room 205 of Belfer Hall, the largest of Yeshiva University’s academic buildings on the men’s campus. Before squeezing the silver handle of the door, I felt a soft tingle in my pocket and lifted out my phone to read a text.
Feeling the Beacon hate, read the text, evidently from the editor of the Orthodox Jewish publication for which I worked. I didn’t know what she was referring to at the time, but I figured that it had something to do with our most recent issue, released just that morning. In the interest of getting to class on time – and averting the wrath of a severely overworked and underpaid professor – I chose to enter the classroom rather than send a response.
“Did you see the latest Beacon article?” I heard in undertone as several students flipped their computers open to the front page of an all too familiar website. I couldn’t make out what they were saying against the sound of the professor’s emphatic lecture, so I didn’t really pay much attention. Despite the odd text message from my editor and the quiet murmuring from the students in the background, my mind was fixed solely on Bayes’ Theorem and a rapidly approaching test in my marketing class later that day.
After statistics and before my exam, I decided to take stroll down to the college cafeteria to grab a health bar and coffee: a personal tradition of mine that precedes any exam. When I arrived, I saw that the food store was closed, so I called a friend to see if I could borrow some coffee.
“Why the hell did you guys publish that article?” were the first words I heard from my friend’s voice.
“The one about the Holocaust, of course.”
My mind nervously began running through all of the articles we’d published that morning, and I remembered that one of our writers, a friend from Yeshiva, had written about his particular views on the Holocaust. A few weeks back, my publication had endured a whirlwind of media attention after we lost university funding for posting an article about premarital sex, so I braced myself for the worst.
“Yeah, what about it?”
My friend responded as if I was teasing him.
“Are you being serious?”
Since joining the Beacon, I had become accustomed to publishing articles with a diversity of Jewish opinion and didn’t see how this article could be anything sensational. The disconcerting tone of my friend’s voice, though, urged me to do some investigating, and I right away hung up the phone and decided to respond to the text from my editor.
Following a few quick texts and the realization that we, the editors of the infamous Beacon, were potentially facing a storm of attention and controversy, I decided to give my editor a call.
“I think we should take the article down,” I advised, scared and eagerly ready to do whatever I could to avoid confronting bad press and a short-tempered student body. I continued to make my plea and hoped that I could convince my editor of the dangers of keeping such a provocative (as I now realized) article on the website. But despite my best attempts at persuasion, she wouldn’t relent. The article was there to stay.
The phone conversation ended rather badly. I buried my phone into my pocket and, with a sweaty hand, turned it to silent. By this time, friends from all over were pelleting my phone with one question after another, all of them trying to figure out how I had the audacity to publish an article entitled “Why It’s time for Jews to Get Over the Holocaust” – most of them never having even glimpsed the article itself.
On my way from the cafeteria to the library, where I intended to spend a couple of hours preparing for my marketing exam, I saw the author of the Holocaust article walking briskly toward one of the campus’s older, Neo-Moorish styled buildings on the way back to his dorm. I immediately hailed him down, forgot about my test preparations, and asked him how he was doing.
“Other than the death threats, I’m doing fine,” he said in his usual sarcasm.
My stomach dropped. Fear seized me. For the first time, I felt that things were getting out of hand. Until now, I hadn’t realized the extent to which some students would go to protest an article that they found disagreeable. I inquired about the supposed threats that my writer was receiving, and I found it appalling how violent and explicit some of them were. I immediately suggested that we alert the FBI.
“No, I don’t think we need to involve the FBI. The university already called to offer me protection… if I need it.”
My mind plunged deeper into a sea of anxiety and stress the more I thought about what we were up against. I heard every other student I passed blast our article as some sort of crypto-Nazi assault on the Jewish people and my school. I heard people accuse the Beacon’s writers of being self-hating Jews and, more penetratingly, the editors of being irresponsible and heartless. The price that we were to pay for promoting free speech, I feared, was going to be far too high.
Nearly out of breath and feeling faint, I ravenously ate an energy bar and gulped down a cup of coffee that I purchased at a neighborhood grocery store, across the street. I managed to regain some composure and the lightheadedness soon departed. For now, I reasoned, I should focus on my upcoming exam and leave the newspaper chaos behind. I walked to the fourth floor of the library, found a desk, and opened my textbook to the first page I could.
I couldn’t focus. My anxiety had gotten the best of me, and I flipped open my laptop and went to my paper’s website. I clicked on the Holocaust article and read it through. When I reached the bottom, I looked around me and saw that several students were turned to the same web page, their faces contorted in disgust. There were several hundred comments at the bottom of the article, so I began to skim them. I saw that many were negative.
But before I knew it – and having not reviewed my marketing material for more than ten minutes – I packed up my belongings and headed to take the exam. The class didn’t strike me as too difficult and I anticipated that the test would be easy. I forgot about the Holocaust article for a moment and started running marketing formulas through my head. The classroom was located in a building attached to the library, so it didn’t take me long to reach it. I sat in my usual seat, five rows back from the professor, and waited for the proctor to distribute the blue testing booklets.
“You have one hour to complete this exam,” my marketing professor said, coming in a few minutes late.
I began scanning the test questions but soon my head filled with thoughts about the Beacon and the Holocaust article.
Was I wrong not to call the FBI?
Did I really want to dedicate my college years toward being a crusader for free speech?
The last question was one that a rabbi had posed to me a few days back. The pressure of running this type of newspaper had finally hit me, and a grand debate took place in my mind. On the one side stood a lofty idealism; and on the other, reality.
I couldn’t think; my mind became hazy and I froze. I put down my pencil, walked to the front of the classroom, shook my professor’s hand, and gave him a barely completed test packet.
“Are you alright?” my professor asked, as he looked over my distraught, tired persona, and saw that I had given him an exam with mostly blank answers.
“Well, I hope it’s not because of the test. I made it extra easy.”
“No, it’s not.”