Jeff Seidel

A New Reality for Jewish Students

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in New York City, March 30, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

In history, there are moments so profound that they reshape our world. The aftermath of 9/11 is perhaps the starkest example from our lifetime. It was a time when the phrase ‘the world will never be the same’ resonated deeply across nations. Today, as we are well into the after-effects of the October 7th massacre, we find ourselves in a similar transformative period — one that is reshaping the fabric of societal norms and attitudes in Israel and around the world.

What is most jarring for me is the shift that we are seeing now within the realms of education. The increasing incidents of antisemitism in academic institutions across America are not just isolated events; they are indicative of a broader, disturbing trend that echoes the intolerance and hatred that, until now, has remained somewhat latent within our society.

Since the onset of the war, we have seen an alarming emergence of antisemitism in American colleges. Instances where professors and students express hate and incite violence against Jewish students have become alarmingly frequent and are eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany prior to World War II. Most memorably, a Stanford University professor, who has since been suspended, forced Jewish students in his class to stand in the corner of the room, just as “Israel does to the Palestinians,” and called them colonizers. In another instance, a professor at Cornell spoke at a campus rally, sharing that he was “exhilarated” by the Hamas attacks. Campus streets have been flooded with rallies, death chants, and harassment by fellow students. These incidents raise a critical question: How can Jewish students feel secure in an environment that harbors hostility towards them?

Just as the world had changed so drastically after 9/11, it is clear that the events of October 7th have greatly altered the landscape and reality for Jewish students. It has become increasingly apparent that antisemitic incidents on campuses, similar to those aforementioned, are being met with a level of acceptance or even deemed politically correct in certain circles. Should Jewish students think twice before enrolling in courses, worried that their professor will discriminate against them? Should they be wary of which colleges they’re enrolling in, for fear that the faculty turns a blind eye to antisemitic incidents and rhetoric? These questions, deeply troubling yet undeniably pertinent, reflect the new realities Jewish students must now navigate.

Over 50 days into this seemingly never-ending nightmare, the Jewish community finds itself in a relentless struggle, yet we must also gather our strength to address these critical issues that are facing our communities and our children. The main concern, for me, is the urgent need for substantial educational reform. Academic institutions must reevaluate and reshape how they teach Jewish/Israel history and identity, and how they respond to antisemitism. The tolerance, or lack thereof, of Antisemitic sentiments and actions in these institutions is central to the safety and well-being of Jewish students.

Moreover, educational institutions have a pivotal role in shaping how history is interpreted. Now more than ever, teaching students about significant historical events like the Holocaust, 9/11, and now October 7th is crucial. These moments that have so drastically shaped the world should be mandatory topics in curricula. And these lessons should be imparted in a way that fosters understanding, critical thinking, and empathy. Education systems should discourage any form of extremism, whether its condoning terrorist organizations or fostering animosity towards specific groups. There must also be clear consequences for actions that compromise the safety and inclusivity of the learning environment. We cannot allow the education system to fail our children any more than it already has.

Like the aftermath of 9/11, there are once again new truths in the world today. Being Jewish in 2023 involves navigating a complex landscape where antisemitism still exists. It’s concerning that academic institutions, public figures, and even global justice movements overlook, or worse deny, the Jewish experience. But we, the Jewish community, cannot ignore these unique challenges that Jewish students are facing.

As the events of October 7th are still fresh in our minds, we have a responsibility to ensure that the world does not forget, nor deny, the truth of what happened to our people. Failing to teach such critical moments accurately is a disservice to future generations of Jews who will, undoubtedly, face new waves of Antisemitism in their lifetimes.

As we prepare the leaders of tomorrow, ensuring Jewish students feel safe and supported in their communities and campuses is crucial. They deserve education and resources to address Antisemitism and hatred. Furthermore, it’s vital to reinforce the message that they are not alone in these challenges. They should know that we are all standing there with them.

About the Author
Since 1982, Jeff Seidel has introduced thousands of Jewish college students to their first Shabbat experience as well as offered free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers at Hebrew U in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and IDC in Herzliya. He has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for over thirty years and connected tens of thousands to the Land of Israel. He has also authored “The Jewish Traveler's Resource Guide,” which lists Shabbat placement programs around the world.
Related Topics
Related Posts