Eyal Cohen

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

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It’s been absurdly cold in my coffee shop this week. I don’t use ‘absurdly’ to indicate that the temperature was, like, what it is in the North Pole; I mean more so ‘irrational.’ I also don’t use the word ‘my’ correctly in that sentence; I don’t own the establishment. I doubt you should take any of my words at face value. Anyway.

We had a couple of warm days, but it’s back to being objectively chilly in NYC—early morning it’s been in the 40s, which is about seven degrees Celsius in case you’re not from the US and its associated territories, which, if you live on this planet, you’re not. We’re all in the US’s associated territory.

Still, my coffee shop blasts all three of its A/Cs full throttle in the small space, hence my aforementioned ‘absurdly.’ I can understand, maybe, adjusting an indoor climate to overcompensate for the degrees outside—making the place extra warm when it’s cold out and vice versa. But doubling down is batshit crazy. (Note to self for a future essay: who decided what animal’s fecal matter means what? Horse, bull, dog, bat, ape, chicken. Tentative title: Who Gives A Shit And Who Gives it Meaning.)

I’ve found myself, over the course of this week, looking around, aghast, shrugging my shoulders, shoving my palms up my sleeves, rubbing one hand against the other, trying to make eye contact with any of the other patrons, hoping that we could look at each other and make the universal eye-signal for I KNOW.

This has yet to happen.

But I just refuse to believe I am the only one going through this. Sometimes, I feel like everyone at the coffee shop is ganging up on me about this and is trying to make me lose my mind. Weatherlighting me. Joke’s on them, though. My mind is long-lost.

Out of the three A/Cs in the coffee shop, two hit approximately 35% of the seating options directly and about 65% indirectly. The third A/C is the real problem, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

There are 26 seats in the coffee shop—16 chairs, six stools (barstools; not fecal matter), three sofa spots, and a wingback chair. I’ve spent the last few days trying to see if any spot isn’t impacted as severely by the arctic airflow. Obviously, if you are in the 35% hit directly by the vent, you’re fucked. There’s nothing you can do. Tuck your shirt and cover your nipples and pray for a power outage. But I was hoping to figure out whether there was any part of the 65% that was more habitable than the rest.

My hypothesis was that, of the indirectly-hit tables, the warmest ones would be those most out of the way. If you have any knowledge about ventilation or insulation or air distribution, you’d know that that hypothesis is wrong. I would have been better off targeting the tables in the center of the room since it’s always colder along the perimeter of a space. Or, since heat rises, I would’ve been best suited trying to hang from the ceiling like a flying mammal in a cave, though that sort of behavior would be, obviously, batshit.

After days of rigorous research, I’ve reached my conclusion: it doesn’t matter where you sit; it matters who’s in the way.


Two historically crucial things happened this past week.

One, students at Columbia University began an encampment on the campus lawn last Thursday as a form of protest against the war in the Middle East, as well as some of the school’s financial ties, calling for the school’s divestment “from companies and institutions that profit from Israeli apartheid,” per Columbia’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). In response, that Thursday, the university’s president—who is straight up not having a good time—called in NYPD who arrested over 108 protestors (all of which were released by 10:36 PM the same day), and dozens of students have been suspended from the university or evicted from their dorm rooms. On the other side, Jewish students were advised by the director of the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative to stay away from campus for their own sake, Jewish students’ and faculty’s access to campus—most notably, one outspoken professor—has been partially restricted or denied, and Jewish affiliated centers and kindergartens have been on self-imposed lockdowns to maintain their own safety. NYPD patrols campus and its surroundings constantly (in an attempt to impose fear, I guess), faculty arranged a mass-walkout in solidarity with the protestors, and in-person classes were cancelled. All of this sparked similar protests and encampments in campuses across the country and abroad, brought upon overwhelming media coverage, and drew responses from pretty much every politician who matters in the world (none of them really matter, but you know what I mean).

Two, my mother cleared out my childhood bedroom.

Now, we don’t have to debate which of those is going to have longer-lasting impacts on society as we know it. But if we did debate, I’d encourage us to speak only about that which we’ve had some form of firsthand interaction with, which, in my case, would mean, obviously, the protests.

I went to the area thrice—Thursday and Sunday and Tuesday. Before I go into all that, here are my six presumed options for what you’ve seen about this story so far and how you feel about it:

  1. You’ve seen videos of young people, on the campus of one of the most prestigious and expensive schools in the world, passionately chanting for the liberation of Palestine. It made you feel empowered and inspired.
  2. You’ve seen videos of young people, on the campus of one of the most pretentious and expensive schools in the world, passionately chanting for the eradication of the state of Israel. It made you feel repulsed and horrified.
  3. You’ve seen young people be put in handcuffs and taken into custody for exercising their right to speak up for what they believe is wrong. It made you feel repulsed and horrified.
  4. You’ve seen young people be put in handcuffs and taken into custody for glorifying violence and enticing more. It made you feel gratified and malevolent.
  5. You’ve seen that some shit is happening but it’s just like any other headline that you’re not totally sure what to make of.
  6. You have no idea what I’m talking about because your timeline has been all Tortured Poets Department and/or NBA Playoffs. The situation sounds dire, but you feel like You Can Fix It (No Really You Can).

Wherever you land between 1-6 depends, I guess, on what percentage of all of this hits you directly.


The problem is the third A/C. The third A/C is aimed right at the barista area—where the milk is steamed, the shots are pulled, the beans are crushed. That area gets hot and steamy, so they must have the A/C blasting for their own sake. It makes sense. Totally understandable. Nothing in the history of being understandable is more understandable than that (other than, maybe, why a super famous pop star and a super famous football player would start dating each other).

Having said all that, I’ve been freezing all fucking week. No matter where in the 65% I put myself, I was cold. And not just me. People have been wearing coats indoor. Coats! Indoor! I even saw one old man with a beanie on, though we all know that the clarity of mind and decision making of old men are not things that should be magnified and glorified. They’re best off restricted to menial spaces such as the Oval Office.

I guess the problem is not the third A/C, per se. It’s there for a good purpose—to help those in the problematic region get through the day. The problem is that I’m in the associated territory and I’m acting as if I’m being directly impacted.


From where I’m sitting, I see two overarching—and perhaps reductive—questions: What is one side protesting for? What is the other side afraid of? More reductively, those two questions could be: What does one side want? What does the other side want?

These are incredibly complex questions—they carry millennia of violence and ideology, and are infused into a toxic and tension-filled present. The answers to them definitely won’t come from a guy who can’t even remember to bring gloves and a scarf and pocket heaters when he goes to get his coffee. Nor will the answers come from you (no offense), or the media (yes offense).

Certain answers—which perhaps mimic the reductive nature of the questions themselves—could be:

“For all the hostages to be released”

“For the killing of civilians in Gaza to stop”

“For Hamas to be eradicated”

“For the Zionist mission to be dismantled”

Perhaps I shouldn’t imply that those answers are reductive, but rather say that they are simplistic—and maybe simplicity is what we should strive for. I just feel like those statements, those demands, if you’ve said them or heard them, could be springboards towards a discussion that widens the understanding of the situation, but as standalone headlines or, worse, punchlines, they merely narrow the scope of who’s listening.

Those answers, too, are ones that I’m ill-equipped to really dissect in this essay because I don’t have A) adequate knowledge B) enough of your time and attention span.

More importantly, though, those are answers that pertain to the events transpiring in the Middle East, whereas, as I told you, my firsthand experience is with those going on in the US. These events, I know, are inextricable from one another—they are taking place in closely associated territories. But they are also somewhat distinct and, to an extent, I’d argue that what’s taking place here is detrimental to what’s going on there. All the attention that’s being directed towards these protests is meant to—partially—be imparted to the people in the warzone. But at the same time, these protests, and the massive attention they have garnered over the last nine days, have become about financial stake among private corporations, hierarchy and freedom of speech on college campuses, and the emotional and physical wellbeing of the student body.

And I ask this with all due respect, but bearing in mind what’s happening on the other side of the world, when it comes to the feelings of young people who invest $70,000 a year into learning sociology, Who Gives A Shit And Who Gives it Meaning?


Parallels have been drawn between the events this past week and the famous Columbia Protests against the university’s ties to the Vietnam War in 1968—the 60s in general being a decade synonymous with bottom-up advocacy and the Civil Rights Movement. On Derek Thompson’s podcast, Plain English, Omar Wasow, a professor and author of an influential paper about the 1960s protests, said that the national media’s approach to coverage at the time was that, “If there’s no blood and guts, there’s no story.” The media is fundamentally different these days, but that statement still holds true, which poses an altogether different—and more difficult—challenge: there is an “almost kaleidoscopic representation of reality in the current media that does make it harder for any one story to become the consensus reality.” There is no consensus, but there are slivers of reality that don’t make for good headlines or bombastic news coverage or viral videos. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as true.

Emblematic of this, perhaps, is the fact that on all three occasions I went to campus, massive media crews were just parked up, idle, outside the subway station. Cameras, lighting fixtures, cables, trucks; the whole nine yards. And it’s not that I take issue with them being there to report, but it’s that as they sit there, waiting for the thing, the thing that gets the headline, to happen, other facets of reality still go on. Life is too real to be contrived.

It’s not just traditional media that does this. The most outspoken individual on the pro-Israel side of things is professor Shai Davidai. I have no qualms with him as a person, have never met him, and his original speech post-October 7th, which he gave on Columbia’s campus lawn, both moved and rattled me. You may have seen him interviewed on major news outlets, or more likely, on your social media feed. He has documented every step of the way since October 7th, and his voice has been magnified in the past week as he became the preeminent Jewish/Israeli voice contending that the university is giving into an antisemitic mob that endangers a basic Jewish existence on campus. On Sunday night, Davidai tweeted a message that he sent the leadership at Columbia, announcing his coming to campus the following morning, requesting police escort. On Monday, he arrived on campus to find that his ID access has been revoked and he was denied entry. If you haven’t seen the videos, and if I may say so myself, the whole ordeal had a rather theatrical nature to it. Davidai knew, in my opinion, that he wouldn’t be able to get in. He wanted to make a show of it, and he very much succeeded. When you go out looking for something, you find it. Life is too real to be contrived.

None of this is groundbreaking news (pun intended). The media, traditional and social, is fucked; we all know. But because these headlines and videos are all-consuming in more ways than one—they infiltrate our discourse both when we seek out news and when we seek out leisure; and they are also pieces of information that tug at and nestle into and rattle our emotional and ideological and moral selves—they warrant a thinking that goes beyond the superficial.

There are headlines out there about how Jewish people are afraid to be on campus, depicting to the rest of the world that college campuses have become hostile and dangerous places for Jews and Israelis. There are tweets out there about how people are taking their yamaka off before exiting the subway station at 116th. These gain traction and attention, and they further affirm to those on that side that the situation is dire. But I also saw a dude standing in front of a group of about 200 protestors, adorning blue and white face paint and waving an Israeli flag, and he seemed perfectly, um, fine? Safe? I saw people leisurely walking around with yamakas on their heads, heading up and down Broadway Ave. I know of many Jewish people who joined the Passover Seder held on the campus lawn last Monday night. Some people, I’m guessing and I know because of how the narrative within Jewish circles has unfolded since October 7th, would take issue with those Jewish people who break matzah with protestors, but that does not detract from the reality that their Jewish existence on campus is valid and unabated.

There are headlines out there about how brutally police officers are treating protestors—UT Austin perhaps the preeminent example—who are trying to exercise their first amendment rights. There are Instagram stories out there about how institutions are trying to silence the voice of the people, and how the censoring of the movement is a mark of an authoritarian regime that is bound to further impound the historically marginalized. These gain traction and attention, and they further affirm to those on that side that the situation is dire. But I also saw hundreds of people, on multiple occasions, protesting peacefully and safely, chanting pretty much whatever they want to chant—which I’ve already written some about here. There are Palestine flags hanging outside frat house windows, stickers promoting the liberation agenda pasted on walls and poles and sewers and store windows, and the encampment is still going on.

All of this is real. It may not be bombastic enough to headline the CNN evening news, but it is a sliver of reality. Perhaps, then, the question should go beyond what is real and what isn’t, and should instead be: How are parts of the real, slivers of truth, being used?

To answer that, all we have to do is briefly examine a small matter known as the Holocaust.

After he wasn’t permitted entry to campus, Shai Davidai contended that this was due to the fact that the university couldn’t “protect [his] safety as a Jewish professor. This is 1938.” Later that day, he tweeted that to the best of his knowledge, “the last time that a professor was denied access to their own university for being Jewish was Nazi Germany.” These two tweets were his most liked and shared ones since the protests began. At the same time, another Jewish professor I follow tweeted, the next day, the following: “People have been writing in concerned about my safety at Columbia. I thank you for your concern, but I am really very, very safe, almost ridiculously so. To my students: Class is back in session, so come on down!”

On the other side, you can easily find videos of protestors, students and faculty, and even prominent political activists, draped in Palestinian flags and keffiyehs (I’m not gonna say anything about white people wearing keffiyehs I’m not gonna say anything about white people wearing keffiyehs I’m not gonna say anything about white people wearing keffiyehs), screaming calls such as “Go back to Poland” and “Gas the Jews,” or explicitly referencing October 7th as a jubilant event. At the same time, as I mentioned, many Jewish students have joined the protests and sang Ma Nishtana just a few nights ago.

Things are dire. That’s true. There is inherently antisemitic discourse being spewed on campuses. I’m not even referring to any anti-Zionist discourse (we can leave this debate for another day), I’m simply referring to explicit references to October 7th as well as repeated calls for another intifada—a word I doubt factions of the crowd, thinking they are advocating for virtues of liberty or peace, know stands for an armed uprising that has historically led to targeted violent terrorism that cost thousands of innocent lives—which may explain why Jewish communities on campuses up and down the country are feeling unwanted, unwelcome, and unsafe. There is, too, an institutional attempt at controlling discourse, and an abuse of authority over young people who are passionate about their pursuit of justice and their solidarity with others. Young people who are simply attempting to advocate for what they believe is right and is within their right, yet are witnessing their attempts be met with forceful silencing that has historically skewed societal fabric to cater to those in power, which may explain why they feel further marginalized and silenced, a reason to advocate even louder. And I can’t argue with any of that—any of the feelings listed in this paragraph are real. However.

When these evocations of the Holocaust are surfaced, they further sensationalize the discourse, and diverge the conversation towards what, in my opinion, is the wrong direction (I would highly recommend, to any and all, Omri Bohem’s book, Haifa Republic). Yes, Jewish people have seen how violent rhetoric can turn to de facto violence. Jewish people, too, are safer in 2024 New York City than they were in 1938 Warsaw. The sensationalizing of the discourse renders the issue on college campuses as one of malevolence and privilege; one that can only invite hate, violence, radicalization, and polarization. The way I see it, though, from where I’m sitting, this issue is one of education, power, and misguidance. This issue is one that has cost numerous lives on the other side of the world, one that is affecting millions directly, yet all the headlines are about those completely out of the way.


On one of the days I went down to Columbia (I’m 32 blocks north of campus, if anyone was curious/dubious about my proximity to the matter), I saw a group of people on the corner of 113th and Broadway with a little table and some pamphlets trying to stop passersby to talk to them about something. Usually, I would not offer this sort of demographic a sliver of my eye contact or attention (I’m such a fake cool cliché new yorker, I know). But I was obviously down there to gather content, and I presumed their agenda would have something to do with the protests, so as I approached the corner I made eye contact with one of them, which we all know is the universal eye-signal for Come harass me.

Devin approached and shook my hand and introduced himself and asked for my name. He knocked out about three classic sales strategies in 0.7 seconds. After I told him my name is John*, he said, “Your beard is amazing, man.” Make that four.

“I’m jealous, man,” Devin went on, “I can’t grow a beard like that.”

Now. A couple things.

One, yes, I do have an amazing beard. It’s one of my sole sources of pride (alongside how quickly I get out of the way in TSA lines and that joke about Taylor Swift’s new song from earlier). Two, Devin had a pristinely kept goatee. Maybe Devin opts for this facial hair out of necessity, as stubble doesn’t grow out nicely on his cheeks, but, if I may say so, he’s definitely doing very well for himself. He had no need to belittle himself in an attempt to uplift me.

Devin proceeded to tell me about whatever children’s cancer cause he and his gang were there to advocate for. He asked me if I minded stepping into his office, before pointing to the folding table they had set up on the side of the pavement. I responded, toothpick dangling from my bottom lip (did I mention I had a toothpick in my mouth? [I’m such a fake cool cliché new yorker, I know]), that I’m really sorry. Devin looked at me one more time before I walked away and said, “You’re really good at lying to people, aren’t you?”

Regardless of who you are in my life, Devin knows me better than you do.

Maybe I am good at lying to people. Maybe you, as I told you in the very first paragraph of this essay, should not take my words at face value. Maybe you shouldn’t believe me.

There’s a book by Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and psycholinguist, called: Rationality: what it is, why it seems scarce, why it matters. In it, Pinker brings up the “contamination of the intellectual by the social,” which has led to a change in the way we do or don’t believe things: “From ideas that may be true or false to expressions of a person’s moral or cultural identity.” We no longer believe in that which can be confirmed to be right, but that which validates and affirms us as righteous.

So, maybe I am wrong. Maybe I went down to Columbia to seek affirmation for my own righteousness—I did, after all, disclose I went down there for the purpose of gathering content. Maybe I did seek out confirmation of my own beliefs and that blinded me from seeing what is true. Maybe what I’m seeing is the sliver, and reality is everything else that’s going on. Maybe the authoritarian approach towards the protestors will be remembered as an infringement of free speech that will continue to propel a totalitarian regime that—once again—further marginalizes the already marginalized. Maybe what transpired over the last week on Columbia and other campuses will go down as a new-age Kristallnacht and Jewish lives will be lost on the back of it.

But I hope not. I hope I’m right. Not just because I love being right, but because if either of those outcomes winds up being correct, then that means the contamination inflicting society has not only persisted, but metastasized. So, I hope this area remains habitable for others, and I hope it doesn’t become uninhabitable for me, who by definition is both Israeli and Jewish—identities I don’t necessarily ascribe to and which you can read more about here. I hope this moment becomes a springboard for conversation rather than a headline absentmindedly accepted as true.

I hope I don’t have to leave, because it’s getting colder and colder around here, inside and out. And I don’t even have a childhood bedroom to go back to.

*You could easily say that I didn’t give Devin my real name because I feared it would disclose I’m Israeli, however. One, based on my decade in this country, people are rather unlikely to guess where I’m from based on my name (they tend to guess so when I cut them in line). Two, I almost always give a generic basic name in those kinds of situations—like ordering at Starbucks or whatnot—because it just makes my life easier, and you’re not doing that, so somebody has to.

About the Author
Eyal Cohen is a nonfiction writer based in New York City. Born in Israel, he was recruited to play soccer in undergrad in Florida, after which he moved to NYC for his MFA in writing from Columbia University. He’s currently shopping his memoir / cultural criticism hybrid: A book-length essay about how men understand, withhold, and externalize love.
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