You have probably read articles addressed to you many times over the past couple of months regarding the shifting climate on campuses. I have read many of these pieces too, and while I appreciate their perspective and the lessons they can teach us, I know that right now, no one can understand the collegiate Jewish experience as deeply as we do.
We are living through a moment that feels confusing, all-consuming and incredibly devastating. With over 100 still held in Hamas captivity, over 1,200 Israeli and almost 16,000 Palestinian civilians dead, including more than 6,000 children, the grief and pain I and my friends in Israel and Palestine hold is unimaginable. With Islamophobia and antisemitism rising around the world, my vision of peace and justice seems to be moving further out of reach.
As the daughter of two rabbis and a proud Conservative Jew, I was taught that our religion was grounded in the belief that questions and arguments are holy and integral to our collective growth and learning as humans on this Earth. From six-hour seders to Hebrew school classes, I was taught that asking questions and confronting paradigms is important and essential to the practice of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world.
Judaism, I believe, is a religion of multiple truths; we transcend borders and political parties. As a community, we are at our best when we embrace this diversity and celebrate it. It also means that we can – and should – reach outside our own community and into the reality of others.
I know that you may be scared to be Jewish on your campus, and that feeling is entirely valid. I am scared, too. It is scary to see Nazis marching near college campuses. It is also frightening to see the surging number of antisemitic incidents. And I urge you not to let that fear shield you from confronting hard truths about the war in Gaza. I know that this is a big ask. I have felt uncomfortable as I am confronted by the experiences of my Palestinian, Arab and Muslim peers. I have felt paralyzed by their truths. Still, I maintain that the sharing of their grief and pain is important.
On campus, I have found that in the search for Jewish solidarity, we have lost sight of this multiplicity and in doing so, have allowed ourselves to be taken advantage of by people who only wish to cause harm and strife. Many have forsaken the complexity of Jewish collegiate truths to write a story with a clear protagonist, antagonist and plot line. It is easier to see all Zionists as settler colonizers or pro-Palestinian activists as antisemites than it is to attempt to understand and engage with the nuances of each and every person’s beliefs when it comes to Israel and Palestine. And I get it. Stories in which the oppressor and the oppressed are clearly defined are much more appealing than those in which we find ourselves humanizing the other and acknowledging their wrongdoings and faults.
I am a Jewish college student who has a friend from Gaza who fled south for his life with a white flag in-hand. I have friends serving in the IDF who never wanted to fight in any war. And I have friends who are working diligently to provide mutual aid for both Israelis and Palestinians struggling in the West Bank and all over Israel and Palestine.
These days, I hold an array of truths. I am grieving for and with my Palestinian and Israeli siblings. I am fighting for my Muslim and Jewish peers on campus, who are all facing indifference, monolithic mindsets, hatred and bigotry. I am fighting for an end to the occupation and to bring about permanent peace to all people who call this land home. All of these feelings and experiences exist simultaneously, whether or not they fit in with the narrative placed upon me.
I know that I do not represent the feelings of all Jewish college students, and I can only ever speak for myself. But I believe holding multiple truths does not decrease the validity or importance of one over the other; it reminds me that freedom is a collective movement. And if we lose sight of that, we are surely doomed to repeat our mistakes, further polarize our campuses and watch as peace falls further to the wayside, becoming more distant and seemingly unattainable as each day passes.
At the end of the day, all I can truly ask you to do is to not forget about the truths that exist that are not your own, to remember that accepting a multiplicity of truths is at the core of being a Jew, especially right now. Holding multiple truths is a superpower, one that bears a great deal of discomfort and turmoil and yet, is necessary to create the change we want to see in the world, the peace we need to bring about in the world, to ensure that everyone has the freedom to not only survive, but to thrive.