Now is the Time for Unity

It is almost Shabbat here in New York City. While the rest of the city continues to hum along at its normal unrelenting pace, what happens after sunset as Jews of all stripes join together across NYU is one of the most beautiful examples of the strength and fortitude of our Jewish community, and provides a much-needed respite from the chaos of the day-to-day hustle and bustle.

Shabbat is also a time for calm, for introspection, for restoration; a time for both the week and ourselves, in a small way, to begin anew.

And our community needs much healing. After Rabbi Shmuley wrote a hit piece accusing NYU Jews of not standing up for Israel, we responded with respectful but strong words that debunked Shmuley’s most spurious claims in a firsthand account of what truly goes on at our campus. After the piece gained traction, Rabbi Boteach took an approach that can only be described as the opposite of calm. He and his son wrote numerous pieces in seemingly every publication they could get to host them.

I firmly believe that airing our disagreements in such a public back-and-forth does little other than damage our community when it gets to such a level, and with this in mind, this will be our final public response to the Boteachs’ attacks.

While our community was calm but unrelenting in our defense of our community, Rabbi Shmuley took to a twitter blitzkrieg upon slightest provocation, retweeting his articles umpteen times and raving about our words:

“I’m under attack from NYU student defenders who r living in denial about the demonization of israel.”


Rabbi Boteach, no one can doubt that you amplify the voice of our people or that you’ve dedicated your life to noble things. I understand that your son Mendy attends university here, but you, last time I checked, do not. I do not blame you for being out of the loop on our community’s inner workings, but you cannot lie about my community and then not expect to be called out. While Mendy has attended NYU for almost a semester, and we’re happy to have him, this fall marks my 5th semester here, not counting the winters and summers I have spent on campus. We have been nothing but supportive of Elie Wiesel and that which advances the aims of the Jewish people, including strong responses to threats to the Jewish community when appropriate and taking tangible steps to show those on campus the strength and worthiness of Israel.

As someone who spends most of her waking hours working on promoting Israel and Jewish life on campus, please believe me when I say the words from both Boteachs have been perceived as a vicious attack on our community.

I deeply admire Shmuley and Mendy’s commitment to the state of Israel, but gentlemen, you are out of touch with how our campus (and campus activism) operates. You claim that “SJP was never condemned” by our group, even though we led the charge against SJP’s eviction notices both publicaly and privately with the NYU administration and other organizations.

We publicly condemned the ASA after their decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions in a letter signed by umpteen student leaders and we worked with the NYU administration, who condemned the decision. Richard Behar, an NYU alumnus who also criticized the ASA and has helped us with our efforts against them, was appalled at your father’s piece condemning our community, and said so publicly. Many share his sentiment.

Mendy Boteach, your evidence that we are losing the battle against anti-Semitism is that a guy outside the library holds a sign on occasion reminding us that “Jews Control EVERYTHING.” From the way you make it sound, SJP runs the campus, while in reality their group on our campus is thankfully small and relatively non-vocal.

Why draw more attention to the crazies, who are few and far between? There are some other things I’d like you to see. Turn to your right from the lone protestor to the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, where Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others all pray and learn together. When you’re done there, either continue south to our beautiful Chabad house which serves thousands weekly with food, love, and Torah, or North to the Bronfman Center, the backbone of Jewish life on campus.

You accuse us of weakness for not protesting Abbas, but I do not believe that the best thing we can do for Israel is be the Jewish equivalent of our detractors, seeking to silence others. As much as I detest SJP, they have a right to exist and to hold peaceful demonstrations. As Voltaire (or his biographer) said, “”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

And how can you find it within you to critique a candlelight vigil in the park? How would you feel and how would our community react, if they criticized our community’s candlelit vigil for the four dead in Jerusalem?

No, “all is not quiet on the Lower-Manhattan Front.” But why focus on the bad? This is not the story of Israel. The story of Israel is one of peace, not vitriol.

Mendy claims that “Pro-Israel campus groups, including TorchPAC, seem a lot more focused on understanding the other side than confronting it. However noble, that can’t be the role of a campus group meant to counter the effect of the Anti-Israel campus coalition.” But countering the “Anti-Israel campus coalition” is not our goal! Our goal isn’t defense. It’s far grander than that.

However, Mendy is onto something when he says “we need to portray our love of Israel with the same passion they exhibit in their hatred. We need to take to the streets and student papers, advertising Israel’s just and noble cause in the most visible way.”

That’s exactly our point. That’s why we are on television. That’s why we write op-eds. That’s why we meet with student leaders, plan events with other organizations, meet almost every day to work on building community. Instead of protesting, we work with students to provide the nuanced and beautiful story of Zionism. Our recent Israel debate was co-sponsored by groups from every end of the political spectrum.

Hillel is strong. Chabad is strong. Our community is thriving. And we need to move forward. We need to join hands (well, you can take Zak’s) and work together. We have experienced far too much pain and have far bigger battles to fight than inner squabbles. Let us work together, for as Abraham Lincoln (whom I see you’re a big fan of) reminded us in a fateful address, a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Jews of NYU, and of the world, deserve better.

About the Author
Laura E. Adkins is JTA’s Opinion Editor. She was previously Deputy Opinion Editor at the Forward, where she wrote about data, Orthodoxy, kosher wine, and built interactive maps. Laura has also served as the editor of Jewish Insider and an assistant blogs editor at The Times of Israel. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, SELF, the New York Observer and elsewhere.