Every Saturday, Jewish families return home from shul. Men loosen their ties, women slip off their high-heels, and children race down the stairs in their pajamas. Lunch begins. In a yellow house on Long Island, a man removes his black silk bekeishe to reveal a leather holster, removes it, takes off his gun, locks it in his case, shmoozes about the rabbi’s sermon, and the Shabbos meal commences. For three years, that family’s traditional, Jewish ritual has been framed with a weapon. In the past six months, the Jewish community recognized the necessity of its protection. The shooting at Chabad of Poway occurred exactly six months after the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
At Columbia University, I have often felt defenseless without a weapon of my own. During Apartheid Week, I walked past a cardboard poster featuring a child throwing a rock with the slogan, “Revenge will be the laughter of our children.” I approached the demonstrators and asked what they implied by “revenge.” They replied, “It’s taken from when the Irish fought against the British.” My face flushed and I began to shake. “Do you mean when the Irish committed terror attacks? Are you talking about the IRA?!” I was answered with a scoff, “Terror is a bias.” I walked back to my dormitory understanding that Jewish, unarmed civilians maimed by rocks, random gunshots, and hurled insults are not validated by their injustice. This painful comprehension dawned on members of the United States Congress when the Office of Civil Rights denied a case of anti-Semitism at the University of California, Irvine when a Jewish student was assaulted with a rock. When the OCR claimed, “Jews are not an ethnic group,” Congressional members congress-members replied with an angry letter (Tobin 195). By implicitly diminishing the validity of anti-Semitic claims, the Office of Civil Rights set a precedent that permitted college campuses to spread and incite anti-Semitism. The denial of these anti-Semitic actions is consequently answered at Columbia with mockery and assertion of my bias.
Although I am a Jewish girl from Long Island who has attended the same religious Jewish camps, winter-break programs, and similar adolescent stimuli as my friends in Jewish university, I am more likely to move to Israel. When I asked students from Stern College, an all-woman’s, Jewish college in Midtown Manhattan, why they would immigrate to Israel, I was told it was only due to Zionist, youth camps. They did not feel the resentment, hopelessness, and anti-Semitism in America. That was not their reason. Yet, I and so many other Columbia students, do not feel at home in America because of our anti-Semitic college experience.
At Columbia University, Jews are never the victims. We are not the victims of terror. We are not the victims of mass-shootings. We are not the victims of hate crimes. A child throwing a rock at an Israeli is not incitement. A swastika painted on a Jewish Professor’s wall is merely vandalism. A student approaching Columbia Public Safety pleading, “I am scared. There is a quote citing a terror organization. I’m worried that Jews willbe targeted,” is simply paranoid.
Yet, that man in the yellow house who removes his holster each week is not paranoid. The armed security officer standing guard outside every Jewish institution is not paranoid. The student that is eventually forced to move dormitory rooms due to anti-Semitic microaggressions is not paranoid. According to the NYPD, hate crimes have risen 67% this year. Of those 145 incidents reported, 87 were anti-Semitic resulting in an 82% increase of anti-Semitic attacks. This recent spike in anti-Semitism is due to the increased popularity of anti-Israel sentiment.
Jews are no longer excluded from clubs on campus, political groups, or conversations because of our race. We are excluded for our allegiance to Israel. Any Jew in American society can easily become that man who needs his gun. Upon informing a fellow student that I wanted to join a fraternity on campus, I was told, “They are anti-Israel.” My first week in my Freshman dormitory room my suite-mate told me, “I’m anti-Israel.” Like the star of Jude pinned during the Holocaust, I wear my Zionism like a badge of shame.
Ironically, this badge, this label, this newfound reason for Jew-hatred is the impetus of the Jewish return. Anti-Semitism only encourages the rise of Israeli immigration and the fervor of religious Zionism. Immediately following the shooting at Chabad of Poway, my sister frantically informed me that, “We need to leave now.” Countless students from Columbia University have moved to Israel upon graduation. Some could not even wait four years, and they moved in the middle of their college education.Increased anti-Semitism on college campuses and hostility towards Jewish practices have caused disenfranchisement in American, Jewish youth.
Jews residing in the comfortable bubble of Modern and Right-Wing Orthodoxy will never fully understand why there is no hope for American Jews. They attend Jewish high schools surrounded by like-minded teens, go to Jewish university without actively fighting for their Jewish identity, and move into Jewish shtetls that perpetuate Jewish complacency. The rise of anti-Semitism among America’s youth remains unrecognized. The diatribe of Jew-hatred is not silenced with their attention. They stay in America as victims of neighboring hostility. It is time for that bubble to burst. The responsibility of religious Zionism should not only fall on those living in a world that recognizes its necessity.