When I was a senior in college at UMASS/Amherst in 1989, I came upon a group of students with their faces covered in “kefiyah” scarves standing on an Israeli flag and chanting anti-Zionist rhetoric. I had just returned from a semester in Israel and went running into Hillel for the very first time, crying and asking, “What do we do?” On that day, this life-long Zionist became an Israel activist. I joined “SAFI”, Student Alliance for Israel, and began planning programs in support of Israel, educating myself and others, and “tabling” on campus.
I worked for 25 years in the Boston Jewish community including eight years on campus and a stint at the Jewish Federation working with non-Jewish “influentials” and bringing them to Israel. What I want to say to students and parents of today is this:
After the horrific events of October 7, the Jewish community feels united more than ever. While our brave Israeli soldiers sit on the edge of Gaza and Lebanon defending their land, Jews world-wide are fighting an information war on social media. We know there are far fewer Jews than people who hate us and yet we are on-line armchair warriors commenting, disliking, and reporting hate speech to Instagram, Facebook, and “X” (formerly Twitter).
The place where we are really losing is on campus. We need to stop REACTING and become PROACTIVE. I’m a mom of a college student and a recent graduate and most of my friends have kids in college. We’re comparing notes and sharing videos of all the terrible things happening on campus; like at Cooper Union, where Jewish kids were locked in the library, Stanford University where Jewish kids were asked to stand in the corner of their classroom and called out as “colonizers”, Harvard law school where Jewish students are intimidated every day….and so many more traumatic experiences.
My daughter goes to Tulane which is 44% Jewish and this past week there was a pro-Hamas rally (called a peaceful Free Palestine rally). It took place adjacent to campus and was organized by adults, not students. A grown man with his face covered like a terrorist was in the back of a truck waving a Palestinian flag on a large stick. When his sidekick tried to burn an Israeli flag and a student grabbed it, he used the stick to pummel the student. Tulane students and their allies wrote an amazing letter with a petition to administration to be prepared and protect their students. It was signed by over 1200 people in 2 short days.
I’ve read so many articles about how this is OUR moment.
So Jewish college kids, stand up!
This is your “Hineni” (Here I am) moment.
The meme going around that says, “They go low, we go Chai”? Do it- Go Chai!
Do not let your professor intimidate you- they do not have more power than you. If you are locked in the library sing “Oseh Shalom bimromav” as loud as you can. If you are in the corner of your classroom, sing, “Shema Yisrael” and walk out. If you are at a rally and feel intimidated, do not engage, rather sing! And if you don’t know a Jewish song shout “Am Yisrael Chai” over and over to drown out whatever antisemitic trope you’re hearing.
This dichotomy of the strongest army in the world can’t have student soldiers on the front lines of American college campuses that aren’t equally strong. Here’s what to do, and parents, join in the battle where you can and encourage your kids on campus to do ALL these things:
- Go to Hillel and Chabad. Meet your IACT coordinator.
- Call the ADL and report antisemitism.
- Write to your Dean and President and report all inappropriate behaviors by professors and students.
- Sign EVERY petition that comes your way.
- Post on social media every day about Israel.
- Learn how to combat antisemitism and refute lies.
- Encourage your school to do teach-ins to learn about your shared history and the history of Israel and why YOU must defend Israel and yourself.
There’s something called the “Pareto Principle”. The 80/20 rule is the idea that 80% of the result comes from 20% of the effort. We can reverse this to students who are anti-Zionist. Eighty percent of the people fighting against you don’t really know what they’re fighting for and the other 20% are never going to change their minds -so focus on the ones you can have sway over.
Eighty percent of students (Jews among them) likely don’t even know where Gaza or the West Bank is on a map.
Do you? If not, find out! Best question to ask, “Is the West Bank in the east or the west of Israel? Why is it called the West Bank?” (Answer: it’s in the East and is the West Bank of the Jordan River.)
Last week, I got emails from Tulane Hillel and Chabad about keeping our students safe during the upcoming rally. Safety is important AND education is equally important.
And by the way, at its core, the definition of Zionism is the right of the State of the Israel to exist. If it didn’t exist, the 856,000 Jews from Arab countries that were kicked out after WWII would have had no place to go.
Yallah! Let’s do this!