Danielle Sobkin

Unapologetic: Struggles of A Jewish Student Leader

The terror attack on October 7th in Israel didn’t just shatter lives in the Middle East; it sent shockwaves through campuses worldwide, ricocheting off the walls of my own university. I, a Jewish student leader, found myself in the eye of an unimaginable storm, navigating a landscape marred by loss, bigotry, and a disheartening lack of understanding. This is not just my story, but a testament to the resilience and unyielding spirit of Jewish students grappling with the aftermath of a tragedy that hits too close to home.

In the days following the attack, as I mourned the loss of loved ones half a world away, I faced a barrage of hostility. The corridors and classrooms, once hallmarks of academic freedom, learning, and safety, morphed into arenas of confrontation. I was attacked, not in the physical sense, but through words and actions that cut deep, by peers, professors, and, most dishearteningly, by some within the Jewish community. They called me a “disrupter.” But let me be clear: seeking protection and respect in the wake of a terror attack is not disruption; it is a plea for basic human dignity.

Why, in institutions that champion diversity and inclusivity, are Jewish students like myself left to fend off antisemitism that lurks in lecture halls and social spaces? Why are our legitimate fears and concerns so readily dismissed, our identity viewed as a provocation rather than a point of pride?

The October 7th attack was a brutal reminder of the fragility of Jewish lives. But the response I encountered on campus laid bare a more insidious threat: the normalization of antisemitic rhetoric and actions in spaces meant to nurture learning and growth. It’s a narrative that’s uncomfortably familiar yet perpetually ignored.

College is envisioned as a pivotal stage that shapes us and prepares us for the future. It’s supposed to be a place where we learn to be team players in a greater society, to show up, engage in meaningful conversations, hold empathy for others, and work collaboratively despite differing beliefs. However, what we’ve witnessed since October 7th is a stark deviation from these ideals. There has been an utter loss of humanity, humility, and understanding. The basic tenets of empathy and mutual respect, which are foundational to any educational experience and societal interaction, seem to have dissipated in the face of entrenched biases and unfounded prejudices against Jewish students. This isn’t just a failure of individual attitudes but a systemic collapse of what higher education stands for – a space for diverse ideas and respectful discourse, not a breeding ground for intolerance and bigotry.

I refuse to bow to the pressure to remain silent or to dilute my identity for the sake of others’ comfort. To be a Jewish student leader today is to walk a tightrope between honoring one’s heritage and constantly defending it. It’s a role thrust upon us, not chosen, but embraced with a sense of duty and unwavering resolve.

This is not a call for sympathy, but a rallying cry for action. We demand not just the acknowledgment of our struggles but tangible steps to eradicate the antisemitism that plagues academic corridors. We seek not just solidarity in words, but in deeds that challenge the status quo and foster a truly inclusive environment.

As I reflect on this period, I recognize that these experiences will forever be etched in my memory. This moment in time will be a pivotal chapter in my life story – one that I will retell my future children. I will tell them how I stood firm, how I fought with every fiber of my being to ensure the safety and dignity of the next generation of Jewish leaders. This isn’t just about me; it’s about setting a precedent, about being a part of something greater than oneself.

When you look back on this era, Jewish or non-Jewish, what will you have to say for yourself? In these trying times, what actions did you take to protect those most vulnerable? This isn’t just a call for reflection but a challenge to act. It’s about taking a stand, in whatever capacity we can, to uphold the values of empathy, understanding, and collective responsibility. Our actions, or lack thereof, during these critical times, will define us in the eyes of future generations. 

The days since October 7th have been a crucible, tempering my resolve and that of countless other Jewish students. We’re not disrupters; we are defenders of our right to exist, learn, and thrive without fear. We are not sorry for our identity, our heritage, or our unyielding pursuit of safety and respect.

I am not sorry, and I will never be.

About the Author
Danielle Sobkin is a student at the University of California, Berkeley pursuing a double major in Data Science and Economics. With a deep connection to the global Jewish community, she has served on the Hillel International Student Cabinet (HISC) and works as a Data Scientist with Jewish on Campus (JOC). As the daughter of Soviet refugees and a first-generation student, Danielle draws inspiration from her unique background and aims to connect with others through her writing. She is passionate about conveying the importance of Jewish Joy in everyday life and creating a more inclusive and understanding community.
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