The ancient antidote to tech-spiked antisemitism on college campuses

by | Jun 10, 2021 | Trending News

Antisemitic slurs have no expiration date. Despite raising awareness to the painful struggle of minorities via Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate—across every social media platform, and in countless consumer ads—stereotypes against Jews persist without hesitation or apology. Mocking Jews has descended into a ‘kosher’ American past time.

‘Jews still talk too much about the Holocaust.’

‘Jews have too much power in business.’

‘The media is run by Jews.’

‘Jews are more loyal to Israel than they are to America.’

“I’m not convinced that there is anything unique about this round of antisemitism. Hatred of the Jew has been occurring for millennia,” says Rabbi Gershon Litt, director of Hillel at William & Mary. “It stems from a deep-rooted hatred of what we, as a people, stand for. It is not based on rationality or logic. The uniqueness now is that more people are aware of it due to social media and the press, but it has always been there.”

Aiming to inspire Jewish students to connect Jewishly, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater succeeds by funding Hillel centers at UVA, Virginia Tech, William & Mary, George Mason, and Old Dominion University. The purpose is to create opportunities for Jewish students to celebrate their culture and heritage. The freedom to express Jewish identity has been challenged for years, but with social media’s gateway to hate, Jewish students are hard at work figuring out the cost of being—and not being—Jewish.

“The past few weeks have been painful for Jewish Hokies and the Jewish community. As a collective, once again we had to confront and face down antisemitic statements both through individual actions and an onslaught of social media posts,” says Sue Kurtz, Virginia Tech Hillel’s executive director. “These antisemitic statements have been disturbing for both our staff and Jewish students. In large part they perpetuate misinformation and fuel fear of ‘what’s next’ in our Jewish students.

“My personal feelings take me back to my meeting with Elie Wiesel. In 2005, Hillel at Virginia Tech hosted Wiesel and asked him to speak about Indifference. This is the concept that worries me the worst. Considering all that is happening, I am feeling an abandonment of support from people and administrators I expected to visibly push back on antisemitic statements, but they are staying quiet, stating the topic is too political and heated.”

College students have long been accidental first responders to violence, racism, and terrorism, but recent events call for the contemplation of a cocktail of highly advanced and ancient solutions.

“There has been a significant rise in anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric on social media generally in the form of people posting about the recent events in Israel and Gaza,” says Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director, Brody Jewish Center Hillel at the University of Virginia. Students have experienced this even from folks who have never shown any interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before and/or who have little to no knowledge of the complexity and history that exists there. Students have felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of this rhetoric, as well as the oversimplification of a complicated issue. Some students have certainly shut down or tried to minimize the amount of time they spend on social media platforms, while others have reached out to friends to have conversations about some of their posts. Hillel is working to support students and give them a space to talk with each other as well as create venues to continue to learn so that they feel better prepared to have these conversations.”

Despite the spike in overt antisemitism, Virginia Tech remains steadfast in its commitment to celebrate Jewish life and culture, while planning to openly honor its commitment to Israel. VT Hillel creates and hosts immersive trip experiences through the Onward Israel internship, Maccabee Taskforce Perspectives trip, and Birthright Israel slated for August. An Israel Fellow has spent hours upon hours reflecting with students on their relationship with Israel and Judaism, held countless group discussions, and continues to lead trips with Onward participants in Israel.

“After Hillel of Virginia Tech’s Israel and VT flags were stolen, a feeling of unease grew within the Jewish community,” says Kurtz. “In the face of adversity, regardless of the challenges ahead with antisemitism on the rise both in the United States and around the world, Hillel at Virginia Tech will continue to work with the university administration to educate and combat bias, hate and antisemitism on campus.”

Unlike VT, University of Virginia has been spared any major events, but preparation is in place. “The university has been and continues to be incredibly responsive to and supportive of Jewish students and Hillel at UVA,” says Rabbi Rubin. “I continue to be heartened and impressed with our students’ strong sense of Jewish identity and desire to support each other and educate the larger community.”

Hate is a constant. Fear and ignorance are the drivers and social media fuels good and evil. Jews believe the secret weapon goes back in time, even before the internet, like 4,000 years.

William and Mary’s Shenkman Jewish Center takes security very seriously with state-of-the-art ID based entry systems, cameras installed throughout the building, and plans to install security shades on all windows and doors. The university has a working relationship with the Williamsburg and university police, as well as an ongoing relationship to a regional security manager who does regular security checks.
“In the fall we are planning to bring in the ADL to have a conversation with students and faculty on the current wave of antisemitism and give participants a chance to voice their concerns,” says Litt.
“Truly defeating antisemitism. Will take more than guards and alarms.

“The Jewish people is a nation whose foundation is a Torah based ethical system. Because of this I can feel confident that as long as we live proper moral and ethical lives we will be OK,” says Litt. “Haters will hate. It is our job to live as well as we can, teach others what we stand for, be a light at a time of darkness, and inspire the world around us to aspire to greatness as well. If we can do that then I believe the world will come to push away the darkness and the hatred.”

This is part of a series of articles spotlighting local and overseas partner agencies that are beneficiaries of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s annual Community Campaign.

– Lisa Richmon