Chag sameach! I hope everyone is enjoying Sukkot. As I have written each year, this is my favorite holiday. I built my sukkah and, so far, the weather has been perfect except for some rain on Wednesday during the day.
I am delighted to see that college is in full session this year. I know the Oregon state schools just started and I hope all the students have a wonderful and healthy year.
Unfortunately, a new report shows that things are not so welcoming for Jewish students on campus. The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law just released a new survey about anti-Semitism on college campuses. Over 1000 members of Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi) sorority and Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity (two predominantly Jewish Greek organizations) responded to a survey in April 2021 (during Covid). It is important to note that the survey was sent prior to the May 2021 Israel-Gaza hostilities.
The survey found that the students have strong connections with other Jews, are active in their campus Hillel, and supportive of Israel with 56% having traveled there.
Sadly, the survey found that half of AEPi respondents, and two-thirds of AEPhi respondents, had personally been targeted with an anti-Semitic comment in the 120 days before the survey was taken. Most common were offensive jokes about Jews, hurtful statements about the Holocaust, comments about Jews being “cheap” and “greedy,” or Jews collectively responsible for all actions by Israel. They also heard blanket derogatory statements about Jews and Zionism in terms of white supremacy or responsibility for the “Nazi” treatment of Palestinians in Israel.
More than 60% of students in AEPi and AEPhi said that at some point they have felt unsafe as Jews on campus or in virtual campus settings. Interestingly, students in their first year feel safer as Jews on campus and online than those who are seniors. According to the survey, most of both groups said they are worried about verbal attacks, and about a third of each group said they are worried about online harassment or being “marginalized or penalized” by a professor. About one in six respondents feared an actual physical attack.
These findings reveal that “students for whom being Jewish is a central or important aspect of their identity are feeling increasingly unsafe visibly expressing their Judaism for fear of harassment, social bullying and other anti-Semitic attacks.” As a result of their personal or shared experiences with anti-Semitism on campus or online, 50% feel the need to hide their Jewish faith and culture.
We are grateful to the Hillel, Chabad, Akiva, and other Jewish professionals on campus. They are there to fully support our students and to help the university administrations understand these challenges are real. Together with students I hope they can make the campus environment more welcoming and friendly to Jews.
Personally, with my daughter in college (and president of her Hillel), I hear about various incidents and challenges. I recognize that each campus is different, but it is very disheartening to hear how these Jewish students feel. In many ways, their college experience is being undermined by concerns about anti-Semitism and therefore the students are learning to hide their Jewish identity to ensure their safety from verbal, social, and physical acts. OY!
I meant to comment on this two weeks ago. As many of you know, this year is known as a shmita or sabbatical year. Shmita is the Torah’s commandment (Exodus 23:10-11) that every seven years humans take responsibility for the earth by letting the land lie fallow. They may not sow, harvest, or even buy and sell crops they produce from the land. They can only pick what grows on its own. Interestingly, the laws were interpreted to pertain exclusively to the Land of Israel.
Shmita is not an individual obligation. It is mandated for the entire society. Rob Eshman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Judaism, of course, knows from personal responsibility. Indeed, the prime directive of the New Year is atonement, making good with each person you have wronged so that you can make good with God. And yet the lesson of shmita makes it clear that when it comes to caring for the Earth, we must act together. Only common action can prevent a tragedy of the commons.”
One opportunity is The Shmita Project, which raises awareness and sheds light on a significant range of contemporary issues that are directly or indirectly referenced in the concept of “shmita,” including rest and work, relationship to land, relationship to community, definitions of community, and the issue of consumption itself. Explore their website to find ways to be involved.
Every year, the Jewish Federations of North America host the General Assembly (GA). Typically, the GA is an in-person gathering of Jewish communal leaders from around the world. Unfortunately, this year’s GA will once again be a virtual experience. And because of that I am inviting everyone in our community to participate.
Join me on Sunday, October 3 at 11:00 a.m. for the GA. This is an opportunity to reflect, learn, and explore several important areas of Jewish life that are on our communal agenda at this critical time. I am pleased to share that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will address the participants.
Prime Minister Bennett, who just celebrated his 100th day in office leading a broad-based coalition, will address the major challenges facing Israel, the rising tide of anti-Semitism, and the relationship between the Jewish state and North American Jewry
This is an excellent way to stay up to date on what is happening in the Jewish world. The GA is free and you can register here.
Shabbat shalom and continue to enjoy the Sukkot holiday.