There has been a 360% increase in antisemitic incidents of harassment and violence reported on college campuses between Oc. 7-31, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s partners at the Secure Community Network, the official safety and security organization for the Jewish community in North America. According to Hillel International, 56% of Jewish students said they were scared between Oct. 7-19.
Antisemitism on college campuses is nothing new, but its unprecedented uptick since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel is both worrisome and dangerous.
“At Temple University, on-campus student groups have held rallies, classroom walkouts and demonstrations to vilify Israel,” noted Mallory Kovit, acting executive director of Hillel at Temple. “The environment at Temple University remains highly pressurized for Jewish students. They are overwhelmed, stressed, scared, sad, and they need support.”
Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, executive director of Hillel at Drexel, shared similar sentiments.
“The climate on campus is extremely strained and Jewish students feel ill at ease, choosing to opt out of certain activities and campus engagements due to concerns of potential hostile rhetoric and the lack of a welcome environment for pro-Israel and Jewish students,” Rabbi de Koninck said.
In response to these troubling realities, the Jewish Federation has been working to offer both physical and emotional support to students since Oct. 7.
“We have various departments and staff that can be of assistance in this situation, from our security director we contract through SCN who leads safety trainings and assessments for Jewish institutions, to our fundraising professionals who bring in dollars to support safety initiatives, to our Jewish Community Relations Council that handles government relations,” explained Brian Gralnick, the Jewish Federation’s director of local grants and partnerships.
Through security grants and support services from the Jewish Federation, a number of local Hillels – including Hillel at Drexel, Hillel at Temple, Penn Hillel and the Greater Philly Hillel Network – have been able to safeguard their students through these difficult times of heightened antisemitism and vitriol.
One of the recipients of the Jewish Federation’s resources for combating antisemitism is the Greater Philly Hillel Network, which staffs the Hillels at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Villanova University and West Chester University, and offers support to Jewish students at St. Joseph’s University, Thomas Jefferson University East Falls, University of the Arts and some local community colleges.
“The Jewish Federation has been a tremendous ally in providing resources and gathering partners to address specific antisemitic instances on campus,” said Executive Director Rabbi Jeremy Winaker of the Greater Philly Hillel Network. “In particular, JCRC was instrumental in working to offer alternative speakers to contrast with some anti-Israel ‘teach-ins.’”
According to Gralnick, these supportive resources were also vital at Drexel University when an Israeli student’s Halloween decorations were lit on fire and when antisemitic language and symbolism was written in a campus bathroom.
In response, the Jewish Federation sent social workers from its partners and grantee recipients at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia to speak with students and staff at Hillel at Drexel.
“After October 7, the Jewish Federation was instrumental in connecting our students with mental health and trauma support from JFCS for which our Hillel community is enormously grateful,” Rabbi de Koninck said.
These social workers also visited students at Hillel at Temple. For long-term support, the Jewish Federation is actively working to secure a full-time counselor for Hillel at Temple to provide one-on-one counseling, general care management and financial education. A social worker is particularly vital, since the overall socioeconomic status of Temple University’s student body is lower when compared with some of Philadelphia’s other schools.
Therefore, impacted individuals may have an increased financial barrier in accessing the support that they so desperately need right now.
But the Jewish Federation’s support for students did not just start after Oct. 7. The organization has been consistently there to proactively protect as well as uplift Jewish students.
For example, the Jewish Federation’s security grants, allocated ahead of Oct. 7, allowed the Hillel at Temple to install security cameras last year and to expand and enhance its security surveillance systems this year at its building, which is located near the main campus.
When it was discovered that there would be a Palestine Writes Literature Festival at the University of Pennsylvania on Sept. 22-24, which included a roster of notorious speakers who espouse antisemitism, the Jewish Federation’s JCRC Director Jason Holtzman worked closely with Penn Hillel staff to combat the blatant anti-Jewish hatred and hold the responsible parties accountable.
“We are grateful to Jason for connecting our Penn Hillel leadership with resources to combat antisemitism at the time of the festival,” noted Rachel Saifer Goldman, Penn Hillel’s director of operations.
According to Holtzman, stopping antisemitism on campuses goes beyond being just a “Jewish issue.”
“Proactively combating antisemitism on college campuses is imperative to fostering a campus environment that champions diversity, tolerance and intellectual growth,” he said. “By confronting anti-Jewish hate or bias head-on, we not only protect the well-being of Jewish students, but we also uphold the fundamental values of education that encourage open-mindedness, critical thinking and the free exchange of ideas.”
Concurrently with Holtzman’s work, the Jewish Federation’s Security Director Scott Kerns, and other SCN leadership, conducted a threat assessment at the University of Pennsylvania and met with leaders to discuss ways to ensure the safety of all students on campus.
“On college campuses, I am there to be a voice of security for the Jewish community by conducting threat assessments, making security recommendations, providing information required to act on incidents, and coordinating with campus security and local law enforcement,” Kerns said. “Right now, we are seeing a rise in hate on our Greater Philadelphia campuses as well as across the county. And as always, we must all remain vigilant and prepared.”
If you have experienced, witnessed or know of antisemitism, report it at jewishphilly.org/report.
Help protect Jewish students on campuses by making a gift to the Jewish Federation’s LiveSecure Campaign at jewishphilly.org/livesecure. Donations will be matched 2:1 by The Jewish Federations of North America. As of Nov. 23, the Jewish Federation has raised half of its $1.5 million goal for LiveSecure.