The Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International released a report on Oct. 26 that said one in three Jewish college students experienced antisemitism in the past year.
According to those organizations, most students who experienced antisemitism didn’t report it. Significant percentages (38 and 15) also mentioned feeling uncomfortable stating their Jewish pride and revealing their Jewish background.
While the findings were eye-opening, they only came from 756 “self-identified Jewish undergraduate students” across the United States. Local Hillel leaders say the survey is not representative of their own campuses.
“I’d be shocked if you found one in three Temple students who have experienced antisemitism in-person on campus,” said Daniel Levitt, the executive director of Hillel at Temple University.
Jeremy Winaker is the executive director of the Greater Philly Hillel Network, which welcomes students from West Chester University, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College, as well as area graduate students.
And he backed up Levitt’s claim.
“Things are quiet on campus,” Winaker said. “My impression is that even the flare-up with Gaza this past May was not a factor.”
Winaker was referring to the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict over contested territory. And while that dispute may not have led to campus incidents, it did lead to social media posting from young people.
That, according to Winaker, was how a lot of the students in his network experienced antisemitism this year. Jewish students would see antisemitic posts and comments and the support that they often received.
Levitt said it would frequently take the form of peers of Jewish students reposting antisemitic statements.
“It’s a social media phenomenon more than anything else,” he said. “It gives them anxiety about people they see on campus.”
One local student, Abby Sullivan, a Temple senior and the former president of the school’s Hillel chapter, sees these posts regularly. After the May Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she opened the Instagram story of a college acquaintance.
Sullivan saw what she described as “incredibly offensive” to the Jewish community. So, she reached out to the girl and told her she wanted to have a conversation.
“‘There’s a way to discuss this without being offensive,’” Sullivan recalled of her message.
The girl blocked Sullivan on Instagram.
Later, people sent Sullivan another story that the girl posted that was anti-Jewish in nature. The senior again reached out to her acquaintance.
“I said, ‘This is not the way,’” Sullivan remembered. “‘Just because people can’t see it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something wrong.’”
She said the passive-aggressive social media culture is present on campus, too.
Temple is the largest university in one of the world’s biggest Jewish regions — the Greater Philadelphia area. Despite that, in her almost four years at Temple, Sullivan has heard antisemitic comments worthy of some town in which residents have never met a Jew.
“‘I’ve never met a Jew before, this is crazy, you’re so rare,’” Sullivan said of one remark she’s heard.
Other Temple students have expressed surprise after learning that her family doesn’t own a bank. They assumed that she supported former President Donald Trump due to his pro-Israel stance, that she hated all Palestinians and that she wanted to control the Middle East.
Earlier this school year, Sullivan’s roommate told a classmate that she was Jewish. The person responded by saying, “OK, I got to go call Hitler and the Nazis.”
“I know when I feel uncomfortable and when it feels like antisemitism,” Sullivan said.
At the same time, she agreed with Levitt and Winaker. Very rarely, if ever, does this antisemitism rise to the level of a reportable incident.
The senior also defended her fellow students. Most just haven’t met or spoken to enough Jews, Sullivan said. And despite seeing Jews as caricatures, they aren’t white supremacists; they don’t possess some doctrinal belief in antisemitism.
Therefore, Sullivan said, they are reachable. And so, she tries to reach them by explaining things like Jewish holidays or that not all Jews are rich.
“Nine times out of 10 I’ll get, ‘I’m so sorry,’” she said. “‘Please teach me more.’”
Winaker believes that Jews and Jewish organizations need to follow Sullivan’s lead, but on social media. The Jewish community has to counter antisemitic grandstanders with positive, pro-Jewish, pro-Zionist messages.
On Oct. 27, the three-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue complex shooting in Pittsburgh, there was a steady flow of tweets remembering the victims. One even came from President Joe Biden, who is not Jewish.
Winaker saw this as an example of what Jews need to start doing.
“We can best serve students by having deep conversations in person and offering positive images of Judaism and Israel in social media,” he said.
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