2021. What a year.
While the rollercoaster metaphor is somewhat of a cliché, this year was certainly one of ups and downs for Jewish students.
2021 was the year of students exercising their power on campuses and no longer remaining silent in the face of hatred. Jewish student activists wrote, planned events, and advocated for change, however they could, on their campuses.
I’m especially proud to be a part of Jewish on Campus (JOC), which, through its hard work, took bold steps to combat antisemitism and was a light in the midst of darkness for collegiate Jews.
While much of the all-too-familiar antisemitism Jews faced on campus in the beginning of 2021 was fairly typical— professors spouting misinformation and even antisemitic rhetoric, the introduction of 33 student government resolutions in favor of BDS, and even the smearing of swastikas on the grounds of universities— Jewish students responded by making college a safer space. JOC worked tirelessly to release educational material about holidays, antisemitism, and Israel. Jewish campus organizations planned events to strengthen their communities, and many Jews in student government attempted to create systemic change. As usual, young Jews were not deterred by hardship.
But the relative calm was shattered in May when Hamas fired rockets into Israel, sparking a two-week-long war. During the height of the conflict and even after the ceasefire, there were surges of assaults on Jews worldwide and antisemitic hate speech online.
Many Jews, myself included, felt their hearts sink at this outpouring of antisemitic rhetoric. As is far too often the case, many individuals conflate Israel’s government with the Jewish people, leading to an uptick in antisemitism—especially on college campuses.
Accordingly, antisemitism ran rampant on campuses for months after the conflict; in fact, in 2021 there were over 5 times as many submissions to JOC’s incident survey after May 10 than before.
Just some lowlights were:
A University of Vermont student organization told Jewish sexual assault survivors they weren’t welcome.
Students at Michigan State and York were met with antisemitic graffiti immediately upon returning to campus.
The University of Toronto Scarborough Student’s Union proposed banning kosher food sourced from companies that supported Israel.
George Washington Tau Kappa Epsilon’s Torah was desecrated.
However, each of these dramatic dips in the rollercoaster was met by a strong climb, spearheaded by Jewish on Campus responses. For all of the aforementioned incidents, JOC came ready with a statement, comprehensive research, and a call for university action on behalf of Jewish students. By shedding light on events likely otherwise ignored by the media, Jews around the country were empowered to push for change and pressure universities to condemn these hateful acts.
But we are not defined by those who hate us.
Beyond the antisemitism, JOC provided mechanisms for students to foster positive Jewish life, proudly share their Jewish identity, and be celebrated for their activism online with the #JewishandProud and #MaccabeeMoment campaigns.
With the genesis of our Ambassador program, we were able to make large-scale changes occur on universities and maximize impact through university policy changes. Even though it has only existed for less than half a year, the Ambassador program has proposed two resolutions, with far more to come. One of these was directed at my university, Tufts, and I remember vividly the sense of true relief and support I felt when I first read the proposition.
From student op-eds in campus newspapers to our recent partnership with the World Jewish Congress, 2021 has been a year that demonstrated what young Jews are made of. As we reach the end of this wild ride, it is extremely important to reflect on the past and see just how much has been accomplished. Although there will always be hardship and suffering, the response and perseverance exhibited will always be more important.
One thing’s for sure: we’re going to ride this rollercoaster again in 2022, with more confidence than ever before.