“What’s a mistake you made that ended up being for the best?” my roommate read the next table topic card. I sat there thinking of my first roommate experience in college.
As many high school seniors do, I met my freshman year roommate on a Facebook page. For years, I had been warned about the antisemitism people face from their fellow students at college, so when I was looking for a roommate, I kept that in mind. When I found someone from a Jewish area, who seemed interested when I mentioned visiting Israel, I assumed I had done my due diligence.
I quickly learned that there were more ways than I knew for someone to be antisemitic.
Shortly after we moved in, the comments about "dirty Jews" and Jews having a lot of money began, and the situation deteriorated from there. After confronting my roommate led to responses such as “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “don’t take it personally,” I decided to keep my head down. Between this and my RA and Resident Director brushing it off as “let’s all try and play nice”, I let myself fall into a trap I now work so hard teaching myself and others to avoid: I let myself be gaslit into thinking it wasn’t really antisemitism.
This problem, I’ve learned, in part through my work at Jewish on Campus, is almost as rampant as antisemitism itself.
“Antisemitism isn’t real; it’s not a problem because other people have it worse; you can’t be oppressed because you’re white,” the arguments go. A lot of responses to facing antisemitism leave something to be desired, to say the least.
Leading up to college, I had been more than prepared by my parents and teachers to expect antisemitic encounters; I was told that there are still people out there who think Jews have horns.
But I never expected to experience antisemitism like this. The nature of antisemitism on college campuses is not only that it exists in many forms and permeates many areas of student life, but that often when we try to speak up about it, we are met with silence or even push-back.
Before I started college, I thought I wanted to take a break from being active in Jewish life. I had gone to Jewish school from kindergarten through twelfth grade and was in a Jewish environment, having grown up in the suburbs of New York City. Like a lot of former day-school kids, I was a little tired and thought college was a good time to take a step back.
But, at the time when I was deliberately distancing myself from Judaism, I was shocked to be in this situation. I was still acclimating to college, but my Jewish bubble was burst much more harshly than I had anticipated. In trying to handle the situation on my own and do so with grace, I realized that for better or worse, there was no such thing as taking a break or a step back from Judaism, at least not for me. I learned that to my core, I am a strong, proud Jew who cannot be intimidated into diminishing my identity and sweeping antisemitism under the rug. Some antisemites seek to destroy us. Others seek to rid us of our values and what makes us unique. But they remind me how proud I am to be Jewish.
In October 2021, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Jewish on Campus (JOC) announced a joint partnership to amplify the voices and strengthen the actions of college students who identify antisemitic occurrences at their schools. The two organizations will provide support to Jewish student communities internationally, which expands the Jewish on Campus network as well as WJC’s relationships with Jewish student communities.