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At Harvard and beyond, some students blame Israel for Hamas attacks, reigniting campus Israel debates

(JTA) – Hours after news broke that Hamas had murdered hundreds of Israelis in border towns near Gaza, students at Harvard University sat down to write a letter of protest.

The letter, titled “Joint Statement by Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups on the Situation in Palestine,” does not mince words. It opens, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

Expressing no sympathy for the hundreds of Israeli victims, the dozens of student groups — including representatives of Palestinian, Arab, Black, Bengali, Pakistani, South Asian and Sikh student associations  — instead focused on Israel’s historic treatment of Palestinians and stated plans to retaliate against Hamas in Gaza.

“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame,” it reads, concluding, “The coming days will require a firm stand against colonial retaliation. We call on the Harvard community to take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians.”

The student letter was joined by at least two others, at Columbia University and New York University, that targeted Israel for condemnation. Students at other schools made pro-Palestinian social media posts and held pro-Palestinian demonstrations this week, some linking Hamas’ actions to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Taken together, the activities — and the responses they generated — are a sign that the campus wars over Israel, already a lightning rod for controversy, are reigniting in the aftermath of Hamas’ attacks.

Antisemitism watchdogs say campuses are already a hotbed of anti-Israel activity, and a Palestinian culture festival at the University of Pennsylvania induced an early-in-the-semester flareup of debate last month.

Now, Students for Justice in Palestine, a national group with chapters at major universities across the United States, has declared Hamas’ operation to be “a historic win for the Palestinian resistance” and called for a “Day of Resistance” on Thursday.

The group is encouraging local chapters to hold demonstrations to “continue to resist directly through dismantling Zionism” and distributed a list of talking points that stated, “When people are occupied, resistance is justified,” declared that “settlers are not ‘civilians’ in the sense of international law,” and framed Hamas’ actions as “Gaza broke out of prison.”

Some Jewish students have expressed concern about the group’s plans. “Although these are all non-violent tactics, they raise the real possibility of creating a hostile environment for Jewish students, and the confrontational spirit that permeates the toolkit raises the concern that these actions could lead to acts of harassment or vandalism targeting Jewish students and organizations,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement about SJP’s “Day of Resistance.”

Whatever happens on Thursday, it’s clear that the attack on Israel has given rise to a new third rail in campus discourse about Israel, around who deserves blame for Saturday’s unprecedented violence against Israelis. Here’s what has happened at three universities where the third rail has already been touched this week.

At Harvard, administrators leave 30 student groups’ letter unanswered for days

Even as Harvard and other schools have held numerous vigils and demonstrations for victims of the attacks, the letter has quickly prompted widespread condemnation from campus Jewish groups, influential Harvard alumni and beyond.

“In nearly 50 years of Harvard affiliation, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today,” Lawrence Summers, the Jewish former Harvard president and former U.S. Treasury Secretary, posted on X Monday.

One Jewish group, Harvard Jews for Liberation, also signed the letter; the group, which originated out of Harvard Divinity School, calls itself a “spiritual and political space for anti-Zionist and non-Zionist Jews at Harvard.” A Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment to a student listed as one of the group’s lead organizers was not returned.

Harvard and Columbia’s presidents did not immediately issue official statements about the attacks. Harvard President Claudine Gay and 17 other senior officials released a statement on the attack on Monday, two days after the student groups’ statement. Gay, the school’s provost and top deans did attend events marking the attack, including a “solidarity dinner” at Hillel, according to a report in the Crimson, the student newspaper.

The statement said administrators were “heartbroken by the death and destruction unleashed by the attack by Hamas that targeted citizens in Israel this weekend, and by the war in Israel and Gaza now under way.” It added that the violence “hits all too close to home for many at Harvard,” and expressed the hope that “we can all take steps that will draw on our common humanity and shared values in order to modulate rather than amplify the deep-seated divisions and animosities so distressingly evident in the wider world.”

But this statement was also criticized by alumni, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, who is Jewish, denouncing it as “word salad approved by committee.”

The issue was particularly potent at Harvard, which has recently served as a flashpoint for different facets of the Israel campus debate. Last year, a range of alumni and community members also denounced the Crimson’s endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel.

And earlier this year, the Ivy League school extended a fellowship offer to Ken Roth, a fierce Israel critic and former Human Rights Watch director, after receiving broad pushback for earlier denying his appointment, reportedly for his views on Israel. (Roth, who remains a fellow at Harvard while also accepting a visiting professorship at Princeton, has denounced the Hamas attacks on Twitter, calling them “an egregious war crime” and adding, “War crimes by one side never justify war crimes by the other. Is either side listening?”)

“I think a lot of us were disappointed that our peers at Harvard Law School would sign such a letter,” Erica Newman-Corre, co-president of the law school’s Jewish Law Student Association and a Harvard College alum, told JTA. “In law school there’s a lot of focus on nuance and conversation, and we felt that the letter wasn’t consistent with those values of law students.”

Newman-Corre does not typically use her phone on Shabbat but turned it on when she heard news of Israel because she has family currently visiting the country. Her family is now safe, but the campus climate over the issue has upset many Jewish students, she said.

“Over my years at Harvard there’s been some anti-Israel sentiment, but it’s never pervasive and it’s never felt like I can’t go about my daily life without experience or noticing it,” she said. “This is obviously a more extreme moment.”

Frustrated Jewish Harvard student groups and alumni circulated a statement of their own condemning the one by the solidarity group.

“The statement signed by the Palestine Solidarity Committee and dozens of other student groups blaming Israel for the aforementioned attacks is completely wrong and deeply offensive,” reads a “Joint Statement on War in Israel” signed by more than a dozen Jewish Harvard groups, hundreds of faculty and staff and thousands of other individuals including several alumni.

“There are no justifications for acts of terror we have seen in the past days,” the letter continues. “We call on all the student groups who co-signed the statement to retract their signatures from the offensive letter.”

Among the signatories: Harvard Hillel, Harvard Chabad, emeritus professor and prominent pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, divinity school visiting scholar Rabbi David Wolpe, novelist and alum Dara Horn, Newman-Corre, and dozens of Harvard Medical School professors. Some public figures who are not Harvard alums, including New York Democratic Rep. Richie Torres, also signed.

“It’s kind of shocking to know that we’re sitting in classes with peers who are blaming our people for our people’s own murders and rapes,” Jacob Miller, the student president of Harvard Hillel and an initial drafter of the open letter, told JTA. “And I would say that this is very antisemitic. I don’t know how Jewish students are going to handle this. I don’t know how Jewish students are expected to move forward living in this campus environment and attending classes with students who are so callous.”

Following the oppositional letter, Gay issued a second statement about Israel Tuesday, which Harvard published online but did not immediately email to students. In it, she specifically condemned Hamas.

“Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region,” Gay wrote. Then, referencing the initial letter, she added, “While our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”

By late Tuesday, several of the student groups had removed their names from the initial letter, with leaders telling the Crimson they had not been made aware their organizations had signed on, and some saying they hadn’t read the statement. Others issued statements of their own condemning Hamas. The college also said that students involved in groups that signed the letter were seeing their personal information leaked online, while Jewish hedge-fund manager and Harvard alum Bill Ackman wrote on X that other CEOs want Harvard to release names of every group participant “so as to insure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”

Student groups say Columbia’s support for Israeli students constitutes ‘discrimination against Palestinians’

Meanwhile at Columbia, a longer statement from student Palestinian solidarity groups said they would mourn “the tragic losses experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis” while also asserting, “The weight of responsibility for the war and casualties undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government and other Western governments, including the U.S. government, which fund and staunchly support Israeli aggression, apartheid and settler-colonization.”

It adds, “If every political avenue available to Palestinians is blocked, we should not be surprised when resistance and violence break out.”

The letter goes on to call on Columbia to end its connections with Israel, including its center in Tel Aviv and partnership with Tel Aviv University, and criticizes university statements to students about the attacks as “discrimination against Palestinians” for only mentioning Israeli students. (One such email was sent to the university’s School of General Studies, which is popular among Israeli military veterans.)

Two dozen student groups had signed the letter as of Wednesday morning, representing Palestinians, women of color, South Asian law students and queer and trans people of color, among others. As in the Harvard letter, an anti-Zionist Jewish group, the Columbia chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, also signed. Emails sent to the group via a listed email address bounced back.

Without referencing the letter, the president of Columbia’s law student senate issued his own statement condemning the Hamas attacks.

Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, issued her own statement on the conflict Monday. “I was devastated by the horrific attack on Israel this weekend and the ensuing violence that is affecting so many people,” wrote Shafik, an Egyptian-born legal scholar and former World Bank executive who is in her first semester heading the university. The school hosted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a webinar Tuesday to discuss the situation in Israel.

A prominent NYU student leader blames Israel — and loses a post-graduation job offer

While the Harvard and Columbia letters were made up of smaller student groups, NYU’s originated with a more prominent student leader. On the front page of the law school student bar association’s newsletter this week, their president stated, “I want to express, first and foremost, my unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance against oppression toward liberation and self-determination. Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”

New York University School of Law, Nov. 6, 2021. (ajay_suresh via Creative Commons)

Refusing to condemn “Palestinian resistance,” Ryna Workman instead provided a long list of other things they condemned, including “the violence of apartheid,” “the violence of collective punishment,” and “the violence in removing historical context.” They concluded, “Palestine will be free.”

Workman’s statement upset Jewish law students at NYU, with some exploring whether they can be removed from their presidency. “The SBA President’s statement was shocking,” current law student Nathaniel Berman told JTA. “I am hoping for a forceful response from the administration, but not holding my breath.”

David Friedman, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel under President Donald Trump and is an NYU law school alum, called on his fellow alumni to “cut them off” and not to hire “a single one of their students” over Workman’s letter. “If this is their takeaway from the Hamas massacre of 1000 Jews, let’s hope their next organization is called ‘The Idiot Unemployed Lawyers Association,” he wrote on X.

Late Tuesday, the law firm of Winston & Strawn, which had extended an offer of employment to Workman, announced in a statement that it had rescinded the offer.

“These comments are profoundly in conflict with Winstron & Strawn’s values as a firm,” the unsigned statement read. “Winston stands in solidarity with Israel’s right to exist in peace and condemns Hamas and the violence and destruction it has ignited in the strongest terms possible.”

The dean of NYU’s law school, Troy McKenzie, also condemned Workman’s letter in an email to students Tuesday afternoon. The message, McKenzie wrote, “certainly does not express my own views, because I condemn the killing of civilians and acts of terrorism as always reprehensible.”

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This Manhattan restaurant is serving a $95 latke for Hanukkah

(New York Jewish Week) — With movie tickets that cost $30 and apartments that can reach staggering, nine-digit figures, New York City is notoriously expensive. And yet, one restaurant’s new luxury latke is still pricey enough to make jaws drop.

For Hanukkah this year, Caviar Russe, an upscale seafood restaurant in Midtown, is serving an oversized latke topped with caviar, priced at a cool $95. 

The restaurant’s executive chef Edgar “Teddy” Panchernikov told the New York Jewish Week that this is the first time he has created a holiday-specific menu item, Hanukkah or otherwise, calling the pricey potato pancake a “one-off.”

The latke is an amped-up version of the mini potato pancakes the Madison Avenue restaurant serves year-round as one of the accoutrements to their caviar service, with prices that range from $65 for 25 grams of Pacific sturgeon caviar up to $10,445 for 500 grams of Almas osetra, an “exceptionally rare” caviar. 

The restaurant, which opened in 1997, is just one element of Caviar Russe, a caviar business owned by Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union that regularly appears on lists of the best places to buy the fish roe. The company consists of a wholesale and online business, a caviar boutique and two restaurants, one in New York City and the other in Miami. The New York eatery has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2014. 

The limited-time latke consists of Yukon gold potatoes mixed with salt, pepper and chives — no egg, flour or any kind of filler is used. Chef Panchernikov, the 32-year-old son of Caviar Russe’s founders, then fries it all in clarified butter (no olive oil for these babies!). The crispy plate-sized potato pancake is then topped with creme fraiche, a creamy “egg jam” made by cooking the yolks in a sous vide bath, and one ounce of osetra caviar — which typically retails for about $100 an ounce at Caviar Russe and is one of their most popular varieties, according to a publicist for the restaurant.  

In a video shared with the New York Jewish Week of Panchernikov making the latke, he slices it into quarters — so, rest assured, the treat is designed to be shared. However, the latke needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance; interested customers should email

The idea for the luxury latke came from marketing consultant Elana Levin, who was hired by the Caviar Russe team three months ago. “I thought it would be a nice way to tap into his heritage with a potato latke to celebrate Hanukkah at the restaurant,” Levin said of Panchernikov. “He was immediately open to it — he was excited to get creative in the kitchen and to do something that represents their culture and heritage and have a way to celebrate with his guests.”

“The presentation and how he built the latke was the chef’s idea,” she added.

As it happens, the luxury latke isn’t the only Jewish happening at Caviar Russe: “My Unorthodox Life” stars and internet influencers Julia Haart and her daughter, Batsheva, are holding a fundraiser, “Caviar for a Cause,” at the Manhattan restaurant’s bar and lounge. Tickets to the afternoon event on Sunday — which are nearly sold out — are $300, with all proceeds going to Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross. 

The owners of the restaurant are donating the food – passed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres – and the space. And although Panchernikov describes his family as “not very religious,” he told the New York Jewish Week that he felt compelled to show his support. “Given the recent events, we want to support other Jews and Israel,” he said.

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The most Jewish moments from Barbra Streisand’s memoir

(JTA) — Throughout Hollywood history, many stars of Jewish ancestry have soft-pedaled that heritage, changing their names or speaking rarely, if at all, about their Jewishness.

No one can accuse Barbra Streisand of either.

The singer and actress of the stage and screen — one of the most beloved Jewish American icons of the past half-century — published her long-awaited memoir, “My Name is Barbra,” earlier this month. Throughout, Streisand references her Jewish background constantly, often peppering in Yiddish words and callbacks to her Brooklyn Jewish upbringing.

Here are the Jewish highlights from “My Name is Barbra.”

Brooklyn days 

Streisand was born in Brooklyn, in April 1942. In the book, she writes of her grandfather taking her to an Orthodox synagogue and of attending a yeshiva when she was young — an experience that later prepared her for her movie “Yentl.”

Streisand’s father died when she was 15 months old. She first lived with her grandparents, on Pulaski Street in Williamsburg. When she was eight, her mother remarried and they moved to a different part of Brooklyn.

“We pulled up to a tall brick building (one of many that all looked alike) on Newkirk Avenue in Flatbush, part of a big public housing project called the Vanderveer Estates (a very fancy name for a not-so-fancy place),” she writes in the book. “I remember being very impressed that there was an elevator. I thought we were rich now.”

Broadway bound 

The very first Broadway show Streisand ever attended, at age 14, was a 1950s staging of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and it activated ambitions to one day star on Broadway herself.

“I was mesmerized by the play,” she writes. “Anne is fourteen, I’m fourteen. She’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. Why couldn’t I play the part?” In an early theater role, she appeared in the same cast as legendary Jewish comedian Joan Rivers, then still going by her given name Joan Molinsky.

Later, Streisand’s first big Broadway part was in the musical “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” in which she played a Jewish secretary named Yetta Tessie Marmelstein. While working on that show, she met Elliott Gould, the Jewish actor who would become her first husband and the father of her son Jason.

Streisand shown with her then-husband Elliott Gould, March 17, 1966. (Harry Dempster/Express/Getty Images)

Described by the author as “two Jewish oddballs who found each other,” Gould and Streisand married and divorced entirely prior to their respective movie star heydays in the 1970s.

Jewish food 

Streisand writes repeatedly about her love of food — from complaining about the subpar offerings at a Jewish camp she attended in the Catskills at age 8 to her inability to find New York-quality food while traveling overseas. She also discusses her habit of bringing food with her everywhere.

“Maybe it’s part a collective unconscious of European Jews, because what if a pogrom came and you had to get across the border fast?” she writes. “You have to have a little something to eat until you get to the next country.”

Later, she gushes about knishes from Yonah Schimmel’s on Houston Street in New York.

Jewish collaborators 

Streisand worked with many Jewish songwriters, directors, and arrangers during her Broadway days, including Jerome Robbins, Marvin Hamlisch and Jule Styne. “My Name is Barbara,” the song that provides the book its title (albeit with a slightly different spelling), was written by Leonard Bernstein, and she took it up after discovering a book of sheet music of Bernstein’s compositions.

“Can you believe it? I was amazed that such a thing existed,” Streisand writes of finding the song. “Now that’s bashert,” she added, using the Yiddish word for “meant to be.”

“Funny Girl,” on stage and screen 

“Funny Girl,” the 1964 Broadway musical in which Streisand played the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice, made her a household name.

“Obviously, we were both Jewish, born in New York City… she was raised on the Lower East Side… so there would be a similar cadence in our speech,” Streisand writes of playing Brice. “I’d already noticed that if I spoke in the Brooklyn accent I had heard growing up, with that distinctive Jewish delivery, people would often laugh… we both had Jewish mothers who were concerned about food and marrying us off.. not necessarily in that order.”

The Jewish Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, who had been considered to write “Funny Girl” but ultimately didn’t, had insisted that a Jewish performer play Brice. “And if she’s not Jewish — she at least has to have the nose!” Sondheim said at the time, according to Streisand. In 1985, Streisand would lead off her “Broadway Album” with Sondheim’s “Putting It Together” and include several other of his songs.

A troubled production that became a huge hit, the success of “Funny Girl” on Broadway led to a 1968 film adaptation, directed by Jewish filmmaker William Wyler, that won Streisand the Best Actress Oscar. In the film, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif was cast in the male lead opposite Streisand. In a movie shot not long after the Six-Day War, Streisand writes, “Some people didn’t like the idea of an Arab man romancing a Jewish woman.”

When headlines stated that the reaction to the casting in Sharif’s homeland had been negative, Streisand joked, “‘Egypt angry?’ You should hear what my aunt Anna said.”

In 1973, another hit movie starring the actress, “The Way We Were,” involved a love story set against the backdrop of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, between a “Jewish girl” (Streisand)  and “gentile boy” played by Robert Redford.

A “nice Jewish girl” on the cover of Playboy 

A notable sex symbol throughout the 1970s, Streisand famously appeared on the cover of Playboy in 1977 with the headline “What’s a nice Jewish girl like me doing on the cover of Playboy?” She did not pose nude but did participate in a lengthy interview. The book, for the first time, includes a photograph, from that same shoot but unused, of Barbra in a Playboy bunny costume.

Barbra and Bella 

Streisand has been a supporter and friend of numerous Democratic presidents and other political figures. When she started to get politically active, around 1970, she became a close friend and supporter of Jewish politician Bella Abzug, when she ran for Congress.

“Here we were, two Jewish girls… Bella from the Bronx and Barbra from Brooklyn… who made good!” Streisand writes.

Streisand later discovered that both she and Abzug were included on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list.

“Yentl” stories 

In 1983, Streisand made her directorial debut with “Yentl,” an adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy,” about a girl in 19th-century Poland who disguises herself as a boy to attend a yeshiva.

“I’ve always been proud of my Jewish heritage,” Streisand writes, about her desire to make “Yentl.” “I never attempted to hide it when iI became an actress. It’s essential to who I am… And I wanted to make this movie about a smart Jewish woman who represented so many qualities I admire.”

Her son, Jason, studied for his bar mitzvah around the same time that his mother was preparing to make “Yentl.”

The movie was filmed in what was then Czechoslovakia, beyond the Iron Curtain, at a time when the communist government was cracking down on Jewish worship. But Streisand wore a Jewish star on her cap while in that country — and “wore it defiantly,” she writes.

Streisand also clashed with her co-star, the famed Jewish actor Mandy Patinkin, on the set of “Yentl.” She hadn’t wanted to cast Patinkin, who at that point was much better known as a Broadway actor, and she considered Richard Gere for the role. According to the book, once filming started, Patinkin behaved in a hostile way on the set. When Streisand asked why, he answered: “I thought we were going to have an affair.”

Amy Irving, Streisand and Mandy Patinkin on the set of “Yentl.” (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

When Streisand replied “I don’t operate that way,” she writes, the actor, then in his late 20s, cried. She threatened to replace him, and they continued to clash after that, but Streisand ultimately praises Patinkin’s work in the film.

Many years later, Streisand writes, Patinkin asked Streisand to write a blurb on one of his albums, and she brought up what had happened on the set. As an explanation for his behavior, Patinkin told her that he was “scared.”

Barbra and Israel 

A premiere was held for “Yentl” in Israel in April of 1984, and on the same visit, Streisand dedicated the Emanuel Streisand School of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, named for her father. On the trip, she met with both the then-current prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, and a future prime minister and president, Shimon Peres. Streisand was not daunted by a terrorist shooting that took place in Jerusalem while she was in the country and continued her trip as scheduled.

In 1993, during the negotiations that would lead to the Oslo Accords, Streisand was invited to a luncheon with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, through her close friendship with President Bill Clinton. Streisand was later involved with an effort to make a film about the lives of Rabin and Yassir Arafat, leading up to their handshake at the White House. The project remained alive even after Rabin’s assassination in 1995 but later fell apart due to a financial dispute between the Showtime network and the director.

Streisand returned to Israel in 2013, for her first-ever concert in the country, and also to sing at a 90th birthday celebration for Shimon Peres. On that trip, she drew controversy when she gave a speech about the treatment of women in Israel.

“It’s distressing… to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus… or when we hear about the Women of the Wall having metal chairs hurled at them while they attempt to peacefully and legally pray,” she said in a speech while receiving an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University.

Obama’s Jewish joke

In 2015, Streisand received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with fellow honorees Sondheim and Steven Spielberg. “Born in Brooklyn to a middle-class Jewish family,” President Barack Obama joked in his introduction speech. “I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra.”

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There’s a new Jewish Caucus in Congress. Its mission is still unclear.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — More than a dozen Jewish members of Congress gathered on Friday for the first meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Jewish Caucus.

But following the meeting, held in the offices of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an influential Jewish Democrat from Florida, it remains unclear what the caucus will stand for as the chamber’s Jews are deeply divided over the Israel-Hamas war and other issues. A statement from Wasserman Schultz’s office suggested the caucus was still finding its feet.

“We had a very-well attended, constructive meeting focused on how we can work together and develop our broader mission,” the statement said. “We did a lot of listening and considering one another’s opinions and thoughts. We left looking forward to continuing to engage in these discussions with our colleagues so that we can come together in consensus on how a secular Jewish Caucus can be most effective.”

The House has 26 Jewish lawmakers, all but two of them Democrats, and it is unclear which attended the meeting and whether either of the Republicans made it — especially because six congresspeople who RSVPed canceled at the last minute due to illness or sudden conflicts. Ohio Republican Max Miller had said he would attend, but he did not confirm whether he was there. Nor did Tennessee Republican David Kustoff.

Wasserman Schultz is alarmed at the spike in antisemitic attacks and rhetoric in the United States since Hamas terrorists massacred 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7, launching the current war in Israel and Gaza. She wants to formalize a united front among Jews in Congress to confront the hatred.

For decades, Jewish members of Congress had been gathering unofficially. Earlier this month, Axios reported that Wasserman Schultz got the go-ahead from House administrators to make the Jewish Caucus official — though it appears that not all Jews in the House believe the caucus should exist.

For the last decade, the unofficial gatherings were helmed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is the longest-serving Jew in Congress. He told Axios that he would attend Friday’s meeting, but was concerned that the organizers — i.e., Wasserman Schultz — did not consult with all the Jews in the chamber before creating the caucus.

“In the rush to form this new group, by contrast, most Jewish members were left out of the discussion altogether,” he said. He also said the hurt feelings would be a distraction as the caucus seeks unanimity on the Israel-Hamas war.

There are currently official Black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific caucuses in the House, and there are formal Jewish caucuses in state governments; one of the most active is in California. But one issue that may have prevented the formation of a House Jewish Caucus until now is the age-old question of what “Jewish” means.

A concern reported by Axios — which has long been discussed among Jews in the U.S. Capitol — is that some Jewish lawmakers fear setting the precedent of establishing an explicitly religious caucus — especially because Jews tend to cherish the separation of church and state. That may be why Wasserman Schultz’s statement included the word “secular” right before “Jewish Caucus.”

Another fear is that the wide differences among members of a Jewish Caucus would undermine its purported purpose: Jewish unity.

In late October, Nadler wrangled all 24 Jewish Democrats into signing a statement backing the Biden administration’s robust support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Within weeks, that united front was crumbling, as a number of Jewish Democrats joined calls for a ceasefire.

Beyond differences about the war, there are vast differences among Jews in Congress over, well, everything. Wasserman Schultz sought, and got, Miller’s membership in the caucus, making it the only one of the ethnic caucuses to have bipartisan membership. But Miller is among the most enthusiastic endorsers of former President Donald Trump, while the caucus also includes Nadler and Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Dan Goldman of New York and Adam Schiff of California — all of whom played leading roles in one or both impeachments of Trump. Schiff and Trump routinely express the hope that the other is jailed.

Some members, such as Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz (who hoped to attend but was unable to), see Jews as an ethnic minority subject to persecution.

“At a time when there’s people marching through the streets with signs calling to ‘Gas the Jews,’ it is absolutely critical that Jewish members form a united front against antisemitism and for the safety and security of the Jewish people,” Moskowitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The sensitivity of the get-together made even the most voluble of lawmakers clam up about it. A number of spokesmen promised to get back to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about whether their bosses were in attendance but never did. A spokeswoman for Vermont’s Becca Balint, a Democrat who joined Congress earlier this year, simply said that she was not in attendance.

Kathy Manning, a North Carolina Democrat, attended the meeting and said it centered on the need to confront antisemitism.

“I’m pleased to join in the founding of the Congressional Jewish Caucus,” she said. “During this time of rising antisemitism, it’s imperative that the Jewish community have its unique experience and perspective represented at the leadership table in Congress.”

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