(JTA) — Last week we did it: My wife and I dropped our eldest son off for his first year of college. As you can imagine, it is a heady, emotional moment. There is pride and joy mixed with anxiety and the bittersweet sense that this primary chapter of parenting is coming to a close. As parents, we’ve asked each other so many questions in the weeks leading up to the big day. Will he eat? Will he meet new people? Will he take advantage of all the school has to offer? What will his Jewish experience be like? What about all the reports we hear of the challenging climates on many U.S. campuses for kids who support Israel? Will he be forced to defend Israel’s right to exist in the face of those who would delegitimize Israel?
We tried to breathe and remind ourselves of two important points. First, this was our son’s challenge, not ours. Ultimately, he will need to navigate these challenges — and so many we haven’t even imagined. Had we prepared him to do that? This question led to the second point: Everything he needs to face these challenges he learned at synagogue.
Obviously, there is some hyperbole in this kind of sweeping statement. We are grateful for many valuable experiences, including a wonderful Jewish day school, excellent summer camp experiences and Israel travel. We are also in awe of the dedicated Hillel professionals on many campuses who support our students. Still, I would argue that our family’s commitment to attending synagogue regularly taught our sons a world of lessons. I don’t just say this because both of their parents are rabbis (I imagine that created a host of challenges that they will one day write about). I believe this is true of all the active “shul kids” in our community.
So, what were those lessons?
How to speak to people of all ages. Synagogues are unique places for intergenerational interactions. Our kids would seek out their friends each week, but after services, we always found them at tables interacting with adults and seniors in the community. Whether talking about their favorite sports teams or the latest headlines, we always appreciate that the children learned how to articulate their thoughts and listen to others. This kind of interaction is a real-world skill that we know will serve our students well in college. Countless faculty, advisors, staff and friendly adults are available to support our students wherever they go. Their ability to comfortably navigate and make the most of those interactions will take them a long way.
How to sit with people you disagree with. This is an essential lesson for all of us. Synagogues comprise people who share their Jewish beliefs but not necessarily their politics. Over these last few contentious years, we have seen that people have a lot of difficulty sharing space with those with whom they disagree. We are proud that our children learned that, despite our differences, people in our community shared a common faith, which was a place to start. We could wish those across the aisle (pun intended) a “Shabbat shalom,” and save the arguing for the way home. These lessons are crucial; our students won’t share the same beliefs as all their teachers or classmates, but they know that we need to find the common humanity in those we disagree with so we can encounter each other with patience, care and understanding.
The importance of standing up for Judaism and Israel. With the rise of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments, it is as important as ever for our students to know how to advocate for the Jewish community and to have a sense of pride in who they are. Our synagogue had swastikas spray painted on our doors a few years back. Our congregation’s children were encouraged to attend the solidarity service that night. Every seat was filled with our members and our caring neighbors. Our children learned a few valuable lessons that night. First, antisemitism is unacceptable and should never be tolerated or brushed off. Second, we have allies who care about us and will stand with us. Third, and perhaps most important to our students, is showing up when your community needs you. It was not lost on anyone at that service that everyone — synagogue members, Jewish community members, leaders from the greater community — was at that service. Our students must show up for each other on campus when hatred rears its ugly head. This imperative to show up is true for Israel, the Jewish community and anyone else who is targeted.
How to work a buffet. Kiddush is an amazing educator. First, the experience of eating together with so many people leads me to believe that our students will be ready for the dining halls, receptions and parties they will attend. They have learned from kiddush about manners and food safety and how to gently chide the person who puts the tuna spoon in the egg salad. They have also learned the art of small talk. The ability to chit-chat with people you don’t know opens doors to friendships, making seemingly big places a little smaller. As a parent, it doesn’t hurt to know my boys can make a plate and clean up after themselves. Most of the time.
Caring for others. Children who grow up in synagogue learn how a community cares for its people. Each week, they hear a “Mi Sheberach” list, where the names of those who are ill are shared, and remember that there are people who need visiting or friendly calls. They know from shiva that we take time and sit with those suffering from loss. Our students going off to live in a community of their peers will be ready by knowing both that we need to and how to care for others.
There are countless other lessons: “attend the guest lecture,” “welcome strangers,” “dress neatly on special occasions,” “don’t sit in so and so’s seat.” There are certainly others that we haven’t realized yet. What we recognize, though, is that despite reports to the contrary, the synagogue remains an essential building block of the Jewish community and the formation of thoughtful, caring young adults.
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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.
“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”
CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”
First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.
Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.
Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination
Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.
Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.
“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”
“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.
The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.
“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”
300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.
The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.
More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.
Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.
“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution
The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.
“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.
It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.
The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.
“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.
Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.
“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”
Other council members voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.
Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.
“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”
University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.
“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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