It has not been an easy year for Jewish students at the University of Connecticut. There have been seven documented cases of Antisemitism in this academic year alone. As we know, there is more than one virus affecting our society. But when four such incidents occurred over Passover a couple of weeks ago, UConn Hillel students decided that they needed to take immediate and public action. Last week, UConn Hillel students, ably assisted by Hillel’s terrific professional leadership, put together a Solidarity Gathering on campus to make sure that the University as a whole understood the magnitude of the problem. UConn President Tom Katsouleas spoke at the Gathering in support of the Jewish students. In addition, many non-Jewish students, including leaders of the Undergraduate Student Government, joined the program to denounce the proliferation of hatred targeting Jews. This is as it should be.
After all, communities are not judged by whether bad actions occur, but by how the community responds to these bad actions. The Hillel students know that they have allies on campus. That’s important. Still, the majority of the speakers were Jewish students, most of whom were Hillel board members or leaders of Huskies for Israel. Some focused on the shock associated with the repeated manifestations of Antisemitism. Some noted that for the first time they were scared on campus. Some reminded the audience that Hillel and the Jewish community are always there for others who experience discrimination or are the targets of hate. Some talked about Jewish values. Some addressed the unfair treatment Israel receives. Some highlighted a set of very specific action steps that students will be recommending to the University Administration in response to Antisemitism on campus. But, whatever the specific message, all the students spoke eloquently, bravely, and with great pride in being Jewish.
I was the Interim Executive Director for UConn Hillel during the last academic year. I know these students well and think the world of them. During last year’s Hillel Board orientation, I told the student leaders that being Jewish on a college campus was more difficult for them than it was for students of my generation. I noted that, as Jewish student leaders, they would have to be brave and smart and have the confidence to stand up for themselves when necessary. Because I knew these students, I also told them that I had total confidence that they would rise to any challenge that they may face. Neither the students nor I anticipated that repeated incidents of Antisemitism would be the challenge that they would be called upon to face. However, their response in organizing the Solidarity Gathering and in articulating the concerns of Jewish students on campus showed that they are more than up to the challenge. I hope these students understand that the Jewish community across Connecticut is very proud of them and will continue to support them