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Reflections on antisemitism as a college student  | The Triangle
Opinion

Reflections on antisemitism as a college student 

Photo by Ava Cona | The Triangle

It was not until the still recent Israel-Hamas conflicts started that I noticed how present Jewish hate still is. Recent protests were simultaneously taken as opportunities to harass and belittle an Israeli restaurant owner, and some students are saying the fire set to a student’s door in Race Hall was because of the student’s Jewish descent. It seems like — despite having no role in the conflicts going on overseas — Jewish-American young adults are being held responsible, and in some cases even intimidated. I know the conflict and tension permeated through the city as a whole, but I was curious as to how big a problem it was on Drexel campus. It was disheartening to hear about some of the interactions that still take place. I had a conversation with a Drexel student that — although not extremely lengthy — was quite eye-opening, and something I think every student should take into consideration.

We started the conversation generally — I did not have a rigid question set prepared — and I asked if there were any experiences she had with antisemitism that jumped to mind:

“Yeah, actually freshman year, during like one of my first weeks here. I was outside and I was wearing a tank top and I had my Jewish star necklace on, which I thought wasn’t going to be an issue, but I was right near the halal carts, near the gym, and someone actually spit on me.”

“Seriously?”

“And called me a dirty Jew, yeah, and that was like one of my first weeks here.”

The student, drawing from that experience, said:

“This was obviously before a lot of the tensions in the Middle East were becoming prevalent, but I think something that’s really important to understand, which I think is probably not very obvious for people who aren’t Jewish, is that a lot of people who are here that are Jewish are the descendants of Holocaust survivors. And intergenerational trauma is something that’s really real and, like, very prevalent in our community. I think sometimes when people you know see something like a anti-semitic slur, or someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, it can kind of be an instance of “okay,” like you can brush past that, but when you have that intergenerational trauma mindset, it’s not that simple. It’s also important to realize that until a few years before the Holocaust things were very normal for Jews in Europe, and then all of a sudden, very much not. That’s when you kind of have to realize, and fear, that this could be something like that again.”

“Similar to the Holocaust?,” I said.

“Yeah, and hopefully I mean… it doesn’t seem like that’s gonna happen again here, but as a Jewish person you can never be, like, not prepared.”

I said, “Before we go on, I want to touch back on the thing you said to me when we last talked, because it really stuck with me. About how people would approach you. Like people you didn’t know, about the Gaza conflict. And you said something to me, it was like I’m like a 20-something-year-old woman who was raised in the states, like what do I have to do with this?”

“I think really when things started like on October 7th when things started to happen… I realized a lot of my friends who were not Jewish kind of started to look at me differently, and look at, like, my religion in a different light.”

“How did that sort of take shape?”

“I had friends who come up to me and say, you know, ‘what do you think about this?’ I say obviously it’s horrible, like we don’t accept any violence towards anyone, we don’t accept killing of anyone, no matter what their religion is or where they’re from.”

“So they thought it was appropriate to make you explain it.”

“I’ve even had people say to me like ‘oh, but it’s written in your Bible,’  and to that it’s just… obviously there’s a lot of issues, but I think one of the issues is the misinformation that spreads online and kind of the prejudices people have. That’s been a big issue for me.”

On top of this pattern of uncomfortable in person confrontation, the student revealed how social media has not been helping the issue:

“I would see people posting things on their Instagram stories and on Twitter saying like ‘oh, and you know the Torah, which is like the Old Testament, it says that you know, X Y and Z, and Jews take that seriously, and that’s why they’re okay killing all these innocent people. And it’s like no, it’s not true.  I think it should be said that obviously there’s a lot of people on both extremes, but I think 99% of Jews want this whole thing to end. They just want peace. They want a two-state solution and no more fighting.”

We were both at a loss for possible ways to turn things around, to combat this discord that has become so unfocused and out of control.

As we wrapped up, she added, “I think the Jewish community at Drexel could maybe, and seriously I don’t mean to critique them, maybe do a better job of being more open to the community. Because I think a lot of people see them as very closed off. I think that maybe if they were more open to visitors or outsiders, maybe people would learn more about what the religion is all about.”

That is an idea that would not hurt and may very well open people’s minds, but at the end of the day, the responsibility should not fall on the Jewish community. It should fall on the students who — in person or online — are fostering this already depressing sense of fear and discomfort that affects their fellow student’s daily lives. It is sickening that any of our fellow students should be held responsible for a conflict that, at the end of the day, has nothing to do with them, and yet they’re put in the hot seat and made to feel like it does. We should be better than this. This conversation, to me, demonstrated that we still have a long way to go.