A college fraternity at Stanford University was vandalized with swastikas and other written epithets in late April.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., also suffered recent attacks, with swastikas found in a campus library in April and one scratched into a student’s car in January 2014.
Reading of this vandalism, I was reminded of an incident I experienced in the fifth grade, some 55 years ago. Our teacher, Mrs. Kellom, called me over to the classroom doorway, and told me, in hushed tones, that a swastika was found on the wall in the boys’ bathroom. She assured me that the custodian had washed it off, and wanted me to know. I was the only Jewish student in that school, and even then I was astounded that Mrs. Kellom, in her own way, did not want me to think she took such things lightly. That was only 15 years after the Holocaust.
More than five decades later, anti-Semitic attacks are more prevalent worldwide than ever. And these odious incidents are manifesting in a variety of new and exceedingly disturbing ways.
This wrenching reality is in our backyard. And here we must be citizen advocates to fight for justice.
In the United States, college campuses are at the forefront of a growing hatred of Jews and Israel. Make no mistake—these are not separate things.
Too often, the haters claim they are against Israel’s policies, not against Jews. Any suggestion that the anti-Semitism we are seeing is legitimate criticism of Israel is a false justification—it’s anti-Semitism masquerading as something else. But we are not fooled.
In Nashville, Tenn., in March, Vanderbilt University’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter was vandalized; swastikas spray-painted in the basement and elevator of the fraternity house. B’nai B’rith has partnered with AEPi on a number of programs for the betterment of the communities in which we live. The maturity and fortitude of these young men is heartening, facing this hatred head on. It is shameful that college students have to face such indignity. But at the same time, we have an opportunity to recognize and commend our allies in fighting such hatred.
It is a testament to the school that hundreds of students came out to publicly support AEPi, and many fraternities and sororities publicly and loudly stood with AEPi against hatred.
Unfortunately, the vocal minority is loud and ominous in its efforts.
To be sure, swastikas are a sinister and potent, threatening symbol, telling Jews they don’t belong.
But there have been incidents that go beyond symbolism, and question the very foundation of what it means to be a Jew in America.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, in March, when a Jewish student applied to be on the university’s judicial board, she was grilled about her assumed lack of objectivity due to her religion. Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, asked Rachel Beyda during Beyda’s confirmation proceedings, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
This line of thought is chilling and unacceptable. It is menacing to say to someone they can’t serve on a board because they are Jewish. This is eerily reminiscent of discriminatory systems in place in the middle of the last century, when the number of Jews in certain professions was limited or when Jews were not admitted to certain clubs or hotels.
At first, Beyda was rejected from the committee. A faculty adviser later helped lead the students to another conclusion and she was eventually accepted. But at what cost?
College is a place to develop critical thinking skills. And in an educational setting, it is expected, and in many ways, a cherished tradition, that students will disagree. But “conversations” about Judaism and Israel are no longer dialogues in far too many places.
To fight anti-Semitism, we need allies; people of goodwill, like Mrs. Kellom, to be engaged. In the Jewish community, we have tolerance programs, such as our own Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge. In this education and awareness program, high school students write original books promoting tolerance, diversity and equality. Winning entrants earn college scholarships and have their books published and distributed to local school libraries, so tolerance and respect for others can be taught at an early age.
The virus of anti-Semitism is spreading. Partnerships are required to excise it. Mrs. Kellom clearly understood that people of goodwill need to act when confronted by these symbols or expressions of hatred. Now, 70 years after the Holocaust, together with friends and allies, we need to ensure that the passage of time doesn’t dull the collective consciousness to this scourge.