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Orthodox Forum Event Examines Antisemitism on Campus

The Orthodox Forum of Edison/Highland Park selected an issue that regularly attracts headlines in the state and across the region when it hosted a presentation by former Rutgers Hillel Director Andrew Getraer on “Antisemitism on Campus: An Insider’s Look” on Motzei Shabbat December 18. More than 50 people attended the event in-person at Congregation Etz Ahaim in Highland Park, and others accessed it via Zoom.

Mark Abraham, Orthodox Forum chair, welcomed the group and noted the ties that many in the audience have to Rutgers, which has the second largest Jewish student population in the country. Rutgers Hillel was founded in 1943, before there was the state of Israel, and currently serves an estimated 6,400 Jewish students. He introduced the speaker as having been the fourth executive director of Rutgers Hillel since its founding.

Getraer began his presentation saying that there were incidents and challenges of antisemitism on campus when he started at the university 20 years ago, but the issues have become more complex. Common criticism of the state of Israel has become more mainstream, and anti-Zionism has evolved to include antisemitism.

While more common than in the past, antisemitism hasn’t had much of a direct impact on most Jewish students. However, there has been an escalation of events over the years that have concerned identifiably Jewish students.

Antisemitism has changed from the white hoods on the right to the intellectual and educational elitists on the left. Getraer offered examples of incidents at Dartmouth, Dickinson College, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, University of California Santa Barbara, Syracuse and other colleges and universities.

A recent Brandeis University poll said that more than 70% of Jewish students felt some form of antisemitism and needed to hide their Jewishness on campus. The strength of the Rutgers Hillel is well known, and helps minimize antisemitic acts at Rutgers. Things do happen, and are often unreported because of the fear of repercussions. Getraer recommended that all incidents should be reported to authorities, who may be able to see a pattern in what otherwise would be considered random events.

Getraer asserted that Jewish students need to be educated on the facts and history of Israel. While the Orthodox students are more knowledgeable, the majority of Jewish students have not had that upbringing. In today’s world where any Jew is considered responsible for all that is happening in Israel, Jewish students must know and understand how to factually respond and be able to handle social media.

Teaching non-affiliated Jews about Israel is critical. Getraer shared a story of an unaffiliated Jewish student who broke down in tears on the last night of a Birthright trip. Previously he was embarrassed and ashamed, and tried to hide the fact he was Jewish. On the last night of the trip, he said: “Why didn’t anybody tell me about this incredible country [of Israel]?”

“We need to educate the unaffiliated as to what Israel is and what Judaism is about,” Getraer said.

Gilda Norin attended the event with her husband, Ed. While grateful that she has not seen antisemitism in the community, she felt it important to hear what has been happening.

Michael and Shari Gordon of Highland Park were also there. Michael found the struggles on campus enlightening but was disappointed in how community organizations let students down by not providing more help.

The Orthodox Jewish Forum of Highland Park and Edison is a community-wide educational endeavor to discuss contemporary issues and ideas in the ideology of Torah U’mada. The aim is an open discussion and dialogue on contemporary topics. Follow them at: https://orthodoxjewishforum.dreamhosters.com/hpedison/

By Deborah Melman

 

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