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Recent Antisemitism on Massachusetts College Campuses

By Combined Jewish Philanthropies

We are seeing a disturbing rise in antisemitism across our school campuses in Massachusetts. These are only a few recent examples of how these events have impacted Jewish students on campuses across the commonwealth.

Recent antisemitic incidents on Massachusetts college campuses

Boston University: Graffiti at BU Hillel Being Investigated as Possible Hate Crime by BUPD, Suffolk County DA

University of Massachusetts – Amherst: UMass Amherst student arrested for allegedly punching Jewish student and spitting on Israeli flag

Wellesley College: Wellesley College under federal investigation for alleged antisemitism

Toolkits and resources to respond to Jewish hate
  • Report Campus Hate. This organization was created by Hillel International, the Anti-Defamation League and the Secure Community Network to empower Jewish students to address growing antisemitism on college campuses. Any incident reported through the website or phone is reviewed by a trained security professional who will work with law enforcement and the campus Hillel to file a report with the university, ensuring the proper tracking of antisemitic crimes. Additionally, students can be connected to wellness services, as well as tools and resources to help improve campus climates.
  • Reach out to CALL, the Campus Antisemitism Legal Line. It is staffed by a team of volunteer lawyers and overseen by Hillel International, the Anti-Defamation League, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Students, parents, faculty members and staff can report an incident online or by texting “CALLhelp” to 51555.
  • Visit the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America. Its comprehensive database of antisemitic activity on U.S. college and university campuses is available here.
  • Use the IAC’s Israel-Hamas war activism toolkit to be informed to stand up on campus.
  • Use this Student Action Plan toolkit from AJC and share this toolkit for university administrators with your schools.
  • Keep visiting the College Students resources page on FaceJewishHate.org for new tools and action steps on how you can address this surge of harassment, vandalism and violence against Jewish students.
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College Student Aims to De-Escalate Campus Tensions

By Rich Tenorio

When Nim Ravid, a junior at Harvard University, learned about the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks on Israel, the tragedy was personal for him. A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who served as an officer in the spokesperson’s unit, Ravid lost seven friends and colleagues in the attacks, including at the Supernova Rave concert.

As Ravid was processing his grief, he learned that over 30 student organizations had signed a statement blaming Israel for the attacks.

“The environment on campus did not make it easier,” he said.

Although emotions were raw at school, Ravid decided to try to speak with classmates in some of the organizations and convey his viewpoint.

“I spoke with at least five [organizations] that decided to retract the statement,” he said, adding, “Since day one, I’ve been talking to a lot of students in smaller settings who don’t know that much about what is happening in Israel. A lot of non-Jewish peers don’t have an understanding of the conflict.” After speaking with them, he said, “they have much more understanding and empathy” in the wake of the “horrible terrorist attack.”

Ravid is part of an alliance of Jewish student leaders on campus who represent both the college and its graduate schools. Outreach to the wider student community is one of several ways he is trying to spread awareness and de-escalate tensions since the attacks. These range from helping to organize vigils; assisting with an Instagram account, “Survived to Tell,” which posts videos of individuals it identifies as hostages and survivors of the attacks; and serving as a member of a recently-formed university-wide task force on antisemitism.

An inclusive approach

In these endeavors, Ravid seeks an inclusive approach.

For example, with Survived to Tell, “some of our non-Jewish friends all around the world edit videos,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to be Jewish or Israeli to help out.”

The account received 10 million views in its first week. It has over 10,000 followers.

“So many amazing people want to help,” Ravid said. “We find ways that people can help. One thing is to support some of our initiatives,” including Survived to Tell, which gives “access to personal stories, from Israel all the way [to] here.”

Although he’s encouraged by endeavors such as the Instagram page and the vigils, he’s also concerned by what he describes as vitriol both online and in demonstrations on campus.

“Not everything is visible from above,” Ravid said. “A lot of things happen on social media, including Sidechat, where Harvard students can post in an anonymous app. There’s been some horrible, horrible antisemitism and hate speech going on in that app.”

And, he said, “certainly social media does not happen in a vacuum … It’s fairly difficult, very difficult for Jewish students, Israeli students in particular. It’s not a comfortable or safe time to be around a university campus.”

“The right thing is to de-escalate,” Ravid said. “It’s how we can live together.” He noted that “Jewish students have been impacted, and also Muslim students. I try to steadily encourage de-escalation [and] find spaces where we can hear each other.”

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org

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How to Respond to Questions About Israel

Our community has grown increasingly anxious about rising antisemitism. We are urging schools and universities to respond and enforce zero tolerance for acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia or other forms of hate, while also reminding them that they have a responsibility to create safe environments.

We have heard from our community that many of these institutions are failing us in this moment. In this JCRC Speaker Series, Dr. Rachel Fish speaks about how to respond to questions about Israel: How do we discuss the situation with others? How do we handle these conversations effectively both in person and on social media with a goal of engaging others in conversations?

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A Deep Dive Into Cyberbullying 

By Rich Tenorio 

Bullying is bad enough, but with kids on social media all the time, cyberbullying can be just as bad, if not worse. And it’s sometimes antisemitic in character, depending on the target. 

“A lot of bullying and cyberbullying go hand-in-hand,” said Jinnie Spiegler, director of curriculum and training for the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s rare when bullying in-person does not make its way to the digital world. Usually, it’s both.” However, she noted, cyberbullying “is unique from other bullying and can be particularly harmful.” 

WHAT IS CYBERBULLYING?

Occurring in digital spaces such as a computer or smartphone, cyberbullying includes hurtful comments, posting private information, posing as someone else to harm their reputation and forcible exclusion from groups online, she said. 

Cyberbullying has increased dramatically in recent years and poses added dangers for tweens and teens. Unlike traditional schoolyard bullying, in which there is some relief when the school day ends, cyberbullying can occur at all hours, limiting the ability of trusted adults, such as parents and teachers, to notice and/or help. Instead of private locations such as the back of a classroom or school bus, cyberbullying can manifest itself through public posts online, potentially harming someone’s reputation for years—including, ironically, the individual committing the bullying. It can persist on digital devices indefinitely, unless a social media platform removes it. 

The Cyberbullying Research Center tracks the phenomenon among 12- to 17-year-olds. The overall cyberbullying victimization rate among that demographic stood at 18.8% in 2007, the year Apple rolled out the iPhone. By 2019, the rate had risen to 36.5%; in 2021, it increased yet again, to 45.5%, nearly half of young people in that age bracket. 

Spiegler said the ADL’s view of bullying draws upon common characteristics—it is repeated, threatening behavior, committed by one or more individuals with a perceived power differential over their target. That power differential can include hostile stances toward marginalized groups, such as Jewish, Black or LGBTQIA+ communities. For example, read what happens when antisemitism and anti-LGBTQIA+ hate converge. It is this identity-based bullying and cyberbullying that the ADL is marshaling its resources against. 

“We tend to use examples like antisemitic cyberbullying, racist cyberbullying or bullying,” Spiegler said. “You’ll see this a lot, especially in the teenage years, bullying targeted toward a particular group or person. A lot of times, what they say is racist or antisemitic or homophobic, things like that.” 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT CYBERBULLYING 

Although cyberbullying can be dismaying, like bullying in general, its targets do have options, from managing their settings online to asking that social media platforms remove hateful content. 

Spiegler’s suggestions: 
  • Be an ally, supporting the target even if you don’t know them. 
  • Don’t participate in cyberbullying if it comes up. Other people will notice your nonparticipation, which may lead them to do the same. 
  • Tell the oppressor or oppressors to stop, either publicly or privately. 

Remember that you don’t have to confront the person doing the cyberbullying and that this is often the safest approach. When it comes to directly communicating with a cyberbully, she recalls a lesson from her anti-bias work: “If there’s antisemitic or racist remarks, why are you going to feed into that?” Instead, she counseled, “Understand where the person is as an individual [and don’t] feed into that kind of groupthink.”

In general, she said, “There are strategies for staying safe online. Don’t respond, save screenshots if you need them later, reporting them to trusted adults.” And, she said, “you can report abuse to the companies,” whether it’s Facebook, X or even a Nintendo or Sony Playstation game. (Read more about why reporting antisemitism matters.)

“As kids get older,” she said, “they’re less and less likely influenced by a parent or trusted adult. Young people have to help each other move from bystanders to allies.” 

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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Fighting Antisemitism 101

By Rich Tenorio 

At Brandeis University, the campus Hillel chapter found a way to connect leaders of student groups with Israel and the Palestinian territories—through a 10-day trip to both areas earlier this year. 

“Part of the trip was to learn about the conflict and the region,” said Brandeis Hillel executive director Seth Winberg. “It was also to create really genuine connections and friendships between students of different backgrounds.” 

Such connections may prove invaluable beyond the trip, extending into the academic year. 

“If and when an issue will happen, there are existing relationships among the student leaders,” Winberg said. “I think it’s really helpful.” 

The leaders who went on the trip included students from Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Black and Asian backgrounds. Forging strong and lasting relationships among diverse populations is one way that campus Hillels are combating antisemitism and encouraging allyship as the 2023-2024 academic year begins. 

Although campus Hillels are focused on holding events to welcome Jewish students to campus, from bagel brunches to Shabbat services to High Holiday plans, members of the international organization are aware that in some cases over recent years, campus climates have been inhospitable to Jewish students, and are preparing for such incidents on a contingency basis. 

Miriam Berkowitz Blue, executive director of the Hillel Council of New England, said that her organization is prepared to help students deal with a gamut of inhospitable experiences should they arise on campus. The Hillel Council of New England works directly with six colleges and universities in the Boston area, including four in the city itself—Boston College, Emerson College, Simmons University and Suffolk University—and two in the surrounding area—Bentley University and Curry College. The council also helps student-led Hillel chapters at three additional universities—UMass Boston, Salem State University and Lesley University. 

“A lot of individual outreach on so many positions is through individual counseling,” she said, adding that through such counseling, students “know where they can go to if, God forbid, something happens. An advisor is their first point of contact for an antisemitic incident—unfortunately, this is 2023—a billboard being vandalized, social media bullying or harassment, and also, of course, anti-Israel bullying in the classroom.” 

In October 2021, Hillel International partnered with the Anti-Defamation League on a survey of antisemitism among Jewish college students nationwide. The survey found that 32% of respondents had experienced antisemitism personally on campus. Such experiences included students facing blame for Israeli government actions on the basis of their individual Jewish identity (12%).  

The survey reported that incidents of physical threat or attack were the lowest type of antisemitism personally experienced by students (1% each). However, security issues remain a concern for local Hillels. Brandeis’ Winberg said that there are security preparations in place for High Holiday observances for the upcoming year 5784, including through greeters who are either students or Hillel staff members. 

“People who know the community, who’s supposed to be coming, are often Hillel staff and students,” he noted. “The right balance is ‘open and welcome’ with ’prudent and safe.’” 

Reflecting concerns over antisemitism on campus, three separate constituencies were called upon by percentages of Jewish students in the survey to further address the issue—student governments (32%), campus employees (27%) and faculty (25%). Berkowitz Blue wants Greater Boston Jewish students to understand the existing resource they have in Hillel. 

“The important point,” she said, is for students “to know they have a support system. We work closely with the administration. We’re a sounding board that gives [students] resources to, number one, build relationships that cultivate their own positive Jewish student experience.” 

Relationship-building can benefit constituencies other than students. For instance, Hillel professionals can reach out to colleagues of other faiths on campus. 

“It’s very important to have them as partners and colleagues, to show up for them if something happens, such as an Islamophobic event or an attack on a person of color or a multicultural space,” Berkowitz Blue said. “It’s important for us … to be seen as allies, not just because it’s the right thing to do.” As she explained, “How can we expect anyone to stand up for us if we don’t do it for them?” 

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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Communities Fight Back Against Antisemitism

By Rich Tenorio

An antisemitic letter is left in the lobby of a college Hillel. A middle school student makes a threat against Jewish classmates that raises fears of violence. Orthodox Jews are targeted for antisemitic abuse because of the way they dress. These are all incidents that have happened to Jewish communities in New England in recent years. Members of the communities affected discussed how they responded, which can go beyond only calling out antisemitism.

In 2022, the Boston neighborhood of Brighton engaged in a community-wide debate over whether to change zoning laws to allow local Orthodox Jews to create a synagogue. There was an incident in which graffiti apparently depicted a Hasidic man smoking a dollar bill, accompanied by a potentially antisemitic statement, according to Ariella Hellman, director of government affairs for the Orthodox organization Agudah Israel New England. Hellman noted that this was especially alarming to community members given the summer 2021 attack on local rabbi Shlomo Noginski, who was repeatedly stabbed outside the neighborhood synagogue Shaloh House.

In March 2023, Agudah Israel of America was represented at a Washington, D.C., conference between Jewish community members and elected officials. Hellman was pleased by the concern shown by elected officials.

She also praised the response to the Brighton graffiti from the City of Boston, which included the expedited acquisition of equipment to remove the hateful image and words.

“It meant a lot to us,” Hellman said.

During the first half of 2023, multiple municipalities in Massachusetts faced antisemitic incidents and took decisive steps to respond to them.

In April, a swastika was found in Natick, close to a local commuter rail station and a Chabad house. As The Boston Globe reported, the hateful imagery was addressed in a creative way: A non-Jewish woman from the area showed her support by using sidewalk chalk to cover the Nazi symbol with an image of a flower and an anti-hate message. Meanwhile, the local Chabad rabbi, Levi Fogelman, organized a protest march that drew Jewish and non-Jewish attendees.

In June, during Pride Month, Congregation Agudath Achim in Taunton was defaced with antisemitic, anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-Black graffiti, as the Taunton Daily Gazette reported. Because the synagogue has security camera equipment, the vandalism was captured on video, although the perpetrator remains unidentified. The synagogue took concrete steps to address the incident: Both the local police and the Anti-Defamation League were alerted, while an email about the incident was sent to the congregation. The Taunton Gazette article cited two board members stating that this was the first vandalism of Agudath Achim they could remember in their four decades of involvement with the synagogue.

In 2019, when a student in Great Barrington allegedly threatened Jewish classmates, fears were raised of violence toward the latter, according to Rabbi Neil P.G. Hirsch, spiritual leader of the Hevreh of Southern Berkshire.

“The gun violence couldn’t be actualized, but we realized it still had been traumatic to young people, Jewish kids of the school, many of whom are part of my congregation,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch and fellow rabbi Jodie Gordon held a series of conversations for students and parents about what happens when young people encounter antisemitism. Hirsch also reached out to the school district superintendent, the county district attorney’s office and community organizations, including the local Jewish federation. He found a way to help the Jewish students process their experiences. They traveled to Boston, where they participated in a healing session at Mayyim Hayyim and heard a talk on the history of antisemitism from Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. Hirsch reported no major incidents of hate in the Berkshires since then.

In the fall of 2022, an antisemitic letter was anonymously dropped off in the lobby of a Hillel in Providence, R.I., that is affiliated with both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

“In the end, it was discovered that it had not been written by a student,” said Rabbi Josh Bolton, the executive director of the Brown RISD Hillel. “The university, the university police, the Providence police, everyone worked very, very fast, with a real sense of mission…We just felt, all around, very, very supported.”

He stressed the importance of continuing to offer vibrant weekly programming that draws not only Jewish students but also non-Jews on campus.

“We really want to be a place where Jewish students feel proud and excited to bring non-Jewish roommates,” Bolton said. “We don’t want to be a parochial club, but one of the great centers of student life that reflects what is best in Brown and RISD. We want Hillel and Jewishness to be seen as one of the thick threads around the fabric of the university, a source of meaning for students who are Jews and non-Jews.”

Sources indicated that fighting antisemitism is a complex process.

On campus, Bolton said, “I don’t want Jewish leaders to feel they have to be reactive to every perspective, every incident that strikes them as somehow distasteful. I want it to be about the fact that our Jewish community, including student leadership, goes beyond the cycle of reactivity.”

He noted, “Brown and RISD are not excluded from the national trend” of antisemitism on campus. “There are incidents.” Yet, he added, “I don’t think those incidents in their own right constitute the actual narrative of the Jewish story here. I think it is one of great resilience, flourishing and vitality.”

Hellman, of Agudah, said, “You have to be very proactive about it. We meet often with Precinct 14 of the local police department. Because we’re proactive about the relationship, when these things come up, we can rely on our government partners to support us.

“Of course, calling it out is important. But the Orthodox community is a little more quiet. In calling it out, we don’t want to be even more attractive to the haters, not give them any more air. We try to keep it as quiet as possible but address the issue. The local police department has increased patrols. The mayor’s office got the graffiti cleaned up. It meant something to our community. Our government partners have our backs.”

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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Keeping Campuses Safe for Jewish Students

By Rich Tenorio​​ 

​​In 2021​, when Hillel International learned that Jewish college students were becoming concerned about publicly displaying their identity, the organization led a campaign to help them do so. #OwnYourStar encouraged participants to wear a Star of David and post their photo on social media. Over 2,000 students joined the campaign, which drew 5 million viewers. This initiative reflects Hillel’s goal of keeping campuses a safe space for Jewish students. 

“Participation in Jewish life on campus is definitely correlated to Jewish students reporting that they feel safe,” said Jennifer Zwilling, Hillel’s chief strategy and campus success officer. “It’s one big part of making sure there’s a robust Jewish life on campus.” 

In ​the 2021 ​#OwnYour Star campaign, Jewish students and allies around the world posted photos and videos of their Jewish star necklaces, family Judaica and other beloved Jewish items “to express Jewish pride in the wake of antisemitism,” Zwilling said. “They had been scared to wear Jewish T-shirts. [The campaign] made them feel confident [and] proud to be Jewish.” 

Hillel’s overall approach to countering antisemitism, she said, is “education and training for students, staff and university administrators, calling out antisemitism when it occurs and supporting Hillel’s security, a multifaceted way of being there to support students and Hillel professionals, no matter what.” 

​​In 2021​, the organization continued making outreach efforts to students on and off campus, including through trips to Israel. Hillel conducted several marketing campaigns to gauge student needs. 

“One of the things we see is more open expressions of Jewish pride and students standing up to antisemitism,” Zwilling said. “There’s power in numbers,” she explained. “Seeing an opportunity to do something, you can add your own [voice] and connect to other people expressing pride in their Jewish identity.” 

A ​relatively more recent ​trend is outreach to university presidents and administrators. ​In February 2022​, Hillel convened a two-day summit on antisemitism for 44 university presidents in New York City, including the heads of two New England institutions—Tufts University and the University of Vermont. ​In the fall of 2022​, the Campus Climate Initiative (CCI), another Hillel initiative addressing antisemitism, ​aimed to ​reach 40 campuses. 

“CCI is an intensive, cohort-based program for university administrators,” Zwilling said. “It provides an assessment of the climate for Jewish students and training for administrators, and supports for them to create an action plan to improve the climate on campus for Jewish students. Tufts was part of it this past year. They’ve taken it very seriously.” 

Asked about the increased outreach to university presidents, Zwilling said: “We want to make sure there’s engagement at the senior level. They set the tone and think about policy.” And “university presidents have been incredibly receptive,” she added. “To have 44 presidents for two days in New York City, hosted by the president of NYU, it’s a big deal.” 

​​In 2022​, the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU also hosted a security training for Hillel professionals from the tri-state area of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Jon Zeftel, manager of operations at the Bronfman Center, wrote an opinion piece for eJewish Philanthropy explaining concerns over security in the wake of violent events, such as the hostage-taking at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue in January​ of that year​ and the mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket ​that​ May. 

Zeftel wrote that Hillel professionals and other leaders in Jewish communities have a responsibility to participate in situational awareness training, but beyond that, they also have a responsibility to address the sources of the violence currently gripping the nation—in his words, “the root causes.” 

On situational awareness training, Hillel partners with the Secure Community Network (SCN). 

“Hillel has an SCN liaison deployed specifically to support the Hillel network, helping them while applying for and receiving nonprofit security grants, providing training and consultation on security issues,” Zwilling said. “A number of [colleges and universities] in the Boston area in the past year have undergone security training both by CJP and SCN.” 

​​Security-related concerns in the Boston area last year included the tearing down of a mezuzah at Northeastern University and graffiti at several campuses. ​In 2021​, Hillel partnered with six campuses in New England on security assessments, with CJP also joining this initiative.​​​ 

Another area of concern is when criticism of Israel on campus morphs into antisemitism. 

“There is valid criticism of any state or government, and their policies,” Zwilling wrote in a follow-up email. “But all too often and with increasing frequency, anti-Israel rhetoric and actions cross the line into antisemitism. That includes demonization and delegitimization of Israel, its government and its people; as well as Jewish students being singled out, held to a double-standard, ostracized or in some cases barred from participating in groups and causes on campus simply for being Jewish or identifying as Zionist.” 

​​In the​ spring​ of 2022​, an “apartheid wall” was set up in Harvard Yard, with one panel bearing the words: “Zionism is racism/settler colonialism/white supremacy/apartheid.” 

“It does not make for a comfortable environment for students on campus. The intent has a chilling effect on Jewish students,” said Zwilling, about the wall. “It does not make Jewish students feel comfortable or safe.” 

Overall, Zwilling said: “We found in a 2021 survey that more than 80% of Jewish students say they are proud to be Jewish, but only about 60% are comfortable or safe expressing that pride. We want to help close that gap. Fewer students, I think, are saying publicly, ‘I’m Jewish.’ We hear sometimes that it hurts their social standing with peers to do so. What we try to do is counter that [and] show expressions of pride in public ways. 

“Hillel’s core mission is to help Jewish students connect to Jewish life, learning [and] Israel, and be a safe home for the community where you can come to Hillel to be yourself. I think it’s also important, too, that if the larger environment is one where you don’t always feel safe, you can feel safe to be yourself at Hillel. That’s a pretty powerful thing.” 

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at rich@jewishboston.com.