April 26, 2024

Where We Stand in Times of Challenge

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Our GMW campuses are quiet today. There are no Jew-hating encampments or demonstrations, as of this morning. But we remain vigilant, and we are watching developments in real-time. There was a vile BDS resolution sneaked through the Montclair State University Student Government Assembly on Wednesday, with no advance notice and no pre-listing, presumably timed to go through when most Jewish students would be absent. We have complained, and I will be meeting with President Koppell shortly to discuss this, and other issues of deep concern.

We’re appalled by the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel rioting at Columbia, NYU, and dozens of other campuses across the country. Harassment and intimidation of Jewish students and calls for genocide  (“From the River to the Sea,” “Intifada Revolution” and worse)  are nothing short of incitement to violence. Our Jewish Federation condemns these acts of Jew-hate. We call on university administrators to enforce their codes of behavior, end the disgraceful bullying and abuse of Jewish students, and restore decency, critical thinking, respectful discourse and safe learning environments to their campuses.

These are messages we have communicated to the presidents of the universities in our Greater MetroWest catchment area, including Montclair State, Rutgers-Newark, NJIT, Seton Hall, Kean, and our state university Rutgers, where Jewish students have faced threats, harassment, and abuse. To be clear: most of Greater MetroWest’s college student population attend universities out of state, where campus Hillels and Jewish Federations in those areas provide advocacy and support systems. Our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest is directly responsible for those who attend college here. Towards that end, our GMW Hillel team, with Rebekah Adelson and Phoebe Ellman, has worked tirelessly to keep direct lines of communication with campus administrations when incidents occur, to hold workshops on combating antisemitism for administrators and faculty, and to provide support groups for students.

Our JCRC Director Linda Scherzer is working with investigators from the House Education and Workforce Committee surrounding incidents at Rutgers, helping to fast track a formal investigation into antisemitism at our state university. Linda has brought countless incidents to the attention of state legislators, who will soon be considering legislation to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and to provide accountability and financial consequences to state institutions receiving state funding for not enforcing the definition. Linda also provides guidance and support for graduates of the Write On For Israel and Teen Israel Leadership Council (TILC) programs, some of whom are leading the pro-Israel charge at their respective universities.  See Write On graduate Jonathan Lederer’s piece in The Free Press.

Our Security team maintains constant vigilance and oversight over the safety and security of Jewish life in GMW.

We will continue to help students and their families deal with the ongoing challenges in college, advocate for their safety and work with state legislators to pass resolutions to combat Jew-hate and enforce accountability at our state institutions and universities.

Remember this: the protestors are on the wrong side of history. These Jew-hating demonstrations in our campuses have now been endorsed by Hamas, Iran, Ilhan Omer, and other luminaries. That should tell you who they stand with. More than that, remember that no university was “camped” to defend Roe v Wade, or to increase the minimum wage, or for universal health care, nor for the millions of murdered Syrians, Uyghurs, Iranian women or Sudanese. Why not? You know why.

I was asked a number of times this week what can we do? I’m going to write more about this in the coming days and weeks, but here are the basics.

First, don’t give to campuses and universities that won’t protect Jewish students. Stop encouraging them, don’t let them get away with it. Give to Federation, give to security, Israel, community, and Jewish student life. Give to the causes that make you proud, that stand up for your values (and your kids), and that inspire you.

Second, advocate, lobby, march, speak up and speak out. We’re constantly posting action alerts through federation, and there are more to come. Don’t let anyone get away with hate speech, and don’t let elected officials or communal leaders get away with both-sideisms or wishy-washy cowardice in the face of hate.

Third, fight on social media. Retweet, repost, engage (carefully, appropriately). We’re going to post more guidelines for social media work shortly, and we’ll share with you. Don’t engage the haters – report them. But don’t stop talking about who we are, what we stand for, and why we stand together.

Finally, stand proud. Wear your yellow pin, your hostage metal ID; place your lawn sign, affix your bumper sticker. Stand in the rallies and the demonstrations and the vigils and the marches. These things matter. They not only signal your values, they also encourage others and tell them that they’re not alone.

Remember this. To paraphrase MLK, our ultimate measure is not where we stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where we stand in times of challenge.

This is that time.

Shabbat Shalom. May it be a peaceful Shabbat, and a good and meaningful end to Pesach (Passover). May the hostages be returned soon, and may we find comfort in community,