I graduated from Vanderbilt Medical School in 1980. At the time, there were several other Jewish students in my class. My experience was so positive that I stayed on to complete my residency program at Vanderbilt Medical Center in 1984.
Nashville began to boom. Dingy downtown honky tonks were replaced with high rise hotels. Professional football came to town. As the city grew, so did Vanderbilt and its reputation.
In keeping with the boom, in 2002, Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee actively recruited Jewish students to Vanderbilt. His efforts were noticed by national media, highlighted by an article in the Wall Street Journal. Chancellor Gee's efforts were rewarded with an influx of students who positively contributed to Vanderbilt's diverse student body.
In 2021, Vanderbilt welcomed its ninth chancellor, Daniel Diermeir. Antisemitic acts were few and far between on campus in the preceding years. Jews felt at home at Vanderbilt.
But things began to change under Dr. Diermeier.
In November of 2022, an assistant coach praised the antisemitic rantings of singer Kanye West. Reaction from the Jewish student body and local community was swift and loud. Others who acted similarly had been fired instantly by other universities. However, Vanderbilt decided to allow the coach to keep his job pending sensitivity training. Many in the Jewish community were shocked at the double standard displayed regarding the mild response to an overtly antisemitic act.
Things began to heat up with the appearance of Nazi graffiti on the music school in April of 2023. But the real drama began on October 7, 2023.
On that infamous day, Hamas terrorists blasted into Israel murdering innocent civilians, raping women, and putting babies into ovens. The cruel and barbaric actions were quickly condemned by leading academic institutions. University of Florida President Ben Sasse stated, “I will not tiptoe around this simple fact. What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism.” President Sasse continued, "Many people in elite academia have inadvertently excused Hamas's attacks."
Sasse might very well have been referring to Vanderbilt. Diermeir issued a tepid response to the murderous rampage, straddling the fence of political correctness. This set off a storm of protest from the Jewish community and left Vanderbilt's Jewish students feeling vulnerable.
With the refusal of the pathology department at Vanderbilt Medical Center to condemn the behavior of one of their doctors regarding a series of anti-Semitic ranting on social media, other pathologists around the country began to contact the department head to express their disapproval. Outside institutions began to question the moral integrity of the Vanderbilt medical structure.
When an Emory University Medical Center physician made similar statements, she was fired.
When a University of Ottowa Medical Center physician made similar statements, he was fired.
NYU, Lennox Hill and Beaumont Hospitals all fired physicians who made similar statements.
Jewish leaders and organizations began to reach out to Vanderbilt. Non-Jewish clergy joined the call for moral clarity. Vanderbilt's response was that they were 'aware of the matter".
To bring matters a bit closer to home, what would happen if someone praised the actions of Audrey Hale, the murderer of six people in Nashville's Covenant School on March 23 of 2023? What would happen if a school board member got up and called Hale a hero? What if that school board member referred to Hale as a freedom fighter for trans rights? What would happen if that board member called for more killings in the name of the cause? That board member would be ousted within 20 seconds.
The first amendment to the Constitution allows for freedom of speech. It does not allow for freedom of hate speech, of speech that encourages people to murder other people solely based on their religion.
Freedom of speech does not allow someone to scream "fire" in a crowded theater. Such an action endangers lives and leads to death and mayhem. People are free to speak, but there are consequences for hate speech.
Some Jews are afraid to speak out against matters such as this. Some do not want to be labeled as being Islamophobic or out of step with their progressive friends.
History repeats itself. Even within the Jewish community. We all are familiar with the Holocaust. The Jewish community's closest emissary during World War II to President Franklin Roosevelt was Rabbi Steven S. Wise, the progressive and politically correct leader of the Reform movement. Rabbi Wise told Jews to be silent, to ignore their brethren being gassed in the concentration camps, to ignore the murders of 6,000,000 of their relatives. After all, Rabbi Wise didn't want to ruin his relationship with the President. Wise felt that if Jews spoke out it would lead to antisemitism in the U.S. It might make Jews look bad if they spoke up. Rabbi Wise's failures have been chronicled in books such as "The Jews Should Keep Quiet."
The murders of October 7 were the largest massacres of Jews since the Holocaust. Will we all be silent? Or will we let Vanderbilt know that we are united and will not tolerate antisemitism on any level?
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David Stoll M.D.
Vanderbilt University Medical School
Class of 1980