Each year, JCRC decides on key issues of focus for the coming year’s programs. The topics generally relate to specific current events, voting rights, immigration, and access to healthcare. Whatever the winds of change bring we adjust and respond, but there are two areas of focus that are constant every year in our work, Israel education and addressing antisemitism.
During calendar year 2022 we started two key initiatives to address and seek to prevent antisemitism: the Butterfly Project, designed to teach members of the general community about bigotry and hate through lessons of the Holocaust, and Student-to-Student, a program to educate and empower Jewish high school students to learn to share their personal Jewish narrative with others who may have never met someone Jewish. We are only in year one, but the hope is that these students who have engaged in this program will be better equipped to deal with issues of antisemitism and antizionism when they reach college campuses.
As we continue the Student-to-Student program we expect the next generation of college students to be better informed and prepared for what is ahead. But students alone cannot effect true positive change on college campuses. They need the support, commitment, and assurance from campus administrators that they will work intentionally to promote the values of diversity and inclusion not only with words but with actions. And they need to be reassured that they can feel secure that campus professionals will have their backs when concerning situations arise.
Recently, a series of concerning events have transpired at Vanderbilt University. Some Jewish students are feeling targeted, and many are feeling vulnerable and unsupported by the administration.
We are in close communication with Vanderbilt Hillel to address Jewish student concerns, but the situation on campus seems to be getting worse. What began as some trouble with the Student Government and campus student groups, and never was fully addressed and handled, has moved to an extremely disturbing incident with a high profile paid assistant football coach who shared the antisemitic rants of Ye – formerly known as Kanye West.
The Chancellor and campus leaders continued to issue statements but have not taken any direct or immediate action.
And now a student who should have been protected by the administration, took it upon herself to share her ultimate feeling of betrayal publicly. On November 13, 2022, Ester Teper, a Vanderbilt Jewish student leader wrote the following in her guest editorial in the Vanderbilt student newspaper:
“For a university committed to equality, the lack of support for (Jewish students) is prominent. It sends a clear message to its Jewish students, who comprise around 15% of the student body: You are not welcome, we don’t care, figure it our yourself.”
This is a painful reflection from a Jewish student. Jewish faculty reading her letter are struggling to recognize the environment she describes. We have an obligation and responsibility to Jewish students on Vanderbilt campus, just as we have an obligation to Jewish high school students and families.
Ms. Teper continues:
“To my fellow Jewish students, I strongly encourage you not to give up fighting against this discrimination…We are here, now, proud…Jewish students need to come together as a community to create lasting change.
Ester, we hear you and we are here for you.
As we move towards the celebration of Chanukah, the festival of lights and freedom, we must all rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of a more welcoming community for Jews, including students at Vanderbilt University. May we be proud of our Judaism so we can share that pride, history, tradition and faith with our children and future generations.
Not by might, not by power, but by Spirit alone will we all live in peace.
Chag Chanukah Sameach.