(l-r): Arielle Mogolesko; Hannah Zimmerman; Shira Zimmerman

Jewish students on high alert as antisemitism festers on campus

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Jewish students on high alert as antisemitism festers on campus

(l-r): Arielle Mogolesko; Hannah Zimmerman; Shira Zimmerman

Arielle Mogolesko is home in Marblehead on winter break from the University of Maryland. It’s been a welcome respite after an unexpectedly difficult first semester.

Her campus, like many others, has been roiled by the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks on Israel and the subsequent Israeli response. On one occasion, she opted not to go to class after learning that a pro-Palestinian protest would take place nearby.

“You didn’t know if someone was going to say something to you, or look at you in a different light,” she said. “Ultimately, nothing happened to me personally. On my campus, it’s true there has not been violence. There have been demonstrations and protests, marching around campus with some antisemitic chants.”

Mogolesko is one of several North Shore Jewish students attending colleges and universities who spoke with the Journal about their experiences on campus this past semester and coming home this winter.

“I would say for the most part it’s very relaxing and recharging,” Mogolesko said of her month-plus winter break. But, she added, “I’m always going to be reading the news, following the news.”

All have been to Israel before, and some expressed concern for loved ones there. Collectively, they spoke of experiencing tense moments on campus, including during protests. Such findings echo a November survey of United States college students by the Anti-Defamation League: Antisemitic incidents on campus have risen in the wake of Oct. 7.

The survey found that since the attacks, Jewish students have felt less safe, both physically and emotionally, and less comfortable sharing their Jewish identity or positions on Israel. However, for the students interviewed for this article, the situation is more complex. Many described vocal pro-Palestinian protests with messaging they disagreed with. Yet it did not always follow that they felt personally unsafe.

Consider Jackson Selby of Marblehead, a first-year student at Harvard, where some of the highest-profile campus controversies have taken place.

“I wouldn’t say, as a Jewish student, that I feel endangered or under attack in any way,” Selby said.

Selby’s feelings are in stark contrast to other Harvard Jewish students, who have described being intimidated by pro-Palestinian protesters at Harvard.

Immediately following Oct. 7, over 30 student organizations signed a letter blaming Israel alone “for all unfolding violence.” A truck was subsequently spotted in Harvard Square bearing the names of students from these organizations, calling them antisemitic. Harvard president Claudine Gay testified before Congress about antisemitism on campus with two fellow university presidents – Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania. Asked whether students calling for the genocide of Jews would run afoul of campus policies, all three presidents indicated that sanctioning such statements would depend on their context. Magill subsequently resigned.

Selby has not read the Harvard groups’ letter, and has not seen all of Gay’s testimony. He has focused on his classes, on participating in squash and boxing, and on attending Harvard Chabad dinners. He’s also made friends with a Palestinian classmate, describing their conversations as civil.

“These students see wrong in the world,” he said of the pro-Palestinian protestors. “I think oftentimes they might take it too far. They shout and yell ‘intifada revolution,’ call for ‘no justice, no peace,’ say things like ‘globalize the intifada.’ They’re taking peaceful protesting a little bit too far.”

Hannah Zimmerman of Peabody is a graduate student in speech language pathology at Northeastern University.

“I have not experienced any type of antisemitism directed toward me, luckily,” she said.

However, she’s concerned by some of the anti-Israel messaging, including Instagram posts from a few classmates in her grad-school cohort.

“I’ve never approached them about it,” she said. “I know I’m going to be in class with them. My posts are pro-Israel. I’m nervous going to class.”

She eventually opted not to wear her Jewish star necklace after the attacks, although she has started to wear another necklace with her Hebrew name.

Her sister, Shira Zimmerman, is a junior at the University of New Hampshire who appreciates the relatively small size of her school during moments like this.

“It’s a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I haven’t really had to face any acts of antisemitism or anything negative about being Jewish there.”

Sofia Vatnik of Marblehead, a junior at Syracuse University, also described her campus as relatively quiet, despite the tone of some pro-Palestinian protests and prominently displayed chalk messages such as “Free Gaza.”

“It does feel safe,” she reflected. “I continue to wear my hamza [an ancient hand-shaped symbol popular among Jews and Muslims in the Middle East]. I’m not going to take it off.”

At Hillel events, she notices an increased security presence – but also increased attendance.

“If anything, I think more Jewish students are now coming to Jewish events and people are looking for connection, support, and [are] interested to learn about Israel,” Vatnik said.

On Jan. 4 at 7 p.m., she will speak about antisemitism on campus at the JCC of the North Shore in Marblehead as part of a panel organized by the Lappin Foundation.

“I think people coming to this event care about the impacts of antisemitism and want to learn more about what antisemitism is like on campuses,” Vatnik said. “I hope I can learn from others on how I can help bring peace and education to my college campus.”

As Mogolesko took a break from the academic year in Maryland, she offered advice to fellow Jewish college students for when they go back, including connecting with both the larger college community and the campus Jewish community.

“I would say stay involved, stay alert,” she said. “Be aware of your surroundings. You never can predict what’s going to happen and at the same time study for finals. It’s hard not to let it consume you 24-7.”

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