MARBLEHEAD – “If the world is divided into the oppressed and the oppressors, where do the Jews fit in?” asked Jillian Lederman.
Lederman was speaking at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore (JCCNS) on Jan. 4 as part of an event titled “College Students Speak Out About College Campus Antisemitism.” She is originally from Marblehead and is currently a senior at Brown University, as well as chair of Hillel International’s Israel Leadership Network and president of Brown Students for Israel.
With the JCCNS, the event was cosponsored by the Lappin Foundation, Israeli American Council Boston, Epstein Hillel School, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Sinai, Congregation Shirat Hayam, and StandWithUs, which fights antisemitism worldwide through education.
The room was full – around 125 were in attendance, with nearly every chair occupied. Following opening remarks from Marty Schneer, executive director of the JCCNS, Lederman spoke, detailing her and her peers’ experiences at Brown, explaining the root of the issues behind campus antisemitism, and suggesting ways to move forward in the future.
“The oppressor-oppressed dichotomy is not compatible with justice,” she said. “As Jews, we should not be asking to be treated as a marginalized minority group worthy of protection by the DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] bureaucracy. We must not disavow our home or downplay our accomplishments in order to appease those who have used success as a source of suspicion rather than celebration. We must not be masquerading as victims, or wrapping ourselves with a blanket of disadvantage or screaming to the wind, ‘Please don’t hurt me.’ We are individuals. And it is our individual identities, not our group identity, that should merit us equal and fair treatment by our peers and under the law.”
She presented a few paths forward for institutions, like encouraging diverse opinions, discussions, and education. “While criticism of Israel should be taught in class, to only teach one side of one of the most fiercely debated topics in the world is not education. It’s propaganda,” she said.
She also called on the North Shore Jewish community to enact change in their own homes, before kids leave for college.
“If you are a fiercely Zionist household, encourage your child to learn about anti-Zionism,” she said. “Give your children books to read. Send them articles. Engage them in discussion around the dinner table. Teach them not to adopt viewpoints until they understand why others might disagree. This is the only way they will be able to persuasively and confidently stand up for their values.”
Following Lederman’s well- received speech, Deborah Coltin, president and executive director of the Lappin Foundation, led a panel with Lederman and two other college students from the North Shore: Gillian Pergament of Middleton and Tulane University and Sofia Vatnik of Syracuse University and Marblehead.
The students spoke about their experiences on campus before and after Oct. 7, whether they felt supported by their schools’ administrations, what they’ve learned about themselves as a result of the last several months, and how the North Shore Jewish community can support them. They also offered advice for current high school students soon heading off to college.
Coltin then opened up the questions to the audience, who asked the women everything from “Did you experience antisemitism in educational settings growing up in the North Shore?” to “Have there been any efforts to bring Palestinian/Muslim and Israeli/Jewish groups together to create dialogue?” to “Is DEI the beginning of the problem?”
“The Jewish people are familiar with existential threats,” said Lederman in the closing of her speech. “We have overcome them before and as we work to ensure that we will do so again, it will always and forever be true to say, Am Yisrael Chai [The People of Israel Live].” Θ