Opinion: Allyship and support needed for Jewish students in the community and on campus
By Noa P., Contributor, Kayla Rzepa, Contributor, & Michelle Zalmanowitz., Contributor
Hate crimes against Jewish students on university campuses have been a significant issue long before the massacre on Oct. 7. In a quote by Rabbi Daniel Fellman to the National Post, the Hamas terrorist attacks that resulted in the highest number of Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust. Since then, reports of hate crimes on campuses have increased and MRU is one of them.
As Jewish students ourselves, our identities are something deeply embedded within every aspect of our lives. Each of us is a third generation Holocaust survivor, having been taught to carry our identity with pride, and never forget the tragic history our people have experienced.
Waking up on Oct. 7, and hearing of the horrors that had occurred in our homeland was utterly sickening, and we felt this tragedy deeply as a global Jewish community. Never would we have thought that these events would translate into anything that we would deal with directly on campus in Canada. We were incredibly wrong.
There began a rise of Jew hatred on campuses across Canada and the United States, and we along with our Jewish peers began to feel increased pressure to hide our religious and cultural identities.
This fear and anxiety grows with each passing day as anti-semitic crimes around the world have increased nearly 400 per cent. Every day, as each of us walk into school, we are hit with waves of anxiety and fear, feeling our hearts race in our chest. As Jewish students on campus, we do not feel safe. And our Jewish peers feel the same way.
One of our peers, a Jewish student at MRU, who wished to remain anonymous for their safety, has been struggling with their expression of Jewish identity on campus. “Growing up, my Jewish heritage was a central part of my identity. The history, traditions, and values shaped who I am.
However, in recent times, my identity has become a source of anxiety and fear, as antisemitism and hatred toward Israel are on the rise. I have always believed that our university is a place of mutual respect—where students are encouraged to explore our identities and share our successes.
“Yet, in the shadows of escalating tensions, I find myself hesitating to express my Jewishness. As a student, I seek knowledge and understanding and engage in discussions and debates to broaden my worldview. But how can I, or any Jewish student, fully participate in this academic journey when our identity is a target of contempt and misinformation?”
As Noa P., a contributing writer of this article explains, “Last year, I was verbally attacked and intimidated on campus by two individuals for displaying a Magen David sign— a star of David. This is a very significant and deeply personal symbol belonging to the Jewish people, and I was shocked and terrified as they told me that I shouldn’t show that symbol on campus, and that it was ‘deeply offensive to them’. Ironically, when my Jewish friend called them out for being antisemitic, they followed up by ignorantly stating ‘antisemitism does not exist anymore.’ Hearing this, as a Jewish student who had never been a victim of Jew hatred until that moment, was terrifying, and I stayed home from school for the rest of the week in fear that I would see these two people again.”
A third-year Jewish student, who remains anonymous for safety, shared, “This whole conflict has led to friends in my program cutting me out because of what I stand for. I am proud to be Jewish, and am proud of where I come from, and that has not stopped me from speaking out and standing for what I believe in. I will continue to educate and create respectful discussions amongst peers who are willing to engage with me.”
Since Oct. 7, we along with many of our Jewish peers both at MRU, as well as at other Alberta universities, have been afraid to wear our Star of David necklaces and other Jewish symbols, in fear of our own safety. And rightfully so— last month, a student in the halls of MRU was called a “f***ing Jew,” among other instances of hate speech.
Multiple students have formally reported aggression due to wearing Jewish symbols. Other Jewish students have received hateful DMs from anonymous Instagram accounts, filled with antisemitic hate speech and threats that have had to be reported to the Calgary police.
These instances, along with the many others, have greatly harmed the ability of Jewish students to feel safe on campus. Additionally, it has interfered with our ability to focus on schoolwork and study, has altered our physical movements on campus, and has impeded our ability to remain intellectually safe in our classrooms, with some students expressing how scared they are of the hostile environments some professors are creating around the conflict.
While most of these occurrences have been reported to either MRU security, and even to the Calgary Police, little to no action is being taken to ensure Jewish students and staff’s safety on campus. Meetings with MRU have resulted in students being told that the problem is too big to be addressed at a university level, and that “there are too many student voices and not everyone’s concerns can be heard.” Even MRU has admitted this is not a perfect system, putting the onus on Jewish students to ask for security escorts and rely on security reports for communication to the school about incidents on campus.
As we Jews make up a small population of MRU, our voices are not being listened to. We refuse to let fear silence us, and we will continue to speak out with messages of peace and the sanctity of all human life.
“Education is the road to peace. It is critical that students speak up, not to argue, but to use education as a means of paving a way for understanding and compassion between communities. To empower individuals to come together to build bridges, and a future of unity rather than division,” states Yael Berkovich, West Coast educator for StandWithUs Canada.
“Never Again” is now.