Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Dear Jewish Freshman,
In times like these, it’s hard to find the right things to say. As I’ve learned from interactions with Jewish students and members of other minority groups, we all react differently to being targeted by signs of hatred. But recently, I’ve been thinking about you. You got to campus just last week, filled with excitement and perhaps a little anxiety. You went to your first two days of class and experienced college for the first time. And then a part of your identity, your Judaism, was attacked by hateful graffiti in the library where you probably planned to spend a significant amount of time studying and forming new friendships.
I remember where I was as a freshman a year ago. Back then, this experience would have deeply upset me, even more than it does now. I would have been upset by the action, but more than that, I would have felt uncomfortable identifying as Jewish at Swarthmore. I hate to think that you may be feeling that way now.
I want you to know that your feelings are valid. Displays of anti-Semitism are serious and real, and Swarthmore is not exempt from such hateful acts. This is a significant problem on our campus as well as on most college campuses across the country, and we need to fix it. We should have more conversations about anti-Semitism and promote acceptance for all marginalized minority groups on campus. We should strive to be better.
At the same time, I truly believe in the goodness of the Swarthmore community. I have received numerous supportive and kind messages from my non-Jewish peers on campus, and that gives me hope. While we are not where we need to be, I believe we can get there.
I also want you to know that there is a strong, vibrant, and resilient Jewish community here at Swarthmore ready to support you. Whether it be with Kehilah, the main Jewish organization on campus, Adam Lavitt, our wonderful Jewish student advisor, or the interfaith community, there are so many places you can go to express your Judaism and find endless support and love. I have found a Jewish home here at Swarthmore in Kehilah; others experience their Judaism in different ways on campus. The opportunities are limitless.
We, the Jews of Swarthmore, are an incredibly diverse group. Some of us are secular, some religious, some Ashkenazi, some Sephardic, some involved, some not, some questioning; the list goes on and on. However you decide to define, or not define, your Jewish identity at Swarthmore, I hope the events of this week will not discourage you.
Please reach out to me at any time if you want to discuss being Jewish or just talk about life. I am here for you.
Co-President of Kehilah
Featured image courtesy of Simona Dwass