A Letter to a Jewish Freshman

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.

With love,


Co-President of Kehilah

Featured image courtesy of Simona Dwass


  1. Kehilah used to be Hillel of Swarthmore College, until it disassociated with Hillel International.
    “In December 2013, the Hillel of Swarthmore College declared itself an Open Hillel, saying it would not abide by Hillel International’s rules prohibiting partnering with or hosting groups or speakers who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish or democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; or support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.”
    “The name change announced on Sunday follows the decision by the campus Jewish organization to drop its affiliation with Hillel International”

  2. In other words-if your organization hates Israel and wants to see the state (as well as all Jews) wiped off the earth-c’mon over, we’ll leave a light on for you. One would think the first point of common decency and dialogue would begin with “Yes, you have a right to live in peace in your own home.”

    • Not at Swarthmore. I hope that Jewish students just beginning Swarthmore are aware of this. As the parent of a Jewish alum, I would never have paid for Swarthmore at this point in history.
      I wish that I could get my $250,000 back, since it was not always a comfortable place for Jewish students, even prior to the break from Hillel. The anti-Israel rhetoric, often shown by other students/agitators screaming at students trying to enter the main building, with a Swat-sanctioned physical barriers was horrific for many Jewish and non-Jewish students. Working so hard to pay for the Swat education was not worth it, in retrospect, as a parent.
      I realize the anti-Israel students/agitators were trying to make a point, but it was not a good situation. Now these same agitators are invited into Hillel. No safe place for the students exists, who want to avoid anti-Israel rhetoric. Are they forewarned before accepting the invitation to attend this college? Hope so, but doubt it.

  3. As a Jew and nearby Delaware County resident I find the actions of Swarthmore College and of the Society of Friends disgraceful and dangerous. To choose a politically correct so called minority, Palestinians (Muslims number over a billion), over a peaceful, democratic Jewish people is unallowable on my watch. Where can we join up in demonstrating for true justice?

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