I am a Jew, but I wouldn’t say I have a strong connection to Jewish life on campus. I have only been to Columbia/Barnard Hillel a few times, and I cannot say I have ever felt a pull or desire to return. I would not say this distance is uncomfortable; however, following the Tree of Life shooting, I’ve seen how insufficient the support for Jewish students beyond Jewish life has been on campus.
I have been shocked by the many ways Barnard and Columbia have failed in their response to the shooting. Columbia’s initial failure to mention the inherent anti-Semitism of the shooting in their email statement coupled with Barnard SGA’s late reworking of a denouncement of anti-Semitism inspires a discomforting sense of dismissal.
This dismissal failed to address or attempt to alleviate the pain and fear felt by Jewish students immediately following the tragedy. The lack of support from the rest of the campus community hit hard. The only true source of support was within the Jewish community and Hillel. For the first time, this campus felt eerily similar to my hometown, Winston-Salem, N.C.—a small city in the Bible Belt with a very small Jewish community. Throughout my 18 years in Winston-Salem, I was constantly hurt by ignorant rejection based on faith, and on campus, following the tragedy, I was surprised and disappointed to feel this same ignorance.
SGA took four days following the shooting just to announce an intention to write a statement of their own. They decided to draft a statement “in [their] own words”, without explaining why they rejected the existing statement against anti-Semitism. Four days of silence require explanation. Four days is too long to ignore grieving students. Instead, SGA took another 24 hours before announcing they would be signing the original statement after all and would take another three days before releasing their own statement.
In an attempt to compare the lackluster response of campus to my hometown, of which I was unfortunately reminded of, I called my mom the Monday after the shooting to ask if the news had reached Winston-Salem. I figured the only plausible explanation for the lack of response or recognition from those I know there—or at least, the only excusable explanation—was that they simply hadn’t heard. For the past few days, I struggled to understand my own feelings in reaction to the tragic event. I’ve realized that the consuming moments of confusion, fear, and sorrow that I felt throughout the last few days remind me of the all too familiar feeling of silence I experienced in Winston.
This silence is not new. It’s the same silence I felt when I was not prepared to respond to multiple attempts by my peers to convert me. It’s the same silence I felt when year after year, pre-K through graduation, we asked the school to mark Jewish holidays on the calendar to avoid scheduling events Jewish students would be unable to attend. It’s the same silence I felt when they scheduled a diversity discussion on Yom Kippur. It’s the same silence I felt when the senior luncheon was scheduled during Pesach and I walked past the catered buffet while carrying my kosher-for-Pesach packed lunch. It’s the same silence I still feel when, although my mom tells me the school finally said they would put the holidays on the calendar, an instilled hopelessness prevents me from believing her.
It is the silence that taught me they don’t care. We don’t matter. Our religion—my identity, my family, our history—is simply a confusing inconvenience to them. This silence has always been scary. No—terrifying. And now, in the wake of a horrible event of anti-Semitism I am stifled by this silence once again. After so many years of silence, I assumed I would have left it behind in Winston. Yet, in response to this tragedy, I am disappointed to feel the silence again as both the Columbia and Barnard administration and the general student body have failed to properly address the Jewish community.
A week following the shooting, we have finally received Barnard SGA’s statement. This eight-day delay is unacceptable and insensitive to the pain of students already reeling from the tragedy, a pain that began over a week ago, pain that cannot be postponed. Tragedy calls for urgency, action, and recognition. Their inexplicable silence places a burden of investigation and confusion on a community already in mourning.
I was talking with a friend when it all became clear to me. It was the Sunday after the shooting. Feeling the same silence throughout campus herself, she remarked on how it implies a denial of existing anti-Semitism and the marginalization of the Jewish people. Her speech cut off, and she hesitated, “I know this is extreme, but I can’t help but wonder. If an event like the Holocaust were to occur again … and they aren’t saying anything now…” As she trailed off, I knew what she was asking. Many Jews can relate to this unfortunate question. I have even heard it referred to as the “Anne Frank Game:” If we were to experience another Holocaust tomorrow who could we trust?
In a time such as now, this silence proves a discomforting answer to the question.
The author is a sophomore at Barnard studying comparative literature with a dance and (maybe) religion minor. TBD. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, or your ranking of the Real Housewives franchises.
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