Section: Opinion

The Kenyon community needs to denounce antisemitism

If we continue to say nothing about antisemitism, it will continue to explode.

That became painfully obvious following the hostage situation on Jan. 15, 2022, at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. This event was not out of nowhere nor was it unexpected. One day before the incident, a woman in New York City allegedly told a group of Jewish children that Hitler should have killed them, before spitting on one of the kids. Days after the events, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado’s 3rd congressional district (who is already under fire for her Islamophobic remarks about her colleagues) accused Jews visiting the U.S. Capitol of “reconnaissance.” On Jan. 23, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. equated public health measures and vaccine mandates to the genocide of at least six million Jews, and millions more Roma, Poles, LGBTQ+ people and others. He even went so far as to say that Anne Frank was in a better position now than an anti-vaxxer in the United States. Attacks on American Jews are an American staple and Kenyon has a responsibility to speak out on antisemitism as an institution that supports “a culture in which [the community] contribute[s] to the well-being of others.”

What happened in Colleyville is becoming the norm, and Jews are accustomed to it. I am accustomed to it. Once, my elementary classmates casually told me that Jews killed Jesus. It was not the first nor last antisemitic incident in my life, but it was the first time I felt wholly Jewish. Everything else that I am ceased to matter. I consolidated my Jewish identity, because the world was trying to pry it away from me. In that moment, there was a numbing fog that clouded my mind and accepted these situations as inevitable. I felt unsafe.

The silver lining is that I had help to clear the skies. When those classmates said I killed Jesus, another classmate sitting next to me came over and rightfully disassociated himself from them, making me feel that I was still included and wanted at my school. When 11 of my siblings were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, there was uncertainty in the fog, and that uncertainty was confirmed when another Jew was murdered at the Chabad of Poway on April 27. When Oct. 27 and April 27 came then passed, friends and family voiced their support through words and deeds, and I regained my feelings of security and hope as the fog lifted.

At Kenyon, however, there is only profound silence. The administration, student organizations and student government all appear to be apathetic. As of right now, only a few professors have made mention of Congregation Beth Israel, and only one friend has reached out to me. Maybe enough Jews didn’t die to justify a reaction. Maybe people did not know how to react. Maybe the FBI’s initial statement that the crisis was not “directly” targeting the Jewish community deluded people. I don’t know.

But to those who remain unsure about antisemitism, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl (who the attacker spoke with over the phone while holding hostages at gunpoint) mentioned in her latest sermon that she remains “deeply unsettled” and that if  “you are not feeling unsettled, you are not paying enough attention.” To those who remain unsure about voicing support, Rabbi Buchdahl pointed to January 15th’s Torah portion, in which Jethro says to Moses that he cannot free the Jewish people from slavery alone, and that “in the fight against antisemitism, racism, extremism, and hatred of every kind … We cannot do it alone.”

I want to acknowledge that I am very, very privileged. Many Jews are white, especially Ashkenazim like myself, and are shielded from prejudice a great deal because of it. I am a white, cisgender, heterosexual male living in the United States. I am at the very top of American privilege. But if I put on a kippah and a tallit, or advertise my Judaism in any way at all, that privilege disappears. 

I also need to acknowledge that the perpetrator was reeling from serious mental health issues and that they violated not only human rights, but Islam, a religion of peace, love and charity. However, no matter who was targeted, what the motivation was or who perpetrated the attack, it must be vocally condemned for what it was: an act of violent Jew-hatred. And to my knowledge, Kenyon has either refused or forgotten to do so.

I plead that Kenyon does not continue to be silent on Jewish insecurity. If no one says anything against this antisemitic attack, then white supremacists, religious extremists and violent radicals anywhere will feel emboldened to finish what the perpetrator started. I wish a peaceful solution had come. Instead, a troubled man is dead, the global Jewish community has been reminded we are not safe, the fog is annexing our minds and the world appears to be indifferent.

In the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

To those who feel unsure of what to do or how to respond, please feel free to contact Marc Bragin, the Jewish chaplain on campus, at braginm@kenyon.edu.

Noah Gerhardt ’25 is an undeclared major from Chapel Hill, N.C. He can be reached at gerhardt1@kenyon.edu.

 

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