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Campus Chabads Boost Jewish Pride to Counter Hate-Filled Encampments

Dylan Zouber is a first-year student at the University of Minnesota. The Deerfield, Illinois native said the protests he encountered on campus gave him a different view of the university. 

“I saw people that I didn’t expect to see participating at the protests and chanting things that I thought I’d never hear in my life,” Zouber told Lubavitch.com. “Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors, along with having family in Israel, it is something that I am concerned and worried about.”

Zouber knew he’d find a safe and welcoming environment at Chabad and joined them for the Passover Seders, where Rabbi Yitzi and Chavie Steiner welcomed him and scores of other students while turmoil raged along University Avenue. “Being able to have Chabad as a place of safety, comfort and community has definitely helped control my emotions,” Zouber said.

Rabbi Yitzi Steiner of Chabad at the University of Minnesota

That sentiment—of Chabad providing safety and refuge—is shared by Jewish students at many colleges that have seen a wave of antisemitism in recent weeks. At Columbia University in Manhattan, New York, as protests increased in intensity in the days leading up to Passover, Chabad Rabbi Yuda Drizin escorted Jewish students who had been stuck on campus as they were told to “go back to Poland” and that “Jews have no culture,” among many other blatantly antisemitic phrases and epithets. 

“Chabad has been a space where you really feel free to express yourself; free to be a Jew without caveats and explanations; without justification and apology. You can be unapologetically Jewish at our Chabad house,” said Ariella, a sophomore at Columbia College. She says students by and large do not fear for their physical safety, but that “when you leave your house to the sound of chanting in your street for the death of your family, you can’t help feeling hated.”

“Chabad has been amazing in counteracting that,” she said. “You feel unconditionally loved in the Chabad House. The only way to combat sinat chinam (baseless hatred) is ahavat chinam (unconditional love). Chabad excels at that.”

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of KU Chabad

Chabad hosted Passover Seders and saw their largest turnout yet. As the Seder began, Drizin got on a chair and proposed, “Let’s refrain from discussing what is going on outside.” Outside the doors (and beyond the armed security protecting the event), bull horns blared antisemitic slogans. Inside, students sang of G-d’s protection and danced to “next year in Jerusalem.”

Annika Erickson was one of the 165 students who joined the Passover Seders at Columbia Chabad. The Barnard College senior said that it was “very poignant to be sitting at a Seder, recounting the story of our Exodus, and to know what’s going on outside the doors.” She said that Rabbi Drizin’s message has resonated with Jewish students. “What Rabbi Drizin has been reiterating is that nobody else gets to tell you how to be Jewish, and that the best resistance is Jewish living.”

Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch brings matzah to Jewish people at UCLA

At the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, after protesters gathered outside Fraser Hall on KU’s campus, Chabad has been providing moral support to Jewish students, setting up a stand at this central campus location and offering the opportunity to do mitzvot. “In Judaism we are taught that we fight darkness with light and we fight hate with more love,” said Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who directs KU Chabad with his wife Nechama.

Adina Thompson, a sophomore at KU, says the encampments made the campus environment very tense and uncomfortable for Jewish students. But the Skokie, Illinois native says she also saw so much pride. “So many Jewish students came out and showed that they are proud of who we are. We’re all proud of who we are, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Students pose inside the Chabad dance truck at Columbia University

“Rabbi Zalman and Nechama have been extremely supportive,” Thompson told Lubavitch.com. “They’re so good at empowering Jewish students to not back down; not to shy away; to wrap tefillin in the center of campus. They let students know there’s a safe space they can come to.”

At Indiana University Bloomington, protestors encamped on Dunn Meadow, across the street from Chabad at IU. Jewish students were spat on, stalked and harassed, while protesters chanted violent slogans and repeatedly trespassed Chabad’s property.

Naomi Drizin speaks with a student at Chabad at Columbia University

Rabbi Levi and Sheina Cunin issued a statement saying that while the violence and Jew-hatred are nothing new, “what is new since October 7th is how the IU Jewish community has responded to this hatred: more students are sporting kippahs; more students are wearing jewelry bearing Jewish symbols; more mezuzahs on doors throughout campus; more Jews donning tefillin on the street,” they wrote. “More Jewish students are identifying and joining the community, and more Jewish students are walking around with pride and courage.”

At UCLA in Los Angeles, California, Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch distributed Shabbat candles and matzah as protests raged on campus during Passover. On the Thursday evening following the conclusion of Passover, several dozen Jewish students gathered for a challah bake, and 500 students are expected to join Chabad’s Mega Shabbat next weekend. 

Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch of Chabad at UCLA

“In times like these, we’re reminded of the enduring spirit of our people, a spirit that has persisted through the generations, including ours,” the Drizins wrote to their community. Citing the biblical Nachshon, the leader of the Tribe of Judah, who was the first to step into the waters of the Red Sea, they wrote, “We, too, must move forward with the same pride and confidence in our identity as Jews. Each step we take in faith has the potential to part the waters of adversity.”

On the first of the intermediate days of Passover, the Drizins hired a dance truck which slowly wove its way around campus, picking up Jewish students for joyous holiday dancing and blaring Jewish music proudly. “We are going a little overboard because when things are rough, we need to work harder to be joyous,” Naomi Drizin said.

And that joy and sense of pride in their Judaism has empowered Jewish students around the country. “Knowing I have Chabad, I have this Jewish community behind me, supporting me through everything, makes it possible to keep going,” said Thompson. “We’re very proud to be Jewish, and we’re not going to let this bring us down.”

Jewish students gather for a kosher for Passover lunch at Chabad of Columbia
Comment 2
  • Anonymous

    You offer pride but not love. You should offer love to counter hate. Pride is the root of all these problems. The intermixing of politics and messianism into the Jewish religion to stir the masses and self aggrandize unenlightened rabbis reflects poorly on the Jewish religion.

    • Menachem

      Some people hate jews, but no one can respect a Jew that disrespects himself, when those who are not Jewish see we are PROUD to be Jewish then and only then do they respect us, if history has taught us anything is that hidden our Jewishness does absolutely nothing to stop the hate.
      If you say chabad doesn’t bring love and that the rabbis are “unenlightened” you clearly have never spoken to a chabad Rabbi, as of the whole “Messianic thing” that is one of the 13 princaples of Judaism, meaning it is not from chabad but has always been part of the Jewish belief, what you are saying to some all this up is “let’s be ashamed to be Jewish in public and give up on certain core beliefs of Judaism” and chabad is saying “let’s be proud of being Jewish and strengthen our Judaism as much as we can” which one do you think sounds more respectable?

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