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You are repeatedly called cheap and judged on how you spend your money. Your heritage is joked about in the locker rooms at hockey practice. You open up a drawer in science class to find a universal symbol of hatred and racial supremacy etched into the wood. The systematic genocide against your people, one of the largest violations of human rights in history, is reduced to a joke among people you consider your friends. A stranger walks onto your college campus and spreads posters blaming your people for actions deemed anti-American.
A week after anti-semitic fliers stained the walls of Marist College academic buildings, members of the Jewish student group Hillel convened in the music wing of the Murray Student Center. The message of hate that infiltrated campus had not put a damper on the gathering; the exciting ventures of welcoming Marist’s new resident rabbi, Rabbi Rena Blumenthal, to campus and planning a trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, were the primary points of focus. After brainstorming, planning, and dispersing pizza, Hillel president Justin Katz ‘19 started a candid conversation amongst his friends and fellow members of the club. How did the posters affect them and the rest of the small Jewish population of Marist?
“To say that I was surprised would be an extreme understatement,” said Katz. “[A]ntisemitism in this area, at this school, is something that I thought we had moved on from.” Katz first learned of the fliers when Student Government Association (SGA) President Ted Dolce ‘19 addressed his constituency in the form of an Instagram story. Shocked and enraged, Katz swiftly drafted an email to President David Yellen to warn him of the problem and ensure it was dealt with in a timely manner.
Marist Security handled the situation efficiently, according to Katz. He was very impressed with the speed at which the fliers were removed and the official statement was released. Other members of Hillel were comforted at the immediacy that Security was notified. The situation was handled and the perpetrator apprehended, even though the man responsible will not be charged with a hate crime. Those congregated at the Hillel meeting felt safe and supported by Marist, but not entirely satisfied.
Lauren Vicenzi ‘20, the vice president of Hillel, wishes there were more repercussions for the perpetrator outside of a ban from the campuses intruded upon. “There should be some action taken outside of a ban. Your opinion and what you do with your free speech can hurt someone in a community,” Vicenzi said. For her, an important aspect of reaching a solution is providing better education and fostering conversation about hate speech. In homogenous communities, people fear those that are different. In her eyes, the only way of showing these people that others not like them are not “scary” or “evil” and fostering empathy, is through education.
“We should continue to talk about this - if not, we would waste a learning tool. Fear of giving these people a platform to speak here is not a concern. We need to educate the community more about Judaism in general, and why people so frequently throughout history [have looked] to hate the Jews,” Katz said. He commends the Marist administration and SGA for standing firm against hate speech, but does not wish for occurrences like these to simply be swept under the rug.
A big step for Katz toward improving education would be to show the community that participating in their heritage, faith, or culture is important and worth celebrating. Hillel’s recent growth is a testament to the recent progress in the Jewish community at Marist, transforming from a small, hidden population living in the shadow of the dominant Christian presence into a vibrant and close community.
The Marist chapter of Hillel initially existed as a small subset of Campus Ministry. In two years, a tight-knit group of less than 10 friends has grown to become an official club, with an email list reaching nearly 100 people and meeting attendance over 30. Shabbat dinners, ritual celebrations of the Sabbath, are held by Hillel in the quiet dining room. The regular gathering cements the social nature of the club, emphasizing intimate bonds between friends that may not have met outside of Hillel.
A massive improvement for the Jewish students of Marist has been the introduction of a permanent rabbi. Rabbi Blumenthal worked with students last year and was recently hired as a resource for the Marist Jewish community. Her attendance at the meeting greatly contributed to the conversation, and she seeks to grant a helpful ear for all who need it.
“This incident of hate speech was an assault on the entire Marist community, and every member of the community can find a way to respond. Whether it’s “Not on our Campus” rallies, or reaching out to impacted individuals, or raising awareness with family and peers, or committing yourself to refrain from certain kinds of actions and speech; everyone can do something. We cannot afford to enter into victim competition – every act of hatred, no matter what the targeted group, erodes the civility of the entire community,” Rabbi Blumenthal said.