[Editor’s Note: More than 100 participants tuned into Zoom on April 6 for WashU Hillel’s program, “21st Century Anti-Semitism: Exploring Hate, Oppression and Identity.” Washington University rising junior Orly Einhorn, who spearheaded the event with Hillel staff, shared her reflections on the program and her goals moving forward.]
We are in a critical time in history where we have a choice between individual and collective action or inaction. This juncture is exactly what led me to the process of creating WashU Hillel’s recent 21st Century Anti-Semitism event. I was so lucky during the 2020 fall semester to have an amazing group of Hillel staff to lean on while navigating the changes brought to campus by the COVID-19 pandemic. I was especially grateful for my lunches in the Hillel backyard with Springboard Social Justice Fellow Abby Ross, where we would often chat about all things Jewish and social justice related in our lives.
Throughout the semester, I made a conscious effort to take action whenever possible. I attended a variety of protests and sought out difficult conversations and learning opportunities, working to become a better version of myself so that I could better help others. However, within these spaces I often felt like an outsider as a Jew and a Zionist and was unsure how to confront the small acts of anti-Semitism I was experiencing. These moments began adding up as I navigated comments in the classroom by both peers and professors, along with uncomfortable confrontation on social media when peers targeted me for my identity as a Zionist.
Eventually, my frustrations as a Jewish student on a liberal campus hit a boiling point. At my next lunch with Abby, I expressed how tired and helpless I felt— there is more to Jewish identity than Zionism, but by excluding Zionists from certain spaces, those spaces immediately become unwelcome to a vast majority of Jews. I wanted to find progressive spaces on campus where all of my intersecting identities were welcome. This was my moment to choose whether or not I would take action and I am so happy with my choice. It was with the help of Abby, the rest of Hillel staff, and so many friends on campus that we were able to jumpstart the creation of a community interested in diving more deeply into this issue, into the nuances of Jewish identity and the experiences of anti-Semitism in the 21st century.
I could not have been more thrilled with the outcome of our event. Each of the panelists contributed a unique perspective on the experience of Jews of different backgrounds and how anti-Semitism interacts with those various backgrounds in different ways. From the intersections of racism and anti-Semitism to anti-convert sentiments within the Jewish community, participants of all experience levels were able to hear new perspectives. Many attendees contacted me following the event to share how much they learned and inquire about next steps they could take to gain a deeper understanding of these issues and take action. I shared their excitement. Hearing this group talk about their experiences and expertise was extremely moving, even over Zoom.
At the beginning of the pandemic it seemed impossible to have events that were inspiring and energizing while keeping each other safe. One year later, this event demonstrated that we are capable of so much more than we think even while remaining physically distant from one another.
I am excited to continue this conversation on campus and to work to build a community of Jewish and non-Jewish students who are committed to building relationships across cultural lines, fighting anti-Semitism, and discovering new allies in the fight against hate. By empowering others with knowledge about the diversity of the Jewish people and the anti-Semitism Jews face, and working together to eradicate hate and bigotry in all forms, we can pursue a more understanding, just, and compassionate world.
Orly Einhorn is a rising junior at Washington University in St. Louis studying sociology and psychology. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Jewish identity has always been central to her life. She is passionate about building community both within and across cultural lines.