We asked our university student readers how they’re feeling. The responses were harrowing

“The silence I feel around this issue when it comes to Jews and Israelis is louder than anything else," one student wrote.
People walk by New York University (NYU) as tensions between supporters of Israel, Palestinians and even Hamas increase on college campuses across the nation on October 30, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Close to a month after Hamas initiated a war with Israel, university campuses across the world have become a hotbed of debate. 

Pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and even pro-Hamas students have held demonstrations and spread petitions. Some of these messages are fiercely anti-Israel and antisemitic. At the same time, Jewish students face an increase in antisemitism both on campus and online.

At Cornell University, there were threats to shoot up the kosher dining hall, and posts on a popular student public forum encouraged those in the Cornell community to kill and rape Jewish students. 

Jewish students were forced to barricade in their library at Cooper Union in New York City, as pro-Palestinian protesters chanted for the murder of Jews as they pounded on the glass of the library. 

These are just a few examples of what Jewish students around the world are experiencing on their campuses. So, Unpacked wanted to check in with our college and graduate student readers to find out how they are grappling with the rising tensions at their schools. Here’s what they said. 

How have you been feeling since the Hamas attack and with the current situation in Israel and Gaza?

“I’m just disappointed by the number of friendships I’ve had to end.” — a senior at Barnard College

“While I’m relieved that some friends and leading politicians within European politics have been stepping up more since this massacre, I have never seen this level of antisemitism flowing through the streets of Brussels and beyond.” — a graduate student at Université Libre de Bruxelles

“The war in Israel has made me reconsider my plans to go to rabbinical school. If I’m too scared to post pro-Israel posts to my Instagram, how can I be strong enough to stand up for my whole community?” — a senior at Columbia University

“I’m torn between sympathy for Palestinians and fear for Jews. Unrepresented.” — a graduate student at McGill University.

“Appalled.” — a junior at Brandeis University 

“I don’t know anyone in Israel so I felt pretty removed from the situation until I started seeing people quoting Hitler showing swastikas and using Hamas talking points at these rallies/riots.” — a sophomore at Georgetown University

“I have been feeling depressed, sad, afraid and more, but I have also felt immense support from the pro-Israel and Jewish community.” — a graduate student at Northeastern University

“I’ve been seeing so much information about both sides and I don’t know what to believe. It feels like I can’t talk to anyone about this freely as a lot of people made up their mind that the situation is black and white with Gaza a victim and Israel an aggressor. In order to start a conversation I have to convince people that Jewish people are under attack too.” — a sophomore at Centennial College

“Sorrow, despair, and sadness.” — a graduate student at Florida International University

“I’ve been feeling sad and drained by the bad news coming from Israel and even more from the lack of support here in the West.” — a freshman at Stockholm University

“I have already lost a few friends for being a Zionist.” — a freshman at the College of San Mateo

“I felt first what I assume most of us felt: a deep sense of shock which shook me to my core and great anger. Now, the shock has been replaced by a sense of grief, fear, and — above all — hopelessness. We’ll be unconditionally condemned no matter [what]. All the ‘progress’ I’ve been told has been made…has fallen away and people once again opine for our slaughter in the streets. Why does this never seem to change?” — a sophomore at University of Illinois at Chicago

Give us a sense of what it’s like to be on your campus right now (how your college administration has responded, how fellow students have responded, student protests, etc.). How does that make you feel?

“As an Israeli, I can feel all of my classmates’ eyes on me when I come to class. I know they call me a settler behind my back. They don’t care that I’m Mizrahi and my family never ‘settled’ in Israel. They’ve put a target on my back simply because of where I was born.” — a junior at Columbia University

“I’ve mostly been shocked by the ignorance of some of my classmates. While I disagree, I can understand those who criticize Israel who have researched or have family affected by the conflict. However, so many of my classmates have hopped on the bandwagon because it’s trendy. When I ask them questions on their stance, they can’t tell me anything about the historical conflicts in the region, or even about what Hamas is doing now.” — a senior at New York University 

“I do not feel able to share my views or challenge hateful rhetoric through university channels.” — a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago

“Isolated does not even begin to describe it. My peers spout libel after libel in class with the encouragement — or at least tacit approval — of professors and other students. I feel that if I even make a token effort to explain that perhaps the mass murder of Jews isn’t a valid political act, it will be met with ridicule, accusations of any number of pejoratives, and perhaps even physical reprisal. I never imagined that I’d feel so foreign and afraid at a college campus in the middle of my own city.” — a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago 

“Our administration has responded better than our students have. Our president immediately condemned Hamas, taking a stance to stand with Israel, and has done so consistently and publicly. Our student government, however (which I am a part of), voted against condemning Hamas terrorism.” — a junior at Brandeis University. 

Students are almost entirely pro-Palestine. A protest has been called for all students to march out of class in solidarity with Palestine. This is such an inflammatory thing to do because it will out anyone who isn’t pro-Palestine and likely [make them] feel unsafe. Feels like violence will erupt any day now…” — a graduate student at McGill University

“It’s shitty to see our ‘objective’ campus newspaper platform someone who said that the Holocaust wasn’t special without giving context that it was the biggest genocide ever. And the Columbia Daily Spectator wonders why no one likes them.” — a senior at Columbia University

“I used to wear my Star of David necklace without ever feeling judged, now I tuck it under my clothes.” — a freshman at Stockholm University

“I’m feeling unsafe (mentally) in my school and desire to hide my Jewishness. Thankfully, the people around me are supportive and even find the students’ beliefs and actions abominable, but I feel isolated somehow nevertheless. I’m worried even about merely implying I’m Jewish on a survey for an application form to grad school in fear that they’d reject me on the basis of that. I always felt uncomfortable as a Jew at McGill, even in 2015, but now it’s beginning to turn into a feeling of being unsafe.” — a graduate student at McGill University

“I have too many former friends who keep referencing the hospital blast even though it’s been debunked. When I bring that up, I’m shot down and told that I’m defending terrorists…by people defending Hamas.” — a senior at Barnard College

“Other than a handful of pro-Hamas posters and some less than civil discourse in a school Discord server, antisemitism is not visibly present. Overall, it makes me feel cautiously safe and like I have some support.” — a junior at Northern Arizona University

“Afraid.” — A graduate student at San Francisco State University

“I can only hope my classmates don’t actively know that they’re spouting antisemitic conspiracies. It’s easier for me to stomach that way.” — a graduate student at Columbia University

“Our Hillel organization has armed private guards around it, there’s lots of saying ‘gas the Jews’ and ‘river to the sea’.” — a graduate student at the University of Arizona

Do you feel like you’re getting enough support? What support do you wish you had?

“How can NYU support its Jewish students when it’s allowing students to call for Israeli peoples’ murder?” — a senior at New York University

“B”H our Jewish organizations on campus (Hillel and Chabad) have reached out and offered so much help and support. I feel embraced by them.” — a graduate student at Florida International University

“The silence I feel around this issue when it comes to Jews and Israelis is louder than anything else.” — a freshman at Stockholm University

“I just want some people to talk to, who understand how I feel and still have an open mind. I wish there were a way to reliably fact-check what is said on the news and on social media. At the same time I’m wondering if the amount of time I’m spending on social media is just unhealthy at this point.” — a sophomore at Centennial College

“I reached out to my mindfulness center, but they said they were unwilling to do anything to spread awareness. No one is acknowledging it and it is maddening.” — a freshman at the College of San Mateo

“I wish there were more space to be anti-occupation and anti-war in my Jewish spaces. Rather than support, there is alienation and being treated like a pariah. I am genuinely scared that young Jews will only continue to disengage from their Jewish communities if they continue to be treated this way.” — a graduate student at Vanderbilt University

“Every day I regret going to school here more.” — a graduate student at Cornell University

“There’s a tension on campus and few Jews are speaking out (understandably); feels like the whole is against Israel and even Jews. Wish there were more acknowledgement by the papers and students that Jews don’t deserve to die and that Hamas did an atrocity, and nothing justifies it. But that won’t happen. They evidently don’t believe that…” — a graduate student at McGill University. 

“The response to our Hillel rabbi’s op-ed in our student paper calling for pro-Palestinian students to not support Hamas was mercilessly mocking him online over his weight. Jewish students can’t even get support without being dragged and doxxed.” — a senior at Barnard College. 

“No. I’m scared.” — a graduate student at the University of Arizona

“I don’t want support, I just want to go to school in 2023 without feeling like a converso going to mass in 1492.” — a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago

“A kippah-wearing student stated that a student yelled ‘Free Palestine’ at them for no other reason than them wearing a kippah. A university administrator’s response was, ‘Did they yell ‘Free Palestine’ or an antisemitic slur?’ I felt unsafe because it’s incorrect to pretend that it is not correlated with antisemitism.” — a graduate student at Northeastern University

“I feel scared to even reach out though and declare myself as Jewish. It’s very isolating and a lot of people who aren’t Jewish or Muslim or Palestinian/Israeli seem to be checking out and not really getting it. I feel so badly for people affected on either side, but why in the world are people not coming together to fight the enemy of Hamas!” — a sophomore at Georgetown University

Read more: Jewish wisdom for navigating this time of war

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