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Perspectives from the Professoriate: Navigating Identity and Concerns as a Jewish Columbia Professor for My Children's Education


Editor’s Shai Davidai, an assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School with a PhD in social psychology from Cornell University, has taught at Princeton University and The New School for Social Research. His views, as expressed in this commentary, are personal. Turning 40 at Columbia University, I unexpectedly found myself shedding tears in front of strangers on campus. This unanticipated emotional outpour happened as I addressed the rising menace of antisemitism on US campuses in a video that has since gone viral. The overwhelming support I received, evident in thousands of messages, suggests that Jewish Americans across the nation share in this collective sorrow. It was a cry of despair, a primal howl, expressing the purest form of human pain. This cry emerged from the deepest recesses of fear, consuming me for weeks and compelling me to raise my voice.

The source of this profound grief was the horrific massacre in Israel orchestrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. I grappled with an intense, persistent sorrow for the thousands of civilians subjected to shootings, murders, mutilations, rapes, and beheadings. The deliberate targeting of babies, some left unrecognizably burned, added another layer to this grief. Witnessing confused children forcibly taken at gunpoint into captivity in Gaza intensified my anguish. However, a more profound and darker grief surfaced – a grief I believed had healed. It stemmed from the trauma embedded in the hearts of every Jewish person, triggered by the recurrence of Jewish people being targeted in their homes and communities.

This deepest grief mingled with an intense fear. My concern extended beyond the fate of innocent Israeli and Palestinian children to the well-being of my family here in New York City. The fear is not just for the safety of those directly affected but also for the broader implications, echoing the historical pain embedded in the Jewish collective consciousness.

Having devoted over 13 years to nurturing a community of like-minded liberals, I now find myself in a disheartening state of abandonment. The resounding silence from friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the face of Hamas' heinous crimes, such as the rape of Israeli women and the execution of disabled Israeli children, feels like a betrayal. Colleagues who downplay these barbarities as a mere "military response" and view them as "awesome" acts of "resistance" contribute to a sense of abandonment. Student organizations celebrating the October 7 massacre with chants advocating the eradication of Jews in Israel add to this isolation.

Even my employer, Columbia University, seemingly turns a blind eye, citing the fostering of "different points of view" while allowing expressions that vilify and threaten entire groups of people. This distressing reality unfolds not in Gaza or Israel but right here in the United States, within the supposed safe spaces of universities. It's a betrayal of the very essence of inclusivity.

The chilling aftermath of Hamas' massacre brings the unsettling awareness that my 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, dual citizens of Israel and the US, are seen as legitimate targets of resistance by some across America. The fear for their safety has led me to reconsider my confidence in institutions like Columbia. The parallels between student organizations' chants and historical antisemitic sentiments are stark, keeping me awake at night. It's not just the chants; it's the prospect of antisemitic violence that follows when university leaders turn a blind eye.

Instances of violence and threats against Jewish individuals, particularly on college campuses, are deeply distressing and unacceptable. The reported incidents at Columbia University, Cornell University, Cooper Union, Tulane, and UC Davis highlight a disturbing trend of antisemitism that must be addressed urgently.

The rise of antisemitism is a cause for concern, and the fear experienced by individuals, especially parents worrying about the safety of their children, is palpable. It is crucial to take concrete actions to combat antisemitism, such as engaging with politicians, joining local organizations, writing op-eds, and holding institutions accountable for their response to hate crimes.

The call for decisive action to condemn and combat antisemitism on campuses is a powerful plea for justice and safety. The assertion that our lives are just as valuable as anyone else's is a compelling reminder that discrimination and violence have no place in our society. It is imperative to foster an environment where everyone feels safe, respected, and valued.

Amidst the challenges, it is essential for Jews and Israelis to unite with the Palestinian people and strive for peaceful coexistence. Supporting a free Palestine can coexist with a rejection of antisemitism or anti-Israel sentiments. It's possible to advocate for a sovereign Palestinian state, empathize with innocent Palestinian children's suffering, and simultaneously condemn Hamas. The refusal to accept internationally recognized terrorist organizations and the celebration of their atrocities by pro-terror student groups in the US is a stance that aligns with the rejection of torture and murder as legitimate acts of resistance. The fear permeating the Jewish experience is deep-rooted, stemming from historical persecution, and it is crucial to address it collectively. The recent expression of this fear at Columbia University resonates with a call to prevent history from repeating itself and emphasizes the urgency of global attention to ensure 'Never again is now.'

In conclusion, the impassioned plea resonates with a call for unity, understanding, and a shared commitment to a world free from fear and persecution. The recognition of the complexities surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not diminish the urgency to stand against antisemitism, violence, and the horrors perpetrated by terror organizations. The personal journey shared underscores the timeless fear embedded in the Jewish experience, urging a collective commitment to preventing history from repeating itself. The profound declaration that 'Never again is now' serves as a poignant reminder that, in the face of adversity, it is incumbent upon us all to strive for a future where safety, dignity, and empathy prevail over hatred and violence.