By Dominick Zangara and Robb Corker
The University of Denver is home to the Holocaust Memorial Social Action Site pictured here. (Source: Robb Corker)
During the winter quarter, three Jewish students at the University of Denver (DU) were victims of antisemitic vandalism. Two had their mezuzahs (a small case affixed to doorways containing Jewish scripture) forcefully removed, while the door of another student was covered in pork, violating the student’s religiously-observed Kosher diet. The incidents coincide with a worrying increase in antisemitic incidents both in Colorado and nationwide.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 saw the largest number of antisemitic incidents of any recorded year since 1979, with the trend of increased violence continuing into 2022. In Colorado, 47 antisemitic incidents took place in 2022.
The incidents that occurred on DU’s campus have some students feeling unnerved knowing a level of anti-Jewish sentiment exists.
“Initially, I felt really angry, freaked out and on edge because I considered the campus very safe for Jewish students,” revealed Nina Morgenstein, a Jewish DU student who is also President of The Quackmire and Justice Primus of the Undergraduate Student Government. “It was a wake-up call like ‘Oh gosh, there’s a minimal danger for Jewish students on the DU campus’.”
The string of incidents took place in the dorm halls on campus where Jewish students displayed their mezuzahs on doors and door jambs in observance of Jewish religious custom.
“They took my mezuzah and my friend found it in a stairwell…with the backing that holds the scroll, the prayer inside, taken off,” said Bennet Golad, a Jewish DU student and Hillal board member. “It looks like they were trying to take out the prayer but couldn’t get to it.”
A mezuzah attached to a doorframe. (Source: BRBurton at pixabay.com)
The incidents on campus are symptomatic of the increase in antisemitism and anti-Jewish behavior across the country. What began with 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and continued with 2018’s Tree of Life tragedy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has provided momentum to an unabashed movement of antisemitism.
Data from the ADL reveals a massive spike in antisemitic incidents since 2016. 2021 had the most antisemitic incidents in a year since the data began being tracked in 1979 . (Source: ADL, Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2021)
There are numerous potential causes for the rise in antisemitic incidents and behavior. Economic uncertainty like the 2009 financial crisis and public health crises like the covid pandemic often see minorities treated as scapegoats, particularly Jews.
“There was a lot of antisemitism and conspiracies about Jews that spiked during the pandemic,” said Jeremy Shaver, Senior Associate Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League. “We still see locally here in Colorado antisemitic fliers being distributed saying that Jews are responsible for all aspects of the covid pandemic.”
A significant increase in online antisemitism was seen in the end of 2022, caused in large part by cultural leaders voicing support for antisemitic conspiracies and Holocaust denial.
In many cases, social media can serve as a vehicle for amplifying antisemitism and other forms of bigotry on their platforms. Research shows that Tiktok’s algorithm can lead users into an antisemitic echo chamber.
“All the social media stuff with Kanye, I think that really had a big impact on people being comfortable spewing antisemitic hate and just hate in general,” posited Morgenstein.
Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, unleashed a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment by posting a cryptically threatening tweet that has spawned a new antisemitic campaign called “Ye is Right”.
“The way social media allows misinformation to spread and people to hate others without knowing them has been very toxic for minorities who are often misunderstood,” stated Lily Gross, head of Jewish Student Life at DU.
Ye’s tweet and subsequent antisemitism have caused him to be dropped from companies like Adidas, Gap, and J.P. Morgan Chase. (Source: Ye’s now-suspended Twitter)
This image is a visual representation of the breakdown of antisemitic incidents differentiating harassment, vandalism, and assault. (Source: ADL)
Understanding social factors that catalyze antisemitism and racist scapegoating are just one facet of the problem. How do we move past these incidents after they occur?
At the national level, the uptick in violence and incidents has prompted the formation of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism and the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism. The missions of both committees include cultural education, legislative efforts, and promoting Holocaust historical awareness.
At the micro level, universities like the University of Denver are employing cultural education and allyship to combat antisemitism in the future and past. Organizations like the ADL support this strategy.
“It’s always important to center the individuals who are being targeted…center them and hear their concerns and hear from them what they need to feel safe and secure on campus,” stated Shaver. “It’s important for us [groups in the city and surrounding community] to say that we believe it’s the right of every student to have a safe and secure campus to study, learn and grow.”
DU was quick to condemn the incidents and label them as hate crimes. An outpouring of support from the institution and student organizations has been heartening to those affected by these incidents.
“I have a lot of gratitude for campus safety, Title IX, the chancellor and a lot of other groups because they really showed up to support the Jewish community,” Morgenstein said. “What do people say? ‘Do the extra five percent?’ Just do a little bit more work so that our community can be even better.”
ADL’s Audit of Antisemitic Incidents has been a resource for tracking antisemitic and anti-Jewish incidents since 1979. (Source, ADL)
Leave a Reply