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175 Chabad women campus emissaries in Israel on solidarity mission

The women are preparing for continued anti-Israel protesters as students return to campus in the fall.

Chabad emissaries visit the site of the Supernova music festival massacre, May 29, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Chabad on Campus International.
Chabad emissaries visit the site of the Supernova music festival massacre, May 29, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Chabad on Campus International.

In a quarter-century as co-director of the Chabad House at the University of Michigan, Chanchi Goldstein said she has never witnessed so much antisemitism.

Across the country, Chani Gray, co-director at the Chabad at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where the university administration has been supportive of Israel, reports much the same: “Never seen something like this in the 20 years I’ve been here.”

The two were part of a delegation of 175 Chabad women emissaries at university campuses across the United States, in Israel for five days. They came to reinforce their connection with the Jewish state as they prepare for continued turbulence from anti-Israel protesters as they return to campus this fall.

The annual Shluchot Convention, which ends on Sunday, was held in Israel this year instead of New Jersey in a show of support, and follows months of anti-Israel and often antisemitic protests that have shaken the American Jewish community in ways not seen since World War II.

At the University of Michigan, some Jewish students (“especially the students who come from a posh Jewish lifestyle”) are afraid to walk into Jewish centers such as Chabad or Hillel because of the events on campus, Goldstein said, and are seeking advice on how to deal with faculty that is openly supporting the Palestinians. Many Jewish mothers are “petrified and very worried” about the goings-on at the school.

Even at Ivy League Dartmouth, where the college president Sian Beilock has shown “incredible support” for the Jewish community and has faced pushback and a vote of no-confidence on campus as a result, Jewish students are made to feel uncomfortable and not supported by their peers and faculty, Gray said. The students have pulled out of classes and dropped out of clubs.

She said the biggest problem they faced was from tenured faculty who cross the line in pushing their opinions, such as one who asked a student, a member of the U.S. military, in class why she wasn’t at the protest for the Palestinians.

Chabad emissaries, including Zahava Angster from Oregon State University, Chava Backman from the University of South Florida and Malka Jacobson from Iowa State University, recite Psalms at the Supernova music festival massacre site, May 29, 2024. Courtesy of Chabad on Campus International.

Focus on the positive

Still, the emissaries strive to look at the positive: the student who walked into a Chabad and wanted a Jewish name; the student who was determined to wear her Chai necklace on local media interviews, and the notable uptick in Jewish students who have drawn closer to their Judaism and are attending Shabbat dinners in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and the anti-Israel and antisemitic protests the subsequent war against Hamas spurred around the globe.

“The events forced many Jewish students—including some we thought we would never see—to take a side, and for the most part they are choosing their community and looking for a space where they can be who they are judgment-free,” Gray said.

Yuri Levin, a Chabad on Campus alum who survived the Oct. 7 massacre at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, speaks to the emissaries at the site of the Supernova music festival massacre, May 29, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Chabad on Campus International.

The emissaries stressed that the Jewish people through the centuries was always a nation of hope and believers, and this gives them strength.

“We would not have gotten through the Inquisition, the Holocaust and all the wars in Israel if we were not a nation of hope,” Goldstein said.

She cited the message shared by Yuri Levin, who escaped after being captured by terrorists at Kibbutz Kfar Aza on Oct. 7, that she is determined to take home to her community. He told the emissaries, whom he met during their visit to the Gaza border: “We are a nation taught to love, while they [the attackers] were taught to hate.”

Chana Tiechtel, co-director of the Chabad at Arizona State University in Tempe, said, “When Jewish students at Arizona State proudly proclaim their Jewishness, it is because they know there is a proud Jewish nation that stands behind them.”

“Jewish students need intense support to maintain their pride and commitment on campus,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, CEO of Chabad on Campus International. “The best providers are those dedicated to the truth of Jewish existence and Israel.”

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, chief operating officer at Chabad on Campus International, told JNS, “Bad things are happening to us. What happened on October 7 and the disappointing world reaction of many does not define us. Our rich, majestic and joyful tradition is what defines us.”

“It is easy to get consumed with all the negativity and to feel defeated and alone. Our primary focus is to give students an injection of Jewish pride and Jewish education to lean into their own identity and celebrate it,” he said.

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