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To Jewish students in the US – we get it!



To fellow Jewish students in the United States,

As a South African student navigating the complexities of maintaining a proud Jewish identity in a landscape so charged with hate, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding, I find myself compelled to reach out to you and let you know that I feel your hurt, I understand your confusion and disillusion. I feel your horror at the apathy of your university executives while the actions of their students go so desperately against their codes of conduct, it couldn’t be more obvious if it were written in neon lights across the campus skyline.

I know – and more than anything I wish – I could help you to make your universities see your hurt and pain.

At the beginning of this year, I had the privilege of sitting around a table with students across the United States, including Columbia, Yale, George Washington University, and more. We were speaking about our experiences as Jewish students, and I explained to them what BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions coalition] was, because at this point, though it existed on American campuses, its true potential to cause damage hadn’t yet truly exposed itself, and I explained what Israeli Apartheid Week looked like on South African university campuses.

They looked at me in horror as I explained what happens on my campus every year, and with sincere concern when I explained the attempts that were being made to bring about a full academic boycott of Israel at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Not even two months later, these same students find themselves all too familiar with the situation that South African students have been navigating for years – a silent, or simply disinterested – university body, unmoved by the blatantly obvious fear of Jewish students, more concerned about public relations than the safety of students.

Here’s the thing about being Jewish: my pain is yours, and yours is mine. There exists something so incredibly rare in the Jewish community, and that’s a closeness that has arisen out of generations of survival and endurance. This means that while I watch the events unfolding on campuses across America, I cannot help but imagine myself in your shoes. Having said that, there are also experiences you are having to encounter that I have never had to, such as being barred from entering lectures or even entering campus grounds, and I truly cannot imagine how that must feel, how hurtful and unbelievably painful that must be.

In the past two months, Jewish students at UCT have come face-to-face with blatant antisemitism and glaring, unavoidable prejudice. Our university lecturers have isolated us and belittled us into case studies and examples, our fellow students have avoided our eyes as if they’d turn into stone if they looked at us for too long.

Regardless of how antisemitism has presented itself across campuses worldwide, there’s not a shadow of doubt that picking on Jewish students has become the trend of the year, creating a reality for Jewish students so perverse, it’s almost impossible to believe.

While I’m by no means an authority on the matter – not that there should ever have to be a world where there has to be an authority on proving that Jews have the right to exist – let me give you some pieces of advice that have been given to me over the years that have got me through:

First, never let their shrilling silence your song. Our strength has always come from our ability to maintain our faith and conviction in the face of ugly brutality;

Second, your sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness. Your ability to see humanity when everything around you is suggesting animosity is your reminder to not let this hate make you into the monster they want to believe you are;

Third, your trust in what’s right is a better guide than anything. Lean into it. We have something that they’ll never have. We have faith. Let it lead you.

More than anything, I want you to know that I’m proud of you for having the strength to continue. You belong on your campuses as much as anyone, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

As we reflect on 79 years since the Shoah, let the memories of our ancestors be your guiding light.

Mir veln zey iberlebn (We will outlive them).

  • Erin Dodo is the chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students in the Western Cape.

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