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Monday, June 17, 2024

Jewish students deserve your allyship, too

Antisemitism in plain view at UF

<p>Rabbi Berl Goldman walks through the crowd of students gathered in Plaza of the Americas as an antisemitic group &quot;Ye is Right&quot; attempts to interview people on campus Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. </p>

Rabbi Berl Goldman walks through the crowd of students gathered in Plaza of the Americas as an antisemitic group "Ye is Right" attempts to interview people on campus Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.

Ask any of the estimated 9,400 Jewish students on UF’s campus if they’re surprised by this week’s string of antisemitic events, and I’m sure you’ll receive the same answer.

Not at all.

Personally, I didn’t bat an eye when antisemitism was flaunted in our faces this week. Passing by the pink chalk messages the university has yet to scrub off wasn’t shocking. Seeing yet another display of neo-Nazism on our campus shrouded in a cellophane Yeezy film wasn’t either. 

If you ask me, people are just starting to once again say the quiet part out loud. 

Though I’m not an observant Jew, I proudly wear the label. Sitting around the Passover table as a child, my grandfather would read stories of the strife of our ancestors — something our holidays never fail to remind us of. 

We’ve been enslaved, put through mass ethnic cleansing, pushed out of countries, shoved to the sidelines. If they haven’t gotten us yet, they never will. 

That’s something I carry with me: a legacy of survivors whose perseverance has been stronger than any semblance of hate. 

When I arrived at UF, my Jewishness faded to the background. I no longer take part in rich Shabbat dinners on Saturdays, feel obligated to fast on Yom Kippur, kiss the mezuzah hanging near my father’s front door or perk up when he talks to a relative in Hebrew.  

As a non-practicing, ethnically Jewish person, my Jewishness flies under the radar. Those I meet are often surprised to learn of my Ashkenazi mother and Sephardic father.

My father came to the U.S. from Israel, where his parents found refuge after leaving Iraq. My mother’s family, Yiddish speakers from all over Eastern Europe, immigrated to New York City via Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century in search of a better future.   

With very separate lineages and traditions, both sides of my heritage remind me why it’s important to speak out: The Jewish story is that of nomads who’ve never belonged to established society. 

When I came to Gainesville, what I found was wildly different from the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale, where there’s at least one kosher market and several Jewish temples in nearly every city. 

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Gainesville’s Jewish community finds its numbers in its students — Hillel International ranks UF No. 1 by population, with more than 19% of its undergrad population identifying as Jewish. 

But nothing about me is characteristically Jewish anymore, other than those who came before me. I still find conflict between my identity and chosen career path.

As I began to settle into journalism — and false tropes that Jews control the media aside — I saw difficulty in straddling the line between advocacy and objectivity. 

Covering white supremacy is never easy. 

It wasn’t simple when our football reporter had to cover antisemitic messages displayed at the UF-Georgia game last semester. It was even harder this week when the local Jewish community was the one being vilified. 

Though my newsroom was well aware of the “Ye” clan’s supposed appearance on campus the night before, whether we should ignore it or report on it became a point of contention. We’re not in the business of giving a platform to white supremacists, but it felt wrong to dismiss it all together.

If there’s anything I’d implore you to take home with you after this week, it’s that antisemitism has never left public consciousness. While it may be less outward-facing in modern discourse, to me, it feels like we’re always one pendulum swing away from repeating history’s darkest chapters. 

Ye and his followers may be the latest Nazi fad. But make no mistake: We’ve been through it before, and we’ll likely go through it again. 

And what I notice from my generation is a hesitance to recognize antisemitism. We’re getting better about recognizing racism and listening to the stories of people of color, but we’re still astutely out of tune with what’s happening throughout our country to Jewish people.

Antisemitic acts are wide-reaching and don’t just impact Jews like me who aren’t walking around dressed in traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing.

In 2022, the Anti-Defamation League found 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, as opposed to 61 in 2019. 

These range from something seemingly outrageous like Holocaust denial to more common ones, like the extreme delegitimization of Israel, where many American Jews are blamed for the actions of a nation thousands of miles away.

Attacks on Jewish people are reaching record highs, not only in the U.S., but abroad, too.

Antisemitism is easy to unilaterally denounce, as we saw with immediate statements last week from now-former President Kent Fuchs and Student Government. But it’s a majorly difficult and long-standing form of prejudice to shake. 

Include Jewish students in the conversation about anti-racism. It’s long overdue. 

Alan Halaly is the editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator.

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Alan Halaly

Alan Halaly is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2023 Editor-in-Chief of The Alligator. He's previously served as Engagement Managing Editor, Metro Editor and Photo Editor. Alan has also held internships with the Miami New Times and The Daily Beast, and spent his first two semesters in college on The Alligator’s Metro desk covering city and county affairs. 

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