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Jewish communities navigate antisemitism

Numerous Jewish student communities on college campuses across the United States have filed lawsuits against their universities for failing to protect their civil rights since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to a January 2024 AP News article. Universities in northwest Ohio, including Bowling Green State University (BGSU), and their surrounding communities are experiencing such instances of antisemitism to varying degrees. 

BGSU’s Jewish community is small, with less than 400 undergraduate and graduate students identifying as Jewish, but present. The university’s Jewish Campus Life Organization Hillel connects Jewish students, faculty and staff at BGSU and hopes to provide a safe place for them to socialize and learn. The organization brought in new Jewish Student Life Coordinator Micki Pittman in July 2023, who said Jewish students at BGSU have reported feeling welcome, despite threats currently facing America’s Jewish community. 

“My first six months of employment have been kind of challenging,” she said. “But I know that Hillel at BGSU has been a really safe place for students compared to what we’ve seen.”

Pittman said Hillel at BGSU is not only inclusive within the organization itself, but also welcomes members from all walks of life. Other students, faculty, staff and organizations have generally been accepting of Hillel’s presence at BGSU. 

“This year, everyone has been incredibly supportive, appreciative and receptive to having us on-campus,” she said. “Everyone’s been genuinely interested in how we engage students and who they are.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts at BGSU likely play a role in the sense of  security felt by the university’s Jewish community despite the Oct. 7 attack. BGSU Interim Chief Diversity and Belonging Officer and Director of Multicultural Affairs and LGBTQ+ Programs Dr. Katie Stygles said the university is always trying to expand on DEI efforts. 

“BGSU consistently seeks opportunities to further promote a supportive and inclusive learning community,” she said. “The university’s work to foster and promote a diverse and welcoming learning community is ongoing and never-ending.” 

Stygles said the university actively provides access to countless groups and organizations for people to connect with those that are both like-minded and different from them. Divisions, units and programs across the university allow students to provide feedback or report incidents concerning DEI at BGSU.

“Any member of the learning community who experiences or witnesses antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Arab or similar incidents on campus should feel empowered to report it,” she said.

BGSU provides many means of outreach to its students, faculty and staff. Jewish communities in surrounding areas, however, lack direction in terms of diversity and belonging without a central communication avenue. 

Rabbi Lisa Delson, the first female rabbi at Temple Shomer Emunim in Sylvania, Ohio, said her congregation continues to face challenges following the Oct. 7 attack. 

“One of the major challenges is we have security at all of our events,” she said. “Not only does it make it seem unsafe because we have security, but it requires a lot of monetary resources from our community.”

Delson said it is a scary and confusing time for people to express their Jewish identity. She wishes her community would be completely accepted, but has observed growth
in discomfort, both within and toward her community.

“Jewish people have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years, and that history is trying to be erased,” she said. “I want innocent Palestinians to live in peace and I also want Israelis to feel safe in their own homes in Israel, so it’s really complicated.”

Jewish communities across the country are experiencing conflicting levels of antisemitism, including in northwest Ohio. Bringing awareness to the issue and how it affects those that may live right up the street can help them find support in navigating the difficulties that continue to follow the Oct. 7 attack. 

Visit https://www.bgsu.edu/report-incident.html to report incidents of harassment or discrimination at BGSU.

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