Jewish students and others at the University came together on Wednesday, Nov. 30, demonstrating on Andrus Field in a Day of Jewish Resistance. The event was part of a nationwide effort to draw the line against the appointment of Steve Bannon and the normalization of hate and violence, among other calls to action.
The University was one of over 30 communities in the country that participated in the Jewish social justice organization IfNotNow’s national day of action.
“For too long, our Jewish institutions have spent the majority of their political capital on ensuring that the American government supports Israel unilaterally,” a statement from IfNotNow read. “Now, that stance threatens to make them complicit with newly-emboldened white nationalists that swept Trump to power on the back of anti-Semitic tropes. Bannon, Trump and their ilk are relying on our silence as they quietly normalize the sort of hate that characterized the Trump Campaign.”
Students who participated gathered at 12:15 p.m. in Boger Hall for a reflection and dialogue before taking action. At 12:45 p.m., they marched out to Andrus Field forming a line, singing two songs, and reading a statement adapted from IfNotNow’s script.
“The talk was basically for framing the action and what was going to go down,” one of the students who helped coordinate the event, Anna Cohen ’17, said. “The reason why we thought that was important was because anything that goes around with Israel or Jewish identity politics in general can get really complicated. We didn’t want people to be participating in an action where they didn’t know what they were standing for.”
Talia Kaplan ’18 spearheaded the University’s participation in this movement.
“I remember being really energized when reading about the actions that IfNotNow held last week, calling for Bannon to be fired,” Kaplan wrote in an email to The Argus. “When I saw they were holding a National Day of Action to escalate the call and looking for lots of communities to step up, I immediately thought of Wesleyan. We’re fortunate to have a very social justice-oriented campus, and a good number of student activists also identify as Jewish.”
Participating in this event was about more than the Jewish community drawing a line. In particular, the reflection served as a place for students to be critical about how the Jewish community could improve internally and externally.
“Within our community we talked a little bit about how we haven’t been as queer friendly as we could have been, especially with Hillel and the whole Mosaic United movement that went around them,” Cohen said. “….Then outside of our community we talked about how there’s been a way in which Jews have benefited from a model minority stereotype. We haven’t spoken out enough for other groups, because we’re maintaining our position of privilege within the United States.”
The movement faced some criticism. According to Ella Israeli ’17, who helped lead the event, many people wondered why it had taken the Jewish community this long to draw the line.
“Why is it that a white supremacist has to be elected and put in place, or in Steve Bannon’s case a senior advisor?” Israeli said. “Why do we have to wait? Why are we drawing the line here? We should have been drawing the line a dozen years ago.”
Israeli acknowledged that there are Jewish organizations that have been working toward drawing this line for a while, by helping with movements such as Black Lives Matter.
“I think it’s important for the Wesleyan Jewish community to do this now, because now more than ever they can’t just be the same people who have been working,” Israeli said. “What is happening now is not normal, and we need as many people fighting against it as we can possibly get….Wesleyan is a campus that for better or worse, the nation looks to in certain instances….I do think it’s not just we need as many people as we can get; we can’t just turn away right now.”
Yael Fisher ’18, who helped organize the event, echoed this sentiment. She also discussed the importance of bringing to light the importance of helping students see Judaism as part of their identity and a source for their activism.
“A lot of us feel alienated by the fact that most Jewish engagement on this campus is tied to religiosity,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Judaism is both a culture and a religion, and it has a longstanding tradition of social justice and of activism and being at the forefront of activist causes, including our own liberation.”
However, the event brought in some new faces to the Jewish activist scene. Jacob Karlin ’17 helped plan the event, but had previously not been involved with the Jewish community at the University.
“It was really nice to be in a room full of people who I’d never seen also talk about their Judaism,” Karlin said. “It was really cool just to see a bunch of people just dissecting the moment that we were currently in. It was just really exciting to see an energy surrounding this conversation, and I’m really excited to see where this goes.”
Many of the students involved with Wednesday’s event are hoping that this is just the beginning of the Jewish Resistance movement at the University.
“I both hope and anticipate that Jewish (and other) students at Wesleyan will continue to act on their values,” Kaplan wrote. “Judaism has a long tradition of social justice. For example, after marching with MLK, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel talked about how his feet were praying. My Jewish tradition compels me to pursue justice for all people, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status.”