US campus activists unite against anti-Semitism in Europe
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US campus activists unite against anti-Semitism in Europe

Holding simultaneous vigils, students at four US universities launch a coalition to raise awareness of rising prejudice

At a March 30, 2015 vigil held at Brandeis University to support victims of anti-Semitism in Europe, students wrote notes of support to an embattled Jewish community in France (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)
At a March 30, 2015 vigil held at Brandeis University to support victims of anti-Semitism in Europe, students wrote notes of support to an embattled Jewish community in France (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)

BOSTON — Two months ago, Brandeis University senior Ryan Yuffe took special note of Martin Luther King Day on his campus, including the emotional involvement of students from many backgrounds.

Having already been thinking about the growing tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, the 22-year-old organizer had an “activist’s epiphany,” as he told The Times of Israel.

“We should organize the same kind of thing on campus, but for European Jews,” Yuffe remembers thinking.

Flash forward to Monday night, when more than 100 Brandeis students attended a vigil in solidarity with European Jewry, as well as the creation of a Brandeis student-led movement to focus on battling anti-Semitism in Europe.

At the start of  the vigil outside Boston, 20 students read aloud the details of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe since the start of February, ranging from physical assaults to desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Simultaneous to the Brandeis gathering, vigils were held at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the University of Rochester in New York.

More than 100 students attended a vigil at Brandeis University to raise awareness about anti-Semitism in Europe, March 30, 2015 (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Time of Israel)
More than 100 students attended a vigil at Brandeis University to raise awareness about anti-Semitism in Europe, March 30, 2015 (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Time of Israel)

Soon after Yuffe’s Martin Luther King Day vision, he and nine other Brandeis undergraduates decided to focus efforts on holding European governments accountable for promises made to combat anti-Semitism. Vigils were one thing, but the students — who named themselves the Coalition Against Anti-Semitism in Europe (CAASE) — had even bigger plans in mind.

‘Silence is tantamount to guilt; we will not allow history to repeat’

According to Yuffe, a long-term goal is to march on the embassies of European countries which are in violation of commitments to address anti-Semitism. In the meantime, activists are conducting research, designing infographics, and tapping faculty advisors for guidance. The group also hopes to raise funds for a student mission to Europe to meet members of Jewish communities there.

“The recent targeted attacks against European Jews are not aberrations, but rather manifestations of the deteriorating conditions faced by European Jews,” according to the CAASE mission statement. “Our grassroots campaign demands accountability on behalf of European institutions. Silence is tantamount to guilt; we will not allow history to repeat.”

As with any national movement, the group’s first step was to expand. Brandeis junior Lieba Hall was tasked with reaching out to other campuses, including the invitation to conduct simultaneous vigils on Monday night.

Brandeis University students participate in a March 30, 2015 vigil in solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism in Europe (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/ The Times of Israel)
Brandeis University students participate in a March 30, 2015 vigil in solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism in Europe (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/ The Times of Israel)

“I have witnessed a lot of anti-Semitism in my life,” Hall told The Times of Israel. “Family members of mine perished in the Holocaust, and I felt I had to be doing something to bring awareness about rampant anti-Semitism in Europe again, she said.

As a CAASE spokesperson and host of the Brandeis vigil, junior Misha Vilenchuk said he is part of a line of activists struggling for the rights of Jews around the world.

‘We are inspired by the student struggle for Soviet Jewry, which led to the general community taking up that cause’

“This is the very beginning of the end of us tolerating this,” said Vilenchuk, who was born in Moscow.

“We are inspired by the student struggle for Soviet Jewry, which led to the general community taking up that cause,” he said. “We had students here tonight from many countries, religions and backgrounds, and we know this movement to fight anti-Semitism in Europe has tremendous potential,” said Vilenchuk.

Yuffe, the son of a Ukrainian Jew who immigrated to the US, said he too draws inspiration from the epic struggle against Soviet rule.

“We demand accountability from the governments who said they would never allow such things to happen again,” Yuffe said. “This is within the scope of their responsibility to the past, and the future.”

Brandeis University junior Misha Vilenchuk hosts a vigil against anti-Semitism in Europe on March 30, 2015 (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)
Brandeis University junior Misha Vilenchuk hosts a vigil against anti-Semitism in Europe on March 30, 2015 (photo credit: Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)
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