Hope in a ‘time of darkness’: Suburban students discuss campus antisemitism

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Hayden Hirschhaut’s name.

A campus antisemitism roundtable discussion sponsored by U.S. Rep Brad Schneider in Northbrook on Monday concluded on a poignant, hopeful note with a reference to a Hebrew saying.

“Each one of us is like a small candle, but all of us together is a powerful source of light,” said Lake Forest College student Ido Zimbelman, an Israel native.

Schneider and his staff organized the 90-minute discussion in response to increased hostility toward Jews on college and university campuses in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“What we’re seeing today is antisemitism comes 360 degrees,” said Schneider, a Democrat from Highland Park. “It’s on the left. It’s on the right … For you what’s different now is how front and center it is. And it’s nowhere more front and center than what is happening on college campuses.”

Thirteen undergraduates from Schneider’s 10th Congressional District shared their experiences with antisemitism on campus. Those experiences include what Deerfield resident Josh Levin, 22, described as “casual antisemitism” consisting of offhand remarks or supposed jokes. Others described slurs and verbal attacks.

Zimbelman, a varsity soccer player, said teammates and fellow students “started to look at me in a different way” after Oct. 7. He also endured insults and accusations.

“These are not the easiest times,” he added. “It’s a time of darkness; everyone is experiencing that. But remember it is always darkest before the dawn.”

George Washington University student Noah Shapiro, of Deerfield, described anti-Israel messages projected onto the façade of the Washington, D.C. school’s library, an incident that made national headlines.

University of Wisconsin-Madison student Margo Weissman, 22, of Northbrook, described a Nov. 18 march by white supremacists on the state capitol that made her feel targeted and unsafe.

Between free speech and intimidation, Weissman said, “where does the line get drawn?”

The students mostly attributed antisemitic incidents to ignorance, confusion and misunderstanding.

Loyola University of Chicago student Hayden Hirschhaut blamed social media in part.

“A lot of people are getting information off of Instagram or Tik-Tok and are not doing their own research,” she said, adding “if I’m not presenting information in an aesthetically pleasing infographic, people aren’t going to listen to me.”

Hearing fellow students chanting antisemitic slogans at Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) rallies and endorsing Hamas terrorists makes Hirschhaut feel she’s not wanted (on campus).

“It makes me feel I have to hide myself,” she said.

Combating ignorance and misinformation requires more education, including increased Holocaust education, to make clear that, as Lyla Prass, of Deerfield said, “being a Zionist does not mean you are anti-Palestinian.”

Schneider pointed out it is possible to be pro-Palestinian and not be antisemitic. As the roundtable concluded he assured participants that college administrators, Jewish campus organizations, elected officials and fellow citizens stand behind them.

“Stay strong,” he said.

During a post-discussion interview, Schneider expressed dismay that some college students embraced Hamas and “identified with the ideology which is genocidal to its core.”

But he noted the vast majority of people condemn Hamas and recognize Israel “has a right to defend itself, secure its borders and protect its citizens. And at the same time, called for protection of the civilians.”

“I have patience,” Schneider added. “If you don’t get it right the first time, get it right the second time and certainly the third time.”

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider
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