We were waiting for something that never arrived.
To the John Jay College administration,
Each morning, I walk onto campus, proud to be an advocate for justice. About a month ago, that changed. You failed me, John Jay, and you failed my people.
On October 27, 2018, something horrendous happened. A gunman opened fire in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and killed 11 innocent worshipers who woke up one morning with the sole intent of attending prayer services, but lost their lives because one man held hatred and antisemitism in his heart. The Anti-Defamation League labeled this shooting as the deadliest attack against Jews in US history. The Jewish community was in complete distress.
Fearful and ashamed, John Jay’s Jewish population attended class as usual the next week, awaiting an email condemning the shooting. We were waiting for something that never arrived.
Unfortunately, our school’s administration did not see the importance of speaking out against this offense as it did after the shootings in Charlottesville, Virginia, Las Vegas, Nevada and Parkland, Florida. All three of these shootings were denounced by John Jay via an email. However, after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, our very own institution abandoned us in our time of need. Why weren’t we offered counseling to help cope with our tremendous loss?
Instead, John Jay President Karol Mason sent out a tweet saying, “Like a school, a place of worship should feel safe for anyone. I recently visited friends in Squirrel Hill and was shaken after the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue there. Sending strength, love, and hopes for peace.” Although this statement is greatly appreciated, there is something missing, a very important element to this madness – the word antisemitism. This heinous attack must be called out for what it is.
The trend began when four days following the attack, a post went up on John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s official Facebook page with pictures taken from Hillel at John Jay’s Pittsburgh memorial, captioned: “In this time, when it feels like the news is filled with senseless murders and racist acts of violence, be a fierce advocate and take a stand against hate.”
This is not the proper reaction to the slaughter of 11 people. We certainly deserve more than a general CUNY statement about combating racism. What happened in Pittsburgh was a clear result of antisemitism; there is no other word to describe it and there should not be. It is crucial that this “racist act of violence” be called by its name, or nothing will ever change.
To the outsider, the Facebook post may come off as compassionate, however, to Jews on campus, it simply strikes us as an attempt to use our pain to push John Jay’s social justice agenda. Jews feel extremely marginalized on campus, an atmosphere which this impersonal “statement” only intensifies.
Undoubtedly, we must come together to take a stand against hate; it is our duty. However, while doing so we must acknowledge that each type of racism is unique and needs to be handled individually. Let us remember that we cannot pick and choose; rather, feel an obligation to fight for all minorities or risk becoming hypocrites. Hate does not discriminate; neither should we.
Antisemitism is on the rise.
From 2016 to 2017, America saw a 60% rise in antisemitic incidents. According to the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics report, there has been a 17% upsurge in hate crimes in 2017, where the majority of reported incidents targeted Jews and African-Americans. During a time when white nationalism is on the rise in the US, it must be made immensely clear that Jews are victims as well.
The week after the shooting in Pittsburgh saw numerous offenses carried out against Jews. In New York alone, the NYPD logged seven different arson attacks on Jewish schools, a metal pole was thrown into a synagogue in Williamsburg, as well as a number of swastikas sprayed in Crown Heights. This happened in our very own city, so close to home and still John Jay remained quiet.
After the vandalism of a Jewish professor’s office in Columbia University, John Jay President Karol Mason tweeted, “We stand with the @Columbia community in condemning the expression of intolerance against a professor. The increase in hate crimes, including the recent deadly attack in Pittsburgh, is a call to action for our fierce advocates for justice.” Once again, for a reason unknown, it seems to be difficult to explicitly specify “antisemitism” or even mention the word “Jews.”
John Jay’s mission statement says: “We are dedicated to educating traditionally underrepresented groups and committed to increasing diversity in the workforce. We educate fierce advocates for justice.” Although this statement celebrates John Jay’s identity as a justice school and minority-serving institution; this distinction is minimized the moment Jews are left out of that narrative. Antisemitism is licensed to roam around campus freely, making us feel awfully excluded.
We are hurt. We are angered. Most of all, we are disappointed.
John Jay, if you preferred to claim this was done out of obliviousness before, now you know. You must understand that to a certain degree, your silence perpetuates the oppression. We must begin pointing out antisemitism in its every form. As a college that stands for justice in all respects, John Jay should be the first to recognize this.
So, my leaders: I have one question. When will it end? When will I, along with the rest of my Jewish peers, feel comfortable walking onto campus knowing that the “John Jay family” is behind us?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.
Sarah Saada is a junior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.