(Editor’s note: Ziegler is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer).
Last week the Notre Dame Jewish Club hosted the second annual Anti-Semitism Awareness Week. The event is an effort to educate the campus about Judaism and combat misconceptions about Jewish culture that can potentially evolve into anti-Semitism, Jewish Club co-president Blake Ziegler said.
The week consisted of events designed to educate students of all faiths about Judaism, allow Jewish students to celebrate their faith, and raise awareness of anti-Semitism on campus.
Ziegler said anti-Semitism awareness is especially important at Notre Dame, which historically has a small number of Jewish students.
“The Jewish Club strongly believes that, especially on a campus like Notre Dame where students tend not to have much exposure to Jews or Judaism, education is the best way to combat…misconceptions about Judaism,” Ziegler said.
The first event of the week was a talk given last Monday by Sarah van Loon from American Jewish Committee. Van Loon discussed the state of anti-Semitism in the United States, referring to the agency annual survey. Van Loon pointed to the survey’s finding that 90% of American Jews view anti-Semitism as a serious or somewhat of a problem, but that number drops to 60% for the general public, Ziegler said.
The club also organized a panel with students and teachers. During the panel, the students posed questions to the panel members about the lives of members of the Notre Dame Jewish community.
Graduate student Karla Gonzalez-Serrano said the panel provided valuable discussion between students and faculty, shedding light on ways the campus can be more inclusive for Jewish students. These ideas included allowing students to time exams so they don’t conflict with fasting and providing more kosher dining options at college events.
Although a Catholic, Gonzalez-Serrano said she has enjoyed participating in the Jewish Club over the past year because it has allowed her to learn about another culture and helped create a sense of interfaith community.
“We pray to the same God, so it definitely feels like a rewarding spiritual practice for me,” she said.
Other events included a Holocaust prayer service on Wednesday, bystander training for microaggressions and a briefing on the club’s efforts to push the University to adopt an official definition of anti-Semitism.
Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spoke about what they define as the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic criticism of Israel. The Jewish Club has a policy of not commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unless discussing the spiritual bond between Jews and Israel or responding to anti-Semitic criticism of Israel, Ziegler said.
“We brought in the ADL to come and talk about this to try to educate the community on how to navigate this kind of talk because we want to allow people to criticize Israel and have this open discussion. because we should all be able to criticize democracies,” he said. “But we want to recognize that there is a line that can be crossed, and we don’t want to cross that line.
The week ended with the club’s bi-weekly Shabbat celebration, but with a particular focus on anti-Semitism awareness and interfaith dialogue. Ziegler said many students on campus have little exposure to Judaism, so he hopes the Jewish Club can help educate students of all faiths.
“Ignorance is what breeds anti-Semitism in the first place, [a] lack of understanding of these situations,” he said. “And so we wanted to educate the community to be aware of those situations and how certain things can be perceived as anti-Semitic and are anti-Semitic even if it’s not direct physical violence against someone.”