Some see ignorance as anti-Semitism

A guest speaker discusses how universities can be hostile to Judaism.

by Claire Bramel

University of Minnesota senior Zach Stern felt his professor assigned him more makeup work than other students when he missed class for a Jewish holiday.

He didn’t think the professor was targeting him because he’s Jewish, but Stern said the incident was an example of ignorance — a problem he says has a similar magnitude to anti-Semitism.

It’s an issue Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, broached at the University of Minnesota last weekend.

“Is there an anti-Jewish bias in today’s university?” he asked during his lecture.

“The Betrayal of the Humanities: The University during the Third Reich,” a two-day symposium at the University, was organized to show how changes under the National Socialism era in Germany impacted how we learn and study, said Bernard Levinson, a professor of classical and near eastern studies and one of the symposium’s co-organizers.

Rosenfeld gives the lecture, most of which focused on the ignorance of other students, faculty and staff at a university at campuses across the country.

He said many college campuses have become “hospitable to certain political and ideological currents of thought” that can create a hostile environment for Jewish students and professors.

Stern, a public relations student who is also a leader on the student board for Hillel, the Jewish student center, agreed.

“I have encountered many individuals who simply do not understand that we live in a diverse society with many religions and traditions,” he said.

But other students like junior Jessica James said people are eager to learn about her religion.

“Everyone who has found out I’m Jewish has never responded negatively towards me,” she said. “Most are curious and ask questions actually, which I think is really cool.”

Rosenfeld also discussed whether the sentiments that flourished in Nazi Germany have eroded, and are a dark fragment of society’s past, or if a new anti-Semitism has emerged. Rosenfeld raised several questions pertaining to college campuses, particularly a large university such as the University of Minnesota, where the population is diverse.

Stern’s example is just one in which a student or faculty or staff member might feel discriminated against because of his or her religion. The University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action provides a detailed list of religious holidays and encourages faculty and staff not to schedule events or exams on those days. Still, many students might have to skip class for a religious observance and have a hard time explaining it to their instructor.

Sophomore Sam Blustin, who is a regular at Hillel, said he also thinks people are somewhat uneducated about Judaism, though he hasn’t personally experienced any anti-Semitism at the University.

“As a Jew who wears a kippah [head covering] all the time, my friends, colleagues and teachers are well aware that I am Jewish,” said Blustin, a computer science student. “Up to this point, I have had no issues.”