At UMD Hillel’s event, students celebrated Hanukkah, and Jewish pride in spite of rising antisemitism.
By Ryan Mercado
On Thursday afternoon, Maryland Hillel hosted a “Hanukkah Handout” event in the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, handing out latkes and sufganiyot, while asking students an important question: how will you erase hate?
“The goal that we had was to have a sign that people can write on ways they’re going to stop spreading hate, the focus being antisemitism,” said Adam Bershad, Director of Engagement and Israel Experiences at Hillel. “This is a starting point to get the conversation started and hope that Hillel is like a catalyst … to eradicate hatred throughout campus.”
As 2022 comes to a close, antisemitism continues to rise across the country, notably with the recent antisemitic comments by Ye, the rapper formally known as Kanye West, and former President Donald Trump having dinner with known antisemite, Nick Fuentes on Nov. 22.
Many Jewish Americans are confronting this rise with a “mix of anxiety and resolve,” as recently reported in the Times of Israel.
In Maryland this year, there have been a total of twelve known antisemitic incidents recorded on the Anti-Defamation League’s website. One incident in the past month hit close to home for many students on campus.
Antisemitic graffiti was found near the Bethesda Trolly Trail in Montgomery County on the morning of Nov. 14. According to the Bethesda Beat, Montgomery County has an estimated Jewish population of 100,000, about 10% of the county’s approximately one million residents. Many Jewish Terps come from Montgomery County.
“It felt a little bit too close to home. I see it happening in other places and it’s horrible. And then I felt like it kept getting closer and closer,” said Leah Bregman, president of the Jewish Student Union. However, despite the incident, Bregman feels safe at this university.
“People here feel pretty safe and they know that there’s people higher up working to make sure that we are safe. There’s such a large Jewish community here that we feel our presence,” said Bregman.
Bershad and those at Hillel are just a few of those people working to help Jews feel safe on campus.
“We’re always here for students if things affect the community or personally affect someone and they’re struggling to be proud to be Jewish,” said Bershad.
As the event progressed, Birthright Coordinator, Dan Kling, encouraged students to eat traditional Hanukkah foods, take a free hanukiah and to write a note and leave it on the sign explaining what they would do to combat hate.
Kling said he sees going on a Birthright trip as one way to help students combat antisemitism.
“Israel was a response to antisemitism in Europe, we can see how coming together as a community, persevering, pushing for unity, and advocating for ourselves can really be a benefit,” said Kling.
Like Bregman, Kling also agreed that the university’s large Jewish population is resilient.
“There’s strength in numbers and having such a large grown Jewish community,” Kling said.
As the event wound down, notes such as “go out of your comfort zone, engage with others,” and “speak up when you witness slurs or other hate speech,” filled the sign as students showed their support to combat hate.
Hanukkah begins on December 18, and students look forward to celebrating their faith even in the face of hate.