Since I joined Southern Fried Science in 2009, I’ve written almost 1,000 blog posts. This post has unquestionably been the most difficult one for me to write. Although I’ve always enjoyed sharing and debating my opinions (even when they’re unpopular in certain circles,) I’ve never been comfortable discussing negative personal experiences. And yet, I feel that the topic of anti-Semitism in academia , something that is in fact much more pervasive than most non-Jews believe, is too important for me to remain silent any longer. More than 40% of Jewish students reported being the victim of some degree of anti-Semitism at their college or university. This can range from mockery to exclusion to the Michigan State student who was beaten while his attackers made the Nazi salute last summer.
I want to state upfront that it is not my intention in writing this post to start a “which minority group is the most oppressed” competition, nor am I naive enough to believe that my post will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back and fixes these issues once and for all. I also want to state that while I could write a whole book about my experiences with anti-Semitism in the context of my personal pro-Israel advocacy, this post is not about that, other than to say that while not all criticism of Israel and Israel’s policies and actions can be considered anti-Semitic in nature, some of it certainly can. Finally, it’s important to note that while not all of these examples are necessarily anti-Jewish specifically, all are anti-someone-different-from-me and contrary to a culture of diversity and inclusiveness. My goal is simply to continue an important and ongoing conversation about academic culture by sharing my personal experiences, and perhaps to bring another group into that conversation. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section.
Like almost all Jews alive today, I have distant relatives who died in the Holocaust and in the centuries of pogroms in Russia and eastern Europe, relatives killed simply because they were Jewish, because they were different. My grandfather was denied the chance to purchase his dream home by would-be neighbors who demanded a letter of recommendation from a member of the clergy. My great uncle’s sailboat is named “Finally,” as in “Finally, Jews are allowed to join the yacht club.” My mother was once in a boating accident, and her rescuer almost left her in the water after he recognized her as a member of a local Jewish family (he actually told her this). I could write extensively about my family’s experience with anti-Semitism, but I think we can all agree that anti-Semitism has a long history in Western culture, including in the United States. What some may not be aware of is that it is still very much a problem.
Despite being as much of a nerd in high school as I am now, I was never “beaten up” in the traditional sense, even on the day (ok, fine, days) that I wore a Star Trek uniform to class. I did, however, experience plenty of anti-Semitic bullying. Even though I don’t strictly keep kosher, it was deeply troubling when some of the other kids at summer camp put bacon in my bed. Following a local racially-motivated shooting spree that left one Jewish woman dead, one bully told me that he wished that more Jews had been killed. Another asked me why Jews couldn’t be more like chicken nuggets, as “chicken nuggets don’t complain when you put them in the oven.” Ever a smartass and unhealthy food aficionado, I pointed out that chicken nuggets are typically fried rather than baked, causing him to storm away angrily. Words have always been powerful weapons for the Jewish people, and I often use humor to attempt to defuse situations like this, but it doesn’t mean that this (and many, many similar incidents, including countless times I’ve been called a “dirty Jew” ) don’t affect me.
Once I left high school and entered academia as a college undergraduate, the specific details changed, but the bullying and exclusion continued. I haven’t been threatened with violence or made the subject of Holocaust jokes just for being Jewish since high school, though many other Jewish students have. It’s annoying and not exactly welcoming when so many people say, “You’re Jewish? My next door neighbor’s babysitter’s boyfriend was Jewish,” as if I should be excited by this news, but it’s hardly a major problem.
Other than fellow students being not quite sure how to talk to someone who has a different background from them, the biggest issues I’ve faced concern religious holidays. One professor refused to let me make up an exam on another date because “Jews have too many strange holidays to keep track of” and I might be lying to cover for not studying. I received the highest score on the exam despite making numerous references to the professor being an ignorant jerk in my essay responses.
This concerns not only Jewish holidays, but also Christmas and how it is celebrated on campus. I don’t really care if the cashier at Target wishes me “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” as they are really saying “I hope you have a pleasant few weeks during this time of the year that is significant to many people” and not ” you should convert to Christianity or else you’ll go to hell.” However, I once asked if I could, at my own expense, provide dreidels, a menorah, and latkes (a Hanukkah food) at a graduate school “holiday party” that was going to consist primarily of singing Christmas Carols and hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree while wearing sweaters featuring Santa Claus. (ProTip: If you call something a “Holiday Party” but every single other detail of the party is identical to a stereotypical “Christmas Party,” this is not an example of inclusiveness.) I was told by a fellow graduate student (not the official organizer for the party) that I should “leave my weird traditions at Jew Church” and “let people celebrate the real holiday in peace.”
One of the most ridiculous experiences I’ve ever had with anti-Semitism, exclusion, and mockery was also associated with a religious holiday. The graduate student association at my university recently announced a once-a-semester social event designed to welcome new students and foster inter-department cooperation. They generously provided pizza for what promised to be a great event. There was one problem, though. The pizza party was scheduled during Passover, when Jewish students can’t eat leavened bread (i.e. pizza). An event designed to facilitate a sense of broader university community was, due to an entirely preventable scheduling mishap, excluding several dozen students from participation in the event (and, by extension, participation in the broader university community). I e-mailed to inquire if we could change the date of the event to a time when Jewish students could participate. The event organizer politely and quickly replied that she was sorry for the inconvenience but that it was too late to change the date, which is fair enough. I also asked if we could get other food provided in addition to the pizza, and was told that it wasn’t in the budget.
Some of the other responses I received from fellow students were extremely troubling. One student told me that it was extremely rude of me to make the graduate student representative who organized the event feel bad by pointing out that it needlessly excluded dozens of Jewish students (apparently this is more significant of an issue than being made to feel bad by being excluded.) Several suggested that I should just attend the event and “quit whining,” and criticized the “special treatment” I was requesting. One claimed that by politely requesting that we have an eating-bread-based social event during a time that Jewish students can eat bread, I was encroaching on her freedoms, that I should “leave my stupid religion out of the workplace,” and that if I wanted to be a successful scientist I should stop believing in God. Please note that I didn’t request that we remove references to evolution from science textbooks, I asked if we could reschedule a student social event. The worst response was so bad that I’ll quote it in its entirety. “The Latino students couldn’t eat bread the other day except Monday. Same with the Antarctica students. Also the Indian. Not to mention the Zimbabwean. Oh yeah, the Russian too. ” For those of you who have never been discriminated against, allow me to translate: “You’re really different from me and that’s weird and I’m going to mock you for it.”
I’ve been fortunate to always have a fantastic support network to help me when these problems strike. Without support from my family and friends, I would have been discouraged about the future . Teachers, principals, professors and deans have always been there to make sure that I’m ok, and to make sure that the offender knows that what they did or said was NOT ok, though it’s worth noting that this is not the case for all victims. Even in cases where no specific disciplinary action was taken, it makes me feel a whole lot better just to know that others in the community agree that I have been wronged. If you observe such a problem in your school, I think the single best thing you can do is to publicly state that you agree that it isn’t acceptable. A private message to the victim helps as well, but speaking out publicly is more effective.
I’m fortunate that I’ve never been denied housing or employment because of my religion, and my life and health and property have never been seriously threatened. I have, however, been made to feel terrible, made to feel that I’m different and don’t belong and am not welcome. This is an absolutely awful feeling, particularly when it comes from your peers and from people with power over you, particularly when it comes from an environment that’s supposed to be a meritocracy and a beacon of diversity and inclusiveness. If an able-bodied fourth-generation American middle class heterosexual white male can be made to feel this way, I can only imagine what it must be like for other minority groups. If our goal is diversity and inclusiveness in academic culture, we can and must do better.
Further reading (please add your own suggestions for further reading in the comments)
Anti-Semitism in academia:
Anti-Semitism on Campus 2012, by Jocelyn Grecko
Discrimination against women in academia:
Tenure denied: cased of gender discrimination in academia
The magnifying glass ceiling, by Jane Hu
Understanding the patriarchy in scientific academia by Dr. Isis
Discrimination against ethnic minorities
A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students before they get in the door by Danielle Lee
Other discrimination issues in academic culture:
A field guide to privilege in marine science: some reasons why we lack diversity by Miriam Goldstein
As much as we like to pretend that we’re a post-racial, multicultural society, we’re really little more than a collection of monocultures. Academia itself is its own monoculture, but on top of that it always surprises me when supposedly intelligent people in a rich, diverse area such as where you study still manage to show such ignorance and inability to understand. Good for you for writing this. I hope some people read it and let it sink in.
Probably not directly related to this, but as an Argentine living in Spain I have experienced discrimination in many ways, including at the University. Many students will just asummed that coming from an underdeveloped country my knowledge and intelligence would be much less than theirs so having better grades was just evidence that I had some kind of agreement (e.g. sexual, financial) with my professors. Some academics, especially older ones, would make comments such as: “inmigrants are important for the development of our country because they do the hard work, as slaves used to do”. We had only one teacher that was not spanish and everyone was making fun of him and his accent…
The specifics may be different but the result (being made to feel like you don’t belong because you’re different) is the same. I’m sorry this happened to you.
Thanks, and I am sorry about your experiences as well, but glad you shared them. The “good” news is that all these actions are mainly based on ignorance, and that’s definitely something we can fight against. Bad news: we still have to fight ignorance on these issues in the XXI century… there seems to be a general fear of change… not that others change for you, but you changing for them… “you are welcome into our country, but leave your food, religion and mores in your country”. For me it meant leaving Spain for good.
I wish I could say discrimination is not common and it was just my experience…. but I can say, though, that I made myself clear when I had the chance and many people didn’t even notice that some comments were racists… they were just “facts”
Thanks for writing this piece. You have shared your soul with us.
I would like to be able to tell you that things get better once you leave the Ivory Tower, but this is not always the case. In fact, it is sometimes harder, because you won’t have teachers, principals, professors and deans to make sure you’re okay.
Instead, you will have to find your own coping mechanisms and support structure. Humor, as you noted, is a key element of our cultural heritage, and the most commonly-used weapon in the Jewish arsenal.
Some of the most ignorant and most hurtful comments come from people who think they are being “nice”. If you can get them to laugh with you, you can make a friend. And some of the formerly ignorant friends can later become your best allies against anti-Semitism.
A few years ago, a co-worker brought breakfast for the office: biscuit sandwiches with sausage and egg. Another coworker pointed out to her (before I arrived) that I cannot eat sausage. “That’s okay,” the first coworker said, “I thought of him already. Some of them have bacon.”
She really did believe she was looking out for me. My Catholic friend set her straight, and then made sure I had a kosher breakfast.
Of course, you cannot win them all, but you won’t always lose, either. The hard part is standing up. Then you can look around and see who is standing with you.
This was a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing your experiences. As an Israeli with (marine-biology related) academic aspirations which may very well bring me to study in the States, I can’t help but wonder what type of racism I may encounter, despite being an Atheist and a big pork and shellfish fan.
omg. what is wrong with people?? (and by “people” I mean “they who said and did those awful and terrible things”.) you have absolutely been wronged.
It used to be that not much happened on Sundays, presumably because of the dominant Christian tradition. I think that was irritating and wrong, and I am pleased that we no longer organize our lives to fit in with the beliefs of one group. I feel less comfortable with the idea that we need to accommodate the beliefs of *any* group. Does that mean no events on Friday, Saturday, Sunday? During Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu holidays? Must one have kosher, halal, and vegetarian foods? What is the criterion for deciding which beliefs to accommodate? You may answer “any beliefs held by potential participants.” But how does an event organizer find out which beliefs apply in the context of a specific event? These are not rhetorical questions: as a frequent event organizer I am genuinely curious as to how you recommend negotiating these challenges.
Thanks for your questions, Ian. I personally don’t have a problem with “not much happening on Sunday” because, simply stated, lots of people are busy on Sunday. It doesn’t matter to me what their reasons are.
“Does that mean no events on Friday, Saturday, Sunday? During Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu holidays?
Not all holidays would preclude people from participating in an event. I don’t mind missing events every once in a while, but it would certainly be nice if major and important events were scheduled in such a way as not to exclude large swaths of the community.
“But how does an event organizer find out which beliefs apply in the context of a specific event?”
A good first step would be to ask.
Not that big a deal. Usually vegetarian dishes are safe for everybody. Just ask ahead.
I’ve been told multiple times to be a cloud and let the negative words float through me. However, like many things, this is easier said than done. I’ve been made fun of for taking a day off from work for holidays and having dietary restrictions during different parts of the year. I’ve been told members of my family did not die from prejudice-based antics during WWII. The fact that my uncle saw four of his siblings die in front of him (and that’s just part of the story) forced them to utter “that kind of stuff isn’t in the history books” and walk away. I’ve been made fun of because of my (maiden) name and the country where my parents were born. I’ve been told numerous times to stop believing in God and start believing in evolution. I tell people that I believe in God and I accept evolution.
As scientists, we are supposed to be open minded to the new, the strange, and the different. It saddens and, ironically, amuses me that many scientists I know are narrow minded in regards to people’s backgrounds, beliefs, and traditions.
When people chose to poke fun at me (because they’re just joking, right?), I tend to correct their (often wrong) statements. Occasionally, they change their ways, even sometimes apologizing for what they said. More often, it happens again and again and again. The least they could do is come up with new material. Making fun of the way I say certain words gets really old after awhile.
I’m a woman marine biologist who also fishes for fun. I translate scientist talk into commonly understood concepts. Yes, I make coloring books and monitor a website, but I also am a technical editor for research papers and fellow scientists tend to ask my advice on study methods. I’m Polish, a daughter of immigrant parents, and I believe in God. Despite all that, I’m pretty darn good at what I do and if I don’t deserve as much respect as the ‘next guy’, it definitely should not be for these reasons.
I’m sorry that this happened to you. Thank you for sharing, and for reading my post.
Thanks David for writing this piece. I feel like I could write a text book about the subtle and not so subtle anti-semitism I have encountered in the university setting. I have also witnessed plenty of prejudice against other people for similarly inane reasons. I think the best thing to do to help ourselves is to stand up for others in similar situations, which ultimately shows how “not different” we are. To comment towards the issue of it being impossible to avoid every special day for every culture, I find that it is not the hosting of the event that is the issue, but the responses that the university (or representative) give back. If you had received a sincere “I am sorry that this event was planned on Passover. We welcome you to come and bring your own food so that we can still come together as an academic community. Next year we will do our best to avoid this issue,” you would have likely thought to yourself “this is a bummer, but that was very nice of them to acknowledge. I cannot wait to eat my Matza Pizza.” My first year of grad school, our two orientation programs were scheduled on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (two very significant Jewish Holidays…which have been on the calendar for thousands of years), it was not the scheduling that bothered me, but rather the fact that I was told that I was not allowed to miss them and me doing so would be considered a a personal choice and I would have to suffer the consequences. If they had simple said “sorry, we will do our best to accommodate you,” I would have been happy. I never really thought of it as anti-semitism, but rather as an annoying sensitivity, but in reality it was totally inappropriate.
as an alumnus of the school you are referencing, I was really surprised to hear about this. I’ve always felt that school, given the large Jewish community in the area, was exceptionally accommodating of Jewish students (as they should be) at least on main campus. They used to even have a kosher cafe (not sure if they still do). Just one example: they made kosher unleavened bread available during Passover at all the food courts and cafeterias. It’s not like they kept those food courts open extra late on Ramadan. However, it seems this is not the case at the marine campus. I was also disappointed (but not surprised) that the GSO admins did not step in and move the date. I’m sorry this happened to you. I really thought this school was one of the better ones. But I think you would find many allies on main campus if you wanted more support to take action in the future. I’d also like to relate (as an alum of this school) that the jewish community is very accepting of non-jews. I went to Chabad with friends for a year before I found out that the rabbi’s wife knew all along that I wasn’t jewish but was happy to have me there anyway.
Tara, that’s what made this incident all the more shocking. It can (and does) happen anywhere.
There is still a kosher deli. It’s still delicious.
And it’s actually encouraged for us to bring non-Jews to events, though generally we’re supposed to introduce y’all to the Rabbi so he/she can make sure you’re welcomed and understand what’s happening.
Hope I didn’t sound insensitive. When you’re not part of the group being targeted by bigots, it’s easy to be oblivious to how pervasive this stuff is. Thank you for raising awareness of this issue, not only for Jews but so people of other faiths can be aware of it and thus help stop it from happening and shut it down when it happens.
Not insensitive at all, no worries
Pizza during a Passover: I can imagine myself making that mistake. But I hope, if somebody pointed it out to me, that I would make a better response. I suppose I could still stumble over the details of keeping kosher, but in many ways it’s no different from somebody saying, “I’m vegan.” Not trying to accomodate your guests just isn’t civilised.
And, within my own preferences and cooking ability, I’ve no reason to think the result would be a bad meal.
Thanks for writing this, it was very brave. The most damning theme here is people’s insistence that people conform to their ideals, and that to tolerate other cultures or ways of life is an infringement of their rights. I’m disturbed that Americans can legitimately feel this way about ethnicity or religion.
David, thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. I want to relate a rather bizarre, personal story about anti-Semitism in academia that I’ve long had a difficult time trying to figure out how to interpret. For some background information, I am Jewish and my maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors. However, I never discussed my religious/ethnic background with the professor in this story. I do look “stereotypically” Jewish – I am a brunette with curly hair, glasses, and a larger than average nose. As a result, this professor may (or may not) have been able to guess my ethnic background.
Here’s my story: I’m with a small group of graduate students who are discussing a class project with a professor. At some point, our discussion got off topic and the professor decided to talk with us about the biography of a very well known academic in our field. This academic is biracial and was educated in Germany during the 1970s. The professor telling this story wanted to emphasize that this well known academic had experienced difficulties fitting in since Germany was a very “white” country that was fairly ethnically homogeneous at that time. To emphasize this point, the professor looked around the room, pointed at me, and said something along the lines of “even someone like Rebecca wouldn’t have been able to fit in Germany.” I was really shocked by this turn of events, so I wasn’t able to come up with a snappy response at the time. I ultimately decided to avoid this professor for the rest of my graduate school career, since I wasn’t certain whether or not he pointed me out due to some underlying “anti-Semitism.”
As I said at the beginning of this comment, I’ve struggled with how to interpret this event. If this professor vaguely suspected that I was Jewish, then his comment would have been extremely inappropriate and offensive. However, if the professor thought that I was maybe Italian, Greek, Latina, or something else, then the comment would still be very awkward, but only mildly offensive. In other words, if this comment was said to a non-Jew, I suspect that it would still make him/her feel uncomfortable, but it wouldn’t have hit so close to home.
Rebecca, the professor was simply ignorant as well as insensitive. I am Jewish, a holocaust survivor, and a retired professor. It took me a long time to go back to Germany, but did so finally as a Humboldt prize winner. I have gone back many times since, and the only anti-Semitism I have met there in these many trips was in contacts with non-Germans, i.e. Yugoslavs, Russians, and Turks. Every German I ever talked to during these many long stays said the equivalent of “What can we do to make sure this never happens again?”
Here’s perhaps the my only experience where I thought my particular minority group was being stereotyped in an academic setting:
While at an event promoting STEM (science technology engineering and math) disciplines I was in a group of people who were in chemistry fields (I’m a molecular biologist, at the time I thought maybe I should sit on the floor between the chemistry table and the biology table). We were doing an activity where the officiator had listed several occupations where we had to guess what percentage of people with that job were either male or female (ex. how many women did we think were welders, how many men are nurses…) Finally we were asked what percentage of males were cosmetologists. After I asked the officiator what exactly kind of jobs constitute a person being a cosmetologist and getting some clarification the young lady sitting next to me said “It actually might be higher than you’d think, I know that there are a lot of homosexual men who do stuff like that.” I being a “homosexual male” myself replied, “Yeah and some of them are even molecular biologists!” The look on her face was pretty priceless as she realized what she had said was a not only a pretty silly stereotype, but yes there are gay men who work in higher level sciences. Not only that but she happened to be sitting next to one. Amazingly enough we’re not all beauticians and drag queens! I consider myself lucky that has been the worst of it. This could be in part because you can’t always tell a gay man from a straight one.
This was a very courageous post David. Well done
I was naïve thinking that anti-Semitism was not an issue in the United States; now I see it is. However, I can vividly imagine who those Jew-baiters are and what they have in their under-developed skulls… Yet another reason to dislike the way America has been changing in the last two decades.
On a positive note– Last Passover, I had to serve on a panel and knowing it was Passover the organizer provided copious kosher l’pesach breakfast and coffee break items. It was very cool, and I was deeply moved by the gesture. I realized latter that the strength of my emotional response to this was testament to its extreme rarity in academic (or government) settings.
Wow. Reading this make me realize I’m among the group of “non-Jews who think anti-Semitism is less prevalent than it is.” I don’t encounter it myself (raised Catholic, now atheist), I haven’t seen or heard anything like this in my presence, so I assumed it was in general much less common than it clearly is. Thank you for writing this post. I’m going to be a lot more aware now of the attitudes of groups I am a part of, and do my small part to make people not feel excluded, as best I can.
Thanks for sharing your story about your experiences. These shouldn’t have happened, it’s just unacceptable. It’s important to speak out about these negative experiences (when one can) to show that we still have not yet achieved an inclusive and equitable climate in the sciences. I also appreciate this post as a reminder to myself to think more about how I can be a better ally to all my colleagues (present and future). It’s important for allies to speak up and take action to create inclusive space; the onus shouldn’t be on the person being subjected to other people’s *isms.
To the commenter (Ian) who asked whether “we need to accommodate the beliefs of *any* group,” I would ask:
Do you want our science communities (in academia and elsewhere) to flourish and thrive in the years ahead?
If so, then the answer is generally, yes: we need to create a welcoming climate where we all can focus on our passion for science and let our creative juices flow, without having to waste our energy dealing with other people’s ignorance that gets in the way of our ability to do great science. That person who doesn’t show up because we were too lazy to think outside our own box could have been our next great lab partner, grad student or co-worker — or our next PI, boss, or grant funder.
It’s me again.
I believe many of the commenters do not know that anti-semitism is a mental disease for which there is no cure.
How many of the well-meaning non-jewish commenters would think that a few years AFTER the Holocaust anti-semitism in Germany was at its peak??
There is NO way to convince an anti-Semite that Jews are no different from others.
I have tried to understand what drives the anti-semite for decades – and the only conclusion I have been able to reach is that anti-semitism is an unsolvable problem for the anti-semites, not the Jews.
Or as Sartre once stated right after WWII: If no Jews would have survived the German plan to annihilate them in toto, the anti-semites would re-invent “the Jew” so as to be able to feed their ineradicable hatred of the Jews.
Hey brother, thanks for your note. This has nothing to do with science, just your thoughts on anti-semitism. I am sure it has been extremely hard writing this and it shows it came from your heart. So thank you for that. Try living in the US as a brown boy of Mexican descent. You grow up with your share of racism. I grew up hearing a lot of “Go back to Mexico” – its painful, painful watching how others are treated, painful hearing all the bad spirited jokes, painful watching how people feel about our culture. And painful feeling like we are not meant to succeed (or can’t succeed) professionally because of our latin descent, and/or where we were born. This is even after I learned that my family did not immigrate to Texas, we were already here. We were in Texas, before Texas was Texas. Basically they drew lines around the borders and called the land Texas, so we were always here. Yet, we are still looked at like we do not belong. Its a game that will never end I am afraid, all you can do is move forward, keep kicking ass at what you do, and prove them all wrong. The words I live by are these; “Become so great at what you do…the world can’t ignore you.” ( your doing an amazing job brother.)
Prejudice against Latins, Blacks, Catholics, Protestants, Japanese, Chinese, etc is quite different from anti-semitism.
Mexicans, like most Latin Americans, are Catholics and as such they have been taught for centuries that “the Jews” killed their god which is, if one is enlightened, utter non-sense: The Romans killed thousands of Jews who resisted the Roman occupation, among them a certain Jesus from Nazareth, about whom we know next to nothing except that he was made god-like by his fanatic followers some four decades after he was crucified.
Jews are not prejudiced against Christians – they simply do not accept that he was the messiah and the son of God as the Christians claim.
The early Christians, who were actually Jews, intolerant ones, tried to convert their fellow Jews, to no avail, so they began to vilify them – the beginning of what we consider a vicious anti-Semitism which laid the foundation of the twisted road to Auschwitz.
Eli Martinez probably does not know that the Pope Pius XII did NOTHING to protect, and save, the Jews from the German killers although this not so holy man was fully aware of the mass killings in Eastern Europe.
Very interesting post. From a gentile perspective, I am surprised that there would be marked antisemitism in graduate school given how many jewish faculty members there are at universities. I’ve seen jewish faculty members be supportive of fellows Jews, stating that they, “cheer for a member of the tribe”. So, among gentiles, there is a perception of “separateness” among jewish colleagues and professors, and they support each other (which would of course be seen as unfair to non-jewish people). Equally possible, if there is antisemitism, then this might encourage Jewish students and professors to wall themselves off, not necessarily that they were an insular group to begin with. I guess I can see why countries used to have one national/offical religion as religions can, and are, powerful divisive forces.
I’d like to think I’m pretty familiar with Jewish traditions, I’ve been to a Passover Seder many years ago, but I had to really think to remember the part about unleaven bread. So, I think it would be reasonable to assume that it was an unintentional mistake. I’m sure there are many Christian traditions/viewpoints, that appear nonsensical to Jews, and other religious viewpoints as well, so, realize that from outside the religion, folks not familiar with Jewish custom would view the request as rather odd. They should have just ordered something acceptable from the pizza place like chicken wings, or perhaps a salad/Italian option that doesn’t have leaven bread.
A lot of Jews are becoming assimilated, and the religion might not be passed on as much as in the past, so, gentiles might have less knowledge experience with different Jewish religious practices, and this may lead to some friction. You always fear what you don’t understand.
Thank you for the great article on Jew haters. Very sad and bad that many “Christians” are anti jew. I believe that many of them are ignorant of the history of Christianity. Jesus Christ lived and died as a Jew. I am a devout Catholic and Jesus taught love not hate. Peace be with you brother Shiffman.
It is deeply troubling to hear about your experiences i academia, but unfortunately, it is not surprising. You seem to be able to handle these experiences with wisdom and grace. I would suggest that you offer to teach a course titled: How to respond to people who hate you because you are different. I’ll be first register even though I very rarely experience this level of hatred directed toward me.
Years ago I was at a dinner with a group older mostly nonreligious Italians. One called jews “Christ killers.” In my youthful self-righteousness I responded by in forming them that Jesus was Jewish and that it was actually the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, which nearly put me next in line for a crucifixion. The matriarch of the family, a devout Christian woman, came in from the kitchen to inform them that I was correct, thus extending my life for a few decades. I should have handled the situation more gracefully.
I live in Massachusetts where the same type hate is slowly developing toward devout Christians in academia. It seems that the atheist “religion” can be as intolerant as any other when they try to suppress beliefs and thoughts that are contrary to their dogma. History clearly repeats itself.
What a great piece. It certainly covers all the bases when we look at culture and the differences among all Americans. It explains what it feels like to have your differences pointed out instead of celebrated. So much for diversity in higher institutions. I would have thought that universities and colleges would encourage learning.
I would like to point out that I did not know that pizza was unleavened bread. You do learn something every day. Did no one think to change one or two pizzas into something else? That is how I learned about a vegetable soup that I eat today. It’s really good.
I have three sets of Jewish colleagues/friends. They are non religious. I have visited a couple of them and was served pork chops. Small Texas town where I grew up had one Jewish family, They were respected as hardworking and honest, and participated in the affairs of the town. I’ve seen other predjudices at work, but don’t recall antisemitism. Maybe I just didn’t notice.
For Robert, the vast amount of pizza is leavened bread, i.e. a “leavening” agent is used (yeast for Pizza dough). Interestingly, some flatbreads are unleavend (hence they didn’t “rise” during the baking process, though some flatbreads may use some leavening agents. Maybe there is a Passover unleavened-flatbread pizza recipe. I think per Jewish tradition, Jews had to leave Egypt quickly during the Exodus, and there wasn’t time for the bread to rise, hence the unleaven bread tradition. Maybe a member of Jewish faith can clear up if it is “illegal” to eat leavened bread during Passover, or if it is just a time honored tradition not specified in Jewish canonical/religious texts?
Matzo pizza looks very delicious.
My last comment: It looks like the topic of anti-Semitism is way more exciting than shark related issues – so many folks, including myself, have, or think to have, something to say about pizza or the oldest prejudice in human history….. 🙂
Well, why should the pizza party have been rescheduled? Don’t you think it’s a bit egocentric of you to even ask that question? It’s a pizza party, not a matzoh party. Nothing wrong with matzoh, I love a good matzoh now and then. But it’s just a tad selfish and self-centered and inconveniences others to ask people to make exceptions based on your beliefs. It was a pizza party and if the timing didn’t work out for you because it coincided with Passover (which is a fine holiday, nothing wrong about Passover), then you should have just gone with the flow and either not attend and enjoy pizza or just drink a beverage, or not attend at all. It’s the same with the wearing of burkahs. There should be no exceptionalism in a secular society based on religious beliefs. This is a secular society. Would you want someone ordering a pizza at your seder? (Nothing wrong with seders, I love a good seder).
Thank you, Steven. This is a good and fair question.
I have two answers.
1, if your goal is to have a diverse and inclusive campus culture, don’t schedule once-a-semester major networking events during times when dozens of students (not just me) can’t participate. Passover is a major holiday and is hardly a secret.
Secondly, the bigger issue wasn’t the pizza, but the ridiculous response I received from several of my fellow students for making a simple request. Asking to be included is not “exceptionalism” or “special treatment” (the latter not your words, but the words of several of my fellow students)
I’ve read your post over and over again, and, oh man, it has made me realize how lucky I’ve been. I did my undergrad somewhere with a lot of other Jews, and never had it be an issue in my graduate career, save a few Israel arguments (which as an arguer myself, I always enjoyed – but that’s because the folk I argued with were thoughtful) I didn’t encounter anything untoward. Things got rescheduled if I brought up going to services or the fact that I’d be a fasting basket-case on a particular day. No fuss. I think about this a lot now that I’m at a uni with a lot of different ethnic groups, many of who are getting the short end of the stick in many cultural spheres. I want to be part of making that not be true here, and opening up opportunities instead. So thanks for this, as its going to make me interrogate how I comport myself, and remind me to never assume that a student coming through my door is walking in with huge amount of cultural experience that I need to honor if they become part of the conversation.
Not that I wouldn’t have before, but, this is putting me more on point as the semester starts. Thanks.
p.s. Matzoh pizza is awesome. Gourmet matzoh pizza – drizzle with honey and bake with figs and bleu cheese, or top with an egg and “kosher” prosciutto – is even better. On a foodie level alone, chumps, chumps I say!
p.p.s. Great, now I want to make matzakopita…
Thank you so much for sharing this, David. This was a very thoughtful piece, and I’m so glad you helped move this conversation forward.
Thanks for this post. I grew up in rural Kansas, so, I heard the occasional use of the word “Jew” as a slur. One time, I confronted a high school classmate about it but she looked entirely confused at the news that I was Jewish. She had this expression on her face that was like, “whaaa, Jews are people?”
Yes folks, Jews are people. Try to treat people as you would like to be treated. Not that complicated.
Sarah W, I want to respond to your question about the “legality” of eating leavened bread on Passover. It is stipulated in the Torah, the Jewish bible, that we (Jewish people) are not to eat to eat leavened bread during the Passover holiday along with a few other culinary rules. Over the centuries, tradition has created additional rules to accompany those written in the bible. Depending on family/cultural background and levels of observance, each Jewish person may have slightly different limitations in terms of what they will eat during the holiday, but “bread” is generally considered a biblical prohibition (although I would not judge anyone who chooses to eat it). I do not think the issue at hand was whether or not Jewish students could not or would not eat the pizza, but rather that the people representing the department showed such little compassion for their fellow students. JEByrnes, I think that it is great that David’s post made you think more about your treatment of students/people. I too will use this as a reminder to consider other people’s feelings and cultures in my daily life. I cannot guarantee that I will not offend anybody, but I can guarantee that if i do, I will be apologetic and open to change.
Thank you for your bravery and honesty.
When I was an undergraduate at Stanford over 20 years ago, my freshman year was a very painful one. Much of the hurt came from being subjected to anti-Semitic “hazing”- first by dorm-mates and then by the RA who was supposed to help us “get along”. However, what hurt the most was essentially being told to “get over it” by the (Jewish) school administrator who was in charge of housing. Haters have to hate- I guess.
Now that my kids are approaching the age when they will be looking at colleges- I tell them this story as a way of explaining why I think it is critical to try to use “due diligence” with regard to getting the true story about religious tolerance on any campus.
Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves very religious are often surprised at how “culturally” Jewish we are. And how folks with anti- Semitic tendencies can spot that identity – often before we do ourselves. I suspect anti-Semitism is alive and well on many college campuses today. The “official line” might be that it is not. However, articles like yours help encourage “potential” students to ask the tough questions.
This is a lovely piece, and a testament to the ongoing discrimination that is happening under our nose and at times denied. I am very sorry that these events have happened to you.
It reminds me of a social psychology study I was reading where children were separated into groups based on eye color. The blue eyed children were told they are superior and immediately started acting such towards the brown eyed children. One week later, the teacher said she made a mistake and brown eyed children are superior and the situation was the same, but with brown eyed children acting superior. Which is to say that it does not matter so much what difference it is, as long as their IS a difference with an accompanying belief of superiority and inferiority, discrimination will occur. What we can work towards, however, is eliminating the belief of superiority and inferiority, and therefore, recognize that differences do not necessarily mean someone is better or worse.
On a sidenote, people often put religion or spiritual belief on the opposite end of science. Its like: choose one or the other, but you can’t have both. Sorry. In reality, they aren’t mutually exclusive. A belief in God does not mean that you cannot be a good scientist. A scientist will pick up a watch and try to figure out how it works and what it does, whether he believes there is a watchmaker is irrelevant to how well he can discern the workings of the watch do not depend on it. Shame on that person who told you otherwise D:<