After organizing antisemitism panel, WU sophomore reflects on intentional dialogue and intersectionality

| Senior Editor

The recent panel “21st Century Antisemitism: Exploring hate, oppression and identity” began as a conversation about antisemitism between sophomore Orly Einhorn and Abby Ross, Wash. U. Hillel’s Social Justice Fellow. Their discussion inspired them to create a forum where students could engage with issues facing the Jewish community today. Roughly 120 viewers attended the panel, which featured a handful of Jewish speakers discussing issues ranging from the historical roots of antisemitism to the whitewashing of the Jewish community. 

Orly Einhorn stands outside of Wash. U. Hillel.

Sophomore Orly Einhorn helped to organize a recent panel about antisemitism. (Brian Cui/Student Life)

A key theme that ran throughout the program was the importance of recognizing that antisemitism is alive today—not only in the abstract, but in very tangible ways. And the issues that the Jewish community has to grapple with are not only external but internal. As panelist Dr. Koachj Baruch Fraizer noted, the Jewish community cannot be treated as a monolith. “Ashkenormativity,” or the tendency to think of all Jews as white or of largely Eastern European descent, is pervasive both within the Jewish community and among non-Jews. 

Student Life sat down with Einhorn to discuss her motivations for organizing the panel and what she took away from it. 

Student Life: What was your inspiration for putting on this panel?

Orly Einhorn: I talked about this a bit in the panel itself, but I was really frustrated, and feeling a bit helpless following a bunch of things that went on on campus that were antisemitic and continually being told they weren’t antisemitic…that was sort of how this whole thing started—trying to bring together people who do care, who want to make it better for Jewish students on campuses across the country [and] across the world.

SL: What do you think was the importance of having people who actually cared about learning?

OE: Jews are continually spoken over, whether it’s Holocaust revisionism or other people trying to define our traditions, antisemitism, our relationship to Israel—people are really frequently trying to speak for our experience. And I think that that is a really big issue on the global stage because when you have a group of people who are really frequently in the public eye but are such a small group, it’s hard to get that point across when people don’t want to listen. I think that that’s the importance of having a group of people who want to learn from Jewish people, because often conversations about antisemitism don’t happen with Jewish people involved…We wanted to be really purposeful with who we brought to the table, and this people who want to learn. No one was going to be forced to sit here and listen to us if they didn’t want to listen to us because that wasn’t the target audience.

SL Were there any new things or takeaways or perspectives that you took away from the panel?

OE: Because I wrote the questions, a lot of them were questions that I already had answers to for myself. I went to Jewish Day School for 12 years and I went to a high school that was predominantly Jewish and I was in a Jewish youth group for five years. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about my thoughts about Judaism, and about antisemitism…And what a lot of these panelists were talking about were things that I’ve also come to the conclusion of, which was really affirming for me. As I’ve said before, sometimes when you experience something that’s antisemitic, there’s a gaslighting experience that happens afterwards where people are like, “That wasn’t antisemitic.” And so while I wasn’t really learning brand new things, for me it completed that goal of bringing together people who care. Taking part in this program together helped combat the feeling of loneliness that can come up in caring about issues like antisemitism…It was so nice to get non-Jewish friends who texted me afterwards, “I learned so much. This was an awesome event.” 

SL: A lot of what panelists talked about had to do with intersectional issues in Judaism, like race and antisemitism, and I’m curious why you think that conversation is so important for people to be a part of.

OE: I literally was entirely in the Jewish community up until I went to a non-Jewish camp the summer going into eighth grade, and that was really like the first time that I had meaningful interactions with non-Jewish people…And I think that because of that experience of being so deep in a community, now reflecting back on it I can see a lot of the ways that we didn’t address the problems in our own community…In my elementary and middle schools, we didn’t talk about intersectional issues within the Jewish community. We talked about how Jews were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but we didn’t talk about the experience of Black Jews in America at synagogues. We talked about Ethiopian Jews, and that Beta Israel exists, but we didn’t talk about how when those people get to Israel, they face racism in a different way than people who look Black in America experience racism. And I think most importantly, there was a lot of indoctrination to feel a certain way about Israel, and that makes it really hard to look critically at yourself. Being able to do that and thinking about the ways that we might be harming other Jewish people through certain actions prepares us to have a bigger conversation about the ways that we can improve our relationships with other people in the world, specifically with Palestinians, and how two things can be true at once: the Jewish experience can be hard and Jewish people can cause harm to other people. That’s why we were so intentional about the questions that we asked and what people we were bringing to the table—you know, we didn’t want this to be just another group of white rabbis talking about Judaism; we wanted it to be people who had real life experience with antisemitism [and] who had different experiences from each other.

SL: For students who care about the issues that were discussed at the event, what would you hope they do from here?  

OE: First and foremost, I think that they should listen to Jewish people. That’s the first thing that anyone can do, whether that’s their friends or Hillel staff or their professors, or if it’s someone they find on TikTok or on Instagram. There are so many Jewish creators out there and Jewish people in the world who are putting in the time and effort to create resources for others to learn about Jewish history and experiences…I think one of the beauties of the Jewish community is that learning and asking questions is central to who we are, and there’s never any shame in asking questions. I think many rabbis would agree that if you’re only blindly following it and not talking with others about it, that’s not the point. The point is to talk to other people and create community and to be together and learn things, and that’s hard during COVID but I think this program was a testament to how dedicated Hillel staff and the Jewish community as a whole is to creating those spaces for Jewish students.

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