From a Millennial, with Love

9 Jun

Jessi Sheslow

I think you and I can agree that there is a problem in our world today for Jews. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, everywhere. Where we may differ is how we address it. Two Jews, three opinions, right? This is why we took an idea from our Communications Committee to create a “Community Voice” opinion forum in our Jewish News. This is not rhetoric, its honesty. In our inaugural “Community Voice” we asked the question: What are your thoughts on the current state of anti-Semitism? We gathered opinions from 4 community members who have vastly different experiences. All of the opinions were important to hear, especially from, Madison Bryan, the college student who lives with this daily.
One factual mistake about her characterization of a program on New College notwithstanding, her experience is indicative of what so many other pro-Israel and/or Jewish students on college campuses across our nation experience. As a Jewish Federation, we will not shy away from this kind of controversy or discussion. We will not remain silent no matter how difficult the conversation can be.  Anti-Semitism, which is often thinly veiled in anti-Israel behavior is directly affecting the next generation of our vibrant, rich and exceptional community.

I see anti-Semitism on college campuses as the modern day “Jewish Problem.” What are we going to do with these pesky Jews and their privilege? This is something I have heard and read about recently from anti-Israel activists; “Jewish Privilege”. The flaw in that notion is that that it purports that Jews have never been poor or disenfranchised in America or the world – because we have. We became experts in certain fields because we weren’t allowed to join the general work population. We had to start our own banks, or medical practices or law offices.  We did this because we had to, not because we were privileged enough to have a silver spoon- in fact here are points in our history when we didn’t even have a spoon.
“Community Voice” was not intended to pick a fight; we are standing up for ourselves and being a voice for members of our community who we should support. Killer. Oppressor. Colonizer. Hitler was right. These are all things that our pro-Israel and Jewish students hear on many college campuses around our nation. Our students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike are being bombarded by hate filled experiences at a time and place when learning and dialog are the meant to be paramount.
At a time when our young adults are meant to be out on campus, joining student groups and meeting new friends from all walks of life, they are pigeon holed and made to feel intimidated to be who they are in public. Often times the line between being critical of Israel and being anti-Semitic doesn’t exist. Our students need our support, they need our help, and they need to feel proud of who they are and what they believe.
There are reports, daily, about anti-Semitism towards students on the college campus. UCLA, Stanford, Columbia, Northwestern, Wesleyan, Penn State, DePaul, NYU, Oberlin, Brandeis, The University of South Florida and even New College of Florida to name just a fraction of the lot. We are a community who needs to be concerned about free speech – diversity of opinion both for student and faculty, freedom from faculty retribution for holding a conflicting view and student safety on campus.
The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee has started an initiative that I care about deeply and hope you will, too. It’s called FAST: Fighting Anti-Semitism Today. It is co-chaired by Iris Nahemow and Sandra Rifkin and powered by concerned community members; Deb and Madison Bryan, Adam Caldwell, Anita Cohen, Michael and Joan Cohen, Paul Gandel, Sy Goldblatt, Roz Kane, Marvin and Toby Kaulkin,  Judi Kersun, Andi and Bob Munzer, Hedria Saltzman, Sylvia Samet and Hannah and Norman Weinberg. In the coming year, you will see FAST take flight on the Suncoast to support our next generation of college students. If you have any questions about this initiative, please email me at

Jessi Sheslow is the Director of Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.


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