On Thursday afternoon, students, New Haven residents and a copious amount of cupcakes and coffee filled the chapel at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale for “Antisemitism in the 21st Century,” a panel organized by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program.
Over 100 people attended the event, which was moderated by Slifka’s Executive Director and Senior Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Leah Cohen and featured speakers Charles Small, director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and Ruth Wisse, Harvard professor of Yiddish literature and comparative literature.
“Anti-Semitism is not about the Jews, it’s not the problem of the Jews,” Wisse said. “It’s the problem of anti-Semites and of the societies in which they are permitted to function.”
Small and Wisse discussed the causes, consequences and implications of modern anti-Semitism. Wisse spoke mainly about the cultural issues facing the Jewish population today, emphasizing the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Small took a more political stance, criticizing the way in which President Barack Obama’s administration addresses anti-Semitism and the State of Israel. After discussing recent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe — such as an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris in January — Small concluded that current outbursts of anti-Semitism are just as violent and threatening as they have been in the past.
Zachary Young ’17, president of the Buckley Program, explained that the organization was created in order to promote intellectual diversity through conversations and events such as this one.
“We thought it would be very cool to do an event on anti-Semitism because it’s often a subject that gets relegated to history,” Young said. “I think it’s interesting that people our age are interested in civil rights and promoting rights of minorities such as through movements like Black Lives Matter or those to counteract Islamophobia and homophobia at Yale, but there isn’t much of a grassroots movement to combat anti-Semitism.”
Josh Altman ’17, speakers director of the Buckley Program, said discussions about anti-Semitism are especially important given current events in Europe and around the world.
Attendees cited several different reasons for attending the event, which was advertised mainly through the Buckley Program and social media.
“I’m curious about the changing demographic in Europe and how Judaism might be affected by that,” said Rob Henderson ’18, an Eli Whitney Scholar who lived in Germany for three years prior to starting Yale.
Other students interviewed said they think anti-Semitism does not get enough attention around campus, which Aryssa Damron ’18 said made the event all the more unique. Damron said she rarely sees panels on anti-Semitism offered by other groups at Yale.
The panel was followed by a question-and-answer session, during which attendees asked how Small and Wisse would go about discussing anti-Semitism with audiences less familiar with the topic, for example.
“I wish we had another four hours, because it easily could have gone on much longer,” Cohen said. “I was really grateful that so many people came out. We had the room set up for 80 but ended up having over 100 people here today, which tells me that anti-Semitism in the 21st century is a topic that people are interested in hearing about.”
The Buckley Program was founded in 2010.