I came to Yale Divinity School to learn how to sit with people and their pain. As an undergraduate, I helped run a student mental health and crisis line and my interest in chaplaincy emerged as an extension of this meaningful work. I thought that even though I am Jewish and YDS is decidedly not, I could learn here. I was wrong. 

While I remain a steadfast believer in the deep power and urgent necessity of learning and living in interfaith communities, YDS is not an interfaith community. The YDS Mission Statement acknowledges that YDS is “traditionally and primarily Christian in character,” yet it claims that “the school welcomes persons of all faiths and those of no faith.” Despite the few friends I am grateful to have made here, I have not found an academic or spiritual home here. I, like other non-Christian and non-white students, have not found YDS to be welcoming. 

Being Jewish at YDS has turned me into someone I don’t like very much: I’m afraid, untrusting and ashamed of my Jewishness. I’ve been tasked with bearing the burden of representing and speaking to a millennium of Jewish existence and practice often as the only Jew in a room of Christians. I am neither a Holocaust scholar nor historian; Yet, when my Christian Ethics professor deems it appropriate to refer to Holocaust victims as “white Europeans” — a form of Holocaust distortion — and my peers nod along taking notes, it is suddenly my job to explain the racialized nature of Nazi ideology. And, I do. I butt in, interrupt, disrupt and call out antisemitism when I encounter it. I am allowed to voice this discontent but am then expected to do the “Christian” thing and turn the other cheek: nod and smile at whatever haphazard excuse or explanation is provided and move on. 

During my first year at YDS, I brushed these experiences aside. I believed this was a burden of my own doing since I voluntarily enrolled in YDS. I told myself that I was engaged in an intellectual and spiritual exercise of de-centering myself and bearing witness to a sacred space of the other. 

After speaking with other Jewish students at YDS, I now understand this urge to de-center myself is one that many diasporic Jews feel and experience. There is this pervasive and obsessive need to disappear as a Jew, blend into the background and not cause a scene. By sidestepping and giving cover to antisemitism, I was trying my best to be a “Good Jew” who’s not like those other Jews: noisy, pestering, stubborn and ever-so-present. A “Good Jew” is the right kind of Jew, Jewish but not too Jewish.  A “Good Jew” is an anti-Zionist, severed from 46 percent of world Jewry and the majority of diasporic Jews living in the United States. As a YDS peer told me, she’ll listen to anyone “as long as they’re not a Zionist.” Being a “Good Jew” means my Christian peers will deem it appropriate to even listen to me. “Good Jews” get to join coalition building for collective liberation. “Good Jews” are often dead Jews. “Good Jews” never center themselves and their experiences of marginalization, but always work to center the other. “Good Jews,” I am reassured, will be “saved.”

Yet, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

This became explicit after the Oct. 7 massacre. In the immediate aftermath, YDS said nothing. The Jewish community was — and still is — reeling, while everyone at YDS remains silent. My professors, supposedly instructing me on how to provide pastoral care, failed to consider the care that was required of them. Somehow,  it is too politically fraught, too controversial, too difficult to mourn Jews and their deaths, and I will never forget how comfortably silent the YDS community was in response to my people’s suffering. Weeks later my preaching professor called Israel’s retaliation of Hamas in Gaza a “genocide,and situated it within the context of the genocides described in the Book of Joshua, as to say: “This is nothing new, Jews have always committed genocides.” The ease and flippant manner in which my professors disregarded addressing the Oct. 7 massacre is inexcusable. We can, and must, mourn for both peoples. 

I no longer shy from the truth anymore: YDS has an antisemitism problem. It’s a problem, frankly, when Jewish students say it’s a problem. It’s a problem when the only time Jews and Judaism are brought up in the classroom is when Israel is being discussed. It’s a problem when Christians assume the solution to thousands of years of Christian antisemitism is saying the “Hebrew Bible” instead of the “Old Testament.” It’s a problem when the solutions offered seek to gently brush antisemitism under the rug or deny that anything wrong has occurred. Only Jews get to define what is and isn’t antisemitic

My peers and professors, so ardently and pedagogically committed to unraveling their internalized biases, refuse even to accept that they harbor antisemitic biases. My professors, entrusted to teach us how to be spiritual guides, chaplains or ministers, have little idea how to talk about Jews or Judaism, even as they perform in ways that indicate they think they do. My Christian professors have told me again and again how much they “appreciate my unique perspective,” but their words hold no weight. I know that their appreciation of our supposed “shared religious heritage,” or even their declared commitment against supersessionism will not stop them from espousing supersessionist theologies in a packed lecture room. No one will protect me from my classmates’ antisemitic comments or notice when an assigned reading is written by or reverently refers to someone known for peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories. 

The incidents I once brushed off, and shared as my “antisemitic incident of the week” with friends over Shabbat dinners, are not funny and are part of the deep-rooted and pervasive culture of antisemitism at YDS. I will no longer reassure any antisemite not to worry. I am tired of being gaslit and ignored by my peers and professors. I came to YDS to learn how to be a chaplain. Instead, I have learned to feel suspicious and afraid. But I have also realized how to be outspoken. I have learned how to be comfortable feeling on edge day after day, class after class. 

The answer is clear: if supersessionism or Holocaust distortion bothers you, leave. And I am. Instead of remaining here for another year to finish my intended degree — a master’s in divinity — I switched to the master’s in religion with the sole intention of leaving as soon as possible. I will not always be a student, but I will always be a Jew. And I refuse to remain a student at a school that I know does not value my life, ideas and experiences as a Jew. 

YDS has an antisemitism problem and will continue to have one even if I or my fellow Jewish peers were no longer here. So, YDS, live by your purported values. Change the curriculum. Hire professors who will teach Jewish history. Take steps to combat antisemitism. Be “welcoming” and value the worth and dignity” of your Jewish students. Or, at the very least, stop admitting Jews.

ESTHER LEVY is a second-year master’s of religion student at Yale Divinity School. You can reach her at esther.levy@yale.edu.