Shine a Light on Antisemitism
By Aiden Okrent, KSU '24
Tonight, I’m going to talk about how Hillels of Georgia helps combat antisemitism on college campuses through education and awareness.
I’m a 2020 graduate of Pope High School in Marietta. In my 4 long years there, I was lucky to have never encountered antisemitism directly. So, I was surprised and upset when I learned about the recent graffiti incident that occurred there. Was the perpetrator just a kid only looking to get a couple views on TikTok, or did they really hate Jews?
I’m not sure which motivation is worse.
Allowing Ignorance to fester, to never provide people with the guidance or education needed to be more aware and considerate of others, can be very dangerous.
According to the American Jewish Committee, 1 in 4 Jewish people in the US were targeted by Anti-Semitism in the last year. I’m certain that many of you have experienced or have witnessed the painful impact of anti-Semitism before.
Action must be taken to combat rising antisemitism in our country, state, and communities, and Hillels of Georgia is committed to combating ignorance and anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Our mission is to foster vibrant Jewish life on every campus in Georgia, by providing meaningful Jewish experiences to thousands of students on campuses across the state.
When I graduated High School and started looking at colleges, a major factor in my decision was if there was a large enough Jewish presence on campus.
In Georgia, it can be difficult to find Jewish communities, and it’s important to be involved where you can. I wanted to be among friends as I studied, to have a place to spend Shabbat, and to stay connected with my Jewish identity while I was away from home.
Kennesaw State University’s strong Hillel is exactly the kind of community I was looking for, and the family I found there filled the need for a Jewish connection perfectly. I feel safe when I walk around KSU's campus because I know that I walk among friends.
Hillel is an active community on the KSU campus.
Hillels of Georgia is built upon 5 pillars: Jewish Life and Learning, Social Action, Community Building, Leadership Development, and Israel Education.
Every Tuesday morning at KSU, we set up a table in the center of campus, lay out a bunch of bagels and tubs of cream cheese, pour some coffee, and have what we call “Bagel Break”. We set up near the main path, so for a couple of hours, anyone can walk by and see us schmoozing and laughing as we enjoy our breakfast outside.
Much of the time, the gravitational pull of the bagels and coffee will pull somebody off the sidewalk, and they’ll come and join us for a bit. Being an active presence on campus is important because it allows students the opportunity to meet with us and spend some time among the Jewish community. The message we send is, “We are kind people, we are here to stay, come join us.”
We also hold an event called “Café Ivrit” every week, hosted by Elinoy Granot, who is on a Cultural Exchange program from Israel.
She guides students through learning Hebrew, and we discuss Israeli customs and culture under the campus Pavilion. Teaching students on campus about the Jewish homeland and culture is an important and necessary step to increasing awareness of Judaism on campus.
Just like with Bagel Break, anybody who wishes to know more is able to sit down and join in on the lesson.
Shabbat is another important focus for us on campus. While not everybody is able to attend the regular events during the day, we get a great turnout for Shabbat dinners.
Across from the KSU Museum of History and Holocaust Education, the doors are held open as we flood in to enjoy a Shabbat meal. Everybody is invited, even those who aren’t Jewish.
Valerie Chambers, along with some volunteers, bring us all an amazing dinner. Uninformed attendees can look for the pamphlets she created, containing the Brachot and the meaning behind the event.
For a few evening hours, our Jewish Community and friends of the community come together to celebrate Shabbat.
During high school, I anticipated my college life with mixed emotions.
How will I make friends there? Will I feel safe on campus? How will I find my people?
I was surprised and very relieved to discover an active Hillel on the KSU campus, a community I could call my home.
This year, my sister will graduate high school, and along with my younger brother, they both saw how important a Jewish community is in college search criteria.
Since my family moved to Georgia, we’ve encountered many people who have never met a Jewish person before. I feel that Hillel ensures that their first impressions are positive.
Having Jewish affiliated programs on campus means campus communities will be provided with educational opportunities to not only learn about being Jewish but use that educational opportunity to combat antisemitism and ignorance at every turn.
To watch a recording of the full event and Aiden's speech, CLICK HERE.