At the beginning of this semester, Dan Lehavi, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, didn't think about his safety as a Jewish student on campus.
But then Hamas launched a bloody attack on Israeli men, women and children on Oct. 7. Suddenly, as millions of people around the world processed the violence, Lehavi watched antisemitic words and actions start occurring at college campuses across the country, including CMU.
Now, Lehavi forces himself to "be aware" when he walks around campus. Many times, he's considered putting away his Star of David necklace. Before the Hamas attack, he never thought about taking it off.
"To be a Jewish college student in America right now is to be afraid," said Lehavi, who speaks Hebrew and has an Israeli father. "It's to think twice. It's to always be on guard. It's frankly to do things that a college student should never have to do."
Israel responded to the Oct. 7 attack by issuing war on Gaza and sending in troops. Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have died in the Middle East conflict that has sprouted division on college campuses across the U.S. Vigils, protests and posters in support of either Israel or Palestine have swept across schools as students weigh in on the war.
One in five college students sympathize with Hamas, and 12% of students feel little or no sympathy for Israeli civilians, according to a survey of over 600 college students from the online magazine Intelligent.
Reports of antisemitic words and actions are skyrocketing.
At Cornell University, a junior was arrested after making violent antisemitic threats online. At a New York City college, Jewish students took refuge in a library while a crowd of pro-Palestinian protesters pounded on locked doors. And at the University of Pennsylvania, antisemitic emails and messages projected onto the sides of buildings made their way around campus.
Instances like these, and hundreds of others across the country, prompted the White House to urge universities to protect their Jewish students.
Antisemitic incidents have cropped up at Pittsburgh-area higher education institutions, although not at the extremes that some other universities have experienced. Several CMU students who spoke with the Post-Gazette said they know Jewish CMU students who have been threatened and harassed since the war began.
At the University of Pittsburgh, officials confirmed two reported incidents of antisemitic harassment and graffiti since Oct. 7. Pitt has also seen an increase in reported antisemitic and anti-Muslim remarks, university spokesman Jared Stonesifer said.
People on both sides are experiencing acts of hate. At Stanford, an Arab Muslim student was hit by a car in a case being investigated as a hate crime. In Illinois, a 6-year-old Muslim boy was fatally stabbed and his mother seriously wounded in what authorities say was a hate crime that was a response to the war between Israel and Hamas.
At a pro-Palestinian rally held on CMU's campus on Thursday, students and community members chanted, "Globalize the intifada," a phrase that calls for a Palestinian uprising and is understood by many Jews to be a call for violence against Israelis or Jews. Those at the rally also shouted, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a cry that many hear as a call for the removal of Jews from the disputed land in the Middle East.
Thursday's protest, one of many that occurred at campuses across the country that day, coincided with the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews carried out by Nazi Germany in 1938 — timing that many in the Jewish community saw as significant.
A day after that protest, CMU President Farnam Jahanian released a lengthy statement that condemned antisemitic phrases and slurs, including the "from the river to the sea" chant. He also condemned slurs against Arab and Muslim students.
"While I rarely comment on language used in the pursuit of free expression, I need to call out the deep pain and fear that these words and phrases can cause," part of Jahanian's statement reads. "Even when language may be protected under our policy on free speech, it still has the power to create fear of antagonism and violence."
Julius Arolovtich, a CMU sophomore studying robotics and electrical and computer engineering, hears the chants and shouts as calls for violence against Jews.
"Jewish students' safety is being sacrificed in the name of discourse, but this is no discourse, this is incitement to violence," said Arolovitch, who was born in Israel and grew up in Boston. "This, thus far, has been the culmination of events on CMU's campus, and none of us knows what comes next. No Jewish student does, and reasonably can, feel safe."
Since the Oct. 7 massacre, Arolovtich said he has CMU friends who have received death threats and been harassed by other students.
Days after Arolovitch and his peers painted a message in support of Israel on CMU's "free speech" fence — a fence that sits at the center of the bucolic Oakland campus and is used for all sorts of messages by students and campus groups — the message was painted over with a new message that read, "75 years of occupation."
At AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit that investigates, documents and combats antisemitism at American colleges, work has skyrocketed since the war started in October.
Prior to the Hamas attack, the group logged a few reports of antisemitism every week, according to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a former professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the co-founder and director of the nonprofit.
Now, the initiative is receiving hundreds of reports a day. The initiative is in "crisis mode" trying to sort through the reports and analyze the data.
Rossman-Benjamin expressed concern that students, faculty members and, in some cases, entire departments have displayed ignorance and antisemitism since the war began. Sophia Shapiro, a Pitt senior who majors in urban studies, expressed the same concern.
Shapiro, who sits on the board of the Student Coalition for Israel at Pitt, said she feels physically safe on Pitt's campus, but does not feel supported by all of her peers to express her Zionism and Judaism. She considers herself "lucky" to be on a campus where the antisemitism sentiment doesn't seem as heightened as it is appears at universities like Cornell and Stanford.
"It's all just very disheartening," Shapiro said. "I think as higher education institutions, we have the ability to use critical thinking skills, and I think there is a major lack of that right now. I think a lot of people are really uneducated on the topic."
Arolovtich echoed that sentiment. He believes people don't understand that "there are very legitimate criticisms to be had of the Israeli government that don't involve calling for the extermination of the Jewish people."
It seems to him as if what's happening now is an echo of history.
"I think that the more that I watch events around the country, the more I'm realizing that we're now seeing the sprouting of seeds that were planted long ago," he said. "I saw this phrase online, but I resonate with it: 'I can't explain how it feels to see the entire world cheering for your extermination.' That's how it feels."
Throughout the turmoil, students at CMU and Pitt have noticed a silver lining: Since Oct. 7, the Jewish communities at the two schools have rallied together to support each other. Mr. Lehavi said there have been "a lot of moments of unity." Mr. Arolovich agreed.
"I think that the community came together in a lot of ways that we haven't seen it come together before at Carnegie Mellon," Arolovitch said. "It was really nice and refreshing and comforting to see."
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