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‘Jewish On Campus’ in the virtual age

A new Instagram account gives Jewish college students an opportunity to speak out against antisemitism.

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"The teacher asked, 'why did he steal?' They answered, 'he is a Jew.' All of the students and the teacher laughed."

"When I saw your last name, I was worried you might be Jewish, but you're not, right?"

"When I got to my next class, I noticed that someone had put a piece of paper with a swastika and "burn dirty Jew" on it in my backpack."

Reading the above accounts, it is easy to imagine that they reflect sentiments and experiences of years gone by--that they are the prejudices of generations past.

Sadly, they're not.

These stories, and hundreds more just like them, were shared on a new Instagram account called Jewish On Campus as recently today.

Founded and led by a team of Jewish college students from across the United States, Jewish On Campus was created to "provide a safe space for Jews of all backgrounds to speak up against antisemitism on college campuses." Since launching in July, Jewish on Campus has acquired over 28,000 followers, and given over 200 Jewish college students a safe and supportive platform to--anonymously or publicly--share their experiences.

"Unfortunately, wherever Jewish people are, there is antisemitism," and that includes virtual spaces, said Melissa Dworkin, Strategic Initiatives Consultant at JUF. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most colleges are starting the 2020-2021 academic year with predominantly online learning. As a result, said Dworkin, "Jewish students are facing increased online harassment and antisemitic incidents," which can be incredibly difficult to navigate. "These experiences are already isolating," continued Dworkin. They become even more so when students are in quarantine and do not have physical access to their usual support networks.

As a platform, Jewish On Campus not only encourages students to share their experiences; it helps to cultivate a virtual community that "lets them know that they are not alone" and that their Jewish identity is something to treasure.

"We want to be loud and proud of our Jewish pride movement," says University of Chicago student and Jewish On Campus leader, Julia Jassey, in an interview with J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA and cited by The Times of Israel .  

Part of that movement is a call for action from the universities through which these anti-Semitic incidents occur. JUF is proud to provide students with support and skills trainings in this area through Hillels of Illinois and the Israel Education Center.

"JUF is everywhere that college students are," Dworkin said. "We are very much at the forefront of college student engagement, of building Jewish community on college campuses…engaging students virtually and in-person…we are working around the clock to support students, to provide leadership training, and to provide resources and support for mitigating antisemitism." We want to help students be "the strongest student leaders that they can be, and know that their Jewish identity and their Zionist identity is a part of that."  

In a matter of months, Jewish On Campus has elevated hundreds of student voices and helped to create an involved and empathetic virtual community for Jewish college students. The Jewish On Campus team is now considering applying for non-profit status, according to Jassey. Doing so will enable them to fundraise and broaden the breadth of their work to "defend Jewish students whose voices aren't being heard."

Reading through the Instagram entries, one thing is abundantly clear: while antisemitism remains a painful reality on college campuses, the students behind Jewish On Campus prove that, in the face of adversity, Jews will always be a source of support and strength for one another.

Jenna Cohen is a development professional and freelance writer living in Chicago.  

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