Sophomore and Hillel Club member Carolyn Ginder‘s family wasn’t completely surprised when the violent, anti-semitic events at an Alternative-Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va. took place this summer.
“My parents saw it coming,” Ginder said. “I’ll have people come up to me and say things like, ‘Why does everyone hate Jews?’ and I’m like I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t, just do not know how to explain it.”
On Sept. 16, members of the Hillel Club reflected upon the political climate after the events in Charlottesville. The rally, which started with neo-Nazis and white nationalist ended violently after the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. Many in the Jewish community watched in a familiar horror as President Trump assigned blame to “both sides” of the protest.
Hillel Club is an organization for Jewish identifying students on campus, or students who wish to learn more about Judaism. President Jeri Rosenbloom ’18 first joined the club as a freshman. The following year the club had dissipated, mostly because the senior class had not passed down the power. In Winter Term of 2015, after insistence from an advisor at the temple she teaches at, Rosenbloom restarted the club.
“Where I was growing up, there were not many Jews. I remember once someone drew a swastika on my yearbook. I just wanted to be in an environment where there would be more Jews, since I didn’t really have that experience in high school,” Ginder said.
Hillel has created an interconnected space for Jewish students to discuss issues that are important to them. They have a much needed support system within the club. For many of the members, returning back to the Conservative Galesburg would have been difficult had it not been for the community they established at Knox.
After watching the clips of people chanting ‘Get rid of Jews’ on the news outlet in her home country of Ecuador, sophomore Debora Lustgarten was unsure if she wanted to come back to the states.
“I didn’t want to come back to that states… Now that I’m here, I don’t feel comfortable using things that identify me as a Jew,” Lustgarten said. “Especially when I leave campus, I know that’s harsh.”
The Hillel Club members nodded in agreement, each recalling the fear they felt seeing Confederate flags proudly displayed around Galesburg.
“I have non-Jewish family members that are Conservative… I saw so many posts on Facebook saying bad things about what was happening in Charlottesville. I saw a post that said ‘Jews are our enemy’ … that was really hard for me. I deleted my Facebook for a couple weeks,” sophomore Bailey Morse said.
What was heartbreaking for Morse was watching the elders in her family have to go through another rise of anti-semitism. Morse mentioned family members who had gone through the Holocaust and were now suffering symptoms of PTSD.
“To think they still have to deal with those sentiments after coming to place to be free is definitely traumatic,” Morse said.
Due to the persistent history of persecution the Jewish community has faced, some members of Hillel were not shocked by the rally.
Ginder explained that what did shock her, however, was the fact that neo-Nazis had become so open about their hatred. She felt like the bubbling of anti-semitism in the country had thus far been kept with a lid on. Ginder feels as though Donald Trump’s election is what has encouraged the openness for groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis in recent months.
“I wasn’t that surprised [Charlottesville] happened, we know there is anti-semitism. Trump was elected and he does have a lot of hatred for certain people. People think they can now express those views,” Rosenbloom said. “Jews have been persecuted for thousands and thousands of years, it’s not a new thing. It’s a matter of when, not if. I’m hoping that we’re not persecuted to the extent that we usually are in my lifetime, but I know eventually we will be persecuted again.”
There is certainly a level of cynicism members of Hillel feel towards the Trump administration, but it is not lost to them that Trump’s own daughter, Ivanka Trump, is Jewish. After marrying senior advisor Jared Kushner, she made a commitment to Kushner’s faith of Judaism.
“It gives me the feeling of a level of protection. I know that sounds weird, obviously [Trump] is a terrible human being, but I would expect him to protect his family,” Rosenbloom said.
“It’s like, what do you think Ivanka feels as people call to get rid of Jewish people?” Ginder said. “How can you say ‘both sides had issues’ when thinking about your own daughter?”
Hillel spoke about members of the Jewish community who voted for Trump. Each member knew at least one. Ginder’s uncle was actually a friend of Trump.
“He’s in the real estate business, basically he goes to the Mar-a-Lago. I actually went there as a kid. It’s kinda a creepy place to be. My cousin who was adopted from Ethiopia was the only African American kid in the pool. It’s that kind of atmosphere,” Ginder said.
The Hillel leaders felt like they could understand why some of their population voted for Trump, citing his support for Israel as a prominent reason. However, many recall the countless Jewish activists like Elie Wiesel who warn against leaders like Trump.
“Judaism is about making the world a better place. Trying to make the world more inclusive. I love being Jewish,” Rosenbloom said.
Despite debilitating comments hurtled at the member of Hillel and the divide emerging in their political community, they still feel an immense pride being Jewish.
“I’ve always associated being Jewish with family since I grew up in a strong Jewish community, too. I love going back home to that. Here, I feel like I’ve found my own little Jewish family away from home. When you meet another Jewish person, you just feel an immediate connection,” Morse said.