Dear beloved members of Yale’s Jewish community,
I hope my message finds you in close and constant contact with those you love and who love you – and that the people you know and care about in Israel are safe. You, and they, are in my thoughts and prayers constantly.
This email contains specifics about the coming days – followed by a longer piece about how we at Slifka are addressing the ugly social media content that has been shared by members of the Yale community over the past week. Please read all the way to the bottom – the most important message is at the very end.
Voices from Our Community
YC3 counselors will be on-site at Slifka each day this week to talk individually with students about the things on your minds and hearts. Here are their drop in hours, you can find them in the Purple Couch Room, Friday at 3pm.
Heidi, Yale’s public safety service dog, will be at Slifka throughout the week in the evenings. Her sole job is to be a calming, comforting presence, and she will be in the Hillel lobby for anyone who wants some time with an animal companion.
The Slifka staff are always here to support you. You can get in touch with us here.
Tonight, there will be a Challah Bake in Hebrew at 6 pm Slifka. The challot will be sold on Friday, and all proceeds will go to Magen David Adom. RSVP for the Challah Bake here.
Tonight throughout dinner, all Israelis (students, post-docs, and members of the Yale and Slifka communities) are invited to Slifka to be in community and eat dinner together. Slifka will cover the cost of the meal. The main group will be arriving at 7, but the whole dinner hour is open.
There will also be a chance for grad students to gather tonight at 7:30 pm in the Library at Slifka (3rd floor). This will be in place of the previously scheduled Torah on Tap. Rabbinic Intern Jessica Spencer will share some Torah for facing tragedy, and there will be time for conversation. Contact Rachel Beaver with questions.
We also want to extend a special invitation to gather for Shabbat this week. There will be Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox service at 6:15 pm, followed by dinner at 7:30. This will be a powerful moment to pray, mourn, and be together in community after an enormously difficult week.
We have received several inquiries about whether it is safe to attend Shabbat services and meals, given various calls for violence against Jewish organizations. We are in constant communication with the YPD and the security organizations of the broader Jewish community – and they do not believe there is heightened risk for the Slifka Center. If that should change, God forbid, we will reach out immediately, and would not hold a communal gathering if we did not believe it to be safe. Please come – don’t let fear pull our community apart.
We know many of you are looking for any and all ways to support those in Israel experiencing violence and terror. Dr. Eitan Neeman was a pediatric ICU fellow at Yale New Haven Hospital/Yale School of Medicine who was killed in Sderot while serving as a physician caring for injured members of his army unit. There is a Gofundme to support his family during this tragic time and we are talking with the deans at the medical school about a memorial service. You can also donate to Magen David Adom which provides emergency medical services throughout Israel here. This linktree also has a number of places to support and make donations.
Our Community’s Needs and Values
I’ve talked with so many of you about how, or even whether, it’s possible to be a Jew at Yale right now when some (and for some of you, it’s many more than ‘some’) of your friends, colleagues, and even professors are sharing material on social media that is uncaring for, and at times even hostile to, the wellbeing and safety of the people you love. Because this is a widespread and urgent issue in our community, I want to share with you how I understand it, what Uri and I have been doing about it, and what we need each member of this community to do – and especially not to do.
First, I want to share a sad, basic learning that many of us went through in this very building, almost exactly five years ago, in the days after the Tree of Life massacre. By mid-Monday afternoon, two and a half days after the attack, I’d heard at least a half dozen students say something to the effect of, “I’ve never felt a divide between the Jews and non-Jews in my life so acutely. It feels like everyone else is going through life as normal, just walking across College St and to the Bow Wow and worrying about p-sets – the only ones who get that, and how, the world is broken right now are the other Jews. And they all get it.”
I don’t mean this to come across as some Jewish triumphalism, or God forbid suggesting that you turn exclusively inward to the Jewish community. Two things do come from here:
- Right now, we’re grieving, together as a community. That’s
- a finite, intensive process. In traditional Jewish life, grieving lasts a week – a week during which those who have suffered a life-altering loss don’t leave their homes, do any work, or do anything at all – other than just be in the presence of their communities.
- Grieving isn’t forever – eventually you go back out into the world and back to work – but it’s hard, necessary work of its own, and it can’t be done while busy or productive, and it can only be done with those you trust and love and who understand your loss.
- So this week, if you’re slow and you’re distracted from the everyday world, and you want to curl up in the warm embrace of this community – you’re doing it just right. If you trust yourself and your instincts, you’ll be back OK in the long term, even though
- nothing is OK right now.
- This difference in ‘getting it’ isn’t the product of political differences.
- It’s important to recognize that that sense of ‘others not getting it’ was there in 2018 in full force – even when there was not a hint of a shred of sympathy for the attacker or
- his ideology anywhere at Yale, or really anywhere at all. This feels important to say because it’s easy, but wrong, to blame our existential community-scale loneliness on politics, when that’s not what’s driving it.
- The politics are important, and I’ll get back to that in a minute,
- but they’re not all-important (politics never are).
Now, the politics. All of us on the Slifka staff are hearing stories from you – not only of professors, but also students, friends, roommates, and suitemates – who are posting content that tries to do one or more of the following: celebrate Hamas’s successes; justify Hamas’s actions as Israel’s fault; express sympathy for only Palestinian residents of Gaza and not Israelis; erases the difference between Israeli civilian casualties, which Hamas has tried to maximize, and Palestinian civilian casualties, which the IDF works to minimize; makes preposterous allegations against the IDF; I’m sure there are others. Because of Yale’s bedrock commitments to free speech, even “the speech we hate” is protected here, as long as it does not directly call for violence. Part of the bargain of living in a university is sharing that university with people who disagree with us – and nowadays, even those whose social media presence indicates they wish us harm. As you might have seen in my comments in the YDN today, this is particularly pitched at Yale, because Hamas has murdered members of our own Jewish community. So when someone endorses or celebrates or justifies Hamas, every member of this community is entitled to ask, “Does this person wish ill to befall me, or my friends, or my community?”
Yesterday, Uri sent an urgent email to Secretary Goff-Crews describing the crisis that this situation constitutes for Jewish Yalies, and this morning he and I spent over an hour on a call with a number of senior Yale administrators. We made the case – and, by the end of the call, I believe they agreed – that in protecting speech such as this, the university creates a need that it must meet: picking up the pieces of a community shattered by hateful speech, one where we Jews must share space and seminar rooms and dining halls and extracurriculars with people whose publicly posted opinions, until retracted or modified, mean that they support harm to us. The work of rebuilding trust; of creating opportunities for those people to hear the harm their words, verbal or electronic, have caused to members of our community; and of giving them a chance to apologize and to repair that harm and thereby rebuild Yale’s sense of friendship – is the responsibility of these administrators. In other words, Yale’s leadership needs to treat this social media content as a crisis just as they would if multiple members of the student body and faculty were publicly supporting an organization that had as its stated aim harming members of any other identity group.
They have given us their word that they are committed to working strenuously in this direction in the coming days, weeks, and months. I cannot and will not promise results – but I wanted to let you know that we are listening closely to your experiences, and advocating with Yale on behalf of our community. So far, we have been met with receptive, concerned, and engaged responses.
Lastly, I want to talk about what to do – and specifically not to do. We – individually and collectively – are grieving, feeling powerless, and are justifiably angry. We want, and are right to want, the unbounded sympathy and concern of others at this moment of our anguish. None of that justifies hateful speech, retaliation, or doxxing of anyone, no matter what they’ve said or tweeted or celebrated. This applies a thousand-fold to hateful speech directed against entire groups, be they Palestinians, Muslims, or others. Just because we have been grievously harmed does not mean that we are incapable of harming others in turn – nor does it mean we would be justified in doing so. Many of you may have read about what is happening at Harvard, and I have heard that students at Yale have begun to receive threats as well. I have reached out to the leaders of the Muslim community to convey to them that we care deeply about their welfare, and do not want any harm, physical or otherwise, to come to them, God forbid, but just the opposite – just as we would want them to feel towards us. I cannot say this clearly enough or strongly enough: no amount of grief justifies verbal or other assaults – these are the opposite of our community’s values and a desecration of our most sacred values. I urge you to channel your pain and outrage productively, and to work together with us in pleading our case well, not allowing our pain to turn us into the kinds of people or community who seek the illusion of self-sufficiency through harming others. If we let this moment turn us into that, then we will have lost what makes us who we are. If you are struggling with the temptation to lash out; or with grief, fear, or anger that exceeds what you can bear, please reach out immediately to friends or the Slifka staff – we know this is hard, and sometimes sadness is the easiest of the emotions to metabolize. This work of metabolizing our outrage and pain is slow and we must do it together – lest it find its way out impulsively and destructively.
If you have questions about anything I’ve written above, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I always long to hear from you. And today – I eagerly look forward to seeing you tomorrow night, to welcome Shabbat, the glimmer of wholeness in our devastated world, which we can and will bring into existence, together.
In grief and friendship,
Rabbi Jason Rubenstein
Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale
Slifka Center/Yale Hillel