Chizuk on Campus

A group of activists drove hours to SUNY Binghamton to bring chizuk to Jewish students, along with hot dogs and hamburgers. Courtesy of Ethan Pfeiffer

In the days and weeks after the Hamas massacre, as the University of Pennsylvania campus became a center of strident pro-Palestinian activism, Jewish students started receiving chizuk (support) from the broader Jewish community. 

Some in the form of hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob. 

A few weeks after the wave of physical intimidation of Jewish students and other supporters of Israel began at schools across the country, Marc Fishkind, a junior at U of Penn from Rockland County, New York, got a call from someone he knew from the Monsey area: Joel Eisenreich wanted to drive down with some friends from the Orthodox community and host a barbecue for the students.

A barbecue?

With the pressure on, and the increasing psychological isolation of many Jewish students, some barbecue food, Jewish music, and the presence of concerned adults might help the students relax, explained Eisenreich, who works in the tax services field. Fishkind, a member of the campus’s Orthodox Jewish life, including being an active participant in U of Penn’s OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC), gave the go-ahead. 

Two days later, on a Thursday afternoon, Eisenreich arrived at the campus, part of a convoy of about ten vans and fifteen to twenty men and women, members of the frum community of Monsey. Inside the vans: all the fixings for a barbecue, including grills, franks, burgers and vegetables, enough to feed the five dozen Jewish students who showed up at the event at the school’s Hillel building. Some of the musically inclined visitors brought guitars.

For several hours, the visiting group sang and danced with students, and talked with and listened to them. “It was very well received—support from any outlet is appreciated,” Fishkind says.

The visitors made the students feel “they were being taken care of,” says Moskowitz. “We felt supported.”

And it wasn’t just in Philadelphia. In the early weeks of the war in Gaza, Eisenreich was part of the group of Monsey activists, not under the auspices of any Jewish organization, who drove to three other college campuses (Cornell, Yale and SUNY Binghamton) within a three-hour radius of their homes in Rockland County to offer succor and nourishment.

“What can we do—in addition to reciting Tehillim?” says Ethan Pfeiffer who coordinated the outreach effort. He and a few friends asked each other this question as the reports of increasing antisemitism at many universities worried the off-campus Jewish community. They decided to offer some comfort food. “Someone’s got to help the students,” Pfeiffer, a tax attorney, told his friends.

They reached out to the OU-JLIC representative, or some other Jewish leader, at each school, all of whom accepted the offers of moral support. First came Cornell. Then, through word of mouth or headlines about other schools in the Northeast whose Jewish students appeared to be under attack, they began visiting the other campuses.

The volunteers, who paid for the supplies, took time from their jobs to organize and pack the barbecue supplies and to make the hours-long treks. There is no official name or website for the project, “just guys who want to get stuff done,” says Pfeiffer. He has encouraged concerned members of the Jewish community in other parts of the country to host similar on-campus events.

The reactions of students, as well as of their parents, to the barbecues were overwhelmingly positive, says Hillel Kurzmann, a lawyer from Monsey. The students, nearly all of them strangers to the visiting delegation, “were in awe that fifteen people from Monsey drove three hours” to their campuses. One student declared in a text, “This was my best night ever.” Neil Zelman, another member of the delegation, says a student was “completely taken aback that we were doing this for people we do not know.”

The Jewish students at New York State’s SUNY Binghamton were especially nervous after the war in Gaza began, says Cara Moskowitz, a junior at SUNY, because the school’s OU-JLIC representative, Rabbi Ben Menora, who had served in the Israeli army, was called back to his IDF unit. The students who took part in the barbecue were still talking about it, and the sense of “normalcy” it restored, several days afterwards, she says.

Before the strangers showed up, says Fishkind, some students at U of Penn felt “depressed, morose.” The barbecue lifted their spirits. The visitors made the students feel “they were being taken care of,” says Moskowitz. “We felt supported.”


Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.


More in this Section:

Gideon Askowitz – Voices From Campus

Rebecca Massel – Voices from Campus

Adin Moskowitz – Voices from Campus

Eitan Fischer – Voices from Campus

Isaac Ohrenstein – Voices from Campus

How Students are Responding to Antisemitism

This article was featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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