Jewish World

Voices from Campus: Cornell University

Photo: Sipa USA/Alamy Stock Photo | Adin Moskowitz


What’s it really like being a Jewish college student in the US post October 7? Students from Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, Hunter and the University of Chicago share their stories.


I blink through the flashing red-and-blue police lights as I join the crowd of Jewish students dancing, arms interlinked around a sefer Torah on Simchat Torah night. A police car idles on the curb to oversee the hakafot as if to shield us from the world. I am visiting my brother at the University of Maryland. 

Throughout the day, we had slowly filled with dread as we heard snippets of information about the unfolding situation in Israel. I glance up and catch a glimpse of an Israeli flag jutting up from the crowd, then another and another. As I watch the headlights from the police car reflect off the flags, I feel a stab of pain in my chest, fresh from the news of infiltration into Israel. On October 7, Hamas didn’t just wage war against Israel; they threatened our pride, our home and our hearts.

Back at Cornell University, as I walk to class later that week, I hear a muffled noise cutting through the music of my earbuds. I stop and pull out an AirPod, tilting my ear toward the sound. “. . . River to the sea . . .” I hear with a sinking feeling; it grows louder and louder. A few hundred students pour through the campus streets, waving pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel signs as I duck into my class, not even noticing that my professor is speaking. I see students playing dead on the floor inside campus buildings,* thrusting anti-Israel signs into people’s faces and spray-painting hate across campus. The complete lack of basic human compassion stings, as my “peers” deny my right to a home, to my identity. 

The next day I adjust an Israeli flag over my shoulders in the fading light as over 500 Jews and supporters of Israel gather to hold a vigil for those who perished in the massacre. I look around and see tears in the eyes of the crowd of strangers, gathering in solidarity amid the darkness. Arms interlock and I feel a measure of comfort as we sing Hatikvah as one. 

When I return to campus, the antisemitism is still there, but I have gained a newfound resilience, the knowledge that wherever I go, my people stand by my side.

A few nights later, my roommate and I settle down in our room, when I hear a buzz. I turn over my phone and read the message staring back at me. Our kosher dining hall, 104 West!, the home where Jewish students unwind and reconnect with friends, has been threatened. All across a Greek-life social media platform popular among Cornell students are antisemitic messages singling out the dining hall, with horrendous and graphic death threats directed toward Jewish students. How could this happen in our time? Is this serious or some sick joke? There is no way to know. With our doors securely bolted, Jews across campus anxiously wait out the night, sheltered but trapped; officials send police to guard the dining hall and the Hillel warns students to stay away from the dining hall. During the lockdown, our OU-JLIC couple, Rav Itamar and Michal Applebaum, deliver homemade soup to our dorm rooms. A couple of days later, we learn that Patrick Dai, a junior at Cornell, was arrested for making online threats about Jewish students. But the stares, the side glances and the chanting across campus persist.

Focusing on college is challenging in the weeks following the outbreak of war in Israel. I am too preoccupied and find it difficult to pay attention to math and the physics of flying objects while hearing about my family and friends seeking refuge in shelters in Israel. But there is a point where I realize that life has to move forward. Our strongest lines of defense are to continue striving for our dreams and to stand strong in support of the Jewish people.

Later that week, as I head to 104 West! I hear the beat of Jewish music from afar. As I near the building, I find a bustling crowd, and in the center, a group of Orthodox Jewish men from Monsey, New York, busy grilling, preparing tray after tray of steaming barbecued meat. For the first time in a while, Jewish students feel joy and warmth in the air. In the very place that was recently threatened, we eat, sing, and grieve our brethren in Israel together. In that moment, I gain a greater appreciation for the Jewish people, for those who dedicate their time and effort to comforting their family of strangers in distress. This is what Am Yisrael is all about, I reflect, as I watch friends smiling once again. 

As soon as I think the semester might return to normal, I find myself on a bus whisking me and my friends toward Washington, DC, at 5 am. Seven hours later I stand among a sea of strangers, with whom I feel a deep connection. No one fights or shouts. It is the most peaceful protest I have ever seen. It is the Jewish people standing up for each other with dignity and pride. When I return to campus, the antisemitism is still there, but I have gained a newfound resilience, the knowledge that wherever I go, my people stand by my side.

*Students for Justice in Palestine held “die-ins” to protest the number of Palestinians killed in the conflict. 


Adin Moskowitz is a first year student at Cornell University studying engineering. He grew up in West Hempstead, New York, and attended Yeshivat Orayta in Israel following Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC). 


More in this Section:

Gideon Askowitz – Voices From Campus

Rebecca Massel – Voices from Campus

Eitan Fischer – Voices from Campus

Isaac Ohrenstein – Voices from Campus

Chizuk on Campus

How Students are Responding to Antisemitism

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