Jewish World

Voices from Campus: University of Chicago

Photo: Sipa USA/Alamy Stock Photo | Eitan Fischer


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.


“U Chicago SJP Stands in Full Solidarity with Palestinian Liberation.” 

For the first few days after the October 7 massacre, the Palestinian groups on the University of Chicago’s campus were silent. But on Friday, October 13, six days after the massacre, SJPUChicago, the university-recognized club that seeks justice in Palestine, released the above statement. They were supporting the murder of Jews. They were supporting the potential murder of my parents and siblings, who live in Ra’anana, only a thirty-minute drive from Gaza. They were supporting the same antisemitic motives that led to the Holocaust.  

After reading that initial statement just as I was heading out of my dorm room for Kabbalat Shabbat, I was in a state of shock. I had never seen antisemitism in this raw form before. I didn’t know what to do.  

Unfortunately, this was just the beginning. On Motzaei Shabbat, I checked SJP’s [Students for Justice in Palestine] social media again: 


And it continued from there. On Monday, when the mobilization started, the antisemites on campus became active and things began to get intense. I woke up to a text from a friend saying his mezuzah was on the ground outside of his dorm room. As the day went on, reports went around the Jewish community on campus that posters we had put up for the hostages in Gaza were vandalized and taken down. In my friend’s humanities class, the teacher (a grad student) expressed her support for SJP and bashed the legitimacy of Israel, referring to the land “from the river to the sea” as “occupied Palestine.” 

Horrified at what was taking place, I walked over to the Quad to see SJP assembling. The sign reading “IDF TERRORISTS OFF OUR CAMPUS” hit me the hardest. On the morning of October 8, my close friend on campus received a call from his commander in the IDF telling him to fly back to Israel immediately. He had served in the IDF for four years before coming to UChicago in September. Despite not even knowing how to get to all of his classes yet, he packed his bags without hesitation. “It’s either stay here and study but neglect my country, or fight and push off academics for a bit. . . . There is only one right answer,” he said. He showed me videos of his unit getting ready to fight, and all he kept repeating was, “My team needs me, my family needs me, my nation needs me. I need to go do my duty.”  

Before he left, he asked one thing of me: “While I’m out there fighting, it’s on you to keep the support for Israel here.” He didn’t want to come back to an institution that sees him as a criminal. I assured him that wouldn’t happen and that I’d do everything I could. And I felt confident it wouldn’t be a difficult task. 

The University of Chicago tends to be more conservative than the average elite university, and the majority of the student body supports Israel. Moreover, the Jewish community on campus is stronger than most. About 10 percent of the student body is Jewish (around 800 students), and around a quarter of those attend Shabbat meals at either OU-JLIC/Hillel or Chabad on a weekly basis. Jews at the University of Chicago tend to be proud to be Jewish, and our non-Jewish friends support us. 

Since the war, we’ve been forced to come even closer together. The OU-JLIC rabbi who also heads the Hillel, Rabbi Yehudah Auerbach, received a call from his IDF commander after Simchat Torah and was on a flight to Israel the next morning. Having such a strong representative of our campus on the ground in Israel has only given us more reason to fight here.  

On October 10, I set up a table on the main Quad of UChicago’s campus to raise money for much-needed emergency equipment in Israel. It felt great. Everyone will condemn terrorism, right? I was naïve to have ever believed that. 

As of this writing in December, SJP has kept up the mobilization every day without fail. Every single day in my math class, I hear the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” I’m ashamed to be in the same institution as these people.  

The entire Jewish community on campus is hurting. Groups like Maroons for Israel, Kehillah, Chabad and OU-JLIC/Hillel have held multiple vigils, gathered together for rallies and set up installations for the hostages on the main Quad. Despite feeling united as a Jewish community, we are pained by the antisemitism on our campus. 

What makes it worse is the lack of action taken by the administration. Despite SJP breaking school rules and calling for violence, the school has done nothing to stop them. The university clearly prioritizes the upholding of freedom of speech over having an antisemitism-free campus. It’s rather unfortunate, to say the least.  

Jewish students at UChicago are remaining hopeful by reminding ourselves that SJP represents only a small proportion of the student body. They are loud, they are definitely loud, but they are not nearly a majority—they have only between 100 and 200 members. 

The unity among the Jewish students and our non-Jewish friends gives us the strength to continue to stand strong and united. It gives me hope that I can one day keep my friend’s promise. It gives me hope that the turbulent times we are living in will not yield to the same fate as that of my ancestors. 


Eitan Fischer is a first-year at the University of Chicago studying economics and philosophy. He was born in New York, grew up in Hong Kong and spent high school in Ra’anana, Israel.


More in this Section:

Gideon Askowitz – Voices From Campus

Rebecca Massel – Voices from Campus

Adin Moskowitz – 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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