Jewish UT-Austin students share feelings on their safety after recent anti-Semitic incidents

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Photo Credit: Destiny Alexander | Daily Texan Staff

While scrolling on her phone, Alexis Horowitz’s heart broke. She had just learned from an Instagram post that the Chabad center at the University of Delaware was intentionally set on fire.

“I heard about it the second it happened,” electrical engineering freshman Horowitz said. “One of my friends is on the exec board at the University of Delaware Chabad, so he immediately was posting about raising money and awareness.”  

Following the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, an event of anti-Semitic violence in Nazi Germany, Horowitz wondered about her safety on campus.

Kristallnacht was the mass destruction of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues across Germany and German-occupied territories on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10, 1938. For many Jews living in Nazi Germany at the time, it was considered the true start of the Holocaust.

“We still have to address these issues 82 years later,” mechanical engineering freshman Tyler Winter said. “And you have to know how to combat it.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism on college campuses has been rising since 2016. Hillel, an international Jewish student organization, reported an all-time high of 178 incidents of anti-Semitism on United States college campuses during the 2019-20 academic year. 

 

On Aug. 25, the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University of Delaware was set on fire, which some suggested was an act of anti-Semitism. No one was hurt or injured, however, the fire caused an estimated $200,000 in damage. 

“It was so much bigger than just a building being burned down,” Horowitz said. “They didn't care about the physical building. It was their safe place. That was their community. It was the Jewish students’ … home away from home on campus.”

On Oct. 13, a window of the Texas Hillel in West Campus was struck and broken by a rock. No one was in the building at the time, said Maiya Chard-Yaron, the executive director of Texas Hillel. As of Friday, Chard-Yaron said Texas Hillel is working with the UT and Austin Police Departments to investigate.

“You don't know if that rock was just (someone) who didn't know that it was a Hillel or if it was actually an act of hate," Horowitz said. 

Horowitz said she feels worried about attending UT because the University has a small Jewish  community. She said her worries were amplified after her first week of school, when Horowitz and her roommate noticed a swastika graffitied in the stairwell of their apartment building. 

“It concerns and angers me that people are doing this either to be funny or to be hateful,” Horowitz said.

Linguistics freshman Matan Lebovits, who is from Philadelphia, said while he has yet to experience anti-Semitism in Texas, his identity as a Jewish person means that he feels he will never be welcome as an “inherent part of the community.” 

“Austin's about as liberal and welcoming a city can get,” Lebovits said. "However, I don't usually wear my Jewish star around openly outside of Austin. If I'm anywhere in the rest of Texas, I tuck my chain in. I'm not wearing it openly.”

According to Hillel International, roughly 7% of the undergraduate population at UT-Austin is Jewish. Horowitz said because UT’s Jewish population isn’t very large, she and others have found community in Jewish student organizations. 

“I'm from New York, an affluent Jewish community, but when you come to Texas, it's a totally different ballgame,” Horowitz said. “You're literally dealing with people that have never met a Jew and might think we have horns. You just have to be careful with who you're talking to.”