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The anti-Semitic backlash to the Jewish Student Union


Photo by Vivienne Freeman

Formation of the club/Inciting incident

At the start of this school year, Alex Keagle and Stella Sivertson, two juniors at Eagle Rock High School, formed the Jewish Student Union. This is a club that was formed with the idea of creating a safe space for both ethnically and religiously Jewish students. After finding that there was a small, but still decent population of Jewish students that were being underrepresented, they decided to create what is now JSU. “The need for this club definitely stems from the need for representation. Especially with everything going on in the world, it’s very important to have a safe space.”, Sivertson told me.


Since the formation of the club, they have faced bizarre backlash online. This came in the form of offhanded Instagram comments and leaked screenshots of group messages that were making fun of the club. While it came as a bit of a surprise, founder Alex Keagle said the real shock came during club day when these comments were said to them in person.


Throughout the entirety of the event, they were constantly being pestered by insensitive comments and jokes. This ultimately culminated in a student running by and saying “Israel is terrorism”. This comment has been the main one the club is concerned about.


Reactions

Keagle told me that they believe these comments are mostly made out of ignorance, however, they note that this one, in particular, seems to be intentionally hateful. To be very clear, it is not necessarily the contents of the comment that make it hateful, it is who and how it was delivered that makes it concerning. Saying this to a Jewish Student Union, especially one in America, sets the expectation that every Jewish person supports the actions of Israel against Palestine. This is fundamentally untrue.


Comments like these, remind Keagle of the infectivity in the way the Holocaust is taught. The lack of respect and dignity behind the jokes is very telling. Keagle did say they generally give others the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume that people are being anti-semitic on purpose, but nevertheless, they are still bothered by the frequency at which these comments are made. They also attribute these attitudes and jokes to the effects of social media. Through apps like TikTok and Instagram, fetishistic ideas of “getting a Jewish man” and South Park clips taken out of context to create hateful jokes about denying the Holocaust have flourished. It makes members of the club and community feel worried about the level of education students at this school are receiving about the long history of the Jewish faith and culture.


Keagle encourages students at Eagle Rock to take time to research the Jewish people. Look into the continued persecution and oppression they have faced throughout all of history. The Jewish faith did not start and end with the Holocaust, it is long and tumultuous and has shaped the rich traditions and practices of the religion.


Looking toward the future

Moving forward, members of the club reported that they still feel safe on campus, however, now worry they have to prepare for future incidents like this. They say that they will have to be more aware during future public events and make sure that all members are aware of the possible comments and jokes that may be directed towards them. Stella Siverton, co-president and founder, was contacted by the Jewish Federation a Jewish anti-hate campaign. While we talked about this, Sivertson told me “We would love to utilize all resources available to forward the cause, but we want to maintain the integrity of the club and stay true to why we founded it.”


As a closing statement, Keagle urges students to open a history book and to start thinking before they speak. “Reflect. Ask yourself: ‘Would I like this person in 10 years?’” JSU is not going anywhere and plans to continue to provide a space for Jewish students and allies to come learn about and celebrate the rich history and culture of the Tribe.


If you are interested in joining the Jewish Student Union, members meet in Mr. Carrano's classroom (B23) on Fridays at Lunch.

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