Jonathan Hay, a junior at California State University, Northridge said his campus has not experienced any major antisemitic activities in recent years. The 4,000 Jewish students and faculty at CSUN have escaped the kinds of rhetorical and violent incidents that have disrupted other schools, synagogues and centers of Jewish life.
“Friends told me about what was going on on their campuses, and the climate we’re in now motivated me as well,” said Hay, 20, who is from the heavily-Jewish west Los Angeles neighborhood of Pico-Robertson. “People started to wake up to recognizing that some people aren’t treated fairly, and I wanted Jews to be considered in the same way.”
And so, almost single-handedly, he led an effort to turn a resolution he wrote — “Condemning Anti-Semitism” — into a permanent part of the CSUN student government platform.
It’s a full-throated statement that cites high profile episodes like the sieges at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and a synagogue in Poway, Calif. in resolving “to fighting all forms of anti-semitism on campus.”
“I was shell-shocked with joy when Jonny told me what he did,” said Matt Baram, the executive director of Hillel 818, which serves CSUN and several nearby community college campuses. “At most universities, getting a resolution like this passed is a really tough ordeal with a lot of pushback. He did this completely on his own. We didn’t have anything to do with it.”
While the practical effect of the resolution may be little more than symbolic, it affirms a stand against threatening or discriminatory behavior on the campus, even one that has experienced only a few isolated incidents in the past with anti-semitism overtones. None led to violence, only concern.
The most recent came in early December 2018, when a message scribbled on the wall of Sierra Hall, a building of classrooms. The message said, “Mass shooting in Sierra Hall 12/12/18” with a swastika beneath it. Around the same time, a hand-written letter threatening a campus shooting was discovered but it contained no antisemitic language or symbol.
Authorities investigated both cases and determined that the threats were not credible.
Hay is one of two student senators from CSUN’s College of Business and Economics. Each college has two, for a total of 22. By student government protocols, the External Affairs committee approved his resolution, 5-0, before the full senate voted on Dec. 7, 17-0, with one abstention and the others absent.
The Anti-Defamation League has reported episodes of antisemitism across the country have increased steadily since 2013. Hillel International found that a record 178 incidences of campus antisemitism occurred in the 2019-2020 academic year.
So far, Hay said, he knows of no other schools’ replicating his effort, even those where friends of his attend, including the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and , Santa Monica Junior College.
“They tell me all the time that they have stuff going on on their campuses,” he said. “More anti-Israel, not necessarily antisemitism. But I thought I owed something to the CSUN students. I just hope other campuses feel empowered to do something like this.”
Whether they do, said Baram, a Connecticut native who received his masters degree from American Jewish University in Los Angeles, the resolution “sends a strong symbolic message that CSUN can embrace. For us, this was a no brainer.”