The independent student newspaper at Goucher College

What if…?


By Rabbi Josh Snyder, Goucher College Hillel Director

Goucher, I love you guys – all of you.  There are so many times when my heart wells up with gratitude for being able to work and serve in such a thoughtful, eclectic, open community that I cherish. A defining characteristic of Goucher that I value is the transformation that happens here.  I decided to write this Op/Ed now – the first in my tenure as Hillel Director – because I think the way we engage with the topics of Israel and Palestine, and how that impacts our sense of safety and community at Goucher, requires transformation.

There is a repetitive pattern that occurs – a statement is made; polarizing posters and social media posts pop up; there is a reaction from a different viewpoint; the tension comes to a head at an event; the issue either returns to a simmer or boils over in an explosive way.   Looking around the country and the world I see where that leads with regards to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiment.  It leads to explicit hateful comments like “F– the Jews/Arabs”, harassment and belittling of students, threats of violence and actual physical violence.   It all must stop – no one should be living in fear because of who they are.

What if we found a way as a community to change the pattern? Can we talk together about this conflict without copying and pasting the conflict itself onto our campus? We might start by asking some of the following questions of ourselves and one another:

  1. What if we found a way to listen?

What would it look like if we assumed that each of us had good intentions? If we brought curiosity to the table instead of judgment?  If we asked more open-ended questions, and made less definitive statements? If we understood that there are more than two sides? That someone could be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel? Pro-Palestinian and/or pro-Israeli (i.e. pro people and not necessarily their governments?) Simply pro-human?

  1. What if we each took time to read different views than our own?

 There is a lot of disinformation – including overstatements, omissions, context switches and outright lies from all sides – when it comes to reporting on Israel-Palestine in general, and this war in particular. We also tend to find sources that bolster confirmation bias rather than giving different perspectives.  Analyze what you are reading and check sources, especially when a claim seems shocking and damning. Read news from multiple sources to get a fuller picture. 

  1. What if we all learned about potential biases that can arise, e.g. antisemitism?

Antisemitism shares much in common with other biases like racism, but some unique characteristics as well.  Among the hallmarks of antisemitism is a tendency to accuse Jews of having too much power – often through association with money or alleging a secret conspiracy for domination. In this way, antisemitism acts to arouse suspicion whenever Jews gather, build community or advocate, in ways that would not be applied to other identity groups.  There are also abiding myths, or tropes, about Jewish bloodthirstiness, greed, and disloyalty, along with denial or minimizing of Jewish suffering (e.g. Holocaust denial).  Like other biases, antisemitic ideas are often acquired subconsciously, and therefore are unacknowledged as being present. However, they are widely held and continually find new avenues of expression. 

Perhaps the most deeply held and harmful antisemitic belief is that antisemitism is Jews’ own fault. In other situations, we would call this victim blaming or gaslighting.  This belief is used to justify persistent antisemitic speech, and continually forces Jews to change who they are to be accepted. 

The 75 years since the Holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel have been an unprecedented period of relative peace for Jews – and it took an unprecedented genocide of ⅔ of European Jewry – 6 million Jews – for it to happen.  The Holocaust was the culmination of thousands of years of persecution, expulsion, forced conversion, and mass murder of the Jewish people.  Antisemitic incidents have surged worldwide since 2016 and have risen by at least 400% in the last month.

 Defeating antisemitism requires allyship from folks outside of the Jewish community.  Committing to fighting against antisemitism needs not and does not take away from the fight against other forms of bias.  It’s part and parcel of a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

  1. What if we understood where Zionism came from?

Zionism, as defined by its originators, is the political movement to establish a home for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, known variously over time as Zion, Canaan, Judea, Israel, and Palestine. Zionism as a political movement began in the late 1800s in response to rising antisemitism, with the goal of providing both a refuge and a creative center for the Jewish world.  However, the political movement built upon a consistent Jewish longing for return to the homeland where Jews once held sovereignty for more than a millennium prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 CE, and where Jews have lived continuously since the time of the kings of Israel and Judah – at least 3000 years.  This longing has been expressed in daily prayer (e.g. “gather us from the four corners of the earth to our land”) and ritual (e.g. the Passover Seder’s ending refrain “next year in Jerusalem”) for 2000 years.  Love of Zion and connection to the land are inextricable from Judaism itself. Judaism is not just a faith – it is a culture refracted and diversified through the intersectional experiences of a multi-ethnic people.  The Jewish people is made up of Jews of all races and from many nations.  

Just as there are many kinds of Jews, there are many approaches to Zionism.  Zionism itself is not mutually exclusive with Palestinian national self-determination.  If someone is a Zionist, and/or an Israeli, it does not mean they unconditionally support the actions of the Israeli government.  Criticism of Israel’s government is legitimate, and it happens all the time within Israel itself and Jewish communities worldwide, including our own on campus.  

Sometimes the terms ‘Zionists’ and ‘Zionism’ are used in a pejorative way.  This verbal usage can be loaded with antisemitic tropes regarding money, control, greed, and power, and can be accompanied by imagery that echoes these tropes.  Thus ‘Zionist’ can be a socially acceptable stand-in for the word ‘Jew’, transferring the impact of antisemitism to Israel and its supporters.  Since this rhetoric perpetuates antisemitic ideas, it impacts all Jews, regardless of their stances towards Israel.

  1. What if … um, ok … what is Hillel?

Goucher Hillel is affiliated with Hillel International and is an agency of the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.  We have been on campus for 25 years, though our roots go back to Jewish Student Associations and other campus-community partnerships that began in the 1920s.  Hillel programming is funded by voluntary donations from alums, parents, and community members, and is open to the entire Goucher community.  Hillel continually works to create collaborative programming with other identity and affinity groups on campus.  

Hillel International is the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the largest Jewish campus organization in the world.  Hillels serve students on 850 campuses all over the globe.  Hillel was, is, and will always be a space for all kinds of Jewish students — a place where they feel welcomed and included. Regarding Israel, Hillel as an organization supports the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.  However, every community member is welcome in Hillel regardless of their views on Israel and is welcome to express those views.  Our student leaders and staff have a wide variety of views on Israel, and we celebrate that.  

Our programming relating to Israel is multifaceted and pluralistic.  We seek to create a   nuanced understanding of Israel – including politics, culture, religion, and language –  via different voices and experiences.  We do not shy away from challenging conversations and critique of Israel’s policies.  Engaging with Israel is a central piece of who we are, but it’s not all that we are.   We focus on learning, Shabbat and holidays, service, wellness, and social events.  If you haven’t come to a Hillel program in the past, please know that you’re welcome, regardless of whether you’re Jewish or you’re not Jewish.  We’d love the chance to get to know you and for you to get to know us.

  1. What if…?

The current war raging between Israel and Hamas has already had an incalculable cost in lives lost among Palestinians and Israelis; Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and others; young and old; civilian and military – each life a unique world lost and a tragedy all of its own.  In the coming weeks, there are likely to be more, and that feels gut-wrenching to anticipate.  Some of us have family members and friends we have lost, who are missing, or who are in harm’s way. It feels like we barely have time to acknowledge a loss before bracing for the next wave.  

There are other losses too – a sense of safety and normalcy; prolonged stress that affects health; isolation and depression.  This is hard to hold as we try to go about our everyday lives as students, faculty, and staff.   We want to bring justice, peace, freedom, and understanding to all involved.  On a day-to-day basis, one good thing we can do for ourselves and for each other is to express compassion – for ourselves, for one another, and for everyone affected by this war.  Uprooting bias and hatred of all forms is integral to living that compassion in action.

I believe that the only way to truly counter biases like racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism is through awareness and education.  Two years ago, our Hillel staff and lay leaders took part in a yearlong training for Jewish communal leaders on fighting racism.  Our teacher, Yavilah McCoy, taught us about “oops”, “ouch” and the teachable moment.  Oops is recognizing our own blind spots, and that our words and actions may have hurt someone, even if we didn’t intend to.  It’s having the humility to admit that without defensiveness.  Ouch is calling out bias when it happens to us, and finding a way of letting that person know we have been hurt – this could be an interpersonal conversation, or it could be through a bias report to the Campus Climate Education Team.  Either way, it’s naming the act of bias, not condemning the person as irredeemable.  The teachable moment is understanding that education and interchange is the way that we can unlearn these learned biases.  

Having the humility to ask, listen, and learn is how we access the power to transform ourselves and our community.  What if we all used that power to make this campus a place where we all feel at home, every day?

 1 See Sources like The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s Brief History of Antisemitism, as well as Anti Semitism Uncovered: A Guide to Old Myths in a New Era; USHMM’s Christian Persecution of Jews over the Centuries; Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies Antisemitism Education Resources; and many more online and in print.*

*Disclaimer: The source cited above has a distinctly pro-Israeli stance, and in that does not represent an unbiased definition or history of anti Semitism and Zionism. 

A direct definition of anti Semitism and Zionism can be found in Merriam-Webster Dictionaries official website “Anti-Semitism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, . Accessed 5 Nov. 2023.
“Zionism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster,  Accessed 5 Nov. 2023.

Disclaimer: This piece was published as an op-ed submission from a Goucher community member. The Quindecim is a space for all within the Goucher community to express their views and beliefs. These pieces are released in the name of journalistic integrity and not in an attempt to antagonize or reflect the institution of Goucher as a whole.


  1. I’m not sure if I understand. Does the last paragraph of section 4. mean that being anti-Zionist is inherently anti-Semitic? Its difficult for me to appreciate this text and its positioning when it does not discuss Zionism as a political movement that is responsible for the Nakba of 1948 and ensuing occupation of Palestine; instead, I read this piece as claiming that because of the trauma of the Holocaust and the trope of Jews having “too much power” one cannot raise concern over the very real abuses of power made by Israel that, unless people actively and explicitly resist, much of the world (Jewish or not) is complicit to. I don’t think its fair to talk about Zionism and the establishment of Israel as an “unprecedented period of relative peace for Jews” without naming the displacement and occupation that caused so much pain to another group of people.
    Rachel Brustein has a beautiful piece from 2015 that addresses the unintended exclusion that comes from being affiliated with a Zionist organization like Hillel International. I’ll leave a link to her work here.

    Please feel free to respond to my concerns.

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