Josie Shapiro, a first-year Michigan State University student who is Jewish, is “furious” as she considers her feelings and reactions and how they’ve evolved in the three-and-a-half weeks since the Hamas attack in Israel.
“I started off feeling such fear and concern for Israel, and while that is still present, I am angry at Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, the terrorist organizations responsible for Israel’s current state,” Shapiro said, the depth of emotion coming through. “There is no way a compromise can be brought forth anymore, not when so many innocent people are dead, not when so many people, even ones I called my best friends, have turned against me, only reading the parts of the news that antagonize Israel, the very country being destroyed.”
Hence, her fury.
Going back to the days of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ‘70s and the Cold War in the 1980s, there have always been groups of college students whose burgeoning ideals would lead them to protest government miliary actions and policies, imploring the older generation to enact more peaceful solutions. But the long history of conflict between Israel and Palestine, its effect on innocent civilians on both sides, and the continuing impact of the Oct. 7 large-scale strikes by Hamas and the war that has followed have left many students angry and struggling to maintain any hope.
“I wish peace could be achieved, but as long as Hamas remains in control of Palestine, there will be no safety for the Jews, and I will continue to live in fear,” Shapiro said.
Another Jewish MSU student, Matthew Zivian, remembers first learning about the attack that Saturday during a charity golf outing before he returned home, when the details, depth and gravity of the situation began to hit him.
“I started calling my parents, my brothers, slowly piecing together what’s going on and trying to get through the wave of fear that initially hit us,” he said. “We understood that this was the largest attack on Jewish civilians since the Holocaust.”
So, it was vitally important for Zivian, Shapiro and their community two days later when the MSU chapter of Hillel, the nation’s largest Jewish student organization, and the Jewish Student Union at MSU held a candle lighting on campus around the Sparty statue. Hundreds of students attended, with Zivian, who is vice president of the Jewish Student Union, and others speaking to the group.
“It was huge for the community to come together that quickly, especially when the trauma was all very new and we were still learning details about what was going on.
“It gave a lot of people reassurance that no matter scary things might get, we still have each other on campus,” Zivian said.
It was a very clear message to the greater university community that the Jewish community is one that supports each other, outwardly, and loves each other. It was a great display of emotion that night.”
Added Shapiro, “It was a very somber but powerful experience that made me feel so seen and cared for. We could all feel our fear, sadness, and anger together, praying for those we know and love to stay alive and mourning over those who were murdered. I was so surprised about the number of people that showed up, and it made me feel so protected in a way I hadn’t felt ever before.”
Still, Zivian said he has seen a wide variety of reactions from other students and groups on campus, and that some of it concerns him.
“The response I’ve seen really depends on who I talk to, because given how much I do on campus, I unfortunately see a lot of the negative side of everything,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of friends reach out to me and made sure that I’m doing OK and offer their support. They’ve been amazing.
“But I’ve also seen a lot of students on campus glorifying the attacks, spreading a lot of misinformation, trying to say that some of this attack was deserved and that things that Israel had done in the past warranted this malicious and horrifying attack on Jewish civilians. Some of them have been very scary and have added to the trauma of everything that I’ve seen.”
There have been other reasons the trauma these students feel has been compounded. On Oct. 19, the Associated Students of MSU passed “Resolution 60-30, a bill to ‘Advocate for ASMSU and MSU to Address the Ongoing Palestinian Crisis and Support Palestinian Students.’” This action took place after a Zoom meeting of ASMSU members and representatives.
MSU Hillel posted a statement on social media the next day from its executive director, Robyn Hughey, saying, “We are collectively hurt and deeply concerned by the passage of a resolution that was riddled with factual inaccuracies, anti-Israel rhetoric, and antisemitic undertones.” She also applauded the “bravery of our student leaders for their grace under pressure during the nine-hour meeting, which included countless public comments and vitriol.
“Speaking up in that room and sharing their perspectives took courage, determination, and an immense amount of strength,” her post said. “When we stand together, our community is stronger than antisemitism and hate.”
Then two days later at Spartan Stadium, an image of Adolf Hitler appeared on the huge video board before the MSU-Michigan game, part of a pregame video trivia quiz that asked his birthplace. It had not been fully vetted by university officials, who later made profuse public apologies.
But it still felt like another attack to Zivian. As something of a student spokesperson for MSU Hillel, he is frequently interviewed by the media, including during the above events and even back in February, when he was among students taking cover in darkened classrooms during the terrifying on-campus mass shooting incident nearby.
He acknowledges the wide variety of reactions among his peers, while still believing they ultimately want peace to prevail. “That’s one of beautiful things about Jewish community, there’s a diversity among us,” he said. “I’ve seen people who are calling for the military to completely wipe out Gaza, and I’ve seen people who want a ceasefire now and to put down all guns. There’s a broad spectrum.
“Referring to the Jewish Student Union, he said, “We just want everybody on both sides, no matter where you are, to lead a safe, healthy, happy life. By and large, everybody wants peace, but the means of getting the peace is where there are diverse opinions.”
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