Antisemitism on Campus Affected My Identity

Just a few months ago, the word “Israel” wasn’t hard to say. Now people whisper it in hushed tones or tiptoe around it, like saying it too audibly will detonate a bomb—in their conversations, reputations, or relationships.

The way we talk, our worldviews, our communities, and even the way we view ourselves has shifted since October 7. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve felt it.

The Toll on Jewish Students

The attack by Hamas was the beginning of an onslaught of war—not simply one fought in the Middle East, but one waged online and in streets around the world. The historic spike in antisemitism since October has been a battle every Jewish person has had to fight.

As a student myself, I knew many students were facing it on their college campuses. I’ve heard the chants for violence; I’ve seen the swastikas and the bloody hands. The war was right in front of me.

In the midst of it all, I was still expected to show up to class and participate in group discussions. I was supposed to complete the readings, hand in assignments on time, and get good grades. It was business as usual—except that Jewish students around the country were being told that it wasn’t safe for them to come to campus. 

I was a wreck, my feelings changing daily. Disbelief. Sadness. Confusion. Fear, which escalated to anger, which subsided into grief. Then there was just emptiness.

During a particularly emotional conversation with one of my Jewish friends, she tried to assure me (and I suspect herself too). “It’s okay,” she said. “Campus police are partnering with Hillel, so we’re going to be safe here. This will blow over. We’ve seen it happen before. HaShem is on our side. We’ll be okay.” 

I felt bad that she had to comfort me. Here she was, a beautiful Jewish woman who bears a Hebrew name, lives an Orthodox life, and keeps the Israeli flag on her door, assuring me. She carries her Judaism outwardly and expresses it to every person she passes on the street. And yet here she was, living as a Jew in a far more dangerous way than I live as a Jew.

How Our Sense of Self Shifts in Crisis 

When I tell people I’m Jewish, I’m often met with the response “Oh really?” I got my last name from my Chinese father and my Jewish heritage from my mother. I was raised with an appreciation for the diversity braided into my DNA. To me, it all blended together beautifully—I was Jewish, I followed Jesus, and I was Chinese. So why, amidst the rise in antisemitism, did I feel like my sense of self faltered? Why did I feel like I needed to “prove” something that had previously been a given?

I wasn’t the only one. I watched some of my friends try to out-Jew each other. I watched others tap into their Judaism for the first time, desperate for a safe community to hold onto while under attack. But I just felt out of place, lost in the margins between the aspects of my identity. I felt like I was both too Jewish and not Jewish enough.

In my circle of Christian friends, I felt like I was silently suffering. They would sometimes pray for “the conflict in the Middle East,” but I would grow angry at their words—how could you pray to the God of Israel without mentioning Israel?

Among my Jewish friends, I felt caught in the chaos. Some would speak up against antisemitism, some would speak up against Israel, and some wouldn’t speak up at all, suffering silently out of fear of being called a dirty Zionist or facing new bouts of antisemitism. 

It was clear we were all deeply affected by the crisis, even at a core-identity level. Like so many others, I wasn’t just trying to navigate my feelings and find my voice—I was trying to find a safe space to belong. Where do I fit in?

Feeling at Home in Myself

As I’ve asked myself that question, I’ve found that I can be a Jewish voice in my Christian circles. I can be a representative of Messianic Jews in my Jewish circles. And I can dig deeper into my community of other Jewish followers of Jesus.

But most importantly, I’ve come to feel more at home within myself. Though the most recent experiences of antisemitism on campuses and around the world shook my sense of self, ultimately, it brought me to a greater appreciation of and confidence in who God made me to be.

My faith and my heritage evoke a responsibility “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). I’m still figuring out what it looks like to live that out day-to-day, but I’m excited to see how God will use me (just how He made me) to bring light into a dark world.