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Why Did a Rabbi Advise Columbia’s Jewish Students to Stay Home?

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Columbia University finds itself in a significant crisis as a rabbi associated with the institution urged Jewish students to remain at home amid escalating tensions on campus. This situation coincides with the upcoming Passover holiday, prompting university officials to allow students to attend classes remotely starting Monday.

The turmoil at Columbia has been building since the October 7th terror attack on Israel by Hamas, but recent events have exacerbated the situation. Testimony by university officials before Congress about antisemitism on campus and heightened pro-Palestinian demonstrations in and around the university have further inflamed tensions.

The latest developments have drawn criticism towards Columbia President Minouche Shafik, with calls from Republican representatives for her resignation due to perceived lack of control over the campus. Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican chair of the House Education Committee, warned of consequences if the university fails to restore order, citing potential breaches of Title VI obligations tied to federal financial assistance.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, affiliated with Columbia University’s Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, advised around 300 Orthodox Jewish students via WhatsApp to stay home due to concerns about their safety on campus. This recommendation underscores heightened fears within the Jewish community at Columbia regarding their security.

The situation has garnered attention from the White House, with spokesperson Andrew Bates condemning any calls for violence against Jewish students as antisemitic and dangerous. President Joe Biden echoed these sentiments, emphasizing that such behavior has no place on college campuses or in society.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have also denounced threats targeting Jewish students, emphasizing the need for a safe learning environment free from harassment or violence.

In response to the concerns raised, Columbia University has prioritized the safety of its community, offering additional support and resources to ensure student well-being. However, opinions within the Jewish community at Columbia are divided, with the campus Hillel expressing a belief that students should not leave campus, calling for immediate action to restore calm.

As tensions persist, security measures have been implemented at the Kraft Center, a Jewish cultural hub shared by Columbia and Barnard, with police presence and walking escorts provided to ensure safety during Passover.

The ongoing protests, including a five-day “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on campus, have underscored broader issues related to university investments and student activism. The encampment, jointly organized by student groups advocating against Israeli military actions, has led to confrontations and arrests, raising questions about free speech and campus safety.

While the university’s response to the protests has drawn criticism from some students and lawmakers, others believe in the importance of peaceful demonstrations and free expression. The evolving situation at Columbia highlights complex dynamics involving campus security, diversity, and political activism in the context of ongoing geopolitical conflicts.

As Columbia navigates these challenges, the broader implications for campus culture, student engagement, and university leadership remain under scrutiny. The outcome of these tensions will likely have lasting effects on campus policies and perceptions of safety for all students, particularly those from marginalized or vulnerable communities.

As reported by CNN in their recent article  

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