KU forum explores issues of anti-Semitism

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Stephen Mazza, dean of KU law, from left, introduces Samuel Brody, professor of religious studies; Rabbi Doug Alpert; Rabbi Neal Schuster; and Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel during a panel discussion Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, about anti-Semitism.

There is a growing sense for those in the Jewish community of not recognizing the country they have known for generations, a rabbi told an audience at the University of Kansas’ law school on Wednesday.

“It feels like something is going on in this country. What’s happening?” said Rabbi Neal Schuster, a Jewish educator with KU Hillel, a group that connects Jewish students with one another and their faith.

Schuster was participating in a panel discussion organized by the Jewish Legal Society, with the KU law school, in response to the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, where 11 people were gunned down by a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs.

“We felt it was important to discuss the history of the rhetoric and how to avoid future hate crimes,” said Sasha Raab, a second-year law student who worked with fellow law student Harrison Rosenthal and others in the Jewish Legal Society to plan the event.

Along with Schuster, panelists included Rabbi Douglas Alpert, president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City; Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, with KU Chabad; and Samuel Brody, assistant professor in KU’s department of religious studies.

Brody presented a historical perspective, explaining that “anti-Semitism” is a fairly new word for a very old sentiment.

In 1879, a German journalist, Wilhelm Marr, came up with the word “anti-Semite” to apply to himself and others who believed the advances in civil rights for Jews were threatening German culture.

“The fear was that now that they had rights they were going to do nefarious things,” Brody said. The fear animated periodic anti-Jewish pogroms across Russia and Eastern Europe.

For Schuster, anti-Semitism wasn’t something he grew up with in Washington state. However, recent events and changes in the world have been an awakening for him.

At KU, Schuster said Hillel conducted several surveys in 2016 and 2018 asking Jewish students if they had experienced anti-Semitism on campus. In 2016, 25 percent of the students said they had. In 2018, 34 percent said they had.

Tiechtel offered a suggestion on how to respond to anti-Semitism.

“There are those who hate Jews for no reason, except they hate,” Tiechtel said. “We are hated for who we are, which is a baseless hate. The way we should respond is to replace that with baseless love.”


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