If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
This article also ran in the Times of Israel. The Heritage ran the article about the anti-Semitic vandalism at Feldman’s off-campus housing in the May 2, 2014 issue.
“We have something important to tell you and we really think you should know. We found at least 3 swastikas on the walls on the third floor.”
This is how Saturday, April 26, ended for me. Not only did I find those three swastikas, but I found six more when I was making my rounds in the building. This is any Jewish college student’s worst nightmare. It is a reminder that either we are failing at this generation’s Holocaust education or someone on my campus agrees with the values the swastika represents.
As I was lying in bed that Saturday night, it made me realize that something needed to be done. I was not about to just sit there and ignore the situation.
This occurred the weekend of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and it did not feel unintentional. I was not going to allow this to be ignored and potentially happen again. My friends who told me about these hate symbols said to not take it so seriously; but in my eyes, that was not an option. I knew that nobody was going to stand for me, but myself. As Hillel said in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of our Fathers, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”
It was time for me to put Hillel’s words into practice and stand up for myself, the Jewish people, and the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust and stand against these symbols of hate. One should never be afraid to stand up for one’s rights and for one’s people. It took a lot of courage to go public with this incident, but I realized I should speak out for myself. Once the incident received press coverage, I received Facebook messages that threatened me and my identity, but I also received words of appreciation and encouragement from UCF and the Orlando community.
I hope my experience helps set a precedent that in the future any university community will take these actions seriously, even before the media gets involved. No college student should ever feel unsafe on his or her campus because some random student decides it might be funny to key hate symbols into walls. Regardless of the motivation for this hateful act, situations like these should be taken seriously and treated as a threat towards Jewish, homosexual, disabled and African American students on campus.
Support is always crucial when combating hate on campus. Therefore, I want to thank all of the organizations that helped me go public with this incident and the press that covered the situation.
Thank you to the Anti-Defamation League, Hasbara Fellowships, the Zionist Organization of America, Chabad at UCF, Knights for Israel, UCF Hillel, the UCF administration, the Orange County Police Department, Chabad of North Orlando, my professors, and my friends and family.
Michelle Feldman is a social work major and a rising senior at the University of Central Florida. She is a past Hasbara Fellow and is a leading advocate in preventing anti-Semitism on campus. She is also a committee member on Knights for Israel, UCF’s pro-Israel student group.