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NY Post
New York Post
2 Dec 2023

NextImg:Harvard Alumni are taking antisemitism into their own hands

I love Christmas. I even have a Santa Claus suit.

As a self-proclaimed Christmas and Easter Jew from Beverly Hills, every Christmas Eve all 6 ‘4 and 230 pounds of me climbs into a red suit and white beard, with sleigh bells and a giant toy bag in tow.

My daughters love it. But I love it most of all.

I am also the son of a Holocaust survivor.

But I never knew real antisemitism other than my dad’s stories around the dinner table.

Even with a last name that evokes the largest group of diaspora Jews, nothing felt wrong about having a Christmas tree or making Easter eggs close to Passover.

After all, the Jewish holidays always seemed a lot less fun, especially for kids. 

In other words, I am a poster child for Jewish assimilation. I don’t belong to a synagogue and I spend the important Jewish holidays quietly observing with my family. 

The closest I have come to a rabbi in years is watching old Jackie Mason videos.

So, what compelled such an unlikely adherent to become what a friend recently dubbed a “Super Jew?“

I am endlessly grateful to Larry Summers, whose tweet about his disillusionment with Harvard alerted me to the fact that the hatred towards Jews there is now almost as bad as it is in the Middle East.

Barely hours after the Hamas attack on Israel, dozens of university student groups blamed Israel for the atrocities. Shutterstock / Jannis Tobias Werner

Even before the blood was dry following Hamas’ murderous attack on Israel on October 7th, some three dozen student groups at Harvard College aggressively condoned the terror group’s rampage.

Yet Harvard said nothing meaningful for days, weeks even, despite jumping to support innumerable other social-justice causes in recent years.

In that moment of moral clarity, what I saw was abject moral failure.

The fine line between political belief and Jew hate was crossed. 

Within days, my collegemate Eric Fleiss and I started the Harvard Jewish Alumni Association.

Our mission is to advocate for a truly pluralistic campus community, where all students are welcome, regardless of religious identity.

And that includes Jews. Especially Jews. 

I cherished my time at Harvard College and always felt a deep sense of connection to its social and academic fabric.

Except for one old codger who told me he thought my jacket was nice “even though it came through Ellis Island,”  I always felt loved, accepted, and respected by my peers. 

Almost 30 years after graduating, I have sponsored events for Harvardwood (alumni in Hollywood) and I do alumni interviews for prospective students.

But this year I refused.

How could I encourage someone to go to a place that has become so toxic for Jews?

I was surprised that Harvard didn’t already have a Jewish alumni group, but the reason was obvious.

We never needed one.

We were comfortable.

Advocacy seemed unnecessary.

But something has changed rapidly and profoundly.

Suddenly, it has become fashionable for students and faculty to hate Jews.

And we alumni took notice. 

Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers was horrified by both the explosion of Jewish-hate at Harvard and the lack of response to it. China News Service via Getty Images

Within a month following the Hamas attack, we used word of mouth and some strategic social media posts to build a network of 2,000 alumni — 200 of whom are actively working on complex issues related to campus finance, media, education, policy enforcement, outreach, student support and admissions.

I also found myself bonding with a community of Harvard Jews, most of whom I had never met — a rare ray of light in this very dark time.

Among many saddening discoveries, we see that Jews have been purged across campus –  from the administration and the Board of Overseers to the faculty and the student body.

A century ago, Jews swelled to 28% of Harvard’s student population, culminating in 1923 when Harvard’s President Lowell, a publicly proud antisemite, systematically decimated Jewish enrollment to 15% (where it stayed for half a century). 

When current Harvard President Claudine Gay attempted to formally sanction anti-Jewish hate speech, she was met by organized resistance from dozens of university faculty. Boston Globe via Getty Images

Harvard dropped those discriminatory policies in the 1970s, and for the next four decades Jews comprised roughly 25% of total students. 

That was certainly the case in the 1990s when I was a student.

Yet today, the class of 2027 is barely five percent Jewish, according to a recent article in the Harvard Crimson.

And nobody can explain why.

Little wonder I now view the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ending preferential admissions at Harvard and other elite institutions in a very different light.

The Harvard Jewish Alumni Association is important because Jewish kids at Harvard deserve to have the same experience that I had.

They have the right to be Jews conspicuously in comfort, and they also have the right to choose to fully assimilate in comfort.

Moreover, if we alumni cannot tackle Jew hate at Harvard, how can we hope to reduce antisemitism elsewhere? 

Protests such as this one have become all-too-common at Harvard, which has created an anti-Jewish atmosphere that has permeated across the institution. AFP via Getty Images

Like other Ivies, Harvard is currently being investigated by the Department of Education for discrimination against Jews.

A necessary and important step.

But more needs to be done, particularly by Harvard President Claudine Gay.

Antisemitism is now endemic to her institution, yet she appears unable to devise an effective response.

Gay’s recent attempts to condemn inflammatory language such as “From the River to the Sea” was met with revolt from over 100 faculty members who penned a letter admonishing her for denouncing a phrase they claimed has a “complex history.” 

But the history of antisemitism is also complex.

If we are successful at stomping out the world’s oldest scourge at Harvard, maybe it can serve as a blueprint for other colleges and universities.

Because injustice isn’t just a Jewish issue: Once hateful and violent factions are finished with us Jews, everyone else could easily be next.

Adrian Ashkenazy (Harvard ‘96) is a hotel developer and Co-Founder of The Harvard Jewish Alumni Association