// from the editors //
From the Editors
On April 18th, Barnard students voted by a margin of 65% to 35% to divest from eight companies that “benefit from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” This was the culmination of a hasty month-long campaign that included the social media yelling and marketing wars that one would expect of such a divisive issue on this campus. But the unfortunate landslide result of the referendum suggests that perhaps this was not such a divisive issue after all: the pro-divestment side is clearly the majority opinion on Barnard’s campus.
This campaign has been the first real test of the pro-Israel side’s foray into the world of identity politics on this campus. Many of the arguments embraced by anti-BDS students invoked how they felt “uncomfortable” or even “unsafe” with the very existence of the referendum and recalled the historical marginalization of the Jewish people. For many Jewish students, widespread support for BDS on campus makes them feel scared or unsafe, and this does not preclude their further investigation into what companies such as Elbit Systems are actually carrying out in the West Bank and Gaza. Regrettably, though, the results of the referendum show that this strategy was a failure for several reasons.
As is quite clear, the movement of left-leaning identity politics often excludes Jews despite their history of being marginalized. This erasure of Jewish claims to a history of persecution is tinged with anti-Semitism. But even though that is the case, one anti-BDS campaign at Barnard was never going to be enough to reverse this trend. In one month, the pro-Israel community was not going to change the orthodoxy that prevents Jewish cries of discrimination from being taken seriously.
This argument was complicated by the fact that a significant, vocal group of Jewish students was actively involved in the pro-BDS campaign and many more Jewish students had pro-BDS sympathies. If Jewish claims of marginalization are not taken seriously to begin with, then certainly the existence of Jews supporting the very movement that they accuse of anti-Semitism makes it all the less believable. Pro-Israel Jewish students had a hard time answering the question: how can BDS be anti-Semitic if it is supported by so many Jews?
Aside from being tactically ineffective, the reduction of Jewish identity to its most lachrymose conception (as Bibi Netanyahu, a man we should be taking no cues from at this time, does so often to score political points) does not fully reflect the complexity and vibrancy of the Jewish experience. As many of our writers show in this issue, Jewish identity is fluid and mosaic— it is not easily sloganized to accomplish a specific political result. For many, it is something that is still being figured out.
In her piece, “Semester ‘Abroad’ in the Alteneuland,” Miriam Lichtenberg describes her complicated, evolving relationship with the State of Israel and how it relates to her identity as a Jew. In Dani Lefkowitz’s reflection on her semester abroad in Copenhagen, she comes to terms with outsiders’ suspicion of the genuineness of her Jewish identity. Julia Crain’s interview with Professor Irena Klepfisz highlights how Judaism can look so different for people that do not fit into the traditional religious mold, and sheds light on the long and storied tradition of irreligious and even anti-religious Judaism. Yaira Kobrin’s account of her trip to Romemu, an unconventional minyan on the Upper West Side, grapples with questions of tradition and spirituality, communal norms and personal religious experience. In her review of the Jewish Museum’s new permanent exhibition, Estie Berkowitz asks what it means to “curate Judaism”: how can something so multifaceted be portrayed on a single floor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue?
It wouldn’t be an issue of The Current without several pieces focused on the way in which family history affects one's sense of Jewish identity. Our writers bring us around the world and back—Felix Rozenberg to Kiev, Judith Teboul to Poland, and Gabi Martin to Hungary, Mexico City, and back to New York—and relate a deep interest in how the past informs one's present Jewish experience.
But don’t fret: this issue of The Current deals with more than just college students wrestling with their Jewish identities. We also have excellent pieces about the history of Columbia College’s famous swim test and the socio-economic problems that are at play in this requirement, the invisibility of the Office of the University Chaplain, jury duty in Manhattan, professors recalling their own experiences writing senior theses, the controversial Anselm Kiefer exhibit at the Met Breuer, and much more.
We hope you enjoy this varied issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together and the various perspectives and stories contained within it.
Leeza Hirt, Editor in Chief; Matt Landes, Managing Editor
cover photo by Caroline Wallis