Friday, May 16, 2014

Jewish students at SFSU: Never stop dancing

On the Shabbat after 9/11, Rabbi Michael L. Feshbach  of Temple Shalom in Maryland concluded his drash with these words, taken from the scene of another attack, thousands of miles away:

 The bomb blew the place to smithereens. Twisted metal and shattered lives was all it left behind. The screams and the sirens were quiet now. The hustle and bustle of two nights before was replaced... by a ghastly, ghostly silence. But some intrepid soul had been back to visit. That was clear. There was a sign hanging on what was once the entrance to the collapsed building. There were words on the sign. And the words were a promise. The sign at the entrance to the Dolphinarium Discotheque in Tel Aviv has three Hebrew words on it. They are the words you are receiving now. 
 They are a pledge. And a promise. And a way of life, all in one. They are words which hit at the core of our being. Or at least of who we often claim to be. At a time of terror, they are among the most inspiring words I have ever heard. What are the words? The sign says, I am told, just this:
"Lo Nafsik Lirkod. We will not stop dancing."

My friends. Bring these words with you when you leave this place tonight. Keep them with you for a while. Bring them in to your own soul. Chew on them, and ponder them, and figure out for yourself what it means to you.
 Lo Nafsik Lirkod. We will not stop dancing.
The Jewish students at San Francisco State University have never stopped dancing, even under the most difficult of circumstances.  Faced with the most vile threats to their physical safety,  they have continued celebrating their heritage. They have refused to give in to the bullying and intimidation they have experienced on campus.  These young men and women demonstrate an enviable resilience of will and strength of character, shining through proudly even under duress.

The General Union of Palestinian Students at San Francisco State University have never denounced or distanced themselves from  the genocidal ranting of their president, Mohammad Hammad.  They have attempted to keep a low profile on campus, and according to some sources, postponed a bid at a divestment referendum until Mohammad's threats were a distant memory.   Yet faced with Jewish students in joyous celebration , the lack of self discipline that characterized GUPS over the years was out in full force.
From the director Of SFSU Hillel, Alon Shalev

As you might have heard, last week we had a tough Yom Ha'atzmaut at SF State. On Tuesday,the General Union of Palestinians Students held a rally for Naqba (Disaster) Day urging students to come and disrupt our Israel Independence Day. Then on Thursday we held our celebrations.

The first two hours were great: we hosted a shuk (Israeli Market with food,spices, games, and give-aways) and a live performance from local band Sol Tevel. Hundreds stopped to sample the bourekas, rugelach and bamba, pick up information, and dance to Israeli music.

During the final hour, a large group of pro-Palestinians entered the campus quad and held a counter-rally. They were extremely vocal and their chants extreme. As hundreds gathered to watch the spectacle, it became very tense.

Our students were amazing. They continued their singing and dancing throughout. However, many told us afterward about how intimidating it had been. A few left in tears. Ironically, at the end, several discussions broke out between our students and pro-Palestinians. They were hard conversations, but conducted with civility.

On Friday, we invited students to come before our Yom Ha'atzmaut Shabbat to discuss what happened. Usually, a dozen students attend the pre-Shabbat conversations, but this time over 40 students attended. I heard many talk of intimidation and disappointment, but also determination to continue and share the beauty of Israel and all its achievements.

Our JAFI Israel Fellow, Sima Toledano, facilitated the conversation and did an amazing job. She also phoned every student she could remember was on the Quad to see if they were okay.

 After Shabbat service, we partied and ate schnitzel. The house was packed with students setting up tables outside, downstairs and even in the garage! This was the opportunity they were denied on Thursday - the chance to celebrate, to retell stories of their experiences in Israel. Many of this year's Birthright students, who leave in two weeks for Israel, attended both on the Quad and at the Hillel House, and were swept up in the moment.
Alon concludes:
    ....this week also highlighted why Jewish students need a safe space to be Jewish and explore their relationship with Israel.  
Until there are consequences for the General Union of Palestinian students- until they are called out and disciplined for their misbehavior- how can we expect San Francisco State to provide a safe campus climate for Jewish students?

The Jewish students at San Francisco State will not stop learning. They will not stop celebrating. They will not dancing. They will not give in to the bullying, the threats and intimidation of the General Union of Palestinians students and their outside enablers.

 The question remains however- why does SFSU continue to permit behaviors that jeopardize the physical and emotional safety of Jewish students on campus?

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