Rabbi to Jewish Columbia students amid rallies: Campus not safe, go home

A rabbi at Columbia University on Sunday morning called on Jewish students to go home until the campus was safe after days of anti-Israel protests in which protesters called for further October 7 Massacres, claimed membership with Hamas, and expressed support for terrorism.

Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus director rabbi Elie Buechler told students that the protests that had unfolded since Wednesday “have made it clear that Columbia University’s Public Safety and the NYPD cannot guarantee Jewish students’ safety in the face of extreme antisemitism and anarchy.”

Pained to tell the students to return home

“It deeply pains me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” Buechler told Jewish students in leaked text messages. “It is not our job as Jews to ensure our own safety on campus. No one should have to endure this level of hatred, let alone at school.” 

The OU-JLIC aids Jewish students in observing Jewish tradition and participating in Jewish life on campuses.  Another Jewish life campus organization, Columbia University and Barnard College Hillel, wrote on Twitter that they “do not believe that Jewish students should leave Columbia. We do believe that the University and the City need to do more to ensure the safety of our students.”

Columbia University student Jessie Brenner speaks at a news conference in October, calling on the university’s administration to support students facing antisemitism. (credit: JEENAH MOON/REUTERS)

Protecting Jewish students

“During times of crisis, Columbia/Barnard Hillel is always here for Jewish students. This is a time of genuine discomfort and even fear for many of us on campus. Let me be clear – the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life is and will remain open,” Columbia/Barnard Hillel director Brian Cohen said in a statement.

“Columbia University and the City of New York must do more to protect students. We call on the University Administration to act immediately to restore calm to campus. The City must ensure that students can walk up and down Broadway and Amsterdam without fear of harassment.”

The Columbia Chabad said on Instagram on Sunday that they couldn’t stay silent about what they were seeing on campus and that it had been a “rough two semesters, but this week has been off the charts.”

“The protests on campus and outside of campus have been ongoing for over 48 hours straight,” Chabad Columbia co-director Naomi Drizin said in a statement. “Many students feel scared and isolated. They have been kept up at night and are struggling to keep up with their schoolwork. The atmosphere is debilitating.”

In a letter to Columbia President Minouche Shafik on Friday, the Columbia Jewish Alumni Association requested that she “immediately take all possible steps to protect student safety.”

“It is clear to us that Columbia is not under mob rule — a mob, by the way, that is only interested in attention and chaos rather than thoughtful dialogue or reasoned debate,” said the alumni group. “We are, in short, afraid that violence against Jewish students is imminent.”

Students Support Israel Columbia said on Friday that Pro-Israel, Jewish, and Israeli students at Columbia “have spent the past 38 hours watching in fear and horror as our campus devolved into utter chaos.”

“The situation on campus has become utterly and categorically untenable for an educational institution that has the responsibility of ensuring its students have a productive academic environment conducive to continued learning,” said SSI.

Israeli Columbia professor Shai Davidai also sent a letter to Shafik on Sunday, in which he warned that on Monday, he and other Jewish and Israeli students, faculty, and staff would be sitting at the center of the anti-Israel encampment.

“Since the events of last night have shown that you have completely failed to protect the safety of your Jewish and Israeli students, I am requesting approval to have a police escort of at least 10 cops with me,” said Davidai. “You have a responsibility to protect our physical safety.”