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Last May, I had the privilege of traveling to Poland with Emory University’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies. I will never forget the feeling of sheer horror that came over me as I stood beneath the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the Nazi German regime imprisoned and murdered over 1 million Jews. Hand in hand, my classmates and I walked along the train tracks where Jews and other minority groups were delivered to their deaths. I held my breath as I stood before the crematoria where nearly 900,000 Jewish individuals were gassed upon their arrival between 1940 and 1945. 

Since Oct. 7, 2023, I have felt the same feeling of complete and utter horror that I experienced while visiting Auschwitz, as I have borne witness to an alarming rise of antisemitism in our community. Emory is rampant with antisemitism, and the Student Government Association’s (SGA) refusal to condemn hatred directed toward Jewish members of our community and acknowledge their concerns proves that Emory’s campus has become a hostile environment for Jewish students. 

I am a proud Jewish woman. I have had the distinct privilege of being raised with the love and support of the Cleveland Jewish community. From a young age, my parents and grandparents instilled in me the innate Jewish values of compassion, honor, courage and moral righteousness. 

My great-grandparents are Holocaust survivors who fled present-day Slovakia and came to the United States after escaping the atrocities of the Nazi death camps, while several of their relatives went to Israel. My family’s story is one of survival, the ultimate test of the human spirit. Unfortunately, my great-grandparents are no longer with us, but like the thousands of other Holocaust survivors, their will to survive has forever been woven into the fabric of the Jewish tradition. I owe it to them to share their story. May their memory be a blessing. 

The global Jewish community is accustomed to being the target of hatred, discrimination and harassment. Antisemitism is a scourge nearly as old as time. The Jewish people have faced persecution and displacement time and time again, but we have a history of resilience. Every time we have been displaced, we’ve rebuilt beautiful Jewish homes and communities. The Jewish people have finally returned to our ancestral homeland in the land of Israel. We have a right to be there. Nobody can take that away. 

The escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict following the horrific militant attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023 has caused division and contention within the Emory community. Many students, faculty and administrators — both Jewish and not Jewish — have raised concerns regarding the increase in antisemitic incidents occurring on Emory’s campus.  

In the past several weeks, Emory has become riddled with antisemitism. Several Jewish students have expressed fears for their safety and believe that hateful sentiments shared by students and faculty alike have created an inhospitable environment for the Emory Jewish community. 

Jewish students make up a significant portion of Emory’s undergraduate population, and as one of the few Jewish members of SGA, I introduced a resolution to condemn antisemitism on Emory’s campus and affirm Emory’s support for the Jewish community. While student legislators were willing to condemn hateful graffiti with antisemitic messages, they refused to even entertain a resolution condemning hatred toward Jewish members of the Emory community, choosing to table it. 

Ever since I started speaking up regarding concerns of antisemitism at Emory, I have been confronted by several individuals who do not identify as Jewish but still feel compelled to tell me that antisemitism does not exist on Emory’s campus. Let me be clear: Anti-Israel groups and individuals do not get to marginalize the experiences of Jewish students. They are not the arbiters of whether or not antisemitism exists in the world or on Emory’s campus. It is incredibly disrespectful and disappointing that these people would attempt to limit the open expression of Jewish students by making such a claim. The tabled resolution acknowledged antisemitic incidents on campus, condemned hatred directed toward the Jewish people and affirmed support for the Emory Jewish community. SGA’s refusal vote on the condemnation of antisemitism speaks volumes and supports the need for the passage of this resolution in the first place. 

History is painful — there is no denying that. The Holocaust is irrefutably one of the darkest moments in modern history. Growing up, my mom used to tell me and my siblings that history repeats itself if we don’t choose to remember. Please choose to remember. 

Last summer, I noticed my hands nervously shaking as I walked through the gates of Auschwitz. A few hours later, with a heavy heart, I walked out of those same gates and left. Several of my ancestors and much of the European Jewish community were not so lucky. As a Jewish woman, my ability to walk through Auschwitz and leave on my own terms is recognizing my great-grandparents’ wildest dreams. I owe it to them to stand tall in the face of bigotry, cloaked in the strength of the Jewish men and women who came before me and rooted in hope for the generations of young Jewish leaders who will come after me. I am a proud Jewish woman, and I’m here to stay.

Harleigh Markowitz (25C) is from Cleveland.

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