NU Jewish community members share thoughts on safety, identity and faith after hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Northwestern Hillel. Jewish members of the community shared their thoughts on safety and faith following the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue.

Katherine McDonnell, Reporter

Antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise since Hillel’s Executive Director Michael Simon started at Northwestern in 2010, but he said the Jewish communities on campus and nationally remain strong.

Following the Jan. 15 hostage crisis at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, Simon said many members of the Jewish community were shocked, but not surprised. Jewish people make up only 2% of the American population, yet are targets of about 58% of hate crimes in the United States, according to the FBI. 

“We are operating in a 2022 reality,” Simon said.Colleyville was unfortunately not the only example … There have been horrible attacks against places of worship. We don’t want to be primarily guided by fear, but at the same time, we can’t act unaware of it, and we have to take it into account.”

Like many other members of the Jewish community, Simon said he faces the challenge of balancing concerns for safety with creating a supportive place for people to meet and connect. 

To increase safety during services and events, Simon said Hillel has precautions in place to keep the community safe, including security systems and communication with University and Evanston police. But, he said he is cognizant of the balance between creating a safe environment and creating a welcoming environment.

“The primary tension that exists in all of this is the tension between wanting to be as warm, welcoming and engaging of a community as we possibly can be in our reality,” Simon said.

Rabbi Yochanan Posner of Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie serves as staff chaplain at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. Posner, who helps manage security at Lubavitch Chabad, said the community has focused more on security in recent years. He called some of the new measures, like reinforced doors and stronger locks, “hard security.”

While he has focused more attention on increasing security and safety measures, Posner said he and fellow community members want to teach younger generations to not be afraid.

We’ve been putting effort into teaching our people — especially young people, like high school students — that it’s important not to be afraid and not to be scared,” Posner said. “To be proud of their Jewishness and to feel like they can express their identity in public.”

Posner said he understands safety concerns, but believes many community members forget how important attitude is in times of hate and hardship. He said he hopes Jewish people can feel empowered to share their identity proudly despite hate.

Weinberg senior Abigail Roston, Hillel’s student president, said Hillel strives to welcome people from all walks of life through their doors, but she and other members keep safety in mind while doing so.

Roston said there is a direct connection between online instances of antisemitic rhetoric to instances of hate and violence in America. She said 2016 marked a turning point, with the Unite the Right Rally setting off a string of physical hate speech and actions. 

“I do think it is a challenge as a Jewish institution to balance that commitment to Jewish values — the value of welcoming the stranger — with a concern for the rise in violent acts of antisemitism,” Roston said.

As members of the Jewish community, Simon, Posner and Roston all said they take pride in their Jewish faith and identity. 

Simon said recognizing and sharing this pride with others is vital to communal well-being.

“In the face of hate, to me, the most important thing a Jewish community can do is offer expressions of pride and gratitude for being together,” Simon said.

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Twitter: @KatherineMcD33

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